A bottle of Barbaresco for your birthday, a bottle of Chianti for Christmas, and a whole case of Bordeaux bought on your last wine tasting tour. Before you know it, you’ve built a small-yet-impressive collection of fine wines. You wouldn’t want all that expensive wine to go bad before you’ve had a chance to drink it, so if you’re serious about wine collecting, now might be the right time to build your own wine cellar.
Installing a wine cellar in your home can be quite a big investment, so you shouldn’t do it on a whim. To ensure that your bottles are aging properly and not break the bank while at it, you need to plan every step of the process. In this article, we will take a look at some of the most important things that you need to consider when setting up a wine cellar in your home.
Deciding On The Size Of Your Wine Cellar
Before you start, you need to decide on the ideal size of your wine cellar.
To do this, you first need to determine the purpose of the cellar. Do you want to use your cellar as a functional storage room or do you also want to use it to display your collection? If you opt for the latter, do you also want to entertain guests while they marvel at your collection of fine wines?
If you don't have space in your apartment, house or condo, you may want to consider buying a wine refrigerator.
Answering these questions will help you determine the size of your wine cellar. If functional storage is all you need, space shouldn’t be that big an issue. However, if you also want to display your collection and entertain guests, you’ll need more room for racking, not to mention space for a sitting or dining area.
It is also important to consider the actual size of your collection. How many bottles do you plan to store in the cellar? Will you remain focused on a handful of varieties or do you plan to include any wine that tickles your palate?
Expanding your wine cellar in the future might not be an option, especially if you’re already pressed for space. Therefore, even if you’re a novice collector, you need to determine how large you want your wine collection to be in order to work out your space requirements.
Finding the Right Wine Cellar Location
Now that you know what size your wine cellar should be, you need to find the right location for it.
Despite what you may have heard, you can put a wine cellar in any room in your home. Depending on your space requirements, you can convert an unused closet or a small room into a fully functional wine cellar. Because it is usually considerably cooler than any other room in the house, most people choose to renovate their basement for this purpose.
The location you choose will also inform your choice of equipment and the total construction cost for your wine cellar. As you may know, the ideal conditions for wine storage include a temperature of about 55°F and humidity of about 60%. If you opt for a location that’s already humid and cool, installing a smaller cooling system should be enough to maintain optimal temperature. However, if you choose a warmer and dryer room, you may need to install insulation on top of investing in a larger cooling system.
Choosing The Best Wine Cellar Cooling Unit
To ensure that your wine is aging the way it should, you need to install a dependable cooling unit in your cellar. There are three types of cooling units to choose from:
- Through-the-wall cooling systems – self-contained units designed for wine rooms and cabinets
- Ducted cooling systems – have ventilation ducts that are installed outside the cellar
- Split cooling systems – ideal for cellars and rooms with insufficient ventilation
The size and location of your wine cellar will impact your choice of the cooling unit. For example, through-the-wall systems need to be installed on an outside wall in order to vent outside the home. So even though it’s compact and practical, a unit like this wouldn’t be a good choice if your wine cellar is at the center of your house.
If you’re renovating your basement to turn it into a wine cellar, you might want to consider either a ducted or a split cooling system. With ducted systems, you can choose if you want the duct installed inside or outside the cellar, while split systems only require you to install the evaporator inside the room. Either way, the bulk of the equipment will be on the outside, so it won’t take up space inside the cellar.
Click here to see our list of the best wine cellars cooling units.
Although many cooling systems have LED displays that allow you to monitor the air temperature and humidity in your cellar, you can never be too careful. You should thus also consider buying a separate temperature and humidity gauge. These devices work like room thermometers with large LED displays, automatic Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion, and a built-in alarm clock functionality. They are also very affordable, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t add one to your wine cellar.
Click here to see our top pick for the best wine cellar temperature and humidity gauge.
Building Your Wine Cellar
Once you’ve settled on the size, location, and the cooling unit, you can start building your wine cellar.
First off, you need to frame all your cellar walls (concrete or otherwise) with 2x4 or 2x6 lumber. As a rule, the thicker the wall, the more insulation you’ll achieve. With that in mind, 2x6 lumber might be a better choice, seeing as it allows you to install R-19 batt insulation. After you have framed the walls, you should run the plumbing (for the cooling unit) and electrical service (for the lighting) to the cellar.
The next step is insulation. There are two options – a 6mil vapor barrier in combination with fiberglass batts or spray foam. While the latter tends to be a bit more expensive, it is more durable and puncture-resistant. If, however, you opt for a vapor barrier, you need to install it before you frame the walls. You will also need to insulate the floor if your cellar is not in a basement.
Once your cellar is insulated, you need to cover the walls and the ceiling. Because the cellar will be cool and humid, you need to use a highly resistant material like green board (also known as drywall). Screw the material into the walls and use a waterproof sealant to cover the penetrations on the wall. Once done, paint the wall with a water-based paint of your choice.
Before you’re ready to move your wine collection into your new cellar, you also need to install proper flooring. Carpeting can rot in a humid environment, so that’s not an option. You should also avoid vinyl, as the mastic under it won’t be able to dry in moist conditions. Your options are limited to hardwood, cork, or porcelain tiles. You can also use concrete flooring, but you will need to seal it.
Finally, you need to install an entry door for your wine cellar. To ensure a tight seal, you need to choose an exterior-grade door with weather stripping and have the door swing into the cellar. Also, if the door has a glass panel, it should be made of dual-paned, insulated glass with the highest R-value possible.
Equipping Your Wine Cellar
Now that your wine cellar is ready, it is time to equip it.
No matter how you decide to design the interior of your wine cellar, you’ll have no problem finding a storage option that fits your needs. The market is filled with ready-made wine racks, both free-standing and wall-mounted. They are available in a wide range of dimensions in order to accommodate wine collections of all sizes. On top of that, you can have your wine rack custom made to fit your design ideas.
Click here to see our top pick for the best free-standing wooden wine racks
If your cellar also has a sitting or tasting area, you will need to add some furniture to it. If you plan on organizing wine tasting parties for your friends, a table with a built-in wine rack would be an excellent choice. You can add a few wine barrel chairs or step stools to match the rustic style of your wine cellar. Also, if you have tall racking, you will need to buy a ladder to be able to reach the top shelf.
The Final Word
Like any other room in your home, wine cellars require regular maintenance. This entails keeping records for each bottle you have, dusting the shelves and bottles every now and then, and checking each bottle for signs of frost or moisture on the label. You should also have a licensed expert check your cooling unit every six to 12 months to ensure that everything is working the way it should.
Whatever you do, make sure not to exceed the capacity of your wine cellar. If you don’t have enough room to store all your bottles, you should consider installing a small wine fridge in your kitchen as a temporary solution. Otherwise, you may overwork your wine cellar cooling unit and damage your entire collection as a result.