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jeremy johnson

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Wine cellar advice take two...

by jeremy johnson » Tue Oct 02, 2007 10:57 am

so after listening to all your collective advice, I have decided to move forward with a cellar in my basement. I've tested the temp, and it will have to be active, as it fluctuates too much during the day, but I think I can get a corner of my basement (which doesn't really get ANY sun) insulated and closed off pretty easily.

Now I'm wondering if any of you have tips on doing this more properly. The real key is in the cooling arena, and I'm wondering if there are any inexpensive ways around it, as it seems RATHER pricey. Also- I'm wondering who has basement cellar experience, because I'm a little confused about the winter months...I'm pretty sure it gets pretty cold in there...what do you do to make sure the wines don't get too cold? Rookie questions, I'm sure, but let me know if you have advice!
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David M. Bueker

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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by David M. Bueker » Tue Oct 02, 2007 12:38 pm

Jeremy,

First off, don't worry about it getting too cold. As long as you basement doesn't dip to 28 degrees F or so you'll be fine. :D

As for less expensive ways to deal with cooling - my Dad just has a window air conditioner for his cellar & it holds well to 60 degrees or so. Seems to be good enough. Of course if you don't have a window that's an issue, but there's other air conditioner solutions out there (e.g. portables that have an external hose). They will dry out the air a lot, so you will need to add humidity, but other than that...
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Jon Peterson » Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:12 pm

Jeremy - your situation seem very much like mine was. After I selected a corner of the basement for my cellar and walled it off, I found that the temp inside the room ceased it's daily up and down fluctuations. In other words, I'm suggesting that you do not buy a window air conditioner until after the room has been established and then measure the temps.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Howie Hart » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:30 pm

I agree with both Jon and David. As a simple solution, you could use a method my friend developed. If it was going to be really hot outside, he would hang a plastic milk bottle filled with frozen water in his enclosed, insulated cellar. Then every day, as necessary, he would exchange it for the another in his freezer. Keep in mind that the more wine you have stored, the more it acts as a heat sink, thus stabilizing the temps.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by jeremy johnson » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:46 pm

I think the most confusing thing is how nutty to be about consistent temps...it seems like people are either fanatical or not stressed in extremes...
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Robin Garr » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:57 pm

jeremy johnson wrote:I think the most confusing thing is how nutty to be about consistent temps...it seems like people are either fanatical or not stressed in extremes...


For me, the middle ground seems fair: Avoid <i>extreme</i> temperatures, and avoid sudden, sharp temperature changes. Seasonal variations within the safe range are fine - a passive cellar with an annual range from 50 to 65 is outstanding, and summer peaks of 70 aren't the end of the world. Above that point, start thinking about the cellar for shorter-term storage, but even there, I wouldn't sweat five years.
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Max Hauser

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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Max Hauser » Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:31 pm

1. Note that much soil temperature in US averages warmer than in Europe where the cellar traditions (and wines) were developed. This can be an obstacle for "uncooled" cellars even with good earth insulation.

2. If you insulate the area, then you can cool it by various means -- there are drop-in air-conditioner-like coolers designed for wine, moderately priced; some commercial wine cabinets use them. But!

3. As David Bueker pointed out, cooling the air tends to dry it. This raises the need for a key element in all successful wine cellars I know of: a vapor barrier. Otherwise, moisture diffuses toward the cooled area and accumulates in the insulation, reducing its effectiveness and causing other problems.

Note that air-conditioning contractors specialize in these issues and some of them are experts on wine cellars. (E.g. on the San Francisco peninsula, many people mention Phil Finer.)
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by jeremy johnson » Tue Oct 02, 2007 8:49 pm

just to clue you in, here's what I'm working with:

[img]http://www.yourblackstar.com/jeremy/wine.jpg[/img]


It's a part of the basement that was already there, and I'm planning on filling in the walls and ceiling and installing sheetrock and a vapor sheild of some sort...it's been consistently 70-73 degrees in there all this week (the outdoor temp has been 75-85) and so I'm think initially once it's insulated, the water jug thing may work, though ultimately I think I'll shoot for some kind of chilling dealie...

I'm also thinking about what kind of wine racks to get...I've been really into the look of those modular Bordex things...anyone have experience with those?

Anyone notice anything I should know about the space?
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Jenise » Tue Oct 02, 2007 8:55 pm

Those concrete walls are a real plus. Just add some rigid foam insulation to the wood walls, and you could be good to go.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Dale Williams » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:28 pm

My situation wasn't that different from yours. Basement ranges from low 50s in winter to 70-75°F in heart of summer. Are your outer walls below grade? I had stone walls, just below grade. I framed out a corner, put R-23 insulation and a plastic vapor barrier, sheetrock (be sure to use blu/green board, not regular!). R-30 in ceiling. Foam spray in gaps. Space was a little too low for insulated exterior door, so put in cutdown interior door, then cut holes and filled wth foam.

Cut down on daily flucuations, topped out at about 68° in summer (measured at top, cooler towards cement floor). But eventually decided to stick old AC in hole. If I'm home during a heat wave, plug it in and lower to 64 or so. But I'm not worried re problems if it goes to 68-70 and I'm not home.

As to racking, I have a hodgepodge, including Bordex. But mostly have the "black tie", and have been jhappy. Also have some bulk bins I built myself. Not diamonds, but lots of simple diamond instructions if you google.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Howie Hart » Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:36 pm

jeremy johnson wrote:...I'm also thinking about what kind of wine racks to get...
To keep things on the cheap - Another friend of mine lined his walls and made racks using the cardboard tubes from carpet rolls. The carpet stores were glad to get rid of them. They're just the right diameter, easy to cut to length and can be easily stacked and glued in 1x8 frames.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Paul Winalski » Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:53 pm

jeremy johnson wrote:so after listening to all your collective advice, I have decided to move forward with a cellar in my basement. I've tested the temp, and it will have to be active, as it fluctuates too much during the day, but I think I can get a corner of my basement (which doesn't really get ANY sun) insulated and closed off pretty easily.

Now I'm wondering if any of you have tips on doing this more properly. The real key is in the cooling arena, and I'm wondering if there are any inexpensive ways around it, as it seems RATHER pricey. Also- I'm wondering who has basement cellar experience, because I'm a little confused about the winter months...I'm pretty sure it gets pretty cold in there...what do you do to make sure the wines don't get too cold? Rookie questions, I'm sure, but let me know if you have advice!


I did exactly this, 25 years ago, in the in-ground basement of my condominium unit. I cordoned off about 1/4 of my basement and installed an active cooling unit, which I'm using to this day. Yes, there are inexpensive alternatives to the purpose-built wine cooling units that you see advertised at The Wine Enthusiast and elsewhere.

The area I walled off as a wine cellar is about 10 feet by 10 feet square. I put up plywood walls with a layer of R10 fiberglass insulation on the inside, and reflective aluminum insulation on the outside. And I caulk-sealed the boundaries to prevent air leaks. There is also R10 fiberglass insulation on the ceiling of the wine room.

For a cooling unit, I use a 8000 BTU standard-type room air conditioner that's mounted into the wall of the wine cellar. If I had the carpentry expertise, I'd have mounted it at ceiling level. Then I could just let normal convection take its course. As it is, it's mounted at floor level, and I use a pair of 8" duct pipes connected to the vent output of the air conditioner to guide the air up to ceiling level, where is then vented into the room. This provides for the proper convectional air flow (if possible, you want the cold air from the cooling unit to fall into the room from the top, and the air intake to the cooling unit to be from the bottom).

The big problem is thermostat control. Conventional room air conditioners don't have thermostats that can be set low enough. Back when I built this wine room, Hunter manufactured a programmable digital thermostat that I have set to turn on if the temperature exceeds 57 degrees F, and to shut off when the temperature falls below 56 degrees F. It exercises its control by turning the AC power to the whole air conditioner unit on and off. To use this sort of mechanism, you just take out the air conditioner's normal thermostat entirely, so that the compressor always operates whenever there's AC power to the air conditioner.

In my climate, frosting over of the air conditioner coils can be a problem during humid summer conditions. To prevent that from happening, I put a frost-control thermostat in place of the normal control thermostat of the former room air conditioner (now wine cooling unit).

So the complete unit operates like this:

The Hunter programmable climate control applies AC power to the air conditioner's compressor and fan whenever the temperature gets above 57 degrees F. It removes AC power when the temperature drops below 56 degrees F.

If the anti-icing thermostat detects that the chilling coils of the air conditioner are getting too cold, and are about to ice up, it shuts off power to the air conditioner's compressor, but leaves the fan running. Once the coils get a tad warmer, it turns the compressor back on.

The total cost of the cooling system was about $400 for a 8000 BTU unit. You'd pay many times that for a purpose-built unit with the same cooling power.

It has one other drawback. Like all window-mounted air conditioners, it drips condensate out the back. You have to put a catch pan under it, which you empty regularly when the unit is active in the summer months, or it'll piddle all over the floor, and if that water leaks back into the wine room, it carries the heat you've so carefully pumped out back into the room with it.

If you don't think your engineering skills are up to constructing a unit such as this yourself, contact a local heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professional. They can build a unit for you that again will cost a fraction of what a wine cooling unit from the specialty shops will set you back.

If you don't mind paying the extra money, there's nothing wrong with the wine cooling units from the specialty shops. They work just fine. It's just that there are much cheaper alternatives, that can cool a much bigger volume, available if you're willing to go to some extra effort.

-Paul W.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Paul Winalski » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:13 am

Robin Garr wrote:For me, the middle ground seems fair: Avoid <i>extreme</i> temperatures, and avoid sudden, sharp temperature changes. Seasonal variations within the safe range are fine - a passive cellar with an annual range from 50 to 65 is outstanding, and summer peaks of 70 aren't the end of the world. Above that point, start thinking about the cellar for shorter-term storage, but even there, I wouldn't sweat five years.


Robin's caught the essence of the matter here.

What you really want to avoid are frequent and wide temperature fluctuations. For example, the upstairs daily temperature swings we get during the summer here in New England, where it will get up to the 90s in the day and down to the 70s at night.

If your cellar, unregulated, gradually swings over the year's seasons between a low in the 50s during the winter, to a peak around 70 during the summer, that's OK. Your wines might mature a bit faster than they would at a constant 56 degrees F, but they won't mature badly.

A passive cellar (Gold's book on how and why to build a wine cellar is the definitive treatise on the topic) is by far the best alternative if your facilities will allow it.

Mine won't--I need active cooling. As I described in my previous reply, if you're willing to do minor hacking on a window air conditioner, you can make yourself a high-capacity wine cooling unit very cheaply (compared to the purpose-built units). For a bit more (but still less than the purpose-built units from the specialty vendors) you can have a professional HVAC person design and install a unit for you.

And of course there are always those purpose-built units, which work just fine, but really are just glorified air conditioners with a different thermostat and a hefty specialty market mark-up.

One thing that I would definitely steer clear of is the temperature control units that involve a thermostat in a bottle of water, such as the Vintronic control unit that the Wine Enthusiast sells. The marketing claim of these sorts of systems is that since they measure the actual liquid temperature in a bottle, they provide the temperature control system with more accurate information of what the actual temperature of your wine is, versus the ambient air temperature measured by conventional thermostats.

Well, yes, that's true. But it's a bad way to control your wine's temperature because of basic physics. Water (and wine) have a much higher specific heat than air does. This means that the same amount of heat energy will raise the temperature of air much higher than it would raise the same mass of water (or wine). So say your thermostat has a hysteresis of 1/2 a degree F, meaning that if you set it for temperature X, it will turn on if the temperature exceeds X+1/4 degrees, and it will shut off if the temperature drops below X-1/4 degrees. If your temperature sensor is measuring the temperature in a bottle of wine or water (as with Vintronic and friends), then the cooling unit isn't going to come on until your whole wine collection has heated up by 1/4 degree. In contrast, if it were measuring the ambient air temperature, it would go on when the air heated up by 1/4 degree--at which point the wine itself would hardly have noticeably budged in temperature at all. So, just by the elementary physics of specific heat, you should be controlling your wine room's air temperature using a thermostat that measures ambient air temperature, NOT the temperature of the wine itself.

Anyway, this all is a lot less complicated than it sounds when you describe it in prose.

-Paul W.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Max Hauser » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:56 am

Paul Winalski wrote:The big problem is thermostat control. Conventional room air conditioners don't have thermostats that can be set low enough. Back when I built this wine room, Hunter manufactured a programmable digital thermostat that I have set to turn on if the temperature exceeds 57 degrees F, and to shut off when the temperature falls below 56 degrees F. It exercises its control by turning the AC power to the whole air conditioner unit on and off. To use this sort of mechanism, you just take out the air conditioner's normal thermostat entirely, so that the compressor always operates whenever there's AC power to the air conditioner.

FYI Paul (and others), such commercial temperature controllers (in effect, outboard thermostats, with their own sensors and controls, which you connect to a cooler or heater that's set to run wide-open) are now highly available and affordable. In a recent thread elsewhere about sous-vide cooking, I described a different use for these outboard controllers.

The silicon-valley lab-supply firm mentioned there, carrying various lines of temperature regulation and measurement equipment (a good source of gear and advice) is Lab-Pro Inc., Sunnyvale, California. Robert Wright, president. (They also sell things like those palm-size data-logger pucks that you drop into a cargo container -- or wine storage -- then read out the temp. and/or humidity history on your computer, months later.)
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Paul Winalski » Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:08 am

Max Hauser wrote:FYI Paul (and others), such commercial temperature controllers (in effect, outboard thermostats, with their own sensors and controls, which you connect to a cooler or heater that's set to run wide-open) are now highly available and affordable. In a recent thread elsewhere about sous-vide cooking, I described a different use for these outboard controllers.


Glad to hear it. Hunter, the maker of mass-market air conditioners and fans, used to, back in the mid-1980s, make something along these lines called a climate-control unit. The idea was that your turn on your air conditioner's thermostat to run wide-open, then you use this unit to control the temperature. You could program it to keep the temperature high during the day until an hour before you return from work, then it switches to a cooler temperature range so that your house may be hot all day but is nice and cool when you get home.

For wine control purposes, you don't use this time of day-oriented dual control feature, but the unit could be set to maintain a LOT lower temperature than the built-in control on a conventional room air conditioner.

Unfortunately Hunter doesn't make these anymore. But from what you say another producer's stepped in.

Thanks,

-Paul W.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Max Hauser » Wed Oct 03, 2007 4:18 pm

Paul Winalski wrote: But from what you say another producer's stepped in.

My impression is that outboard temp. controllers are a genre now with multiple makers. The lab-supply owner that I mentioned showed me one (handheld, with an outlet socket to plug in the controlled appliance, a control or two, a power cord, and a remote sensor on a thin cord -- about $90.) I got the impression there were various versions. Certainly, the technology to sense the temperature and accurately feedback-control it by electronic means, e.g. a microcontroller, has become very cheap and I'm guessing it has enabled these products.

The same dealer sells various compact, calibrated electronic min-max thermometers with long battery life, circa $30. Useful for monitoring wine temperature and humidity. They would have been much more expensive, 15 or 20 years ago. And the remarkable Extech IR201 pocket infra-red thermometer with laser spotter. It reads surface temperatures instantly without touching.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by jeremy johnson » Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:38 pm

I've been looking around and I'm leaning towards this air conditioner:

http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=7016212&type=product&id=1099394137676

I already own a bigger model, but I know that the thermostat can be set as low as 60 degrees, so it seems like that would be acceptable without having to do any tinkering with the unit itself and I'd probably only need it during the summer months. I think I can mount it either above where I'll put the door or cut a space into the wall.

I have two other areas I could use advice-

1)The exhaust is just hot air right? do I need to find a way to vent outside? or is into the basement acceptable?

2)What are some practical ways to achieve humidity...the unit definitely dehumidifies
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by David M. Bueker » Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:59 pm

Venting to the basement is ok (it's what I do), but automatically casues the unit to work a bit harder as it's own exhaust will be heating the area around the cellar. However that's very likely still a cooler space than outside air unless your basement gets really hot.

For humidity I have an open bucket of water with a few big sponges. That kicks my humidity up to the 60% range, which while not the theoretical ideal (70% or so) seems to be doing very well for me.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Jon Peterson » Fri Oct 05, 2007 10:07 am

Regarding racks - in your daily travels, it may pay to keep an eye out for wine shops that are closing or remodeling. That's happens to be how I got my Lucite shelving.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Nathan Smyth » Fri Oct 05, 2007 3:45 pm

jeremy johnson wrote:just to clue you in, here's what I'm working with:

Just out of curiosity, what's the height, from the concrete floor of the basement, up to those pipes immediately beneath the floor joists of the first floor [which form the "ceiling" of the basement]?
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by jeremy johnson » Fri Oct 05, 2007 4:03 pm

the height is 6'6", and unfortunately one of those pipes is my hot water line...
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Allen Bueter » Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:24 pm

Greetings! I'm a new member here, and I think I may have a good solution to your concern. I have a basement also, with concrete walls. During the summer the temperatures are 70 degrees F, and in the winter it gets colder. I've been making my own wine now for about 3 years, and needed a steady cold storage area. So I've made an insulated box, 5 feet tall, by 4 feet deep and 6 feet long. Insulated it good inside, and to keep the temps down, I've installed a 5000 BTU A/C. Please go to my web site, http://www.bueters.com for more pictures and details. I've gotten some 1 meg resolution pics on there now, and will be replaced with lower resolution pics for faster web-site loading. Please check out both page one and page 2 for more details, this solution works for me. I have about 4 or 5 30-bottle batches in there now aging at the proper cool temperature.
The plywood, 2x4's, and insulation wasn't that much to buy, and it keeps things at a consistant temp. and safe from light and being bumped.
Let me know of any questions; I'm redoing the pics and web site soon.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Isaac » Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:49 pm

jeremy johnson wrote:I think the most confusing thing is how nutty to be about consistent temps...it seems like people are either fanatical or not stressed in extremes...

Put me firmly in the not stressed group.

When I was in the Navy, we moved every two years, on average. Small apartments were the rule, and our 'wine cellar' consisted of the floor of whichever closet I decided would have the least temperature fluctuation. No separate control, in fact no thermometer, often no AC in the apartment. With all that, I found that my wines kept well, and aged gracefully, some for as much as ten years. Anything you do in your basement is bound to be better than that.
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Re: Wine cellar advice take two...

by Allen Bueter » Sat Oct 06, 2007 1:45 pm

The 5000 BTU a/c unit I got is fine; it's rated for 150 square feet in in my wine cooler box I have only 24 square feet being cooled. The air coming out goes into the basement; its really no big deal. It raises the temp in the basement workroom by a degree or two; as long as the wine cooler box is insulated, you'll be fine.
check out my web site for the story on what I did, feel free to email me with questions.
As a side note: I make my own wine, and use artificial corks so I can keep the bottles upright. Because I use the artificial corks, humidity is not a concern at all. Thus the A/C is a perfect cooling solution. I can lower the temperature as low as 55 degrees F if I want; possibly lower if I try.
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