Building Wine Cellar Walls

Your guide to wine cellar framing and insulation


When it comes to building a wine cellar there are basically two choices. You can either repurpose an existing room or section off some space inside of it. Either option will require work on the walls. In order to build a proper cellar the walls need to be insulated and have a vapor barrier installed. Sound like a lot of work? Well, it can be done fairly simply, which is not to say that it is necessarily easy.

First off, let’s take a look at working with existing walls and why you may, or may not, have to make some improvements to them.

If your plans include external walls, you may not have to do too much to them, assuming they are below grade foundation walls. Even then, you might be surprised to see how much heat your foundation can conduct. I have both north and south facing foundation walls in my cellar. Fortunately, the south-facing wall is shielded on the outside by an extensive covered deck.

If it weren’t for that deck I would have had to insulate that wall. While it’s almost all below grade, save the top foot or so, that south-facing wall and the soil abutting it receives unobstructed sunlight virtually all day long. That slow heating builds up after months of sunshine, and while concrete foundation walls serve as huge heat sinks, that efficiency at maintaining a temperature works both ways.

While the cold of winter lingers in the walls well into the spring and early summer, the warmth of summer can stick around well after the first frosts of winter. While no one might mind the first part of this scenario, it’s the second we should be worried about. Without properly insulating our cellar we would be looking at warming walls through the summer and into the winter. OK, so that’s not the end of the world, but it’s not ideal and at least for the purpose of this article let’s work towards an ideal cellar.

So, we’ve got to insulate. There are two ways to insulate an external wall, or any wall for that matter. The first and more traditional would be with fiberglass batting, those rolls of fiberglass we’ve probably all seen in our attics, or at Home Depot. The other way is by applying rigid foam insulation panels. (There is actually a third way -- spray in polyurethane insulation -- but that is both more complex and difficult, particularly if you have any notions of this being a DIY project.)

What are the pros and cons of the two types of insulation, then? Well rigid board insulation is very easy to use. It’s basically just foam boards -- easy to buy, easy to cut, and easy to apply directly to your external walls. In addition, the nature of the insulation -- tons of bubbles in the foam – vastly reduces water penetration, as well as the resultant reduction in insulating efficiency.

Of course the trade off is the simple fact that foam boards lack the insulation value of fiberglass batting. A typical 2-inch thick foam board can have an r-value of 10, as opposed to 20 for normal 6-inch thick fiberglass batting. Now, you can layer foam board on foam board and get an impressive 30 r rating for 6 inches of foam board, but not only is that not cost effective, it’s totally unnecessary.

For most conditions, an r-value of 10 will probably be sufficient; after all, we are just trying to keep the temperature in the basement from rising more than about 10 degrees over the course of the year, instead of perhaps 20. It’s a bit different from trying to prevent your whole house from rising 40 degrees in the summer.

Once you’re got the foam board up on your exterior walls you can focus on your interior walls. These will be much more important than your external walls since the temperatures typically encountered in a basement can run much hotter than the ambient temperatures of the soil around your house. Keep the heat from your house out of your cellar and you’ve got it made!

In order to frame out your cellar space you’ll have to build walls. Since these walls are not load bearing, you might be tempted to run 24 inch on center 2x4’s as your framers but don’t do it! While that works perfectly in most cases these walls are really just there to support your insulation so you should build them with that in mind.

You’ll want to maximize your insulation potential here so the best plan would be to use standard 16 inch on center for spacing and to go with 2x6’s for your framing. That will let you use standard 15-inch wide 6 inch thick batting with an r-value of 19. Now I’ve heard people say they’ve had no problem packing that in 4-inch spaces, which may be true, but the fact is that fiberglass batting is designed to be gently laid between the studs. Forcing the insulation to fit just compresses the insulation, forcing the trapped air (that’s really doing the insulating!) out from between the fiberglass strands and lowering the r-value of that insulation!

Two points to remember when building walls directly on the concrete walls of your basement: Lay down a layer of vapor barrier over the floor and under the sill of the wall to prevent water wicking into your sill, and leave about a ½ inch gap between the floor and the bottom of your sheetrock, to prevent water wicking into the rock.

Chapter 2: The Importance of Vapor Barriers

Return to Building a Wine Cellar

This article is part of a series on building your own wine cellar:

I.    Building Wine Cellar Walls
II.   Wine Cellar Vapor Barriers
III.  Wine Cellar Ceilings and Lighting
IV.   Wine Cellar Flooring
V.    Wine Cellar Windows and Doors

Similar Topic:

Cellar Temperature and Corks

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: brezza65
    117628 8

    One advantage to using the spray foam insulation is that it acts as a vapor barrier, so you don't need one. And I know it's not DIY, but when I did mine, it just took one phone call to get it done.

    Aug 31, 2010 at 3:42 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    That's a great comment, i didn't know that but it makes perfect sense.

    And i love your handle.

    A great Barolo producer, and a great year, well for being born, for wine not so much.

    Aug 31, 2010 at 3:54 PM

  • Snooth User: brezza65
    117628 8

    The handle comes from a combination of my love of Barolo and the fact that my hockey playing buddies called me "the breeze" in my younger days. At first they called me the Wind, but then a faster guy came along and I got downgraded to The Breeze, hence Brezza! 65 - a great year indeed! Happy 45th!

    Aug 31, 2010 at 4:12 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Happy birthday to you too!

    If you ever find yourself in NYC and want to share some Brezza, let me know. One of my favoites!

    Aug 31, 2010 at 4:47 PM

  • Snooth User: civiletti
    192021 20

    "You’ll want to maximize your insulation potential here so the best plan would be to use standard 16 inch on center for spacing and to go with 2x6’s for your framing."

    Actually, insulation value would be greater with 2x6 studs 24"oc [less wood, more insulation]. Fibergass batts to fit should not be difficult to find, as this is a popular framing strategy in contemporary homebuilding.

    Also, remember that any wood in contact with masonry should be pressure treated to prevent rot.

    Aug 31, 2010 at 8:18 PM

  • Snooth User: civiletti
    192021 20

    Better than green board for this application would be mold-resistant drywall. Greenboard has a water resistant core, which is useful places like kitchens where water gets splashed around. But it has a paper surface, and mold eats paper. For constant high humidity, a non-paper surface is better. Look for one of these wallboards:

    •U.S. Gypsum (Sheetrock® Brand Humitek®)
    •National Gypsum (Gold Bond Brand XP)
    •Temple-Inland (Silent-Guard™ TS)
    •Georgia Pacific (DensArmor® Plus
    •U.S. Gypsum (FiberRoc® AquaTough™)

    Sep 01, 2010 at 1:35 AM

  • Snooth User: brezza65
    117628 8

    If you're serious, I'll actually be in NYC the week after next. Shoot me a note at

    Sep 01, 2010 at 7:52 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    The week after next will be too early to drink much Brezza, I'm making a trip to my cellar the following week, but if you want to drink other Barolo, that can easily be arranged. What nights look good for you?

    Sep 01, 2010 at 12:51 PM

  • Snooth User: brezza65
    117628 8

    I'll be in town with my wife who's doing a course there all week - I'm just tagging along for a couple of days vacation, so I'll be there Monday and Tuesday evening. Monday evening we managed to get into Babbo, but we have Tuesday evening the 14th free. Does that work for you?
    p.s. "a trip to my cellar" is something that never occurs to me as I just make a trip down the stairs. Of course in Manhattan, that's not feasible I guess!

    Sep 01, 2010 at 1:09 PM

  • Having built a couple of cellars for clients, a nice and very workable wall material is furniture grade plywood. It comes in a variety of species and if you trim the seams with flat mouldings of the same (or, even better, a contrasting) wood and then put three coats of a good water-based polyurethane product, it looks spectacular! Also, you do a pretty good job of putting your vapor barrier where it does the most good - outside of the entire wall structure.
    While most of the wood is covered by the racking, any open space (over counters, above the racks, even the ceiling) will set off the wood of your racks nicely. Also, since there is no guarantee that the racks you choose will have the same spacing as your wall studs, the plywood (3/4" recommended)
    will give you better anchoring sites than sheetrock anywhere you need them.
    Better looking, better vapor control and better attachment options - all great arguments for plywood!

    Sep 11, 2010 at 11:30 AM

  • good one

    Aug 31, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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