Water (storage) to wine (storage).
March 23, 2008 2:45 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to convert an old, dry cistern into a wine cellar?

We're mere days away from owning our first house, which is a beautifully refinished 77-year-old home. The basement has a cistern which is the perfect size for a modest wine cellar (and really wouldn't serve any other functional purpose, to be honest. My somewhat-inexperienced DIY nature says, hey, let's cut a doorway through the cement bricks, install a door, frame and drywall the gap at the top, run some lighting in, and voila!

Then, Ms liquado asked what kind of saw would be needed to cut through the wall...and I started thinking about how I was *really* going to pull it off.

So, constructionally-talented folksies, any advice or ideas?
posted by liquado to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Carbide sawz-all .
posted by hortense at 3:14 PM on March 23, 2008

You might be better off hiring a concrete cutting contractor to cut the actual opening, and then you can do the rest yourself. This guy's page says he paid $342 for what looks like about 12 LF of cut? I bet you would pay about that much in hortense's Sawzall blades -- they won't last very long in a 6 or 8 inch thick block wall.
posted by misterbrandt at 3:24 PM on March 23, 2008

um, this guy's page...
posted by misterbrandt at 3:28 PM on March 23, 2008

Some quick googling also indicates that temperature and humidity controls are pretty important (well, duh) -- before you settle on exactly what equipment your cellar needs, you may want to monitor temperature and humidity fluctuations for a while. You may decide to insulate the cellar to reduce temperature swings, and maybe also install a small thermostatically-controlled heater and humidifier/dehumidifier. You will definitely want to use pressure-treated lumber wherever you have wood in direct contact with concrete.
posted by misterbrandt at 3:44 PM on March 23, 2008

If you are planning to finish the opening a hammer drill will work for roughing in an opening. They are available for rental and most contractors will have one. There are a variety of circular saw blades that will cut masonry; I have used a simple abrasive blade to cut concrete blocks easily, but with a lot of dust. A combination of the two might be best for initially cutting an opening and cleaning it up.

This is the sort of project that will almost certainly end up being more difficult than it first appears, but I would jump right in, if for no other reason than at some point you will get need to buy more tools.
posted by TedW at 3:52 PM on March 23, 2008

Best answer: To clarify: I am assuming that the walls of your cistern are 6" or 8" CMU (concrete blocks), and that the cells are reinforced with rebar and fully grouted (filled with flowable concrete) to resist the back-pressure of being filled with water. Neither a Sawzall blade or a typical circular saw blade has sufficient depth to cut through a typical block wall, although with a circular saw you could certainly drill holes at all 4 corners, use those points to snap lines for guides, and cut from both sides of the wall (can you get into the cistern somehow to work from within?). With a Sawzall, you really can't use a blade that doesn't extend at least 2 or 3 inches beyond the far side of the material, or the blade will bend in about 2 seconds.

I guess my point is: do you want to do every aspect of this project yourself? Or do you just want to end up with a wine cellar when all is said and done? Because TedW is absolutely correct WRT tools, and you will end up with at least a few hundred dollars worth of tools that you will likely never have a use for again (working with concrete/masonry requires some specialized tools). Inferring from your question, I would guess maybe you aren't the type who likes to accumulate tools for their own sake? (But please correct me if I am wrong) If not, I vote to put that money towards getting the opening cut by a pro.

Because I am one of those people who loves to accumulate the right tools for the right job, and if I were going to do this project myself, I would still hire somebody to cut the doorway in :)
posted by misterbrandt at 4:39 PM on March 23, 2008

I would use a demolition hammer over a hammer drill for the rough work of the opening; a sledgehammer would probably be perfectly adequate, too. Old concrete blocks are usually really easy to knock out, unless all the cavities have been filled with cement and there is lots of rebar running through it. (Wear eye and ear protection, of course, plus a dust mask.) But I would also suggest have an engineer or experienced contractor come take a look first to see what will happen when you knock a hole in the wall -- for example, one would wonder if that wall is holding anything up, and what the consequences of it collapsing might be. And you should be completely certain that the "dry" cistern doesn't fill up with water once or twice during the year.
posted by Forktine at 4:39 PM on March 23, 2008

Best answer: And you should be completely certain that the "dry" cistern doesn't fill up with water once or twice during the year.

I am reminded of the generally wise advice that after moving into a new place you should allow yourselves the first year to become familiar with it in all seasons. You'll learn how the trees behave in spring and fall, where the bulbs are planted, where things creak, where drafts get in, which things drip in what kind of weather, etc. etc. And yes, just how dry that cistern is.
posted by mumkin at 5:47 PM on March 23, 2008

Depending on how your cistern is built, you'll probably need a support beam above the door opening, either reinforced concrete or steel. CMU carries compressive loads very well, but an unsupported course of block is a disaster waiting to happen.

Here's some information about block wall construction. You should be able to get a precast concrete lintel at a masonry supply yard.
posted by electroboy at 6:44 PM on March 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Cut a beautiful arch with a diamond chain saw
posted by hortense at 10:01 PM on March 23, 2008

Response by poster: misterbrandt: You're likely correct. I like collecting tools to do the job -- but ones that have *some* potential for use in the future. I can't see concrete work becoming a common occurrence in my lifetime, and bottom line, I just want a cellar at the end, though with the work done on it that I'm capable of completing.

I'm thinking that my handy local contractor will be useful for getting the heavy stuff accomplished; I'm more a framing and finishing guy than a masonry type.
Thanks for the tons of useful advice.

TedW: Good note on crossing out the get. :)

mumkin: This. Excellent point. And, I've got enough other stuff to keep me busy for the next year before I start in on the cellar project.

You all totally rule. Thanks for the advice.
posted by liquado at 8:15 AM on March 24, 2008

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