Best tips on building a wine cellar

hoyess(z5 ON Can)November 25, 2008

My husband and I are hoping to convert a 7 x 10.5 foot storage room in our basement into a wine cellar. I have read a lot of the tips on-line but thought I would ask here if anyone has any special things we should consider. Some other questions we have are:

What is the best cooling unit? There is a KoolR system that vents inside the house that we are considering although there is an exterior wall we can vent to if that is better. How much noise does the KoolR (old name ChillR) make if anyone knows? We have two fridge style wine coolers downstairs now & they are fairly quiet & not on often.

I've read something about venting into the ceiling? Does this mean I can put it in the ceiling & vent between the floors? How noisy would this be (the room is below my kitchen). How about into my existing duct system -- how much humidity & noise would this involve if we did this?

What is the best floor option? We are thinking of using slate. Right now the floor is unfinished concrete.

Does painting the walls hold up? (I know we have to use greenboard). Our contractor also recommended he can do a plaster stone treatment over the boards -- is that necessary re humidity?

We have a dishwasher above the storage area. If I put extra insulation there will this be sufficient re any vibrations?

Thanks all. Any other tips from your experience would be greatly appreciated.


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makalu_gw(z5b NY)


I think that the best cooling unit would be one that is sized well for the room and also fits your wallet. I'd love to have a Breezaire unit with the nice in-bottle temperature probe but they were just too pricy for me so I went with the Koolspace ChillR 900. It only shows the temperature up near the ceiling where it's mounted so to get around it I bought one of the inexpensive La Crosse temperature monitors with the outdoor probe and just put the probe on the middle rack next to a bottle of wine and it works well to tell me from the living room what the temperature is in the cellar. The ChillR 900 is a very quiet unit - about the noise level of a very small air conditioner / humidifier.

I've not done any research on the vent to ceiling method but I'd guess they're talking about into more of an attic space than into floor joists since the unit moves a fair bit of air and unless the ceiling is a plenum I don't think it'd work. From what I read, the ChillR units are made to vent into a conditioned space and not into ducts or anything else so you'd need a different unit if you were going that way.

For a floor, I went with one of the laminates since I could put it in in a weekend and it feels warmer than stone if you're getting a bottle of wine in your socks. It's lasted very well for the past few years and I ended up putting a rug in the room to soften the look (of course, after I dropped the first bottle of wine on the floor and thought softer would be better!). I think tiles would be nice too as long as you're using a grout that is meant for bathroom floors.

I decided not to try greenboard and paint so I went with beadboard plywood and just stained / urethaned it but I don't see why a paint designed for bathrooms wouldn't stand up just fine since they're supposed to be designed for high humidity applications.

I don't think you have a big issue with the dishwasher above the storage area. The vibrations of the dishwasher would have to go through the first level floor, across the joists, through the insulation, down the walls and into your racking before it's going to impact the bottles so you should be good.


- Be really sure you get the right size unit (in your case, the 900 should be fine since assuming you have an 8' ceiling, you've got about 600 cubic feet to cool).

- Have an idea of how warm your basement gets in summer before you do the installation. Since you're going to want to keep the wines around 60 degrees, the basement must stay cooler than 80 degrees. I blew up the first Koolspace that I had by venting the basement for a week or so to the outside in the middle of summer when the temperature got to about 85.

- Don't skimp on insulation ... especially on the floor. They're not kidding when they want R-20 to R-30 and it both saves money on electrical and lets the cooling unit work less to maintain a temperature. Your contractor will probably have a better idea of what to do here - for my installation I ended up going with 2" rigid foam board on the floor (after testing to make sure the basement floor was dry), R-18 fiberglass for the walls and ceilings with an additional 1" rigid foam on top of the insulation and the cooling unit probably comes on once every 1/2 hour in the height of summer.

That's a nice sized room you're planning ... you could even fit a small seating area and table in it and still have space for a lot of wine. Good luck with the project.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 8:40AM
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hoyess(z5 ON Can)

thanks for the great response Makalu.

Your tip on insulating the floor was great as we had not even thought of that nor did the wine cellar equipment supply company we spoke to even mention it. Does that mean you have a slight step up into your cellar as we would if we build up the cellar floor. I also won't bother looking into the vent into floor / duct work based on what you have suggested.

Re the ChillR, the company that sells them here told me yesterday I would have to avoid putting wine bottles 2 feet to the left, right and bottom of the unit due to air flow since we only have 7foot ceilings and would not be able to put it above a doorway. Given that we would lose a lot of storage we are now considering a Breezaire split system. That should solve my noise problem as well. We are still debating as to whether to put the condensing unit outside our basement door or inside a small electrical room in the basement. Any ideas on that?

We are not considering a seating area as there is a space outside the wine cellar itself where we will be doing that. We are instead thinking of putting a double row of racking along one small wall to increase capacity for longer term stored bottles. Not sure yet how best to do this.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2008 at 9:52AM
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makalu_gw(z5b NY)


When you add some insulation on the floor, it does create a little step-up. If you look at Lowes / Home Deopt, they make thresholds for doors that have a little ramp that takes care of it nicely and you never really notice the rise.

The Breezaire split system is a really nice system and it'll definitely solve the noise problem since all you'd be hearing is air movement and not the sound of the compressor. Since it's a split system, I think that either spot would do but you want to check with the manufacturer / vendor since my guess is that there are limitations (or additional costs) associated with the distance between the two sections due to piping and wiring and possibly heat dissapation in the electrical room.

Wine room layout is not the easiest thing in the world to do since it's really spatial and you'll need to come up with a system or use a computer to remember which bottle is where ... at least I do since after a couple of hundred bottles my mind just stops keeping track. Depending on who you are going to buy your racking from, many of the places offer free or low cost layout planning help if you use their systems so you might want to try to hit them online (like IWA-wine or and see what they can do for you.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2008 at 7:50AM
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what is the ambient temperature of the surrounding room? The assumption is that since it's in your basement, your floor above will be in a heated room - do you heat your basement too? Is your basement entirely subterranean or do you have 3 ft windows in it like mine? If you are entirely subterranean, and your ground temp is OK. you may not have to insulate the floor. Remember that it can be a heat sink and insulating it can actually raise the temp of the interior space.

If your configuration is like I described, you need most insullation on the ceiling. The vibrations from your dishwasher won't be a problem anyhow - the dishwasher is above and it's hard to imagine how it would shake the floor of the wine cellar.

I simply have the same concrete floor as the rest of the basement. My cellar is for storage, so I just wanted it to be functional. It's about the same size as you describe.

Vapor barriers can be something to think about. If you have a large difference in temp between your cellar and the surrounding space, you can get condensation. in an unheated basement, the problem is more likely against the ceiling than the walls, but each place is different. Generally you put the vapor barrier against the warm side, but that's not a brilliant idea for a ceiling, especially if your joists and flooring is wood, which is probably the case.

I don't understand your question about paint. What is your concern? Also, remember that greenboard doesn't really insulate all that well. I was worried about flooding in the basement even though we've never had any, so I used wonderboard, or cement board, like you would use for a bathroom. I also have six inch walls so I could put a lot of insullation in, and I built my own door which is also six inches. If you use extruded polystyrene, you get the maximum insulation per square inch. Thermax, which has foil on one or both sides, is slightly better but deteriorates over time and there is some literature about toxins, so rather than worry about any of that, I just used polystyrene.

I also built my own wine racks. If you use individual racking, you lose a lot of space to air, but that is the most convenient for looking at your bottles. If you use some kind of bin, Rhone shaped bottles and anything that's slightly weird can be a real pain to stack. So I made shelves. A Bordeaux bottle is 3" diameter, a Burgundy bottle is about 3 1/4", but some of the Rhones are a little larger and things like Turley, or Champagne, or some Beaujolais, are even larger. So I made shelves spaced at 3 1/2 inches, with a few at the bottom that are 4" and the top which is about 5" for anything weird. That was the compromise that allowed me to get the maximum bottles with the least amount of lost space. Bins are better but as I said, a pain. I did one wall with bins and probably wouldn't do that again.

For cooling, you have a lot of options. You can do a split system. You can get a Whisperkool or Breezeaire or something similar. But remember, those coolers are simply air conditioners. AC units don't go down below 65 or so because they'll ice up. So the compressors are sized slightly differently and the evaporation coils are sized slightly differently than the wine chiller units. If you got your AC to go to 60 or below, you wouldn't have adequate evaporation. So what to do? Get a larger unit. The smallest room AC is about 3000 BTU, or 5000 BTU, which is far more than you need to get that small room cool. If you trick it, you can get it to cool to the 50s or so and you're in good shape. I just bought a $99 Samsung and the temp is around 59 - 62 degrees F. You can pull the thermostat wire thru the grill, which gets you about 5 degrees right there, and you can tape a small resistor to it that gets you another few degrees, and you spent $99 for a cooling system that works fine. I'm not going to get into an engineering description of cooling systems, but people modify big ACs for meat lockers if they're hunters, and it actually works pretty good for a wine cellar. But a spare in case you burn it out and use the savings for more wine.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2008 at 3:58PM
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I just left a long response and it erased it so I will be somewhat short. One of the biggest concerns you should have is the temperature fluctuations in your basement. I am currently building my own wine cellar and it's in the basement/garage which is above ground on three sides. Originally I was going to leave the concrete floor alone thinking the ground would help keep the cellar cool. After a lot of reading, if your basement is not a steady 55-60 degrees on it's own then consider insulation on the floor. Concrete by its very nature will either pull heat from your cellar towards the outside or add heat. Remember that the heat only has to travel under the studs. So to keep a closer constant temp in the cellar, insulate the floor if the outside room could have fluctuations or if it's just warm to begin with. I live in Asheville, NC and my basement gets down into the mid 30s in winter and 80s in the summer. With that said, I went with R-42 for the ceiling, R-23 for the walls, homemade door with around R-24, and an R-10 floor which has a 2" polystyrene sheet (R-10) and 1/2" plywood over it.

Hands down the best book I have come across with detailed wine cellar testing and building is 'How and Why To Build a Wine Cellar' by Richard M. Gold, Ph.D.

Hope this helps,

    Bookmark   January 6, 2009 at 4:09PM
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Built my cellar three years ago following on-line info at the DIY network. Be sure to get the insulation and vapor barrier ON THE CORRECT SIDE. You must insulate opposite the normal process. I tiled by concrete floor...only after sealing the concrete against moisture as recommended. I used rigid insulation over existing walls, then greenboard primed/painted (no paint issues in three years). My cooling unit vents to the garage. THe only thing I would do differently is to have a slightly larger cooling unit. The one I bought was rated right at the limit of my cubic footage. It runs a little more often than I like. Before you spend big bucks on rack...try and get the video of Norm Abrahms building a wine rack on New Yankee Workshop. I built my own racks follwing some simple steps and saved HUNDRED$ over kit-racks (assumes you have some woodworking equipment).

    Bookmark   January 11, 2009 at 7:46PM
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Ron Natalie

I did my wine cellar with the paperless drywall. That's probably overkill. The key as said is to make sure that you have a complete vapor
barrier on the WARM side of the wall and then insulate.
I'm on the basement slab floor and found it not necessary to do anything.

Mine is a 42x57" closet with a Breezeaire (NEVER AGAIN, BUT IT'S CURRENTLY WORKING) cooler thrugh to the unfinished basement. The walls are just crudely racked in bins. I can get about 600 bottles in there.

I made an insulated door by taking a cheap interior door, cutting off the interior veneer, scraping out all the cardboard that they fill the space with, putting a piece of 2" rigid insulation there, and then sticking a new piece of thin plywood over the insulation. Weatherstrip everything good.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 5:17AM
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That rigid insulation has an r value of about 10. It's 5 per inch, so at 2 inches you have 20. It's not a bad solution, but you will then have an R value of 10 for your wall so unless you add to the door, you wasted the additional insulation on the walls. But I like the idea of using a ready-made door. you can improve it by putting additional insulation on it.

Definitely get Gold's book. Most of it is useless, but he does a great job of explaining why you want particular kinds of insulation and why you want a steady temperature. The $25 it will cost is the price of a bottle, and the info that you do use is well worth the price.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2009 at 10:06PM
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That's right, AC units don't go down below 65 or so because they'll ice up. So the compressors are sized slightly differently and the evaporation coils are sized slightly differently than the wine chiller units. If you got your AC to go to 60 or below, you wouldn't have adequate evaporation. So what to do? Get a larger unit.

And the smallest room AC is about 3000 BTU, or 5000 BTU, which is far more than you need to get that small room cool. If you trick it, you can get it to cool to the 50s or so and you're in good shape. I just bought a $99 Samsung and the temp is around 59 - 62 degrees F.

Here is a link that might be useful: ac

    Bookmark   June 9, 2010 at 6:34AM
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Right. The thing is, you have to first trick the thermostat to cool below the factory setting. Because you're doing that, to prevent icing you need a bigger evaporation unit. So you have to oversize the unit. It's exactly what they do for wine coolers or simple refrigerators - the components have to be sized to get the temperature range you want. Down south, people make meat lockers using window AC units - they'll get a 15,000 BTU unit for a space that only needs a 3000 unit for example, and that way they get the correct heat exchange.

Takes a little tweaking and I guess you void your warranty, but try collecting from Whisperkool if you trash your wine collection. Plus, for the price of a WHisperkool or Breezaire unit, you can buy a new AC every year for 10 years. Anyhow, it's what I'm using and my cellar is a constant 60, which is fine. I could get it cooler, but I'm lazy.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 9:57PM
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We bought a Whisperkool, hated it! It made too much noise and heated up the room in the summer. We replaced with a split system. Works great

Question, I lined my cellar with tongue and groove pine.
The pine is holding moisture and mildew. Any one else have the same issue and what would you recommend using on the interior?

    Bookmark   September 24, 2011 at 4:10PM
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Not sure what you mean by holding moisture and mildew but if your humidity is high, then you'll get mildew. The question is whether you put up a vapor barrier and where you put it, and what the humidity in your cellar is. Rather than rip out the pine, I'd try de-humidifying somehow. Generally a cooling unit also does some dehumidifying. If it's sized to large, it will cycle off before it does much dehumidifying, which is why you should size an AC unit properly. However, in a wine cellar, you want some more humidity, which is why you can use an oversized AC unit - it will not dehumidify too much.

Sounds like you have too much of a good thing. I'm not sure where you live or what the cellar size is, but try adjusting your settings on the cooling unit first. The pine isn't causing the mildew and if you have mildew now, you're likely to get it whatever you use, so you need to solve the humidity problem first.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2011 at 12:48AM
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