What’s The Difference Between Through-The-Wall, Ducted And Split Wine Cellar Cooling Systems?

What’s The Difference Between Through-The-Wall, Ducted And Split Wine Cellar Cooling Systems?


The original wine cellars were actually caves. Cave is even the French word for wine cellar. So if you think about the environment of a cave: cold, dark, still and slightly humid you’ll understand how to store wine optimally. Below are the 4 biggest enemies of wine that can hinder their aging process. Wine cellar cooling units can range from the simple to the intricate, from the forced air unit to the split cooling system and from the somewhat reasonable to the very expensive. There are significant differences between these units based upon the way that they vent, the decibel level (amount of noise the unit produces), how they get installed and how long they will last. To help navigate through all of these different cooling units, we have provided a breakdown of the three main types of cooling units along with some of the features and benefits which will help you decide what unit is best suited for your particular wine storage needs.


The basic type of wine cellar cooling unit is called either a forced air or a through the wall cooling unit. These units are reminiscent of a window air conditioner with a few major differences. The first, and most important, difference is that they CANNOT vent to the outside. These units are only capable of venting into an interior adjacent room that is bigger than the maximum cooling capacity of that particular unit and stays between 50-80 degrees F. The upside to one of the units is that they are fairly cost effective and quite easy to install in a standard sheet rock wall. However, they may not last as long as some of the higher rated ducted and split systems (standard shelf life is about 5-8 years) and they will also be a little louder, so we would not advise venting these units into any real living space. Some of the better through the wall units include the N’FINITY, WhisperKool and Wine Guardian TTW units.


The next level in terms of quality and functionality would be the ductable cooling units. They are similar to the forced air units in the sense that they are self-contained, meaning the compressor and evaporator are all within the same housing. However these units have the ability to be fully ducted affording you the luxury of situating the unit in a remote location, such as a mechanical room or storage area. You could then duct the cool air into the wine cellar while venting the warm air to the exterior or another desired location. Certain ductable units, like the Whisperkool Extreme, can even be placed outside as long as they are protected from the elements of weather as they can handle ambient temperatures ranging from 0-110 degrees F. But the majority of ductable units are meant for an indoor application.

These units tend to have a lower decibel rating than the through the wall units and can have a shelf life anywhere from 12-20 years depending on how hard they have to work. Because of their increased function and shelf life, they also tend to be a bit more expensive than the stand forced air cooling unit. The only downside to this style of unit is that the ducts can only be run between 10-25 feet (depending on the manufacturer) and you still want to try and avoid exhausting the warm air into any kind of living space. A few of the top ductable units available on the market are the EuroCave INOA, the WhisperKool Extreme (with the ducted option) and the Wine Guardian units.


The last style of cooling unit is a split system. These can come in two forms, either a ductless or a ducted version. The more common is the ductless as the install tends to be a bit easier. Much like a central air conditioning set up, these types of systems have a separate condenser that can be placed outside or in a mechanical room. There are then two refrigeration pipes that run from the condenser to the evaporator that would typically hang on one of the walls of your wine cellar. In a ducted set up, the lines would connect to an air handler that you would then duct into your cellar, but this is typically only necessary in a rather large wine cellar. The benefits to a split system are vast. First of all, the evaporators are extremely quiet as only the fan is producing any sound since the condenser would be located elsewhere. Plus, those refrigeration lines can be run up to 90 feet away allowing for a variety of installation options. Most importantly, these units tend to keep the most consistent temperature and humidity levels which in the long run means the integrity of your prized wine collection is aging with the utmost protection. The shelf life on these units can be anywhere from 15-25 years and they are quite serviceable since they are similar in nature to a standard home split cooling set up.

The downside on these units is really just the cost. While the price of these units are in the same range as the ductable units, because refrigeration lines have to be run and charged with refrigerant the installation costs can be hefty. You would want to contact a local HVAC company to see what those costs would be before purchasing one of these units. However if it is within your budget this is really the best option for any wine cellar regardless of size. While there are a number of units available WhisperKool really manufactures the most reliable split systems available, including their mini split for rooms under 500 cubic feet. At the end of the day, there are many factors that go into the decision of which cooling unit to use including room size, venting applications, location and budget to name a few.

Cooling Unit StyleThrough the WallDuctableSplit
Life Expectancy5-8 years12-20 years15-25 years
VentingInterior OnlyInterior/ExteriorInterior/Exterior
Max Ambient Temp80 degreesUp to 110 degreesUp to 110 degrees
InstallationEasyMore difficultHVAC required
Decible Level55-6535-5535-60 (condenser)
Cost$1,000-$2,800$3,000-$6,500$2,500 and up
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.