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How to Build a Wine Cellar

Wall & Ceiling Framing:

Build wine cellar walls using standard 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 construction methods and ceiling joist following the guidelines of local and state codes in your area.  The general rule for a cellar is the thicker the walls, the better the insulation factor, the better the cellar remains at a consistent temperature.

Vapor Barrier:

Vapor barrier is REQUIRED if a climate control cooling unit is installed to keep the cellar at the correct temperature.  The 6 mm plastic sheeting is applied to the hot side of the cellar walls. The vapor barrier must be either applied to the outside walls and ceiling, or if it is impossible to get to the outside, then the 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 the insulation can be placed between each stud.  All walls and ceiling must be wrapped in plastic for a complete vapor barrier.


Insulation is REQUIRED if a climate control cooling unit is going to be used.  The R-value or thickness of insulation is determined by the thickness of the walls and ceiling.  For example, fiberglass insulation of R13 is designed to be used in a 2 x 4 wall and R19 is used in a 2 x 6 wall.  It is important to use the correct insulation for the wall thickness.  A minimum of R13 should be applied to the walls of a cellar. R19 to R30 is recommended in the ceiling.  Standard "Fiberglass" or "Rigid Foam" insulation is normally used in cellar construction, or in some cases, blown in insulation is used.  Note that cement is not a good insulator and construct proper insulation on top of cement.   It is very important that all walls and ceiling be insulated to keep the cellar temperature as consistent as possible during the summer and winter months.

Wall & Ceiling Coverings:

The interior wall and ceiling covering is determined by the decor theme of the cellar. Often times drywall (green board) is applied, then painted (always use latex paint) to match a color theme of the cellar.  Most commonly used is cedar or redwood (depending of the racking materials) tongue and groove material applied to the walls and ceiling.  This T&G 1 x 4 paneling is the same wood species as the racking material, which makes for a very uniform look throughout the cellar. Stone or granite is also used as a wall covering material.

Cellar Doors:

If a cooling system is installed, an exterior grade (1") door must be installed as a cellar door.  It is very important that weather stripping is attached to all 4 sides of the doorjamb.  A bottom "sweep" or threshold is also recommended.  The door must have a very good seal to keep the cool cellar air from escaping out of the cellar.  One of the most common problems with cooling units running continually is due to not sealing the door properly. Solid core doors or doors with a full glass insert are most often used.  Glass doors must have at least double pane-tempered glass.


All types of flooring are used in cellars.  Most commonly used is slate, tile, marble, or vinyl.  NEVER USE CARPET. Carpet will mold and mildew in the cool, damp climate conditions of a cellar.  As with the case of wall coverings, flooring is normally chosen to match the overall decor colors of the cellar.  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.


Lighting a wine cellar is an important part of the overall cellar decor.  "Air Lock" recessed ceiling lights are the most popular.  These should be put on dimmer switches to control brightness. In most cases, these are used as the main lights within the cellar.  Also popular are various display lights to accent different areas of the cellar. Some cellar contractors offer display "rope" lighting that is specially designed and built to fit into the display angle of individual bottle racking.  Different types of spotlights are used to highlight picture openings, table areas, or large format display bottles.  It is recommended that all lighting be on a timer system so they can't be left on for long periods of time.  Lights cause excess heat and will cause the cooling equipment to over work itself.

Climate Controlled Systems:

If a climate controlled cellar is required, we can provide cooling equipment to properly keep the cellar at constant temperature about 55-58 F and humidity at 50%-70%.  For cellars less than 2000 cubic feet in size, there are two main types of units: "Through The Wall" systems and "Split Systems".  For larger cellars, some cellar contractors provide commercial refrigeration equipment that must be installed by a certified refrigeration expert.  Contact our Wine Cellar Consultants to assist with sizing the correct cooling unit, and to get installation and power supply instructions.  We recommend that the customer consider purchasing a system with a larger capacity to compensate for the design limitations. Passive cellars are rooms that are built below ground level.  The natural ground temperature will be consistent at about 55 F to protect your wine for long-term storage and no cooling equipment is required.  We recommend the reliable Breezaire or Whisperkool Cooling Unit, both built in California.  Please contact us for pricing and specifications.

  • Ventilation:  The necessity of dissipating heat away from the system is critical to the units performance.  As the unit operates and cools, an equal or greater amount of heat is generated on the exhaust side of the unit. Adequate ventilation is required in order to dissipate heat away from the unit. If ventilation is inadequate, the exhaust will heat up and adversely affect the unit's inability to cool.  Also make sure there is a 3 foot horizontal clearance in the front and rear of the unit. This will assure the unit can vent air in an efficient manner.

  • Mounting the System:  The cooling system should be mounted at least 18 inches from the top of the room in order to achieve sufficient cooling.  As the room cools down, the warm air will rise to the ceiling.  By mounting the unit high in the room, the system will capture the warm air and cool it creating a cool environment.  Mounting the unit low in the room will result in a temperature variation in the room due to the unit's inability to draw warm air from the ceiling of the cellar to the unit itself.

  • Ducting:  The system is designed to exhaust into an open area. Any attempt to ducting the exhaust ports in an effort to redirect airflow is not recommended.  The fans of the cooling system are not designed to push air through a restricted duct system.  The fans will be over worked and may result in premature failure.

  • Electrical Needs:  Most systems require a dedicated 110-volt, 20-amp circuit. The system draws a large amount of amps at initial start up.  By designing a dedicated circuit breaker, you will guarantee the system has enough power to run efficiently.  Contact your electrician for installation of this dedicated electrical circuit.  As with any sensitive electrical equipment, we suggest purchase of a surge protector because the circuitry may be damaged by power surges and spikes.

Wine Racking:

Standard wine racks are made in All Heart Redwood.  This soft wood is very resistant to rot in the cool, damp environment of a cellar. Mahogany wood can be used as well, but costs more than the Redwood. Customers usually choose one over the other due to matching decor colors in the cellar design. Mahogany is a hardwood and more of a brownish tone, whereas redwood is a smooth wood with more of a reddish, darker tone. We can send wood samples at no charge.  The racks will be shipped unassembled with instructions on how to install your custom cellar racking. If you are located in California, we can recommend a few licensed contractors to assist you with your installation and/or wine cellar preparation.

General Questions:

If you need more assistance on how to design and build your wine cellar, please contact our Wine Cellar Consultants.