How to Build a Wine Cellar
With proper planning, building your own wine cooler is more than possible. Here are some things to consider:
Goals for Your Wine Cellar
Aesthetics vs. FunctionYour first step is to choose your goal for your cellar. In most cases, people are building wine storage either for the purpose of keeping bulk collections of wine or to show off their collection to friends and guests—or maybe both. If showing off your collection is your main goal, you'll want to focus on the style of your space. Instead of maximizing bottle capacity, you'll sacrifice some space for better aesthetics. If your wine storage plans are all about getting the maximum number of bottles into the space, then naturally, function is your primary consideration. You'll want to think about your rack choices and cooling unit style so as to make the most efficient use of your space.
Types of Wine Cellars
Passively CooledA passively cooled wine storage area is built into a room that is naturally humid and cool. The best places for these wine cellars are typically temperate climates and basement rooms that are already surrounded by a few feet of earth. The upside of these wine cellars is that they're cheap to build and cheap to maintain. Even if you lose power, you don't have to worry about temperature changes that could ruin your investment. The problem with passively cooled wine cellars is that even a small variance in temperatures and humidity outside can ruin them. Before going this route, be absolutely sure you have the right space and that you can be certain it won't get too warm or too dry at certain times of the year.
Actively CooledAn actively cooled wine cellar will be the best choice for most of us who don't already have a great subterranean space. These wine cellars are built out with insulation and fitted with cooling units that keep the room at just the right temperature and humidity at all times. A properly built, actively cooled wine cellar requires sufficient insulation, a vapor barrier to control humidity, and a cooling unit of just the right size to keep temperatures and humidity optimal for wine storage. This type of wine cellar build-out also requires you to consider where you'll place electrical outlets and the best type of cooling unit for the space.
Building a Wine CellarWhen building, remember that climate control should always be the top priority no matter what type of cellar you're constructing. Insulation and cooling unit choice are important to consider throughout the process. If the cellar isn't constructed well, at best, it will cost you far more than it should to keep the climate where it needs to be. At worst, it could actually ruin all your wine. If the insulation isn't done properly, mold can get into the walls. This presents a health risk, could damage your wine collection, and is costly to tear out and re-do. Choosing a cooling unit that isn't the right size means you'll be tearing it out and replacing it far sooner than you should. A unit that's too small will work too hard and die early. A unit that's too large will cycle on and off too frequently, which will have the same effect.
Start With Framing Your SpaceYour wine cellar frames need to allow room for enough insulation and for a vapor barrier to be installed correctly. If you're using closed-cell foam, of course, you won't need a vapor barrier and can plan for that accordingly. If at all possible, plan on building out the entire cellar so you have a perfectly sealed room that will stand up to constantly humid conditions over time.
Wall FramesYour walls frames should ideally be at least 2”x6”.
Ceiling FramesCeiling frames should be 2”x8”.
Vapor Barrier and Insulation
Vapor BarrierA vapor barrier is an absolute necessity for a wine cellar. The sort of humidity levels necessary to keep your corks from drying out is hard on walls and ceilings, so rot and mold are always a worry. A vapor barrier installed on the outside, or warm side, of the frame and done properly creates a seal that will protect your cellar for years to come. The vapor barrier should be at 6mm.
InsulationWhen the insulation is done properly, you spare your cooling unit a lot of extra work. Proper insulation has the potential to save you thousands of dollars in cooling costs over the lifetime of the cellar. For the walls, plan on a minimum of three and a half inches of insulation. Your ceiling needs nearly twice that at six inches. If possible, consider adding some insulation to the floor.
Use Closed Cell Foam InsulationClosed cell foam insulation is always the best choice for a wine cellar. One of the benefits of closed cell foam is that it allows you to skip the vapor barrier entirely. If you live in a very humid climate, you should never consider any other insulation type.
Use Green Board Instead of SheetrockThe walls and ceiling of a wine cellar have to survive the sort of humidity levels your bathroom typically experiences, so rather than using normal sheetrock, choose the green board typically installed in bathrooms and kitchens instead. Green board resists mold and moisture.
Double Check Your SealsAs part of your installation process, don't forget the weak points. The room needs to be airtight, and that means carefully sealing around fixtures, joints, light switches, electrical outlets, and anywhere else moisture could get through.
Walls and FloorsYour choice of flooring and walls should reflect your own personal taste and the style you've chosen for your wine cellar. But don't forget that these elements also have to hold up to high humidity for a long time. Stone is always a nice choice for an old-world wine cellar look, and it also stands up well to humidity. Faux stone is less expensive but will give a similar look and performance. If you're looking for a modern look, solid-color painted walls will do. For interior painting, semi-gloss or gloss paints are less prone to absorbing moisture than matte or flat finishes.
Avoid the Glass PanelsGlass panels are a popular choice for their looks, but they should be avoided in a wine cellar. Don't make more than one wall of your wine cellar from glass, and use exterior, insulating grade glass. The more glass you use, the harder and more expensive it will be to cool your cellar.
Wine Cellar CoolingYour wine 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.
Self-Contained vs. Split Cooling Units
Whenever you shop for cooling systems, you'll have to choose between self-contained and split units.
The entire system is contained in one unit, and the primary advantage of this type is that they are convenient to install and the most affordable of the three system choices. However, they also vent their heat and exhaust into an interior room of your home. You'll need a room about twice the size of your wine cellar with great ventilation to remove that heat. It also has to be a place where no one will be bothered by all the noise and warm air.
With these systems, the evaporator and condenser are split from each other. The condenser, which generates the heat and exhaust, is located outside while the evaporator is located within your wine cellar. You will need an HVAC technician to install this system, but it is the right choice if you don't have a room for venting a self-contained unit.
If you'd rather not have any physical part of the cooling unit actually in your cellar, you can choose to duct either type of the other units. You'll typically have between 25 and 50 ducted feet to work with, depending on which unit you buy.
The 3 Types of Cooling Units
Through-the-Wall, Self-Contained Systems
Units that go through the walls fit between the wall studs and between rooms. These 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)