How To Deal With Mold When Constructing A Wine Cellar in Your Basement

How To Deal With Mold When Constructing A Wine Cellar in Your Basement

Most healthy wine cellars are humid, and that’s a good thing. These storage spaces are kept damp to keep the wooden corks in the glass bottles moist, and to keep the wooden wine racks reasonably elastic, and to the preserve the environment in the room which many experts believe is present in the way the wine tastes on the tongue when it is served.  The problem however is that humidity causes mold.

mold on paper wine labelMold is a two way street in wine cellars. Some connoisseurs might tell you that such growth can, will and should coexist with wine for added flavour and ‘notes of the cellar’ in tastings. When mold appears on the surface of the bottles or the corks you can usually just wipe it off with a clean, soft cloth soaked in antibacterial or antifungal detergents. Keep an eye on your bottle labels however because once mold attacks the paper there’s not much you can do about it.  Now as we said above, some experts believe that mold should be left alone when it appears on the corks as this too adds to the complexity of the wine, but that is entirely up the collector. Others believe that surface mold won’t affect your wine one way or another. Regardless, the perfectly humid wine cellar can come into conflict with the rest of the house or commercial building if it is not properly insulated, and completely isolated from the rest of the building. This is done by using either plastic vapour barrier or by installing specially treated spray foam insulation during the wine cellar construction phase. If there is no seal between the wine cellar and the rest of the house then the very first order of business is to get busy making a moisture containment field around the cellar space.

A proper wine cellar space is hermetically sealed and separated from the rest of the domicile or commercial building.  Once you’ve accomplished this separation then you need to keep an eye on the humidity in the space and make sure it stabilizes, otherwise there may be an even larger problem.  If the humidity keeps on rising then you may have sprung a leak. The target humidity should be right about 70 percent, which helps keep your corks from drying out. If it’s too humid in your wine cellar, and the humidity continues to rise despite all your attempts to ventilate and mitigate the situation, then you might think about adding a dehumidifier to your cooling solution.

Mold is always associated with moisture

close-up of mold in the wine cellarThe main cause of mold infestation in any facility is the presence of too much moisture in the air. To ensure that this does not have a negative effect on the quality of the cellar, you might need to put in place a few measures to ensure that this does not occur. One of the things you can do is to target the things that often lead to water logging in such a space. Some of these include:

• Fix the foundation: Defects in the foundation such as cracks often contribute to the seepage of water into the basement. In order to prevent the growth of mold in such areas, you would need to first fix such problems before you can then do other conversions to turn the facility into a cellar. You will need the help of an expert in this field in order to get this right. It might sound expensive to do this particularly if the problems are extensive, but it’s usually well worth it. Remember, making sure that the area is not too wet will also protect other items in the cellar such as wooden shelves.

• Waterproof the cellar area:
In addition to fixing defects in the walls and the foundation, you might also want to waterproof the area as well. This involves using a nonporous material to line the areas that are susceptible to seepage, which in turn reduces the risk of the area becoming damp.

• Secure home exterior:
You also need to make a point of inspecting the outside of the house, particularly the area that surrounds the basement. If it turns out that it’s shaped in such a manner that water tends to pool close to the house, you might need to make changes in order to make it flow away from the house. This reduces the risk of damage due to standing water.

Air conditioning the wine cellar space to defeat mold

The presence of fresh air circulating within the basement also has the effect of reducing the chances of mold accumulating in the area. For this reason, you should also plan to make sure that the basement is properly aerated. You can do this by installing air conditioners in the area, or by simply making sure that it’s well ventilated. This is a process that might cost you more money, but it will turn out to be worth it in the end. You can use the device to control the temperature within the room, and to also make sure that the risk of mold infestation is reduced. This is especially so if you decide to use an air conditioner with a high quality filter within it.

Inspect wine cellar area for the presence of mold

If you have already installed the cellar, and you’re about to put wine in the room, it might be a good idea to inspect the area for the presence of mold first. This will reduce the chances of having to disturn the entire collection in an attempt to deal with the mold problem later, after the cellar is established. Remember, doing the latter is often very difficult, since it means that you would need to get rid of everything within the cellar in order for the process to be as thorough as it needs to be to save the house or commercial building that is being threatened by the outbreak.

Most Common Wine Cellar Mold Types

Hopefully you will never encounter a mold problem in your wine cellar, but sometimes mold is unavoidable. Here are some of the more common kinds of mold that can present serious health risks for people in the home if left untreated in the basement wine cellar.

Alternaria, a common mold found outside the houseAlternaria is one of the more common molds found outside the house and so it often makes inside where its more likely to cause health problems.  Due to its ubiquitous presence outdoors, the spores of Alternaria mold are a primary cause of allergies especially during spring and summer.  People with allergies often find themselves sneezing, having runny noses and red eyes, or feeling dizzy when walking outside.  Similar symptoms can happen to people who are exposed to this mold indoors.  Alternaria usually appears in damp areas like sinks, showers, or dimly lit humid areas like basement wine cellars.  Health problems associated with alternaria include asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

Another common indoor mold is aspergilus.  Some forms of aspergillus will appear yellow in color. This is a very common household mold that can be found anywhere there has been any kind of water damage.  This mold incredibly common and does only minor damage to those that inhale it.  Severe reactions however could include respiratory infections, allergic reactions, and inflamed lungs.

Aureobasidium mold is most often found on wooden furniture, surfaces, painted walls and wallpaper as well as around windows and in caulk.  If you notice a spotty substance that is pink and black in color in those areas, it’s probably this type of mold. Since aureobasidum is so common, most people do develop allergic reactions to it and it has been known to cause more severe reactions than other molds.  It can cause allergic reactions, breathing problems, chronic sinus infections, asthma attacks, fatigue, and depression. Stachybotrys chartarum has a characteristic musty odor and usually grows in places that stay damp all the time, like in air conditioning ducts where there is a lot of condensation or around leaky pipes.

Chaetomium is a fungal genus in the Chaetomiaceae family which contains around eighty known species of mold. These molds are the kind which can cause health problems in humans as a result of prolonged exposure.  Members of this genus typically have superficial, ostiolar perithecia, covered in hairs. Asci are often clavate and evanescent, bearing eight spores. These are ascospores, which means they’re spores contained in an ascus or that which was produced inside an ascus. This kind of spore is specific to fungi classified as ascomycetes (Ascomycota). Ascospores are formed in ascus under optimal conditions. Typically, a single ascus will contain eight ascospores (or octad). They are usually lemon-shaped and commonly colored olive-brown. Mycelia often grows in conglomerate masses that resemble ropes. This mold is found in drywall that has experienced water damage. People typically identify its presence when they smell a musty or old odor in their home.

Homeowners often find the cladosporium mold inside both cool and warm areas like carpet, wood floorboards, wooden cabinet and older fabrics. Being around the cladosporium mold can leave homeowners with breathing problems and respiratory issues.  While most types of mold prefer warm climates, cladosporium can grow in cool areas, too. It often grows on fabrics, like carpets, and on wood surfaces, like cabinets and floorboards. It can cause a variety of respiratory problems

Fusarium is a mold that tends to grow in colder, wetter areas. The typical homes for the fusarium mold are carpeted areas and similar fabrics. Fusarium can cause the standard allergic reaction as well as respiratory infections and inflammation.

Penicillium is a mold that can found indoors inside insulation, furnishings, water damaged furniture, carpeting and more. Penicillium is known for spreading quickly throughout the home and can cause homeowners to have sinus infections, lung inflammation, as well as allergic reactions.

Stachybotrys Chartarum
black mold in wine cellarBlack mold or stachysbotrys chartarum is also called toxic mold. This is due to the fact that this type of mold creates toxic compounds known as mycotoxins. The compounds cause those that breathe the mold in to develop breathing issues, sinus infections, depression, fatigue, asthma attacks and more. This type of mold can be identified by its musty smell and is found in areas that stay damp, like air conditioning pipes and ducts.

Serpula Lacrymans
Pink Mold in wine cellarSerpula lacrymans mold is commonly found outside wine cellars but it can also grow inside on wooden surfaces. This mold leads to dry rot within wood as it feeds solely on wooden surfaces.  It’s most noticeable by its yellow appearance.

Pink mold is actually a bacteria and not a fungi. This bacteria is most commonly found in damp wet places such as showers, bathtubs, tile grouts, wash basins, etc.  It feeds on detergents and especially on hand soaps or shampoo residue in bathrooms.

Aureobasidium pullulans (A. pullulans) is another common pink mold. This fungus starts off light pink, white or yellow and ages to brown to black with a gray edge.  This mold grows more often on organic material such as wine labels, damp wood window frames, and linseed-oil paint.

Trichoderma is another damp area mold. Homeowners often find the trichoderma mold within damp carpeting, wallpaper and similar surfaces. The harm with trichoderma comes from the production of mycotoxins that can cause sinus infection, allergic reactions, and more.

Ulocladium is typically found in water damageUlocladium is a genus of fungi. Ulocladium  is found both outside and inside wine cellars. Ulocladium is typically found in areas that have been severely damaged by water like in the floors and walls of homes that have experienced a flood. This kind of mold causes many homeowners to develop allergic reactions and infections. Other species contain enzymes that are biological control agents. Some members of the genus can invade homes and are a sign of moisture because the mold requires water to thrive. The species Ulocladium oudemansii is utilised as a biocontrol agent against Botrytis cinerea. The New Zealand company Botryzen (2010) Ltd uses it to control Botrytis bunch rot in the NZ vineyard industry

Treating Common Mold found in Wine Cellars

Whisperkool SC 20001Once you identify a mold growing within your wine cellar or anywhere else in your home, treating the problem is fairly simple. A homeowner can typically take care of common indoor molds with the help of specially formulated over-the-counter household cleaning products, and most of these contain the element Boron.  Do not purchase or use especially foul smelling concoctions as there is a danger that the smell of these products could remain in the cellar and taint the wine.

Go through the space and search for any wet or damp surfaces or crevices. Make sure to protect yourself by wearing a mask and gloves. It’s important to seal off the area where the mold is growing to prevent the spores from traveling. Moldy surfaces should be washed with a solution containing detergent and warm water. After the surface dries, use a gentle bleach solution on the surface. If wine is present in the room you would be well advised to gently move the bottles until the smell dissipates (unless your collection is plastic corks) The mold infested walls should be treated, and if left intact (concrete or stone) should be washed and treated at least three times. Following the third wash, create a borate detergent solution and scrub the surface.

Once your mold problem is gone, do your best to clean regularly and inspect for any returning mold. While molds are a natural part of life, they do not need to be a part of your home. Knowing how to identify, treat and prevent mold will keep you and your home healthy and happy.

In summary, there is a lot that you can do to ensure that you end up with a cellar that is free of all mold. The above are just some of them. The key thing to keep in mind is that this is a problem that is real, and which many people want to avoid as much as possible. The presence of too much mold within the wine cellar can end up ruining the experience of owning and enjoying your cellar space.  For this reason, it really is important to tackle the problem early on in the construction phase – see Rosehill’s Wine Cellar Construction Tips for even more insights into the necessary vapor barrier seal.