Jun 14, 2009, 10:11 AM
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Planning and Building a Wine Cellar: General Considerations
Category: Wine Cellar - Plan & Build
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By: Perry Sims
Building a custom wine room requires an overall understanding of design and construction terms, techniques, options, and materials, and how these elements work together to create an ideal wine storage environmfent. Your wine room will be a permanent structure; while you may be able to adjust or remodel the racking systems to accommodate a growing collection, think of the room and its systems as permanent parts of your home.
Proposals made by a wine cellar contractor should include examples of prior work and references from former clients, detailed plans for the project, and a budget for materials and labor.
Therefore, look for a location that balances capacity and convenience, employs an unused space (or one for which its previous use can be easily relocated or sacrificed), and provides reasonable access for extension of circuits and plumbing to new mechanical systems. Ideally, the cellar should use existing structural components of the house for some or all of the walls, the floor, and the ceiling.
If you're considering a below-grade location, for instance, choose an accessible corner where you can use the existing basement walls for two of the cellar's walls-you'll cut the expense of building them from scratch. Another good location is an interior space wholly within the home's exterior walls. Interior spaces have nearly constant, comfortable temperatures higher than those of the planned wine storage area, and they are isolated from the temperature swings typical of exterior walls. Be practical; if you choose a closet or understairs location, find somewhere else to store coats, boots, holiday decorations, and board games.
The project's budget is another critical consideration. Your resources for the project drive the design process, so settle them first. This assures that you will gain reasonable estimate for the cost of the project.
While locations such as basements are suited for so-called passive cooling, in which the surroundings regulate the climate without the aid of mechanical systems, they are generally unreliable for supplying the consistent climate control needed for a wine cellar environment. More often, plan to install active refrigeration and humidity-control systems, regardless of your wine room's location. They will create and maintain ideal conditions for proper storage and aging of wine.
Several key factors determine which is the right refrigeration system for your cellar, including room volume, location, and the construction of the walls, floor, and ceiling.
Cooling systems are designed and sized according to the volume of the area they cool, the desired temperature conditions for the space, and the combined structure and features of the finished space, such as its insulation, moisture protection, and seals and weather-stripping components.
Proper insulation slows the natural warming and cooling of the wine cellar. Consult a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (hvac) contractor or engineering professional who can calculate how well the insulated walls, door, and windows-if any-will slow temperature changes in the cellar and make specific insulation recommendations.
Typical wine cellars have interior walls and floors insulated to at least R-13 and its exterior walls and ceilings to R-19-or to R-30 if a wall is exposed to strong winds or direct sunlight or the ceiling divides the cellar from nonconditioned space. The quality of the room's insulation determines the demand or load on the cooling system necessary to maintain the cellar's climate, which in turn dictates the capacity and specific model chosen for the refrigeration system. The better the insulation and seals, the smaller and more energy-efficient is the cooling equipment required. A bit less accurate gauge is to size your cooling equipment using the cubic footage of the space or the number of bottles of wine the room holds.
Most self-contained refrigeration systems can cool the air in the room only 30°F (17°C) below the ambient temperature outside the enclosure. If the outdoor temperatures in your climate exceed 85°F (29°C)- and most do-plan to exhaust heat from your cellar into your home's living space. The refrigeration unit should also either recover moisture from the cooled air with an internal condensation collector that allows condensation to evaporate again or use a split refrigeration system with an extra-large evaporator-to-condenser ratio to minimize the loss of humidity.
Refrigeration systems for wine cellars resemble whole-house air-conditioning systems, but they are specially designed and dedicated cooling systems able to ensure proper wine storage conditions. You'll likely need only a small-capacity, high-efficiency cooling unit to ensure an ideal environment in the heavily insulated, refrigerated wine room. Types of Refrigeration systems
Select the system that best suits your cellar's location. There are three main types
A split-refrigeration system has an evaporative coil mounted high on the cellar's wall and an outside condenser with a fan to dispel the heat. The two units are joined by a coolant line.The first category includes self-contained, stand-alone, wall-mounted units that superficially resemble window-mounted air conditioners and vent through the wall into an adjacent space. While generally too noisy for use in areas where the cellar is adjacent to a bedroom, they are suitable for mounting next to a well-vented utility area, storage closet, laundry room, or unfinished spaces.
The second type of refrigeration systems is the split unit. A split-heat pump is ideal for a basement location. Its noisy condenser and fan are located outside the cellar, typically on the other side of a shared exterior wall.
The last category of cooler is an air-handling system. It is the best choice for a large cellar.
All cooling systems require you to run a new, dedicated circuit to the unit. Remember as you plan electrical circuits for your cellar that you will also need power for lighting and power outlets. For this, splice into existing wiring if a nearby circuit has sufficient capacity, or install new circuits specifically for the wine room.
Though its primary purpose is wine storage, a well-built, functional wine room can also serve supplemental uses, including short-term storage of fine furs, bulk fruit and vegetables, cut flowers-or even cigars-all items that benefit from cool, humid climate conditions. Allow for these other uses in separate closets, cabinets, or side rooms within the wine room.
Finally, include a small island, table, or counter for opening or decanting wine or a quick sampling with a few guests-but plan adjacent space outside the cellar for extended dining and tasting parties.
For centuries, wine-makers have relied on caves and other below-grade or underground chambers to store and age wine. The 19th-century Far Niente winery in Oakville, California, for instance, features nearly 20,000 square feet of full-height caves and tunnels burrowed into the hill behind the facility, which provide naturally stable underground climate conditions to age wine. These caves were dug specifically with wine in mind.
Thermal mass and other passive cooling methods are far less reliable for an in-home cellar located in a basement or other below-grade space than are such deep, hillside caves. Seasonal climate changes cause temperature fluctuations in your home cellar and can harm your wine collection.
Use passive cooling as a supplement for active refrigeration. It also extends the life of refrigeration equipment by allowing it to run less frequently and for shorter periods of time than for rooms surrounded by higher temperature conditions, making your cellar cost less and saving energy.
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