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10 Easy Tips for Building a Wine Cellar

Many wine collectors—and homeowners—dream of building a wine cellar in their homes. It's no wonder: what better way is there to increase the value of your home and show off your collection to your friends?

Just make sure you plan ahead and follow some basic rules, and you'll soon be sipping wine from (or in!) the wine cellar of your dreams.

Tip #1: Carefully think through how you want to use your cellar.

The first step is to ask yourself why you are building a wine cellar. Will it be purely for storing wine? Or will it also be used for entertaining and displaying your wine collection?

Does your style tend towards traditional wood racking or do you prefer contemporary metal racks? If your cellar will be used only for storage, then you can focus on unstained wood racks made from pine or cheap redwood which sell for as little as $2 per bottle.

However, if you want to create an area where you can proudly display your wine and entertain guests, begin by setting a budget. But be realistic: aesthetically pleasing wine racking will start around $5 per bottle.

Next, decide on the style and type of racking material you'd like to show off—wood, metal, or both. If using wood, consider premium hardwoods like mahogany, which can be stained in a variety of finishes, to match your dècor and achieve a distinctive look.

To add elegance and personality to your cellar, consider common upgrades like islands, archways, and waterfalls.

Tip #2: Know the optimal storage conditions for wine—and maintain them.

The ideal conditions for storing and aging wine are 55 to 60°F and 60 to 70% relative humidity. If you don't have a space where these conditions exist naturally, you'll need to create a controlled environment to store your wine.

Wine coolers (also called cooling units or refrigeration systems) can maintain these optimal conditions for your wine collection. Most wine coolers are temperature-controlled. The best models successfully keep wine at proper serving temperatures.

Wine coolers are ideal for short-term storage of wine. However, most wine coolers have temperature variations that are too wide for proper storage of fine wine and few maintain proper humidity conditions for long-term storage and aging. At CellarPro, we're proud to build units that truly control the elements. Read about the benefits of our products.

Ideally, wine will also be stored in darkness, with minimal vibration and disturbance as it ages.

Tip #3: Incorporate the 3 critical components of any wine cellar.

The 3 most important aspects of quality wine cellar construction are:

  • Insulation
  • Vapor or moisture barrier
  • Airtight seal

Insulation: We recommend a minimum of R12 and R19 if possible. To the extent the cellar shares an exterior wall, R30 insulation is preferable for that wall. Since most walls are constructed with 2" x 4" studs, you should be able to use 2 x 1.5" bats (3" total) with R6 per inch or R18 total insulation.

Moisture Barrier: It is imperative to use a moisture or vapor barrier when constructing a wine cellar. The most common vapor barrier is 6 mil polyethylene sheeting (also called Visqueen). You should wrap this material around the entire wine cellar on the outside (i.e. the warm side) of the insulation.

Airtight seal: When the wine cellar door is closed, there should be no airflow entering or leaving the space. The door should have weather-stripping and a door-sweep to prevent air from coming into the cellar when the door is shut.

Tip #4: Compensate for how sections of glass (walls, windows, or doors) impact your wine cellar.

Glass provides poor insulation in wine cellars and therefore has a low R-value. Even "thermal double pane glass" has an R-value of just approximately 2 to 3.

This means that you'll need to account for the glass areas when you calculate the thermal load of your wine cellar. Calculating the thermal load is the best way to choose a cooling unit for your exact wine cellar.

At CellarPro, we're happy to figure out your thermal load for free. Just submit your cellar dimensions and relevant information. We'll take care of the number crunching and send you a report on your thermal load.

As you shop around for a cooling unit, be careful about relying on the "rated capacity" estimates from manufacturers. The assumed conditions may be very different from the conditions in your wine cellar, which is why you need a precise thermal load calculation.

Tip #5: Concrete walls need additional insulation.

Concrete walls are great for wine cellars, right? No, unfortunately, concrete walls provide awful insulation. Given its porous nature, concrete doesn’t do a good job of keeping moisture out of the wine cellar.

The R-value of an uninsulated, 8"-thick basement wall built using normal-weight concrete is 1.35. By doubling the thickness of the wall to 16 inches, the R-value increases by only 0.50 to 1.75.

If you have concrete walls in your cellar, you’ll need to attach a layer of poly coating and then rigid foam insulation to create a moisture barrier and adequate insulation.

Tip #6: Investing in the right cooling unit will save you money in the long term.

There is a direct correlation between price and performance when it comes to selecting a wine cooling system.

Through-the-wall cooling systems are the most cost-effective and easiest to install. They are shipped fully-charged and ready to use in a self-enclosed case.

The downside of through-the-wall cooling units is that they take up space inside the cellar, and noise from the cooling unit can be heard inside and outside the wine cellar. They also require a hole in the wall to fit the cooling unit and sufficient space on both sides of the wall for proper ventilation.
Cost: $1,000 to $3,500

Split cooling systems are built so that some of the components are located outside the wine cellar and some inside the cellar. The 2 sets of components are connected by 2 refrigerant lines that a qualified professional needs to charge and braise on-site. The certified installer may also need to set up power and drain lines.

The main advantage of split systems is that you can place the condensing unit in a remote location, which mitigates noise from the compressor. Split systems also don’t need a big hole or niche in your wall. The primary drawback is that split cooling systems require expensive professional installation.
Cost: $5,000+

Ducted cooling systems, in which the entire cooling unit is located remotely and cold air is ducted into the wine cellar, are generally the most expensive wine cooling systems.

Their main advantages are that the wine cellars won't be subject to noise from the cooling unit and commercial systems can be serviced by most HVAC professionals. In addition, space in the wine cellar can be maximized for wine storage, because the cooling unit doesn't take any space inside the cellar.

The primary disadvantage of ducted systems is that they require professional installation. The vents must also be designed and incorporated into the building structure, so retrofits can be prohibitively expensive.
Cost: $3,000 to $6,000 plus installation.

Tip #7: Wine racks come in all shapes and sizes. Find the one that works best for your needs and style.

The most popular types of wine racks are as follows:

Individual bottle storage: Each bottle is cradled in its own cell, either single or double deep. Different sizes of cells are designed to accommodate various types of bottles, such as Bordeaux, Burgundy/Champagne, Magnums, and splits. Individual bottle storage racks can be designed in wood or metal.

Diamond Bin Storage: Diamond bins provide bulk storage with flair. Bins provide maximum flexibility, because they accommodate any size bottle. Nevertheless, they're best suited for long-term storage, since bottles at the bottom are difficult to access. You must also handle bottles carefully, as they are resting on top of each other.

Case Storage: Wood and cardboard case racks hold wine bottles in their original cases. Some case storage comes with sliding shelves for easy access. Make sure to specify wood versus cardboard cases, because wood cases are wider and shorter and cardboard cases are narrower and taller.

Tabletops: With individual bottle or bin storage below, tabletops provide convenient and attractive spaces for opening bottles and pouring wine. Tabletops can be made from wood and/or stone surfaces to match your overall cellar design. They also also offer space to store and display accessories like stemware, decanters, and bottle openers.

Tip #8: Don't forget to plan storage for your large-format bottles.

Have you ever noticed the difference in size between Bordeaux/Cabernet and Burgundy/Pinot bottles? It's important to keep these variations in mind as you choose a storage method.

For most wine cellars, individual bottle storage for 750ml bottles will make up a large part of your wine racks. Make sure that the slot sizes are wide enough to accommodate today's large-format bottles. Generally, 3.75" is wide enough for most Bordeaux, Burgundy, and many Champagne bottles.

If you have a lot of Magnum or split bottles, you'll need dedicated storage for each of these bottle types. You should also consider other types of larger bottles like Double Magnums, Jeroboams, etc., if they make up a substantial part of your collection.

Tip #9: If you can't afford custom racks, you can save money with wine rack kits.

The range of wine rack kits on the market can suit many configurations and options. So, in many cases, it's possible to attain a custom look while saving money on a mass-product product.

First, decide if you want your wine racks to go all the way to the ceiling. Or is it fine if they stop at 6 feet? Next, think about which configurations, options, and woods you want in your wine cellar.

Wine rack kits offer many—but not all—of the configurations, options, stains, and types of wood offered by custom wine racks, so if your plans are flexible, you'll probably save money.

Tip #10: Budget effectively for all components of your cellar.

While planning for the cost of building your cellar, be sure to consider all of the following factors.

Construction: As we've mentioned, wine cellars need proper insulation and moisture barriers to create an airtight environment. Cellar construction also includes framing for the cooling unit and structural support in the floor.

Cost: varies depending on the size of the wine cellar

Wine Cooling Unit: Our Tip #6 goes over the primary types of cooling units and their advantages. Don't forget to budget for a refrigeration system as you prepare to build or convert a cellar.

Cost: $1,000 to $10,000 (including installation)

Wine Racks: Choices range from kits to complete custom solutions and vary in cost based on number of bottles, amount of customization, type of wine racks, type of wood and choice of upgrades and options.

Metal racks are a low-cost option, especially for bulk racking. Nevertheless, for individual bottle storage, metal wine racks are suboptimal because they can tear bottle labels. They may also lose their form over time and crumple under the weight of the wine bottles.

Cost: $2 to $20 per bottle

Wine Cellar Door: An exterior-grade insulated door provides an airtight seal and high thermal insulation.

Cost: $600 to $3000

Wine Cellar Floor: From tile to concrete to cork wood, just about any floor surface will work as long as it matches your décor. Keep in mind that softer surfaces (like cork wood) will be more forgiving if you drop a bottle whereas sealed surfaces (like tile) are the easiest to clean and repel stains.

Cost: $3 to $15 per square foot

Accessories: Lighting fixtures, wood paneling, and artwork—to offer just a few examples—can all lend a personalized touch to your wine cellar, but raise the cost of the project.

Cost: variable

Questions about the cellar building process? Need help picking the right cooling unit for your space? Contact us for more advice and information.

We've put together some basic resources to guide you through the process of choosing a cooling unit and building a cellar.

You need this number to choose the right cooling unit. We'll figure it out for you.

To contact our support team, email us or call 877.726.8496.