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How to Transform an Old Basement Into a Fabulous Walk-in Wine Room

Updated on June 14, 2018

People celebrate wine all over the world. For some, this exquisite beverage is a huge part of their lives and culture. Their love for wine often comes with a desire to collect the finest bottles that they can find.

But oenophiles or wine connoisseurs don't agree with storing your collection of top-notch wines in an ordinary kitchen cabinet. These require proper storage. If you ask us, the most cost-effective place for storing wine is right under you: the basement.

Unfortunately, you can't just go down there and dump the cases in a corner. You need to remodel it and turn it into a dedicated wine room. Depending on the extent of work needed and the size of the area to be converted, the cost of a basement remodel ranges between $10,000 and $25,000 (USD). Here's how you do it:

STEP ONE: Go down and check the basement

The first thing you should do is to check the area. Site inspection is vital to the construction of your wine room. This is best done with the presence of an architect or a building professional who knows how to build wine cellars in your area. Both of you should take note of all the things that you need to turn this area into a stunning wine cellar. Inspect everything from the walls, floor, and up to the ceiling to see if there’s anything that could damage your wine collection. If you know the problems, looking for solutions is easy.

Site inspection is best done with the presence of an architect or a building professional who knows how to build wine cellars in your area.

STEP 2: Determine the size of your cellar

Pay attention to the size of your basement. You don’t have to use the entire area. We recommend keeping your cellar at about 500 sq.ft. (the average size of a standard hotel room) or less. Anything larger than 500 sq.ft. will be more difficult to cool, and will consume more power in the process.

So, if you’re a wine connoisseur who owns a few hundred to a thousand bottles (and wants to add more), consider building a walk-in cellar with efficient wine storage. Maximise the 500 sq.ft. to fit your current collection and still have room for more bottles in the future.

Note: Hardcore and serious collectors (they probably own 2000 bottles up and store crates of a single type of wine for long periods of time) will need a larger room. Wine cellars bigger than 500 sq. ft. need a more serious planning, thus we recommend consulting to an architect. These building professionals will tailor a design solution that will fit your needs and budget. Ask them to build you a passive cellar or a naturally-cool basement so you can still cut costs on artificial cooling.

The faster and bigger your wine collection grows, the bigger space you’ll need.

When you’re only interested in collecting a handful of rare bottles, you won’t need a huge wine cellar. A custom chilled storage or a repurpose an old closet for your modest but prime collection will do the trick. Use the remaining space for a tasting table and a few comfy chairs.

Determining the size of your wine cellar is one of the biggest decisions you have to make. When you do, think about the factors such as the number of bottles you currently have, the number of bottles you expect to buy annually, and how long you’ll store them. The faster and bigger your collection grows, the bigger space you’ll need.

STEP THREE: Decide which flooring to use

Your wine cellar must have strong and durable floors. It must be able to carry the weight of the entire cellar, which can weigh more than a ton. If the floors can’t retain the weight, it will break, and you’ll need to spend more cash for repair.

Since most basements already have concrete slab floors, let’s discuss that first.

Your concrete floor must be leveled, with no base trims or moldings. You can polish or texturize the concrete slab to improve its look. More importantly, you need to seal it and apply a vapor barrier on it. These two are required, especially when you plant to have refrigeration installed for maintaining constant temperature and humidity levels.

If you don’t fancy concrete flooring, consider hardwood. These are a classic in wine cellar construction. You can lay the boards in a regular linear pattern or you can go extra with French parquet patterns (e.g. Chevron, Herringbone, Brick, Basket patterns etc.). If you’re taking this route, make sure to seal the floorboards properly.

Another flooring option to consider is cork. It’s a sustainable, durable, and gentle underfoot. It’s an excellent acoustic and thermal insulator. This material is also a natural termite repellent. All you need to do is treat it to avoid the formation of mold and mildew (Microban), apply moisture protection (JointShield) to make it watertight, and finish it with a UV-cured acrylic finish to make it scratch-resistant.

Stone is also a popular wine cellar flooring material. You can use slate, marble, or travertine. Lay it in a regular design or in a well-thought-out pattern. The sealant you will use depends on the type of stone you have. However, all stone tiles need to be grouted.

Vintage-style cellar with stone tiles and re-purposed wine barrel for a table.
Vintage-style cellar with stone tiles and re-purposed wine barrel for a table.

The hardly ever used flooring for cellars is carpeting. The cool and humid environment needed for aging and storing wines will trigger the growth of mold in the fibers of the carpet. Avoid using carpet at all costs.

STEP FOUR: Make it wine-friendly

A wine cellar should hold a steady temperature between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity between 60 and 70 percent. You need to maintain this level of temperature and humidity to ensure the quality of your wines. If you don't, the wine might lose its delicate taste as it ages. Molds might grow on the cork and ruin the integrity of the wine. Worse, it might turn into vinegar.

Homes in situated in subterranean areas can have naturally cool and damp basements. In this situation, they can build a passive wine cellar. When this isn’t the case for you, you should consider investing in a wine cellar refrigeration. This is the best way to retain optimal humidity and temperature inside the room.

You need to understand that an air conditioning unit is not the same thing as a wine cooling unit. These special HVAC systems strictly monitor and control the environment inside the wine room. It keeps the temperature and humidity consistent and balanced. These machines cost between $1,000 to $2,000 and may come with a compatible thermostat for $100 to $250.

Of course, you need to insulate the area properly. Make sure there's no leak on your ceiling, walls, windows, doors, and vents. If you don’t, you’re setting up your cooled cellar for premature failure. Heat transfer through cracks, doors, and glass will alter the environment inside the cellar, which affects the preservation and aging process of your wine. Proper insulation is important. To get this right, opt for the service of a local building professional.

And don’t forget a vapor barrier! Fix it with the insulation that you have on your ceiling and walls. It is important to install them correctly to prevent the condensation of water vapor inside the wine room. Excess moisture will promote the growth of molds, help bugs thrive, and destroy the basement. This and airtight insulation may cost between $2,000 to $3,500.

STEP FIVE: Choose your door

The thousands of dollars spent on well-insulated walls, floors, and ceiling will go to waste if you didn’t use an airtight door. Choosing your door is a crucial part of building your basement cellar because it opens your collection to the elements. Insulate the door and install an auto-close mechanism to secure the bottles further in their temperature-controlled environment. Using an exterior-grade, double glazed door will work too, but it will be more expensive. Expect to pay $500 up to $3,500 for your airtight door.

Another important consideration would be the steps. The stairs that go down the basement has caused serious injuries and fatal accidents. You need to do something to prevent these unfortunate situations like installing rails, barriers, and gates.

French doors open to a small wine cellar with an old world ambiance.
French doors open to a small wine cellar with an old world ambiance.

STEP SIX: Build your wine racks

Racks are your main wine storage. Most are made of wood, although metal and glass have also become popular nowadays. You can buy all the racks you need off the shelf or fully-customize them for your cellar. If you want, you can buy one rack and use it as a template when building the rest of storage you need (semi-customized).

If you aim for fully-custom wine racks, note that your material of choice and the number of bottles you want to store will affect the cost of the cabinet. So, implement smart storage solutions. The average bottle measures between 3 and 3.2 inches in diameter and are about 12 inches tall. Use these measurements as the basis for your custom storage. Showcase multiple styles of space-saving racks like this one below:

Luxurious wine cellar with fully customized racks.
Luxurious wine cellar with fully customized racks.

STEP SEVEN: Use cool lighting

The heat from your lights affects the temperature of the wine cellar and the bottles stored there. We recommend using low-heat light sources such as LED lights. Choose the bright ones so finding wines are easier and more convenient. Avoid yellowish and hot incandescent bulbs and halogens in your cellar. The heat that these bulbs emit can easily damage your precious collection.

Wine cellars are more than just a room to store and stack bottles. So, your lighting should also create a nice ambiance. Consider layered lighting to establish some drama. Multiple light sources help balance a room by minimizing glare and shadows while adding depth and dimension.

The first thing to do is to illuminate the room with LED downlights. Consider recessed lights and track lights on your ceiling. For best results, put these lights on a dimmer switch so you can control the light level in the cellar. LED display lights will do this trick too. Put them on top of freestanding shelves and racks that don’t reach the ceiling.

Modern cellar with a creative cork display on the floor accentuated with LED strip lights.
Modern cellar with a creative cork display on the floor accentuated with LED strip lights.

Next, use accent lights to highlight the shelves, the display bottles, and the architecture in your cellar. These add another layer of light, which makes the room’s features more interesting. One way to do this is to run rope lights, tape lights, or strip lights on the areas you want to highlight. This gives the room a cleaner and more modern appeal. Consider backlighting the wine racks too. It will accentuate the shape of your displayed bottles.

Modern cellar with backlit.
Modern cellar with backlit.

For the finishing touch, hang stylish chandeliers or pendant lights. A traditional chandelier will make your cellar feel old yet luxurious. When you’re feeling more modern and whimsical, try chic pendant lights.

STEP NINE: Get ready for entertaining people

When you have room to spare and extra dough to spend, you can add a tasting room to your basement cellar. You can build an exclusive tasting room that feels like an extension of the wine cellar. You can also roll the two areas into one. The latter is more popular for homeowners around the world because it’s easier to achieve. All you need are your tasting table and a few chairs or bar stools. Most people use a traditional table that can accommodate a few glasses and bottles of wine. Those who prefer something whimsical repurpose old wine barrels into a table.

Simple tasting area in the middle of a modest wine collection.
Simple tasting area in the middle of a modest wine collection.

A tasting room, whether separated or merged with the cellar itself, will serve as a lounge where you can relax and enjoy a wine of your choice. You can also entertain other people here. It’ll be fun to hang out and sit among your precious wine collection.

Cellars are more than a room dedicated to passion

Having your own wine cellar has immense personal benefits. Other than that, the conversion of an old basement into a fab wine cellar will provide a considerable return on investment. When done right, it will increase your home’s market value. It will be the first thing that stands out in potential buyers' minds. Some people love exclusivity and the idea of having a functional area in an otherwise unused space is exciting.

That’s the case if you’re looking to sell your home in the future. The ROI becomes more significant over time. If you’re in luck, your property might even double its value.

DIY Wine Cellar

The budget required for the construction of a basement cellar is immense. If you want to save money on this project, consider taking the DIY route. The steps above are still relevant even if you decide to complete your own basement renovation.

Opting to DIY, you dodge labor and installation fees. You can save up to 30 percent of the total costs. You can save thousands of dollars!

Unfortunately, taking on this type of project on your own is risky. There are complex processes such as the installation of the refrigeration unit and ensuring an airtight room. If you don’t get this right, you might end up with an inefficient cellar that harms your precious wine collection.

Wine cellars are huge investments. DIY or not, you’re going to spend a huge amount of money. Spend your money wisely. Consider the help of a building professional for the complex processes that require their expertise and precision. Once their work is done, complete the renovation on your own. DIY the stuff that you can confidently do. (e.g. arranging the tasting area, installing the lights, staining the racks etc.)

Chic wine rack placed over a glazed window. The natural light serves as back lighting.
Chic wine rack placed over a glazed window. The natural light serves as back lighting.

Hiring a Professional

Most architecture firms can help you design your wine cellar in the basement. Consider hiring them for large projects and complicated designs. Your chosen architect can also oversee the project during construction as your project manager. He/she can bring in the other pros and builders required for your project.

When your project seems simple, consider hiring the experts you need on your projects yourself (e.g. HVAC or refrigeration unit contractors, carpenters for your custom wine racks, etc.). You need to understand what you’re looking for in order to hire the right person for the job. Use the internet or your yellow pages to look for the pros in your area and engage the best ones in your project.

Symmetrical racks made of hardwood.
Symmetrical racks made of hardwood.

More importantly, let them know your specific construction budget. Discuss the upper price limit with them in as early as the planning stage. When the pros know it, they’ll give you a wine cellar design you can afford. You will avoid biting more than you can chew.

These are the main considerations when building wine cellars in your basement. We hope this guide helped you jumpstart your project and gave you design inspirations.

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