When adding a wine cellar, it’s essential that the space meets specific requirements.

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Q: I’m planning to build a climate-controlled wine cellar in my home. What do I need to tell my contractor so they can properly prepare the space?

A: In the past 50 years, wine cellars have commonly become part of the home due mainly to the development of climate control. As a result, there is a large information gap with many architects, builders and interior designers regarding how to store and showcase wine properly.

It’s essential that a wine room meet specific requirements. You want to maintain a room temperature in the 55-degree temperature range and a humidity of 45-65 percent.

You can protect your personal collection by having your contractor focus on these key areas.

Wall and ceiling framing. Build cellar walls using standard 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 construction methods and ceiling joists following the guidelines of local and state codes. The general rule is the thicker the walls and better the insulation factor, the better the cellar remains at a consistent temperature.

Vapor barrier. A vapor barrier is required to maintain temperature if a climate controlled-cooling unit is installed. Six-millimeter plastic sheeting is applied to the hot side of the cellar walls. The vapor barrier must be applied to the outside walls and ceiling or, if you can’t get to the outside, plastic must be applied from within the cellar. The most common method is to wrap the entire interior, leaving the plastic loose in the stud cavity so insulation can be placed between each stud. All walls and ceiling must be wrapped in plastic for a complete vapor barrier.

Insulation. This is also a must if you’re using a climate-controlled cooling unit. The R factor, or thickness, of insulation is determined by the thickness of the walls and ceiling. For example, R13 fiberglass insulation is used in a 2-by-4 wall. Using the correct insulation is vital. R13 is the minumum used; R19-R30 is recommended in the ceiling. Standard fiberglass or rigid foam insulation is often used in cellar construction, in some cases replaced by blown in insulation. It is paramount that all walls and ceilings be insulated to keep the cellar temperature consistent year-round.

Wall and ceiling coverings. Interior wall and ceiling covering is determined by the cellar’s décor theme. Often, drywall is applied and painted (always use latex paint) to match a color theme. Wood paneling is also commonly used, matching the wood species of the wine racking material for a uniform look. Reclaimed wine barrel materials, stone or granite is also used as wall covering material.

Cellar doors. An exterior grade (1¾-inch) door must be installed as a cellar door. It is very important that weather stripping is attached to all four sides of the doorjamb. A bottom sweep or threshold is also recommended to create a proper seal and keep the cool cellar air from escaping. Glass doors must have double pane tempered glass.

Flooring. Common floor types include slate, tile, marble and vinyl. Never use carpet: It will mold and mildew in the cool, damp climate conditions. As with the case of wall coverings, flooring is typically chosen to match the overall décor colors. The flooring should be applied to a level surface. It is best not to apply base trim or moldings to the walls behind the racking.

Glass windows or all-glass walls. To make the wine cellar part of the living space, it is common to add glass windows or full-glass walls. Glass windows must be double-pane glass and full-glass walls must be half-inch-thick glass that is sealed on all sides. All glass doors must have rubber seals on all four sides.

Climate-controlled systems. When deciding on the proper climate-controlled equipment, it is best to consult with a wine cellar professional because every cellar is different. Factors like where in the house the cellar is located, glass windows, and surrounding space that might cause extra heat to affect the wine cellar (such as sun walls or mechanical rooms) will affect the size of the cooling system required. Several units exist, including through-the-wall systems, split-system ducted and split-system ductless. The cellar configuration will determine what cooling system will be best to store your wine collection properly.


Doug Smith is the president and chief designer of Rhino Wine Cellars and Cooling Systems and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the group’s weekly column. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of the MBA’s more than 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.