Question: Interested in your wise thoughts on the main difference between putting in an expensive wine cooling unit or a cheaper window air conditioner for my small expanding wine cellar.
Answer: Good practical question. Depends a lot on the climate where you live and what the normal range of temperatures would be without any cooling mechanism. First ask yourself just how cold do you want your cellar to generally be and how steady the temperature. An upscale wine cooling unit looks efficient and are often quieter doing a much better job of steadily maintaining a much cooler specific temperature (say below 15C or 59F) with better humidity. A simpler less costly window air conditioner is OK particularly for periodic use in cooler climates to lower those summer higher extremes (occurring more often recently with global warming) though doesn’t get the temperature down very cold (hard to maintain it below around 62F) and tends to dry out the surrounding air. Works best when you have some open water containers around the cellar to preserve higher moisture content in there to help the corks from drying out. Get what you pay for to some degree (pun intended) but either system should be of help to you with your storage conditions. You should decide what you need and can afford. Good luck.
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I have used a window air conditioner for about 25 years now….the same unit! It is in a room that was designed as a passive cellar and so is heavily insulated. I had a heating and ac firm add a thermostat. The unit rarely comes on in the winter, but works daily at the height of the summer.
The main difference between a commercially designed wine cooler and an air conditioner is that it routes the condensate differently. The commercial unit recycles the condensate back into the room, while the air conditioner sends it out. You need something to provide extra water vapor if you use an air conditioner, otherwise it will eventually dry out all your corks and pull the wine out of the bottle. I just use a home humidifier and have it set for about 55% humidity.