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Dear Dr. Vinny,

With advancements in paint technology, can you substitute leak-sealing paint for a plastic vapor barrier around a home wine cellar?

—Tim Z., Ashburn, Va.

Dear Tim,

There are a lot of things to consider when building a wine cellar at home, including the condensation that might develop inside your walls, and suddenly we are talking about vapor barriers.

So how might condensation develop between your walls? Think of a cold bottle of beer, and how the outside of the glass might get wet after sitting at room temperature for a while. That’s because water vapor in the surrounding warmer air begins to condense on the colder surface of the glass. Basically, any time warm air meets cold air, there’s a chance for water vapor. Because wine cellars introduce cool air into your warmer house, condensation can develop on the walls outside your cellar.

That’s why cellar installations should include a vapor barrier. If you are using fiberglass insulation, then the vapor barrier is typically a thick piece of impermeable plastic attached to the inside of the wall of the warmer room. There are also expanding foam spray on insulations that work as vapor barriers. If the vapor barriers are doing their job, they will trap the moisture and prevent it from doing anything like creating mold or mildew, or affecting the integrity of the walls or its studs.

Chris Meutsch of Wine Cellar Innovations, a custom wine cellar company, told me he gets asked about using paint as a substitute for vapor barriers regularly. He said that even though there are some heavy-duty sealants out there, they are not a good substitute for standard vapor barriers. What about the added insurance of using a sealant in addition to a vapor barrier? He said don’t bother. In fact, Meutsch pointed out that the odor of many of these oil-based sealants might be overwhelming for a small space. He only uses stains and lacquers that are water-based, because no one wants a smelly cellar. Good tip!

—Dr. Vinny

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