How to Build a Wine Cellar
A wine cellar is a great way to improve the value of your home while also creating a space where you can entertain guests, show off your wine collection, and enjoy your wine. While hiring an experienced professional is never a bad idea, if you're looking for your next DIY project, why not take a shot at it yourself?
We're going to be talking about actively cooled cellars here (where you use a cooling unit), as it's the most appropriate type for the majority of people.
Pre-Step: Do You Need a Building Permit?
Before building your cellar, you may need to obtain a permit. Not all projects will
require a permit, but it’s best to check with your local building office to ensure that
your cellar meets local, state, and national building codes.
1. Choose Your Cellar Location Wisely
Wine cellars should be located in cool, dry areas of your home, with no natural light, no vibrations, no unwanted smells, and a controlled temperature.
It's much easier to control these factors when you start in a proper location, which is why it's often recommended installing your wine cellar in your basement, as it is much colder and more humid than the rest of your home (usually around 70% in the basement vs 30% in your home), and is usually free of other issues like smells, vibrations, and natural light.
The most popular places to install a wine cellar are:
- Hall closet
- Along one wall in your dining room
- Under the stairs
- Guest room
2. Furring/Framing Your Walls and Ceiling
Furring is the process of installing strips of wood to raise surfaces or prevent dampness, and to make space for insulation, also known as framing.
For the framing of your wine cellar walls, we recommend using 2x6 framing lumber.
This will improve the energy efficiency of your wine cellar, because the depth of this lumber size means you can install thicker insulation with a higher R-value (R-value is simply a measure of how well a two dimensional barrier resists the flow of heat).
You’ll also save more money by using less lumber
If you are building from the ground up, a good choice would be pressure-treated lumber, because this will prevent rot.
For framing the ceiling, we recommend 2x10 framing lumber, so that you can
install R-30 insulation. You’re recreating a cavern remember!
Closed cell foam insulation more impermeable to water, vapor, and air accumulating on the walls of your wine cellar, where it can then turn into condensation. You must install insulation and a vapor barrier in your cellar to prevent moisture leaks.
The best wine cellar insulation is closed cell foam insulation, because it removes the need for an added vapor barrier, it's good at controlling humidity (perfect for those who live in a humid climate), and it prevents minor punctures caused by people screwing into it, unlike other options.
Alternatives to closed cell spray foam are rigid foam board insulation and fiberglass batt insulation. These other two do not provide the same energy efficiency as closed cell foam, and definitely do not offer moisture management. And they require a plastic sheet vapor barrier to be installed.
When choosing an insulation, opt for a minimum of R-19 on the walls and R-30 on the ceiling. (The higher the R-value, the more insulation it provides.)
Closed cell spray foam in general provides ~R-7 per inch of thickness, but be sure to review the manufacturer's specifications.
4. Drywall & Outlets
Because your cellar is a high humidity room, you’ll need to install a type of water resistant drywall known as green board.
This drywall is easy to find because it’s used in kitchens and bathrooms, and resists mold and moisture, making it much better than sheetrock.
After attaching the green board to your studs, you’ll need to cut holes for ductwork and electrical outlets. Be sure to seal any holes created for your cooling unit, light switch, or general outlets.
The goal is to achieve an airtight space, and that starts behind the drywall.
5. Wine Cellar Doors
The best door for your cellar isn’t glass. Yes, glass looks great, but glass isn’t great for wine cellars – if the finished look you desire requires glass choose wisely. Single pane provides virtually now insulation value, it should be it’s at least 1/2 inch thick, UV-protected, and tempered. Next level up would be framed glass, thermally broke frames with dual pane glass, similar to what you would use on the exterior entry to your home.
Your best option is to purchase a door designed specifically for wine cellar use. If that’s cost prohibitive, the next best option is an exterior grade door. Interior, hollow core doors will not provide the insulation that you need.
The goal is to have a door that can properly seal your wine cellar. It should be tough to push the door closed because of the air resistance.
And when you open the door, you should hear a noticeable pop that confirms you’ve “unsealed” the space. Also, choose a door that swings in toward the cellar.
6. Finish Walls
Your choice of wall finish should reflect the look you want for your cellar, but also be resistant to humidity.
After installing the drywall, you can finish the walls with the treatment that allows you to achieve your desired aesthetic, whether you like:
- Faux rock
- Real rock
7. Seal Floor
Whatever flooring you choose for your wine cellar, it needs to be properly sealed. Concrete is by far the best option, as it is naturally less permeable and porous.
Other popular flooring options include cork, hardwood, porcelain, stone, or artificial stone.
Concrete can only be sealed after it has been cured for at least 28 days. When sealing tiles, make sure your sealant can work with the tile adhesive.
8. Install a Cooling System
This is the point where you should install your cooling system.
Your wine cellar cooling unit has to keep the whole space at optimal storage temperatures and humidity levels, and this is an area where it pays never to skimp.
You certainly can save a little money by buying an undersized unit, but the savings are only upfront. Over the life of your cellar, you'll end up spending more in electric bills as it eats up power running 24/7 to cool a space that's too big for it.
A unit that runs too much will also require more frequent repairs and will have to be replaced long before it should. If you size your cooling unit properly, you can expect to use it for the full life of the unit and perhaps even longer with care.
Calculations Before You Choose
Here's what you need to work out before you choose a unit:
1. Room Volume
When you choose a cooling unit for the size of your space, always remember that the “up to” manufacturer's numbers for how many cubic feet it can cool are always the absolute maximum under ideal conditions. If your conditions are less than ideal, the unit will struggle, so it's always better to size up a bit.
If you have a 250 cu. ft of space, for example, the Breezaire WKL 3000 (up to 650 cu. ft.) is just over $250 more than the Breezaire WKL 2200 (260 cu. ft.) but could save you thousands in costs over time because it can handle cooling the space with ease.
2. Ambient Temperature
Remember, your cooling goal is 55°. The greater the difference between the air around your wine cellar and that ideal, the more your unit has to work to reach it.
The cheaper cooling units are usually designed to handle about a 30° difference, at most. That means they will work fine as long as the ambient temperature doesn't normally go above 85°. If your ambient temps are typically greater than this, invest in a better unit.
If using a self-contained unit that's venting into another room, that room should not be warmer than 85 degrees fahrenheit, as it may overload the cooling system. This prevents you from venting into hot attics, closests, and other unventilated spaces.
Types of Cooling Unit with Pros and Cons
Here we will break down the 3 different types of cooling unit, along with their pros and cons:
Through-the-Wall, Self-Contained Systems
Through-the-wall units go through the walls, and fit between the wall studs and between rooms.They tend to be self contained units, and are the easiest and cheapest ways to cool your cellar.
- You don't need a licensed HVAC technician, these can be installed by a general contractor/handyman
- Most cost-effective cooling option
- Depending on the brand some units can be ducted to add installation flexibility
- Can usually be installed without a major renovation to the space
- Only suitable for smaller wine cellar projects
- Nosiest cooling option
- Large aesthetic footprint (face of unit sticking out from wall)
Split systems are quieter than self-contained systems because the condenser is split from the evaporator. This also gives you a bit more flexibility in your installation choices since you can put the noisy, hot condenser someplace where it won't disturb anyone.
- Larger capacity then the through wall system
- Less noise in the wine cellar
- Improved opportunity for air circulation
- Requires less “behind-the-wall” access to install line set
- More expensive than a self-contained through wall units
- Requires licensed HVAC technician for installation
- More planning required for running line sets between evaporator and condenser
Ducted systems can be either self-contained or split systems. These allow you to put the cooling unit as far as 25 to 50 feet from your cellar and gives you the most flexibility for avoiding noise or an aesthetic you don't want for your space.
- Generally the highest capacity systems and able to service large wine cellars
- Virtually undetectable noise levels
- Humidity (removing or added) can be integrated
- Considered the most aesthetically pleasing
- Generally a more costly installation
- May require licensed HVAC technician for installation
- Requires full access behind the walls/ceiling (either in pre-build or as part of a major renovation)
You can browse our entire range of cooling units on sale here.
9. Prime and Paint Walls
One of the last steps is to finish the room with paint. Be sure to prime and then paint with a water-based, zero VOC exterior grade paint.
This is more durable than interior grade paints and will do better at withstanding the high humidity environment. Oil based paints can cause an odor (odors can penetrate your wine cork as well) that lingers and can be difficult to get rid of, especially in a hermetically sealed space like a wine cellar. Be sure to let the paint dry completely before adding bottles to your cellar.
10. Install Lighting
The final permanent touch to your cellar is lighting. Because it’s best to choose a dark space for your cellar with no natural light, you’ll need to introduce your own lighting to the space.
You can choose thermally fused can lights (also known as IC
rated cans) which can be airtight in your space.
Avoid fluorescent lights, which can emit damaging UV rays. LED lighting is a good choice as well.
Consider installing a motion sensor or timer on your lights so that you don’t accidently forget to switch off the lights and leave your wine exposed to a bright
11. Install Racking
The racks are the heart of your cellar, and you can choose either kit products or custom racks. The kits come ready for you to assemble, pre-designed, and produced in bulk. Sizes and shapes are standardized, and they're cheaper than custom racks.
Custom racks are built specifically to hold your wine collection and fit your wine cellar space and shape. This is the right option if you have odd shapes and corners to fill, and these also have superior detailing and craftsmanship.
Wine needs to be stored at an angle, to prevent corks from drying out, which would spoil the wine by letting air through the cracks in the cork.
Wine Rack Styles
Cubes or bins in this shape offer you a lot of flexible storage for mixed bottle types.
A standard rack is usually the most cost-effective option but is only suitable for storing standard wine bottle sizes. Magnums and other unique shapes are hard to fit on these.
As the name implies, these are made at a 90-degree angle and are perfect for utilizing corner space in your cellar.
Magnum and Split
These racks give you more options for storing larger bottles or bottles of varying sizes.
Shelves and Double Deep
Shelves allow you to store wine when you don't want to open the original cases, and double deep gives you maximum space for storage by doubling the capacity of standard racks.
Credenzas and Bars
These are often handcrafted and the centerpiece of your wine cellar. They can feature rolling shelves, sliding pocket doors, stemware racks, and other features that make them the perfect spot for tastings.
These racks are similar to standard racks, but they have a middle display row for showing off bottles.
These are often used as a centerpiece for wine cellars. The flat surface is used for opening and pouring your wine.
We also have a range of wine room furniture here.
Should I worry about security?
Your wine collection is a special investment, so you want to treat it that way. Make sure that your wine cellar is safe from intruders who might want to steal your wine, particularly if you keep expensive varieties.
Installing a substantial lock on your wine cellar door is the least you will want to do. You may also want to consider a security system for your home.
Having a camera in your wine cellar or at least at the front door is another good idea. If you go to the trouble and expense to collect your wine and build a space for it, you don't want to forget to protect it as well.
How long does it take to build a wine cellar?
How long it takes to build your wine cellar depends on where you're building it, how complex your design is, how large your space is, and how fast you are at sourcing materials and constructing the cellar itself.
You can read our full post on this here.
How much does it cost?
Wine cellar costs vary greatly depending on the size of your space, location, and design. An average of around $35,000 is typical, but really does vary greatly. The best way to work it out is to calculate the total materials cost you will need, then calculate any professional man hours on top of that for a total budget cost.
Aesthetics vs. Function - How to Organize Your Wine Cellar
If your main goal is showing off your collection, you'll want to focus on the style of your space and the display of your wine.
If you want the maximum number of bottles in your cellar, then you should design it to hold the maximum number of racks.
Time to Get Started
The hardest part is often getting started. While it may seem like a big project, you'll never regret building the wine cellar of your dreams—and once it's done, you'll have a place to entertain guests and store your valuable collection.
All while adding to the value of your home. Now that you know the basics, it's time to get started.
Contact Wine Cellar HQ today, and let us help you find the best cooling solution to protect your collection.