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What to Consider When Putting a Wine Cellar in Your Home


A custom built wine cellar in the home is not as difficult an undertaking, nor as formidable an expense as you might fear initially. Ideal storage conditions for wine are simple — the bottles must be stored in a vibration free dark environment, lying horizontally and undisturbed, the temperature a constant 52 – 57 degrees Fahrenheit (10-15 degrees centigrade), and relative humidity no less than 70 percent.

Where shall we put it? If one had the freedom (or luxury) of being able to carry out structural alterations (or even better, build from scratch), our personal preference would be a location with easy access from the living or dining room, preferably the former. Easy accessibility removes any psychological (and physical) barriers to bringing out more bottles.

Should the cellar be glass fronted, or have a glass door? This depends on how much you want others to see what you have (or do not have!). It is all really a matter of personal preference and lifestyle. Advances in glass technology have made it possible for double glazed glass walls or doors to be used without the exterior becoming clouded by condensation, especially liable if the living/dining room is not kept air conditioned around the clock. Incidentally, double glazing is very expensive.


The size of cellar is likely to be the subject of endless debate within your family. You should opt for the largest possible space you can devote to it, relative to other demands for living space and to budget available. If you are obsessive compulsive as wine lovers tend to be, the likelihood is you will need a lot more space than you think.

Think of the number of bottles you would like to keep, double it and then double it again, and you will not have any regrets. The cellar can also double as dry foods storage. However, avoid storing strong smelling foods. Wines pick up odors despite corks and capsules.


Should it be above or below ground? We would wholeheartedly recommend the below ground option. Digging a big hole under your living room or in the garden outside is a major construction job. This is not to be lightly undertaken, as it involves all kinds of other implications, such as staying somewhere else for up to a year. If you have a swimming pool and have given up swimming, or do not have children who would enjoy it, or you do not like to get wet unnecessarily, conversion of the pool becomes a simple option.

The advantage of below ground cellars is that the additional insulation provided by the earth around the four sides and under the floor significantly reduces the energy cost of keeping the cellar cool by approximately 25 per cent which over the years adds up to a considerable saving as well as being more environmentally friendly.


The major (very major) disadvantage of below ground cellars is water — water leaking into the cellar. If you are on high ground, it is less of a problem, but not eliminated entirely. The best advice is three words: waterproof, waterproof and waterproof. And do not believe your architect or contractor when they tell you that the waterproofing they have provided is the industrial standard. Do like the airlines. Operate on a 200 percent safety factor.

For below ground cellars, a dumb waiter (50 kg load sufficient) may be a luxury but is an enormous help. Carrying a heavy case of wine up the stairs is not easy. A dumb waiter saves your back, and with advancing age this is solid medical advice! Industrial strength insulation is essential, even for below ground cellars. The standard material used is four to six inch thick polystyrene or polyurethane sheets, aluminum clad on both sides. Insulate all six surfaces, meaning four walls, ceiling and floor, even if your cellar rests on solid earth. The cold room contractor who advises that it is not necessary to insulate the floor because it rests on solid earth does not know what he is talking about and should be avoided. Heat absorbed by the ground during the day goes through the earth and rises through the floor.


Additionally, cold goes through the floor, spreads through the earth, and could cause condensation on adjoining house walls. If your cellar is on an upper floor, insulation of the floor is mandatory to avoid condensation on the ceiling of the room below, which if it is your neighbors could lead to very unpleasant relations especially if his ceiling plaster gives way. Similar considerations apply to insulation of the ceiling in cellars built within apartments.

For upper floor cellars, check the floor loading factor. Domestic apartments are not built to take very heavy loads. A case of wine weighs 40-45 pounds. A six case high stack means a load of over 220 pounds on an area about one square foot. On 10 square feet you can pile 9 or 10 such stacks! Whether it is you or your neighbor below, structural cracks are not desirable.

For flooring, cover the insulation panels with plain wood (plywood), preferably overlaid with a thick synthetic carpet which can cushion dropped bottles and minimise breakage. The optimum cooling equipment is not domestic air conditioners but industrial refrigerating compressors, situated outside the house/apartment and connected to evaporators in the cellar, which are best mounted on the ceiling to save wall space for the racking. It is better to provide over rather than under capacity of cooling because it imposes less strain on the compressor. And insist on high quality equipment, especially the controlling thermostat. A faulty thermostat could cause the compressor to operate non-stop, leading to temperatures of 50 degrees fahrenheit or more below zero, with absolutely disastrous and irretrievable consequences to your wine. Provision of an alarm set to go off if the temperature goes beyond preset minimum and maximum temperatures is essential.


Avoid fluorescent illumination which ruins wine. Standard lighting is the regulation required moisture proof bulkhead lighting using normal LED lamps. Adequate lighting helps to locate bottles.

Some form of racking and shelving is needed. The choice is very personal, and depends on whether it is a showcase type or a working cellar. There are designer built racks of hard wood which will provide an impressive display but are very expensive. The alternative is a mix of bins, rectangular, square or diamond shaped (recommended), and single bottle racks, with additional below counter level shelves for unbroken cases/boxes.


As for cost, allow for $35,000 (plus or minus depending on finishes) for a 300 sq ft, eight foot high cellar, complete with refrigeration equipment, excluding racking and shelving. This would provide storage capacity for 3,000 to 5,000 bottles, depending on the type and style of racks and shelving. Always get more than one quote. Final advice, use only engineering qualified contractors. The last thing you need are problems with your cellar arising from inadequate cooling, poor humidity, and leaks.


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