Back in the 17th century, French winemakers would store their wines in old Roman mines. It is said that it was during those times that people started to learn about the preservative benefits of storing wine underground. Unknown to many, though, historians have been unearthing ancient subterranean storage rooms that contained jars and jars of wine and other ingredients for years.
Fast forward to modern times, wine cellars have become a value-adding staple in a lot of homes. Makes sense, especially when you have a whole bunch of Romanée-Conti or a couple of Müller Rieslings on the line!
If you’re thinking about adding a custom wine cellar to your home, this article will give you the most important details about building and maintaining one. And we want to start you off by asking, do you already know all the pros and cons of having a wine cellar in your home?
Is a Custom Wine Cellar Worth It?
Wine cellars have very controlled environments that help in the aging and preservation of wines. You might be wondering why, after all those years, wines still need to be kept in a highly unique storage unit. Despite the fact that there are drinkable wines today that have been made more than a century ago, a lot of wines do oxidize and expire. This is because a wine’s shelf life depends on how it was made and how it was stored before and after distribution.
If you are an Oenophile, you probably already know everything about maintaining the quality and flavor of wines. But if you are still on the route to calling yourself a legit wine lover or connoisseur and you want to know more about proper wine storage within a cellar, the very first things to know are the pros and cons of a wine cellar.
Pros of Wine Cellars:
- A wine cellar prolongs the life of a wine and preserves its quality.
- A wine cellar increases a home’s value because of the uniqueness it brings. In fact, a 2017 study by the National Realtor’s Association reported that 31% of their respondents, who had a yearly household income of more than $150,000, mentioned a wine cellar as their most sought-after amenity.
- A wine cellar can be a source of income if you’re planning to sell wines or you know someone who’s planning on selling wines in the future.
Cons of Wine Cellars:
- A wine cellar can be expensive to build and maintain.
- A wine cellar takes up space (that’s why some homeowners prefer wine refrigerators, cabinets, or closets instead).
How to Choose a Wine Cellar Design for Your Home
Ideally, wine should be stored in an area where there is little to no natural light, in an area devoid of sound and vibration, and in a cool area where temperature and humidity stay roughly within an optimal range.
Where Should I Place My Wine Cellar In My House
Subterranean wine cellars, root cellars, and basement cellars are some of the most popular types of traditional wine cellars. Since temperature is naturally cooler beneath the ground, the operating costs are much lower than cellars built above the ground.
Yes, you read that right — you can also construct wine cellars at floor level, and they’re very common in houses that don’t have a basement. There are cellars underneath the stairs, in an empty room, in a custom-built fridge, and they’re mostly built with a contemporary design. The only drawback of aboveground wine cellars is the degree of climate control you need to do because it is more exposed to UV light, heat, and vibrations.
Apart from light and heat exposure, vibrations can disturb the stability of the wine, affecting its aroma, taste, and overall quality.
How to Choose a Custom Wine Cellar Design
Wine cellars are commonly built with either concrete, brick, or glass walls. Each material has different heat absorption and storage capacities, and this will be one of the deciding factors when choosing your cellar’s cooling system (passive vs. active) as well.
While it’s true that veteran wine cellar builders can give life to any concept you want, the overall design and materials for your wine cellar will depend on where you’re going to build within your property.
Likewise, your geographic location also matters when deciding whether a design is feasible. For example, traditional root cellars are mostly adequate in perennially cool regions. If you’re living in Florida, Texas, or Hawaii, root cellars aren’t highly recommended.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Wine Cellar
The cost of wine cellars also depends on the design. If you want to stick to a certain budget, you can inform your builder, and they’ll customize a design for you.
But to give you an idea, a simple basement wine cellar with a passive system can typically cost around $300 per square foot. If you want to place a wine cellar in your kitchen where natural light and heat are abundant, the cost will be higher because you’ll need a more active climate-control system.
If you want to save on construction costs, you can try getting pre-fabricated cellars, cabinetry, or wine racks. The more you want it customized, the higher the cost will be.
Process on Building a Wine Cellar at Home: What You Can Expect
Ample extra space is an advantage if you want a wine cellar because you’ll need room for insulation and your cooling units. Subterranean home wine cellars are typically located about 10feet below ground. This isn’t that deep, though, considering that Milestii Mici Cellar, the world’s largest winery, is located 200feet below the ground!
How Long Does It Take To Build a Wine Cellar
Building a wine cellar takes more than just installing the walls and racks. Planning also takes a significant amount of time as the builder/designer will have to:
- Assess your location’s site conditions
- Come up with a professional recommendation on where to put your wine cellar
- Design the cellar according to your preferences and in consideration also of the site condition
The entire process, from planning to construction to being able to move your wine bottles in, can take weeks to months, depending on the size and design of your wine cellar.
Construction of a Home Wine Cellar
For an example, here’s a run-through of every step in a basic wine cellar installation process:
1. Wine Cellar Walls, Ceiling, and Floor
Cellar walls require the most attention when building a cellar because they need to be sealed and insulated as much as possible to maintain the ideal relative humidity (RH) of 50%-70%. A higher RH value may promote moisture, mold, and label degradation, while an extremely low RH value may dry out bottle corks, evaporating the wines.
In a concrete or brick-walled room, an artificial interior wall is built using joists, vapor barriers, and insulating materials. A 6mm plastic sheeting is positioned on the exterior, warmer side of the joist, and the interior is filled with insulating materials like spray foam.
In general, wine cellar experts, including custom wine cellar builders recommend a minimum insulation value (R-value) of R-19 in walls and R-30 in ceilings. The more the space is directly exposed to heat sources, the higher the insulation (R) should be. To increase R-value, the thickness of the material used is increased.
For glass-walled cellars, the glass used is double-paned and glazed to keep the heat and UV rays out. Gas filling is also a popular practice wherein low heat-conducting gases, like Argon, are used to fill the cavities instead of air. This way, heat doesn’t flow to the inside of the cellar as fast.
Insulation is also applied to the ceiling and floor. Once the insulation has been set, a dry wall is added to cover the entire interior wall. Likewise, concrete, tiles, or hardwood floors are added to complete the flooring (no vinyl or carpets). Check out how wine barrels are repurposed into wine cellar floors here. Any remaining cracks or spaces on the floor, ceiling, or wall are filled with a water-resistant, fire-rated sealant.
2. Wine Cellar Cooling System
Fixtures include the cooling system, lighting, power outlets, ventilation fans, and such. Wines are best preserved in a temperature range of 55°F-85°F, so if you’re planning on having a contemporary wine cellar, a great wine cooling system is a must, especially when the natural heat load of the walls is high (e.g., glass walls).
Common types of cooling systems used in a wine cellar include:
- Self-contained Cooling System – affordable, easy to install, and gives off vibrations
- Ducted Split Cooling System – works quietly with very minimal vibrations and can be installed on the ceiling, walls, and floor (but between us, it would be best to install cooling units on or near the ceiling because it’s where most of the hot air goes)
- Ductless Split Cooling System – best for long-term wine storage; unit is installed outside the cellar and gives the least noise and vibration
To determine the most suitable cooling unit for your wine cellar, the cellar’s required cooling unit is calculated using a heat load calculator. A heat load calculator takes into account the dimension of the cellar, insulation values, number of doors, size of the glassed area, construction materials used, and ambient room temperature.
Remember also that proper ventilation within a wine cellar is important. With this, your cooling system’s exhaust should be enough, considering the temperatures found within and outside your wine cellar. Specifically, the cooling unit has to be able to handle temperatures of up to 550F lower than the temperature on the exhaust side.
Since cooling units only reduce humidity most of the time, a separate humidifier is recommended to keep humidity levels at the ideal range.
3. Wine Cellar Lighting
The next thing to work on is your lighting. If your cellar is located in a dark area of your house, you’d want to install lights that are safe enough for your wines. Remember that wines should be kept away from direct sunlight, UV light, electric fluorescent lights, incandescent lights, and halogen lights. That’s why traditional wine cellars are a bit dim (and cozy! if we may say).
In the words of BinWise, a company that helps restaurants and bars manage their beverage inventory, wines exposed to strong light have “funky, cooked-cabbage, wet-dog, rotten-egg, or lit-match aromas and flavor profiles that cross the sensory threshold.” Now that wouldn’t be too great, would it?
If gas lamps are too much, your next best bet is to use dimmable, small-aperture LED lighting that doesn’t exceed 2700K. These can come in the form of wall scones, track lighting, recessed cans, thermally-fused/IC-rated cans, or wall-washed lighting. These lights should be sparse and distributed just enough for you not to stumble inside the room. And of course, don’t forget to turn them off when not in use!
4. Wine Cellar Door
Wine cellar doors are mostly made of solid poplar, mahogany, custom wood, or glass. For glass doors, the glass is always double-paned and usually 1 ¾ inch thick. Like the glass walls mentioned in the previous sections, glass doors are also infused with Argon to boost insulation capabilities.
All wine cellar doors are exterior-grade and thermopaned because temperatures on each side of the door can be very different. Apart from being able to prevent condensation, the door should be able to withstand a high-temperature contrast for it to last long. Likewise, all sides of the door are tightly sealed to minimize air exchange.
5. Wine Cellar Racks and Thermostat
Once the room has been prepped, you can now bring in your wine cellar racks. The most common wine cellar racks include hanging wine racks, metal wine racks, stackable wine racks, wood wine racks, and wine drawers; But then again, you can always have them customized, especially when the shape of your wine cellar is one-of-a-kind.
Once the wine racks are in place, allow your cooling system to run until the room’s temperature stabilizes within the ideal temperature range. You can place a separate thermostat in the room, positioned in an area where there is adequate airflow, like in the center of the cellar. After which, you can now bring in the bottles and store the wines horizontally if the wine racks allow it. As an additional side note, wines are preferably stored horizontally to keep the corks damp.
Take a look at this beautiful, modern wine cellar within metal wine racks beside the dining room!
How to Operate and Maintain a Wine Cellar at Home
Now here’s the next big question from homeowners. How much does it cost to run and maintain a wine cellar? The best way to answer this is to look at the energy consumption of your cooling system and lights and know the energy tariff rate in your area.
You have to note the energy consumption (expressed in kWh) of each air conditioning unit and light bulb within your cellar, then multiply everything by the tariff rate.
A/C = 0.15kWh x 2 units
Lightbulb = 0.01kWh x 6 bulbs
Electrical Tarrif Rate = 10.63¢/kWh
Total Electrical Cost Per Hour = $3.82/hour or $91.68 per day
Almost $100/day on a wine cellar alone?! Relax — that’s only assuming you run all the A/Cs and lights for 24 hours. You can save on electricity costs by:
- Buying energy-efficient units
- Installing separate digital thermometers and hygrometers
- Considering inverter cooling units
- Running your cooling system for only 15-20 minutes per hour
- Turning off the lights when there isn’t anyone in the room
For a wine storage unit to fully serve its purpose, it has to be built with precision according to the wine’s needs. Think of your wines as living things even if they’re not. This way, you’ll be reminded to give them the best home within your home.
Get in touch with the Wine Cellar Designers Group and get expert, professional help to build your own, custom home wine cellar! Call us at (214) 377 – 1336.