As your store of good wines grows, you’re thinking of how best to store them and whether you need a wine cellar. No matter where you live in San Mateo County, whether in South San Francisco, Redwood City, Daly City, San Mateo, or San Bruno, you have easy access to lots of good wine. But the thought of a wine cellar can be overwhelming. What does it take to build a wine cellar? How much will it cost? Can I do it by myself? Do I need professionals to help build it? These are some questions that come to mind as you start to contemplate whether you will actually build a wine cellar.
The term “wine cellar” is applied broadly to different things. We’ll be focusing here on wine cellars, or more broadly, wine rooms. Some use the words “wine room” instead of wine cellar, since a cellar might indicate an underground room. Wine cellars, or wine rooms, can be installed almost anywhere in the house. So we’ll be talking about wine cellars that are not necessarily underground. Some also refer to the wine cellar as a “wine vault,” perhaps because there’s some precious stuff in there.
The articles below are designed to give an overview of what building a wine cellar entails. You can use them to form a better understanding of what you might be getting into. We’ll be looking at residential wine cellars, not commercial ones. The same vendors who offer home wine cellar design services also often offer commercial services, but we’ll be looking at residential wine cellars and related information.
When They Say “Wine Cellar” in San Mateo County, What Do They Mean?
There are many terms, used loosely, so let’s spend a little time clearing them up, so we can best understand what we’ll be talking about. Some companies sell what they call stand-alone wine cellars, which are typically big cabinet-like structures that store wine. These structures are also called wine refrigerators. Wine refrigerators, also called wine coolers, come in many sizes, holding anything from a few bottles to dozens of bottles. A wine chiller is a smaller device that is used to bring a bottle of wine to the correct drinking temperature. There is sometimes some confusion or overlap, since wine refrigerators may also hold wines at certain temperatures – chilling them, in effect.
While wine refrigerators are not our main focus, we should spend a little time on them. As you shop in San Mateo County, whether in Daly City, San Mateo, San Bruno, Redwood City, or South San Francisco, you’ll find plenty to consider. Wine refrigerators generate their own bits of controversy, many over the question of what the best cooling technique is. There are two main types of cooling used. Compressor-based technology uses a method similar to that used in a standard refrigerator, in which the metamorphosis from liquid to gas and back again is combined with a degree of evaporation to produce cool to cold air. The other technique is thermoelectric in which two elements or devices are heated and cooled, with the heat being transferred away from the cold side. Thermoelectric wine refrigerators typically use less energy and have fewer moving parts. However, they can be less than efficient when the temperature is more than 80 degrees, and they cool only to about 50 degrees. They can also be less efficient at handling large numbers of bottles. Compressor-based wine coolers typically can handle more bottles and can chill a larger number of bottles.
Once complaint sometimes leveled against compressor-based wine coolers or wine refrigerators is that they vibrate due to the moving parts. There have been no scientific studies to prove the point, but it’s something of a commonplace that fewer vibrations are better for your wine, since there’s less chance of disturbing the sediment and more chance of keeping the wine as clear as possible. Top-line compressor-based products will often offer vibration-suppression technology.
No matter where or how you store your wine, humidity is an important concern, and wine refrigerators are no exception. Wine chilling systems – standalone or as part of your wine cellar – are not the same as standard refrigerators. Wine must be stored with a relative humidity of 50% to 70%, while the standard refrigerator has a relative humidity of about 20%. The humidity is required to keep the cork moist. If the cork dries out, it contracts and allows oxygen into the wine, along with any smells that might be around. For this reason, some even recommend that you only use a wine chiller to bring your wine to the correct temperature – so that you don’t place your wine in a standard refrigerator at all.
I’m Seeing Lots of Things in San Mateo County, But What’s the Difference Between a Wine Cellar and a Wine Refrigerator?
A wine refrigerator or a wine cooler is a place to keep wines handy for drinking. Wines should not be stored in a wine refrigerator for more than a year. A wine cellar is a controlled environment for allowing wines to age over time. Long-term storage is one of the goals of a wine cellar, and one that a wine refrigerator cannot provide.
This brings up the question of whether a standalone, or freestanding, wine cellar can really offer long-term storage. If you are considering a standalone wine cellar or buying a kit that lets you assemble a standalone wine cellar, be sure to ask if the wine cellar is designed for long-term wine storage. Wine refrigerators do fail. This failure is significant because one of the keys to storing and aging wine is ensuring that temperature does not fluctuate significantly. Wine stored in a failed wine refrigerator is at risk of changing temperatures drastically before you can replace the storage. It’s important to note that many wine refrigerators have warranties that last only a year. Some have slightly longer warranties that cover certain parts for up to five years. Be sure to ask any vendor of standalone wine cellars about how long their warranties last, known failure rates, and whether wine can be successfully stored for the long term.
I Want to Build a Wine Cellar Room in San Mateo County
Let’s take a moment to restate that “wine cellar” covers both cellars, or rooms in your basement, and wine rooms, which can be anywhere in the house.
While a wine cellar can go anywhere in your house, you should look for the place that is already the most cool and moist. These are conditions that wine needs and that will help reduce your energy costs. Some additional considerations are where you will be venting your wine cellar. We’ll discuss chilling systems in a bit, but every wine cellar chilling system needs a place to vent hot air. If the exhaust is going into another room in your house, then that room will need both a fan and a vent of its own so that it can move air around the room and out of the house.
Wine cellar plans can be found from several sources. You can find do-it-yourself wine cellar building kits or you can look for wine cellar plans. Custom wine cellar plans are available from a number of vendors. Often vendors supply plans as part of the process of giving you an estimate, or quote for the price of your wine cellar.
As you design your room, you’ll have to decide what you want it to do for you. Are you looking only for a place to store wine or do you want to be social in the space, to host tastings, for example? These considerations will obviously play into the designs you look for or end up creating with your wine cellar builder. Wine cellar size depends on the size of the collection you have and how big you want to build that collection, as well as your available space. Often, if you can build a bit bigger than you first think, you’ll have a better fit over the long run. But don’t think you need huge spaces – wine aficionados have built wine cellars in apartments.
So What Do I Have to Do to Build in San Mateo County?
Whether you are in Daly City or San Mateo, San Bruno or Redwood City, South San Francisco or Menlo Park, building a wine cellar involves some common basic steps. Whether you do the work yourself or hire someone, of course you should start with the proper permits for your local city or area. You’ll also need to comply with state, national, and federal building codes.
Begin by deciding whether you want to renovate a space or build a new one. First, as we mentioned, look for areas that are already cool and moist. A wine cellar will have much higher humidity than the rest of your house; the construction must take the additional humidity into account – you don’t want mold growing or any rot to set in.
The vapor barrier and insulation are particularly important. Typically, insulation consists of either the combination of a 6 mil vapor barrier and insulation batting or spray foam insulation. When using a vapor barrier and fiberglass batting, you’ll usually have to wrap the wall studs and joists in the vapor barrier. Be sure you check the codes for the proper application of the vapor barrier. Sometimes codes require that the barrier be placed on a certain side of the wine cellar, often what is called the warm, or exterior, side of the cellar. When placing the batting, be sure there are no air pockets. As you wrap the studs and ceiling joists, leave enough vapor barrier material at the corners so you can overlap and tape the corners off. You’ll then need to fill any holes in the joists or studs with sealant rated for fire protection. This will help prevent air movement.
Spray foam insulation is more expensive. It has the advantage that if you use a closed cell, non-shrinking spray foam, then there is no risk of a vapor barrier being punctured by a nail, screw, or other implement as electrical or other lines are placed in the wine cellar.
You may have to run electricity or other utilities, such as water, into the space if they are not already there. You may also need to install lines to allow condensation to drain out, a water line so that any devices you install can keep the area humid. Depending on the type and complexity of the cooling unit you choose, you may also need line voltage, ducting, and control wires, for example to manage alarms. You should carefully check with your wine chilling company to see what kind of supply lines and drain lines are needed. For many more complicated things, such as ducting, it’s often mandatory that licensed heating, air conditioning, and ventilation personnel install them.
The finish for walls and ceilings must take into account that the room is a wine cellar, with cold air and high humidity. Green board, which is water-resistant drywall, is used in kitchens and bathrooms, anyplace with the potential for high humidity. Green board is also used in wine cellar construction where standard practice recommends attaching it to the walls and/or ceiling with screws.
When installing the green board drywall, make sure the green board goes all the way down to the floor. In other construction circumstances, sometimes there are gaps left on the assumption they will be covered by molding. In a wine cellar, the molding goes on the front of the wine racks, so the drywall must go all the way down to the ground. Obviously, this means that you should not place molding against the drywall, as this will prevent the racks from fitting flush with the wall. Again, when painting the drywall, be sure the paint extends all the way down to the floor – you don’t want to see any gaps if that particular area doesn’t happen to be covered by a wine rack. Alternatively, you might choose to install tongue and groove material on your walls and ceiling. To do so, you will have to install marine-grade plywood on the walls or ceilings, using screws. The tongue and groove material is then attached to the marine plywood. The tongue and groove material may be designed to complement your choices of wood, lacquer, or stain used on your wine racks. Wine cellar ceilings can also incorporate many sophisticated looks, such as raised panels. These don’t directly affect the insulation quality in the wine cellar but are design options available.
Design the floor and any coverings keeping the high humidity in mind. Rugs and carpets are not likely to withstand humidity well. Vinyl does not last very long in high humidity because the mastic holding it to the under floor will never completely dry and the vinyl can buckle and move. Common floorings are tiles, cork, or hardwood. Some wine cellar builders even offer reclaimed wood from wine barrels as an option. You can have a concrete floor, as long as it is sealed. Within the constraints placed by humidity, your choice of finishing materials is dictated by your design sense.
The door to a wine cellar traps in the cold and humidity and keeps out the heat and dryness. To do so, it must be an exterior-grade door. An interior-grade door is insufficient. Seal the door on three sides with weather-stripping and install a threshold and door sweep at the bottom of the door. These steps are required to seal in the coolness and humidity you are trying to achieve in your wine cellar. Doors are offered in several materials, including wood and glass. Glass doors should be thermopaned, again to support the conditions in the wine cellar and prevent condensation.
Keeping It Chill in Your San Mateo County Wine Cellar
One of the major decisions you’ll make is which cooling unit to choose for your wine cellar. The cooling unit maintains the air at the correct temperature for your aging wine – between 55-58 degrees. Some units also have the capacity to monitor and manage the humidity in the cellar, so ask about this specifically if you want the functionality.
Take note of any limitations on the unit’s ability to cool. Some units can only regulate temperatures relative to the surrounding atmosphere. This is important because if you live in very hot climates or you are venting to a room that does not cool off, then the unit will not be able to reach the desired temperature, will run continually and will risk freezing or premature collapse. To demonstrate, some units can only reduce the temperature by 30 degrees. Now imagine you set this wine cooling unit to 55 degrees. If you vent into a room with no air movement and no venting, that room’s temperature can rise. If it rises past 85 degrees, the cooling unit will not be able to reduce the temperature in the cellar to 55 degrees and will keep on running. Be sure to check for this kind of relative temperature behavior when you choose your unit, keeping in mind the conditions in your home.
You’ll find three kinds of cooling units when you shop in Redwood City, Daly City, South San Francisco, San Bruno, San Mateo, or in Foster City or Pacifica. The self-contained or through-the-wall unit sits, as you might expect, in the wall of your wine cellar. It pulls hotter air from the wine cellar and exhausts it into another room or area close to the wine cellar. It’s important that the area that the through-the-wall cooler exhausts into has its own way of moving air through the room and venting the air out. Otherwise heat will build up in the exhaust area.
Some through-the-wall units can exhaust outside, but you should ask carefully whether the unit supports this function. Also consider how hot the outside is. If the outside rises well above the temperature you want to keep in the cellar, you may run into the relative heat limitation discussed previously. If the through-the-wall cooler is outside, it must be protected from rain and sun. Some choose not to use a through-the-wall system because it is comparatively noisy and may not match the décor of the wine cellar it is in. It is one of the easiest to install and does not require help from professional heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) professionals.
If you decide to use a ducted cooling unit, you’ll need one duct to as an inflow duct to send cool air to the wine cellar and one duct to act as an exhaust duct to direct the hot air outside. There are limitations on how far the ducting can extend, so be sure to check if the ducts you have or install are close enough. Some prefer a ducted system because noise can be greatly reduced depending on installation, and the ducts themselves can be hidden, rather than having a presence in the room. When you buy a ducted system, be sure you know how many feet of ducting the system supports –for example, can the ducting be no longer than 25 feet to ensure proper functioning?
In contrast, a split system does require a licensed professional to install it. In a split system, the evaporator part of the system is placed in the cellar, or nearby. The condenser part of the system, which is the noisy part of the system and the part that needs to dissipate the heat, is placed away from the cellar, often outside.
Whatever kind of cooling unit you decide on, you need to decide on the amount of cooling capacity you need – you’ll need greater cooling capacity for more bottles and/or more space. You’ll also want to check the decibel measurements of the noise the system generates. You’ll want to look for reliable units. Remember that one of the ultimate goals of your wine cellar is to store wines so they can age with as little temperature fluctuation as possible.
Decking Out Your San Mateo County Wine Cellar
You’ll put a lot into the construction of your wine cellar in Redwood City, Daly City, South San Francisco, San Mateo, San Bruno, or the smaller areas of East Palo Alto, Pacifica, or Foster City, and you’ll want to have fun choosing the furnishings. Lighting and racking are two of the biggest concerns. Lighting options are pretty much unlimited in a wine cellar. Some believe that UV lighting might affect wine adversely over the long term, so some advise that it not be used in a wine cellar. There’s no proof one way or the other, but don’t be surprised to encounter this advice. If you are going for can lighting, be sure the cans are thermally fused – also called IC rated cans. Sellers also commonly offer back lighting for racks and spotlights for end displays. You’ll want to check that the electrical power in the wine cellar can support all the lighting you decide to incorporate. You may need a timer so that lights don’t inadvertently get left on after you leave the cellar.
To store wine, you’ll probably choose between metal or wire racks and wood racks. Wood racks – often mahogany, redwood, or pine – are preferred because they don’t tend to scratch the wine bottles or mar the labels the way metal racks can. Also, metal can bend over time. Choosing the right size rack is also important, since bottles come in different sizes and styles. Much wine comes in Bordeaux-shaped bottles, but Pinot Noir and other varietals also come in longer bottles. Universal racking can cover this contingency, but it takes more space. Also, consider how many big bottles you want to store. Do you want to keep a jeroboam of champagne or two? Oversized bottles are fun and gaining in popularity. In addition, you might have special bottles you want to show off, in which case display shelves can allow you to set off a particular bottle or two. Individual racking for each bottle is recommended over bin racking. In a bin, the bottles rest on each other, again raising the possibility of scratching or tearing the label.
Include tables and chairs if you want to hold tastings in your wine cellar. Depending on the sophistication of your chilling system and whether it can supply humidity or not, you might want to install a fountain to provide moisture. Tiles, mirrors, and other decorative objects are available, so your décor can be as elaborate as you like. Remember that the air is extra moist if you choose furniture to go in your wine cellar. You can even install windows, though again, thermopanes would be needed to keep the humidity in the right state.
Many vendors and manufacturers are thinking green when it comes to wine cellars. In many cases, this means using paints on the walls and ceilings that are water-based and do not have volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Similarly, any stains or lacquers used on woods would not contain VOCs. In your timeline for building your cellar, remember to include time to air out the cellar after any painting or staining or similar activity. Not only do you not enjoy the fumes, but you also don’t want them getting into your wine at all.
If you want, you can find software applications to manage your cellar. Typically, they programs let you enter data about a bottle such as date of purchase, number of bottles, and the like. Tasting notes and the ability to scan the label are often included. Some come with databases of material that can supply additional information about your bottle. Some allow you to create bar code labels for each of your bottles.
I Don’t Actually Want to Build a Wine Cellar
You can find fee-charging facilities that store your wine for you. They also sometimes buy and sell wine and offer discounts if you buy from them. The storage facilities should be temperature and humidity controlled. You should also look for secure access – you and storage facility personnel should be the only ones who can access your wine. Some wine storage facilities in San Mateo County will pick up wine for you, sometimes for a fee. The fee may be waived for large loads.
Storage is often in cardboard boxes with dividers keeping the wine bottles separate. Fees may be by case or by pallet. You may have to share a pallet if you don’t store enough wine yourself. Ask the facility about picking – do you get to pick your own wine when you want? Or do employees pick for you?
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