What Builders Need to Know About Wine Displays

Builder/Engineer/Architect planning and blueprints

As wine consumption around the world increases, so does interest in residential wine cellars and displays. According to a recent report from the National Association of Home Builders, 31% of new-home buyers with an annual income of $150,000 or more listed a wine cellar as one of their most preferred amenities. In fact, it is expected that many luxury new construction homes will include a wine room or display. Whether incorporating a wine feature into a new home build or adding one to a renovation project, climate control wine storage has a significant investment return.

In the past, in-home wine cellars were built by oenophiles with the express purpose of storing and aging wine in a pristine environment. As the appreciation of wine culture has gained in popularity, residential wine displays are being incorporated into the internal architecture of homes, used to separate living spaces, or being designed as statement pieces. When modern elements such as acrylic racking, gray-stained cabinets, and steel accents are incorporated, wine displays today are as much art as they are function. Interestingly, some people who desire displays do not even drink wine. Instead, they want to be able to offer a luxurious experience when entertaining.

With so many opportunities to design new homes or renovate existing ones with wine showcases, it behooves architects, contractors, and engineers to be aware of the pitfalls that jeopardize the success of wine storage spaces. The earlier the location, cooling, design, and construction of the area can be brought together in the planning process, the better.

Location of The Wine Display

In conjunction with designing the look-and-feel of a residential wine application, builders must think through the placement within the home to ensure there is adequate space for a climate control system.

The Size of The Space

Most people looking for a home with a wine display, or seeking to add one, expect the mechanicals and ductwork to be out of sight. However, to achieve this obvious goal, architects and contractors must calculate the heat load of a potential location to make sure there is adequate space to conceal cooling equipment. For instance, if the heat load requirements of a particular site necessitate ductwork for supply and return air and if there is not enough space for it, design adjustments will need to be made, such as lowering the room’s height or moving the application altogether.

Larger wine cellars (or ones made mostly of glass that needs a higher cooling capacity) may also need adjacent areas to house a self-contained unit, including the evaporator, fans, compressor, and condenser. Some smaller spaces may be conducive to plug-and-play solutions, while others may require air to be exhausted via flexible ductwork. Taking heat load requirements into consideration at the onset of a project will save a host of problems compared to when the cooling solution is an afterthought. However, engineers must not rely solely on cubic footage to evaluate a wine room as it tends to paint an incomplete picture.

Exterior Conditions

External conditions also influence the suitability of a wine storage location. A wine room designed to share an outside wall of a home will require extra attention, which might include upping the BTUs delivered by a cooling unit or adding more insulation to the construction and an electric heater. Similarly, windows and exposure to sunlight play a factor in maintaining a pristine environment. If modifications cannot be made to the space to protect wine from heat and sunlight, the location may need to change.

A Robust Cooling Solution

We already know that the location and size of a wine display dictate which type of cooling solution best protects a collection. Several environmental variables also play a role in which unit best suits an application.

Humidity

Wine rooms with over 70% relative humidity can cause mold and glue on labels to degrade. Cooling solutions in these areas should be sized to operate long enough to dehumidify the air and need all-aluminum evaporator coils to prevent rust and corrosion. Conversely, a suitable cooling solution for drier climates below 50% humidity will require humidification to prevent cracked corks and unstable wine. Some spaces may need an external humidifier that connects to a cooling system to combat dryness. An integrated humidifier is not available in applications utilizing through-the-wall or ductless split systems, or in competitor solutions.

Ambient Temperature

The optimal temperature range for the long-term storage of red or white wine is 55-58°F (12-14°C). Renovators preferring a home regulated at 80°F (27°C) will require more cooling capacity than a house kept at 70°F (21°C). Units that don’t have enough cooling capacity may run excessively and lower the relative humidity too much. Systems that are too robust may cool a space quickly but prevent proper dehumidification.

For new homes, builders should install climate control solutions with exceptional reliability and adaptability since they can’t anticipate every variable in new construction.

Versatility

Particularly when it comes to new construction homes, designers and builders should consider the difference between serving and storage temperatures. Wine-loving home buyers might be especially impressed with a wine storage space able to house both options. If a wine display is used to store reds and serve whites, the structure will need to accommodate separate cooling units that maintain two distinct environments.

Design Elements

Glass

If a designer or client has envisioned a mostly-glass wine display, the dedicated area must include enough space to conceal cooling unit mechanicals, or a more significant investment will need to be made on quality glass, or both. Single pane plate glass lowers the insulation value of an application, while double-paned glass reinforces it.  Either way, the more glass contained in a wine showcase, the higher the heat load requirement.

Lighting

The type of lighting and bulbs also play a factor in maintaining an environment conducive to cooling and aging wine. LED lights, which have lower wattage, do not impact the heat load as much as conventional bulbs. Heat load requirements will be higher in applications where display lights will be on much, or all, of the time. Alternatively, if light fixture transformers can be located outside of a cellar or display, the lights will have a lesser impact on the heat load.

Ready for Construction

Whether designing an affluent new subdivision or planning a residential renovation, constructing an air-tight space is critical once a cooling solution has been factored into the equation.

Framing a Wine Cellar, Display, or Cabinet

A wine cellar or display attached to an external or even internal wall of a home should be framed and insulated. In the U.S., two-by-four inch studs are typically used unless thicker insulation requires 2”x6” studs. Ceilings can be framed with either furring strips or roof joists to make insulation easier.

Keep Moisture Out

A vapor barrier is used to keep moisture out of a wine room and is made of either closed-cell foam or plastic sheeting applied to the walls and ceilings. A plastic vapor barrier should be a minimum of 4 millimeters thick with seams overlapped and taped. When plastic is used, wine storage cellars and displays should also be insulated from top to bottom. Closed-cell foam does not require additional insulation. Lastly, a waterproof sealer is useful when a concrete floor cannot be insulated or when the foam is not applicable.

Any switches, fixtures, and outlets that perforate a vapor barrier will need to be sealed with caulk.

Doors & Seals

A commercial-grade door and tightly sealed threshold will help maintain an air-tight environment and will better support the efforts of a cooling system. In addition, gaskets need to be placed around the frame to seal the space and to prevent sweating and fogging. Floor sweeps close the space between the floor and the bottom of the door. If architectural engineers and designers incorporate wine cooling into the planning of a wine application, many common problems can be avoided. Being familiar with the requirements and limitations of various climate control solutions makes wine applications possible in new homes and renovation projects to be executed seamlessly.