Can I Use an Air Conditioner to Cool My Wine Cellar?

Can I Use an Air Conditioner to Cool My Wine Cellar?

It’s a question our Wine Storage Consultants get a lot here at Wine Enthusiast: “Can I use an air conditioner in my wine cellar?” Sure, you can—but we wouldn’t recommend it! There is a special type of appliance for the job, and it’s called a wine cellar cooling unit. Think of it as your wine room’s air conditioner.

Aspiring wine collectors often consider routing their home’s central AC to their wine cellar or simply installing a window AC unit in their wine room. It makes sense—the idea behind a wine cellar is to maintain a constant temperature, and that’s exactly what air conditioners do, right? 

While that is true, there are fundamental differences in the functions between standard air conditioners and wine cooling units. These differences make wine cooling units the clear choice for both short and long-term storage of fine wines. 

Here’s how the two appliances differ:

Most Air Conditioners Can’t Reach Wine Storage Temperatures 

When storing wine, maintaining the optimum temperature is perhaps the most important consideration. If wine sits at an ambient temperature that’s too high, it will “cook”. Imbibers can expect an overall flattening of the wine’s flavor and aroma. And on the flip side, wine that’s kept too cold can suffer from similarly detrimental effects. 

That ideal temperature for wine is typically around 55 degrees. Most regular home air conditioners cannot reach temperatures below 60 degrees—and some ACs can’t even get below 65! 

Temps in the 60s may feel cool to us, but it’s a little too warm for that special Cab you’ve been saving. Consider that the main goal of effective wine storage is to minimize the aging process; excessive heat is largely the number one factor that contributes to the aging of fine wine. 

For more on this, check out our article on Proper Wine Storage Temperature.

Air Conditioners Aren’t Great for Gradual & Consistent Temperature Control 

Equally important to short and long-term wine storage is avoidance of radical swings in temperature. If the ambient temperature of your wine cellar or room fluctuates with the weather, the cork can expand and contract in the neck of the bottle. This can allow air to seep into the bottle, resulting in oxidized and spoiled wine. A cork shrinking and expanding can even be pushed out of the bottle, potentially causing leakage.

(Have we convinced you of how crucial it is to keep your fine wine at a constant 55 degrees yet?)

Another thing to consider is the purpose for which home air conditioners are built. When turned on, an air conditioner’s goal is to cool the room or home as quickly as possible. This is the exact type of radical temperature fluctuation you want to avoid when storing wine. 

Seasoned collectors know keeping a steady and consistent temperature is critical in allowing wine to age gracefully. Even minimal temperature sings over time where wine is stored could spell disaster for your treasured bottles. 

Wine Cooling Units are Designed to Prevent Vibration; AC Units Often Cause it

Excessive vibration is another huge pitfall of DIY wine rooms. There’s a reason commercial wine cellars are hermetically sealed (a few, actually): When the contents in the bottle shift—by even just a few, measly millimeters—energy is added to the chemical aging process. This can radically change and dull the flavors of wine over time. 

Home air conditioners and window units are highly prone to this type of harmful vibration, as even the best, most expensive units accumulate some degree of wear and tear over time. Whether it’s a loose or bent fan, insufficient lubrication, or improper mounting, many factors can cause a standard AC to vibrate while running. 

Wine cooling units and systems, on the other hand, are specially designed to eliminate harmful vibrations. With recent advances in wine cooling technology, most consumer-grade units are virtually vibration-free, and many of the ducted and split systems run so quiet, they’re near silent inside the cellar.

Wine Guardian Ductable Split System

At Wine Enthusiast, we have several vibration-free units we love to talk about! The Wine Guardian Ductable Split System is a powerful wine cooling solution that entirely mitigates problematic vibrations. It provides excellent air circulation and temperature distribution to ensure bottles are kept in ideal storage conditions. This self-contained system is ideal for wine cellars that cannot be reached by traditional condenser air. Available in one-ton, quarter-ton, and half-ton models. 

WhisperKOOL Ductless Split Mini Ceiling Mount Cooling System

We also have the WhisperKOOL Ductless Split Mini Ceiling Mount Cooling System. This system is ideal for space-limited cellars, as it conveniently mounts to the ceiling of your room. This allows for maximum racking space with no ducting required. The WhisperKOOL also boasts outstanding efficiency by drawing in the warmer air that tends to accumulate near the ceiling. This innovative system also includes a convenient pump system that automatically removes any excess condensation. 

Air Conditioners Eliminate Necessary Humidity

Another necessity in safely storing wine, even if just for a few weeks, is control over humidity. At humidity levels of  85 percent or higher, the labels on your prized vintage bottles could potentially degrade and the glue may dissolve. Should your wine cellar dip below 50 percent humidity, the corks can start to dry out, potentially ruining the overall wine quality.

While window AC units can keep a room cool, they certainly have no ability to maintain or measure humidity. In fact, these units draw virtually all of the humidity out of a room, leaving a downright dangerous environment for wine storage. Building Green has a great piece that dives more deeply into the effects of air conditioners on humidity levels.

Luckily, many of the wine cooling systems from our catalog feature humidity control capabilities. These diverse options effectively handle both temperature and humidity control within your wine cellar, killing two birds with one stone. 

Wine Guardian Through-Wall System

The Wine Guardian Through-Wall system is the only through-the-wall option today that displays both humidity and temperature controls. This quiet, efficient wine cooling system is made from robust commercial-grade components, but is perfectly suited to a robust private collection as well. 

Wine Guardian Water Cooled Ducted D200

Another fantastic option is the innovative Wine Guardian Water Cooled Ducted D200. This versatile wine cooling solution features humidity controls that make it perfect for any residential, commercial or private setting.

Wine Guardian Air Cooled Ducted System D025

If a water-cooled option isn’t ideal for your own application, consider one of Wine Guardian’s Air-Cooled, Ducted systems like the D025. This versatile, self-contained wine cooling system offers maximum flexibility in both installation and design. Whether your wine is stored in a residential or commercial area, this system can provide outstanding cooling and humidity control for spaces of any size. For collectors hoping to maximize their storage space, this unit can easily be placed in any indoor location outside of the wine cellar itself. 

Wine Cooling Units from The Experts 

When building a wine cellar or wine room, the installation of a wine cooling system is absolutely non-negotiable! Although air conditioners and window units can cool the space, they simply cannot offer the specialized controls needed to preserve wine quality. 

At Wine Enthusiast, we’re here to help you build your dream wine cellar, and that includes a robust and capable wine cooling unit that protects against temperature changes, vibrations, and humidity. 

Curious about any of our products? Need someone to bounce ideas off of while planning for your new wine room? Our Wine Storage Consultants are always happy to talk shop! Connect with us over chat, email or by phone, and we’ll help you find the right system for your space.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 11, 2020. We hope you find the information useful!

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.