Can I use my existing HVAC system in my house to condition my wine cellar?
Your wine cellar should maintain a temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 60% to 70%. Most houses today keep a temperature of 68 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 25% to 35%. I have yet to see a whole house system that could be feasibly altered to create a separate zone to maintain a wine cellar environment. The availability of companies that successfully build standalone systems for wine cellars has come a very long way since the '90s.
These cooling units range from a basic air exchanger, starting at $700.00, to complex air handlers with all the bells and whistles for as much as $15,000.00 to $20,000.00. These systems are designed and built for the purpose of conditioning your room to an environment specific for cool, humid storage.
What type of chiller (wine cooler) should I buy?
There are three types of units that you can purchase to condition your wine cellar. All of these units require certain specifications that your room should be built to in order to maintain the correct environment as well as warranty the chiller.
An air exchanger is designed to take warm air from an adjacent room and introduce it into your cellar as cooler air. These systems are built to be installed "through-the-wall." You will see the face (grille) of this unit in your cellar. If you block the face of the unit, then air flow will be impeded, the unit will short cycle, and the coil will begin to freeze up. The benefit to these systems is the cost and ease of installation. They offer general humidity from condensation of the exchange of warm air to cool air.
If you want to set and control humidity, then an additional humidifier would be recommended. Be aware that these units "generate" heat in order to cool your wine cellar and can be noisy when they run. This should be considered if the unit is to be installed common to an entertaining room, kitchen, or other livable space. These units are sized and priced by the cubic room dimensions and room construction.
Ductless Split System:
A ductless split system is made up of two mechanical units, an evaporator and a condenser. The evaporator is located in your cellar and the condenser is located either outside or in a mechanical room. The two units are connected by a line set. These systems are Freon-based and must be installed by a certified HVAC technician.
The line set has limitations in how far it can run and elevation between condenser and evaporator. These limitations can be accommodated by a licensed contractor. Some manufacturers have designed an evaporator that can be ducted from adjacent to the wine cellar. One of the initial drawbacks of these units was the aesthetic appearance of the evaporator inside the wine cellar.
Another concern is that you will need to hire an HVAC contractor to install the system. Sometimes it may be difficult to hire someone in a timely manner for a small job such as this, so plan accordingly. The basic unit comes as cooling only. Additional options would be humidification, heat, low ambient heat for an outdoor condenser, remote thermostat, and remote monitoring. These units are sized and priced by the cubic room dimensions and room construction.
Ducted Air Handler:
A ducted air handler is a system with the evaporator coil and a condenser in one box. The unit has a supply and return that needs to be delivered to and from the wine cellar. The supply should be ducted high and the return should be returned low. These units are limited to the length of run on the ducts. Some manufacturers have made allowances to remotely duct in makeup air and exhaust the relative heat.
These units come charged from the factory with the correct Freon and don't necessarily need a licensed HVAC contractor to install. Aesthetically, these units are the best for delivering the proper climate but only seeing grille work. The basic unit comes as cooling only. Additional options would be humidification, heat, low ambient heat for an outdoor condenser, remote thermostat, and remote monitoring. These units are sized and priced by the cubic room dimensions and room construction.
What are the necessary room specifications for my wine cellar?
- Any wine chiller you purchase will be sized based on the cubic room dimensions and the construction of the space. If the room isn't built to the manufacturer’s specifications, the unit may fail and the warranty may be void. The following are the minimum specifications that we construct our projects to:
- R-19 insulation in walls, R-30 insulation in ceiling.
- 6 ml. vapor barrier on all insulated surfaces. The vapor barrier MUST be installed on the warm side of the wall and ceiling. The warm side is typically the side opposite the interior of the wine cellar.
- Plasterboard and finish or moisture-resistant sheetrock.
- Paint with mildew-resistant additive.
If your floor has heated space below, then insulate to R-30 and a 6 ml. vapor barrier to the warm side; if your floor is concrete, then seal based on your floor finish.
Flooring should be considered based on the environment in the room. At 57 degrees Fahrenheit and 60% humidity, textiles might carry mildew and untreated or poorly treated wooden floors will swell and buckle. We typically stay with ceramic, travertine, stone, or granite.