What To Know Before Transforming Small Spaces Into Wine Rooms

Renovating an unused guest closet into an elegant, timeless wine room—serving as both design and function—is a dream come true for any wine lover. In fact, converting closets into wine storage spaces is more popular now than ever. There are a number of other interesting ways to create unique wine storage solutions in homes and commercial businesses out of small spaces—think understairs, bonus rooms, and between open-concept rooms.

What many customers don’t realize is that the smaller the application, the more challenging the project. Overcoming these obstacles typically equates to greater expense and less space, since a small area still needs all the components of a functioning and aesthetically pleasing wine cellar condensed into a smaller footprint. However, armed with a bit of knowledge of what goes into creating a smaller wine display, collectors can avoid the common pitfalls that dash their wine room dreams.

Slow Down and Plan

Like any wine room or display, a small space intended for wine storage and aging needs to be able to maintain a pristine environment. Just because a space is small does not mean it is easier to make airtight. The most effective way to execute a successful application is to plan well before the construction begins. This ensures that the designer, contractor, and home or restaurant owner are on the same page long before anyone has their heart set on a particular outcome.

After helping their clients design and execute wine cellars, rooms, and displays of every size, Wine Guardian’s long-time partner Vineyard Wine Cellars knows a thing or two about the importance of planning.

“Keeping a room at 55 degrees is a challenge—no matter how small it is,” said Sarah Palmer, Vice President at Vineyard Wine Cellars. “There are no corners one can cut to save costs without jeopardizing the integrity of the room.”

These are the factors that make up a well-thought-out plan:

Calculate the Heat Load

The same elements that go into calculating the heat load of a large wine cellar must be considered when working with a small area. This includes the vapor barrier, insulation, and doors. However, there are unique considerations that go into creating a smaller space. For instance, if thinner insulation is incorporated to free up more space for the actual wine room or display, that is going to influence the heat load and require a more powerful cooling unit. In addition to varying thicknesses, there are also different types of insulation. Closed-cell foam insulation acts as both an insulator and vapor barrier, which might free up valuable space.

In a small space you also want to be sure there is optimal separation between supply and return. This can get tricky when you don’t have a lot of ceiling space and your walls are covered in wine. Again, a well thought out design for the room that factors in both the wine display and refrigeration is key.

While it might be tempting to skimp on the insulation of a smaller application, it is going to jeopardize the integrity of the environment and therefore the wine.

Selecting the Right Cooling Unit

Unlike some larger wine rooms or cellars, calculating the heat load of a smaller space is not enough to point to the right cooling unit. The project must take into consideration where a unit will go within the space, whether or not there is an adjacent room to vent exhaust air, and where supply and return air grilles will be located, as well as controllers. While these factors are relevant in any wine room application, all of these considerations can be significantly more challenging with less space.

Where Will the Mechanicals Go?

Thinking through the placement of a unit and the mechanicals is vital to the success of any application, but it can be even more challenging with less space. While through-the-wall (TTW) solutions seem like the best option for small wine rooms (and they can work very well in small cellars), sometimes there isn’t enough space for an actual unit under stairs or in some smaller displays. An even more common reason these units might not be the best solution is that there is no adequate space for the rear of the unit to vent exhaust air, particularly if the wine room or display is located in the middle of a home or restaurant. Lastly, TTW units have an important job to do: to read the temperature of a room. If the plan is to stick a unit near the floor or facing a wall it will be unable to properly read the temperature of the room or maintain it at the right level.

When mechanicals are housed outside of a wine room, as they are with ducted solutions, there must still be ample space within the wine room to install return and supply grilles. Don’t forget: they can’t be next to one another, or you will short cycle the air.

Ducted systems offer a lot of versatility in terms of installation, but customers may be tempted to manipulate the size of the ductwork in more modest applications to leave more for the racking and wine. However, if two eight-inch ducts are reduced to two six-inch ducts, the static pressure will increase and potentially cause the entire system to fail. The bottom line: less space often has greater requirements.

Consider the Surroundings

Another reason converting small spaces into wine displays can be more complicated is they are often located in unconventional spots. Take a moment to really consider what will be surrounding your display. For instance, placing a wine display under a set of stairs means it may be close to the front door. In hotter climates, that is going to be a significant factor in how hard an HVAC unit has to work. If a kitchen pantry is transformed into a wine room, it may be next to the stove which will generate intermittent bursts of heat. Ambient air surrounding a potential wine display space needs to be factored into the design and execution of a project.

Vibration from large appliances such as washing machines, furnaces and boilers can also affect the quality of wine over the long term. It is important to either reconsider a particular location or select a racking system that can keep a collection stable. Similarly, heavy foot traffic also has the potential to cause enough vibration that the chemistry of the wine is altered.

Be Creative

Smaller applications also require more ingenuity. For instance, less space may make it difficult to place a temperature sensor. If it isn’t in the right location, it won’t be able to sense the temperature that guides the unit to run or not.

“It’s really important to work with a contractor who knows what they are doing, particularly when it comes to smaller displays. The more experience an installation professional has, the more likely they will have creative ideas on where to place key mechanical equipment when the solution isn’t obvious,” added Ms. Palmer.

Be Adaptable

When it comes to storing and aging wine, it is never wise to prioritize form over function. Ultimately, a wine space is created to preserve wine and that takes some planning and adaptability. Rigidity over how a project must turn out closes us off from solving problems with a Plan B, which might be different than what we originally thought, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  So go on, go after your dream of bringing wine storage into your home or restaurant by renovating a space you already have! As long as you plan ahead and do your due diligence, chances are your small wine room is going to turn into the focal point of a room.

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