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Wine Cellar Cooling Unit Selection – What System Works Best for You?

What is a wine cooler or wine cellar refrigeration system and why do you need one? This is a common question for new wine collectors or those building a wine cellar for the first time. The answer is simple: to keep your wine cellar temperature constant and within a range ideal for the proper maturation of your wine. Without a wine cellar cooling unit, even if your wine cellar is in your basement, away from heat sources and light, you will experience temperature fluctuations and potential oxidization of your wine, amongst other negative influences.  

Choosing the Right Type of Wine Cellar Cooling Unit

Self-contained through-wall wine cellar cooling unit

Wine Cellar cooling units break down into 3 different system types. Within these system categories there are a variety of sizes or capacities to choose from, depending on how many BTUs or how powerful of a unit you need. Need help determining how powerful of a unit you require? Request a complementary thermal load calculation.

Self-Contained, Air-Cooled Wine Cellar Cooling Units

These are some of the simplest systems to install, provided you have suitable ventilation.


  • Are usually the least expensive types of wine cellar cooling units
  • Relatively simple to install and don’t require the expertise or expense of a licensed HVAC technician


  • Are usually visible (both inside and outside of the wine cellar when not ducted)
  • Condenser noise can be undesirable in interior living space.
  • Ducting a unit can take up a lot of space
  • Dissipating hot air from the unit can be difficult in tighter, unventilated spaces

Self-contained cooling units require a single power source as well as a drain line for condensation. Some cooling units include a condensate evaporation system so the drain tube can be run to an empty receptacle in case of any drips, others need to connect to a drain line. Self-contained units come pre-charged with refrigerant from the factory so an HVAC technician is not necessary for installation.

There are usually two ways self-contained air-cooled wine cellar cooling units can be installed:

Through a wall, venting to a space where heat will not build up. All cooling units mounted through an interior wall should vent to a space at larger than the wine cellar (and much larger if your wine cellar has glass walls or windows) that has ventilation so that heat does not build up. There are also some units that can mount through an exterior wall (eg. CellarPro VSx models and WhisperKOOL Extreme series models).

Self-contained air cooled wine cellar cooling unit mounted through wall of wine cellar

Front and/or Rear Ducted. Most self-contained wine cellar cooling units can be front, rear or double ducted with the purchase of additional ducting hoods or kits.
Front ducting the unit (one duct for cold air supply to the cellar and one duct for return air to the unit) allows for the cooling unit to be hidden so only vents are seen in the cellar. Each wine cellar cooling unit has its own unique duct sizing requirements which relates to the size of the vent openings into your cellar. Note that you can get creative with the shape and positioning of the vents, so long as a certain square footage is achieved. For example a 12” x 12” opening is the same square footage as a 24” x 6” opening. When deciding on the placement and ducting run from your unit into the wine cellar, keep in mind that plenums and ducting do take up quite a bit of space and ducting should not be pinched or restricted in any way.

Front ducted self-contained air cooled wine cellar cooling unit installation

Double ducted self-contained air cooled wine cellar cooling unit installation

Rear ducting the unit (one duct for fresh air intake and one duct for hot air exhaust) allows for the unit to be placed in a tighter space where ventilation would be an issue.  The ducting provides a path to an adjacent space that can handle the hot air exhaust.

Split Systems

Split wine cellar cooling units take more planning and expense to install but offer some of the quietest, most discreet solutions for wine cellar temperature control.


  • Evaporators are easily hidden within wine cellar cabinetry or ducted from an adjacent space so no equipment is visible inside the cellar
  • Compressor noise is completely removed from the cellar environment and can even be placed outdoors
  • Good solution when ventilation around the wine cellar is a challenge


  • Usually more expensive than self-contained units
  • Licensed HVAC technicians are required for proper installation and warranty validation
  • Difficult to install in finished spaces as refrigerant piping needs to be hidden in the wall and/or ceiling cavities

Split wine cellar cooling units consist of two main components: an evaporator that is installed either inside the wine cellar or ducted to it from an adjacent space and a condenser that is located remotely (usually outdoors). The two units are connected by refrigerant piping that is installed discreetly in wall and/or ceiling cavities. Only the condenser generates heat and given that it can be installed outdoors, ventilation is not a worry. The condenser sound is also removed from the vicinity of the wine cellar. Some evaporators can even be recessed into the cellar ceiling for a virtually invisible installation inside the cellar without having to run ducting.

Ceiling Mounted Split Wine Cellar Cooling Unit Installation

Water-Cooled Self-Contained Cooling Systems

ONAM water-cooled wine cellar cooling units are a great solution for those wanting to avoid the complexity and cost of installing a split system but where ventilation is a concern.


  • Cooling units don’t require ventilation so can be placed fully inside the cellar or ducted from a smaller adjacent space where heat could build up
  • HVAC technicians are not required for installation
  • Good choice for cellars where wall penetration is a challenge (such as concrete)


  • Can be more costly that air-cooled system of similar cooling capacity
  • Uses water for operation which may be a concern for those in drought-prone areas or in municipalities with restrictions or bylaws preventing once-through water-cooled systems. (note that these units can be connected to geothermal or recirculating systems to negate this concern)

ONAM water-cooled wine cellar cooling units are self-contained and can be installed either inside or outside of the wine cellar. Units come pre-charged with refrigerant and do not require an HVAC technician for installation. Utilities connections include water supply, two drain lines (one for condensate and one for waste water) and an electrical connection. They can also be hooked into geothermal or closed loop systems so that there is no waste water. The most unique feature of these cooling units is that don’t require ventilation as heat is dispensed via the water line.

There is an uninsulated model that is situated fully inside the wine cellar so nothing penetrates the walls of the cellar. It is almost always concealed within millwork or cabinetry. This is a great solution for wine cellars with concrete walls where boring large holes for duct work or through-wall systems would be a challenge.

ONAM Water Cooled Self Contained Wine Cellar Cooling Unit Installation

For those that don’t want to put the unit inside the wine cellar, there is an insulated, ductable model that can be situated in a space adjacent to the wine cellar. This can even be a small closet as the unit doesn’t exhaust heat.



Water Cooled Ducted Wine Cellar Cooling Unit Installation

Need help determining the best wine cellar cooling unit for your situation? Contact us for a complementary consultation.