If you have the luxury of starting from scratch, try to pick a space that is not exposed directly to the sun. Preferably the basement. If it is above ground try to locate it near the center part of the home.
The room you choose will also need a space next to it that can handle the exhaust from the cooling unit. This means that the room adjacent to the wine cellar is large enough to dissipate the warm air that is discharged, and preferably has a source of fresh air.
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What is structurally involved in building a cellar?
1. Wall & Ceiling Construction
Framing (2×4’s Shown)
Use 2 x 4’s or 2 x 6’s in framing the walls. Use at least a 2 x 8 in framing the ceiling. All are 16″ on center. Remember the more room for insulation the better (I like to frame with 2 x 6’s).
2. Vapor Barrier
A 6mm plastic barrier (available at most larger home stores) wrapped around the entire room including the ceiling is the only way to seal the room against moisture transfer.
Apply the vapor barrier to the “warm side” of the wall. The side of the wall that houses the wine is the “cool” side.
If you have access to both sides of your wall studs, install the barrier between the studs and sheetrock on the warm side of the wall. (see figure 1)
If you do not have access to both sides of your studs (i.e. your studs are attached to a solid surface such as concrete or brick, the room is a remodel, etc.), wrap the studs and create a cavity for your insulation. (see figure 2)
What we are trying to prevent is the warm air from an adjacent room or the outside coming through the wall and hitting the cool air of the wine cellar. When this happens you get condensation. And over a long period of time, with a lot of condensation forming, you can have issues with mold and mildew.
By simply putting a vapor barrier on the outside of the wall, this will prevent the warm air from traveling through the wall, thus preventing condensation.
You can use fiberglass bats, rigid foam or blown in insulation. There ought to be minimum of R-19 in the walls and R-30 in the ceiling. The R-value is an insulation designation. Basically the higher the R value the better the insulation.
For longevity add moisture resistant sheet rock (green board) over the studs and insulation. Then add a wall treatment that suits your tastes.
Before you finish mudding, double check to make sure all air leaks in the room are sealed tight. Make sure to tightly seal and weather strip holes in your sheetrock from light switches, cooling units, power outlets, etc.
5. Wall Treatment
Wall Treatment Applied
One of the most common questions we get is, “What should I cover the walls with?” The answer of course, is, “Whatever makes you the happiest.” Here are some common choices…
Latex paint applied to create an “aged” effect
Sanded paint or stucco
Tile or slate
Tongue & groove wood paneling
River rock, flagstone or travertine
Definitely use a solid surface – something that spilled wine or moisture won’t hurt. Sealed hardwood, tile, stone, & sealed concrete are all popular choices. No carpet, as mold and mildew will show up very quickly.
7. Doors & Windows
Solid Exterior Grade Alder Wine Cellar Doors
Exterior Grade Window
The added expense of building a quality wine cellar that includes insulation, a cooling unit, moisture resistant sheetrock, etc, needs to also include high quality doors & windows. These two items are responsible for more temperature and moisture exchange than any other part of your cellar.
Doors – Make sure you use an exterior grade door. Whether it is made from wood, metal, glass, or something else, exterior grade doors will hold in the cold best. Interior grade doors just aren’t made to keep out the heat like an exterior grade door does.
Make sure to weather strip around the entire door, and get a threshold and sweep that fits snugly against the floor. The idea here is to keep the cool air in, and the warm air out. The most common reason that a cooler runs continually is an improperly installed door. If your door is to include glass, always opt for double or (even better) triple pane, thermal insulated glass installed by a reputable source.
Windows – Same basic principles as the door. Quality insulated glass, a high quality frame and good sealant should be your rule of thumb.
You CANNOT go overboard when it comes to sealing up your cellar. Use caulk, sheetrock mud, super glue, gum (ha ha) – anything you can find to seal every crack and crevice before you insulate and vapor lock.
Always opt for below-ceiling lighting from a low wattage source. Avoid recessed “can” lighting.
Try a low wattage track lighting system, or some wall sconces placed just above the racking. Rope lighting, candles, and even LED lighting can add interesting touches to your cellar decor.
If you put the light switch on a timer, you won’t have to worry about the lights being left on after you have visited the cellar a couple of times during the evening. Cellared wine does not like bright lights for long periods of time.