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Wine refrigerators (also known as wine coolers) serve several purposes: (1) they chill wine to proper serving temperature for immediate enjoyment and (2) maintain proper temperature and humidity for long-term cellaring. Once you bring your wine refrigerator home, the most important decision to make is where to place it, because the location you choose will directly affect its performance and longevity.
Can a wine refrigerator be put in a cabinet? If your wine cooler has ventilation grills on the sides or in the back of the unit, then it should never be placed in a cabinet because doing so will hamper its ability to cool the internal air. If, however, your wine fridge has vents in the front of the unit (e.g., under the door), then it has been designed for sliding into an enclosed space such as a cabinet.
Figuring out the best spot in your home for a wine refrigerator requires knowing the basics about wine refrigerators and how they work. Read on to learn why certain wine coolers should never be placed in a cabinet and why others are well-suited for such enclosures.
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All Wine Refrigerators Need Proper Ventilation
All wine refrigeration systems rely upon the movement of room temperature air to dissipate accumulating heat away from the refrigerator and its components.
Otherwise, heat expelling parts can get overworked, they can overheat and fail, or the internal temperature of the refrigerator can rise dramatically, irreversibly diminishing the quality and shelf-life of wines stored inside.
There are two types of wine refrigerator cooling systems:
- Compressor Systems – rely on pressurization of coolant or refrigerant which circulates throughout the cooling system and produces cold air as it flexes back and forth between liquid and vapor states. Proper ventilation is needed to cool the compressor and dissipate heat away from the refrigerator. An overheated compressor will wear out sooner and can even seize up.
- Thermoelectric Systems – these are more dependent on proper ventilation than compressor types because instead of circulating refrigerant, they utilize a system comprised primarily of a heat pump and heat sink that cools via the Peltier effect. Rather than chilling air, thermoelectric wine coolers remove heat from inside the fridge and dissipate it outward.
I strongly recommend a compressor-cooled built-in wine fridge for a cabinet. This is one of the best models for storing red and white wines in confined spaces (Amazon link). Check out current pricing on Amazon.
Different Types of Wine Fridges
As we have seen, proper ventilation is crucial for any wine fridge to function properly whether it is a tried and true compressor-style or an environmentally friendly thermoelectric model.
Before breaking out the tape measure to see if your wine fridge will fit inside the cabinet, it is important to understand the different types of wine fridges and how the location of ventilation grills will affect your installation plans.
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Freestanding Wine Refrigerators
Freestanding wine coolers are designed to be standalone appliances that offer flexibility in where they can be placed. The ideal location is one that is away from a direct heat source (e.g., heating vent, another appliance, halogen lamp) and direct sunlight.
Also, the room in which a freestanding wine cooler is placed should have adequate air circulation and be relatively cool during warm summer months.
The placement or location of ventilation grills on a freestanding wine fridge will dictate how closely it can be installed to walls, counters, cabinets, and other objects.
- Rear Vents – ventilation grills located on the back of a wine fridge will require that the unit be placed with a minimum of 2 to 3 inches clearance between it and a wall or similar object or obstruction, so as not to impede the circulation of fresh air in and out of the vent.
- Side Vents – side vents need about 1 to 2 inches of clearance between them and an obstruction to effectively circulate fresh air in and out of the wine cooler.
- Top Vents – although rare, there are a handful of wine fridges with vents on the top of the unit requiring a minimum of 2 to 3 inches of clearance to allow for proper dissipation of heat from the cooling system.
Because of these clearance requirements, freestanding wine fridges are not well suited for installation inside cabinetry because of the restricted space that will obstruct vital air circulation, particularly in the rear and to the sides. The one exception is if your freestanding wine fridge happens to have ventilation grills in the front of the unit.
Unless your freestanding wine fridge has front-facing ventilation grills, there are other places aside from inside a cabinet where it should not be placed. There are certain rooms and areas of a home where you should never install any type of wine fridge.
- Garage – garages are notoriously hot in the summer months and cold in the winter months and this extreme temperature fluctuation will wreak havoc on a wine refrigerator’s working components, particularly if it is a thermoelectric model.
- Attic – unless an attic is very well ventilated or connected to a home’s HVAC system, this would be a very poor choice for installing a wine fridge as attics tend to be significantly warmer than the rest of the house, especially during summer months.
- Basement – unlike garages and attics, basements tend to be significantly cooler than other sections of a home, and this is not necessarily a good thing for wine storage especially with thermoelectric fridges which function by removing heat from the air but cannot raise the temperature of air that is too cold (and the ideal cellaring temperature for most wines is 55° F).
- Closet – as far as poor locations for a wine refrigerator go, this is just about the worst of them all. Not only do closets tend to get warm in the summers, but the fact that they are relatively small and enclosed spaces means that a wine cooler will essentially be re-circulating the same hot air that it dissipated and expelled which undoubtedly will greatly shorten its operating life.
For a complete list of the best locations to place a wine refrigerator, check out this article I wrote. To get a good estimate of the running costs associated with a wine fridge and how to reduce those costs, check out this article.
Built-In Wine Refrigerators
Built-in wine coolers (also known as under-counter) have front-facing ventilation grills, usually underneath the refrigerator door or even at the bottom of the unit.
This feature enables this type of fridge to be installed in enclosed spaces such as cabinetry, under counters, and in tight spaces where a freestanding unit would have difficulty operating efficiently.
Many built-in wine fridges have similar dimensions (approximately 34 to 34 ½ inches high and 22 to 24 inches deep) as kitchen cabinets so that they stand flush with the cabinetry and the countertop and blend in perfectly with their surroundings.
Many built-in wine coolers feature enhanced aesthetic and cosmetic features such as smoked glass doors, polished stainless steel finishes, and even interior mood lighting.
Potential Drawbacks of Built-In Models
One thing to note is that because of the height and depth restrictions imposed by a standard kitchen cabinet, a wine cooler of this size would have a capacity of around 50 bottles, which is roughly four cases of wine for long-term cellaring. If your wine collection exceeds this number, you may have to make some tough choices regarding your wine storage strategy.
Another thing to consider is that because the ventilation system is front-facing and typically located beneath the door, a steady stream of warm air will flow across the floor in the vicinity of your wine cooler.
While this may be an enjoyable perk in cold winter months, come the warm summer season, this may not be a pleasant circumstance to deal with.
As far as viable locations, built-in refrigerators offer the greatest flexibility because not only can they be installed in enclosed environments like cabinets, but they can also be placed anywhere that you would put a freestanding wine refrigerator.
However, these models do tend to be significantly more expensive than freestanding models, so you need to determine whether the added flexibility is worth the extra money.
To get a complete sense of why you should not store a wine refrigerator next to a kitchen oven, check out this article. To learn if a wine fridge is necessary for good long-term wine storage, check out this article we wrote.