Built-in vs. Freestanding Wine Refrigerators

Before you purchase a wine cooler, it is important to determine if the appliance you are interested in is freestanding or designed for built-in installation.

If you plan to recess your wine refrigerator into existing cabinetry, you must ensure it exhausts properly, so that it continues to operate efficiently. Let's review the differences between built-in and freestanding wine refrigerators.

What is a Built-in Wine Cooler?

A built-in wine cooler is designed with a front exhaust. When looking at the appliance from the front, you will notice there is a grill at the bottom of the unit, beneath the door. This is where the unit will expel hot air. Therefore, when installing your new wine fridge, you must ensure that the exhaust remains unobstructed. In general, you must leave at least ¼" of space on the right, left side, and at the top of the cooler. You must also leave 1-2" of clearance at the back of the wine refrigerator for proper air circulation.

What are the Advantages of a Built-in Wine Fridge?

Ice wine is made from Vidal Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Riesling grapes. All of these grapes have adapted to their cold climates. Riesling and Vidal Blanc are most commonly used for ice wine.

What's the Difference Between Iced and Ice Wine?

Built-in wine coolers have numerous advantages. The primary benefit of a built-in wine cooler is the variety of installation. A built-in refrigerator can be installed into existing cabinetry as long as proper clearance guidelines are followed. Built-in wine coolers are usually built at counter depth, which allows for a seamless appearance after the installation as the cooler will sit flush with other appliances and surrounding cabinetry. It can also be used as a freestanding unit as needed. In general, built-in wine refrigerators last a lot longer than their freestanding counterparts. They can also reach lower temperatures and are less susceptible to temperature swings. Since their compressor cooling systems are powerful, built-in wine refrigerators are typically available in a wide variety of bottle capacities, from six to 300 or more. The one disadvantage is their price as they can be more expensive than a freestanding unit.

What is a Freestanding Wine Cooler?

Freestanding wine coolers have an exhaust at the rear or side. Freestanding wine refrigerators commonly operate using a thermoelectric cooling system, but may have a compressor-based cooling system. Thermoelectric cooling systems have fewer moving parts, which means they are quieter than a compressor-based system and use less energy. Fewer moving parts also means that fewer vibrations are produced. Thermoelectric systems are not as powerful as compressor-based cooling systems, so they are more sensitive to ambient conditions and cool to approximately 20 degrees cooler than their environment. Freestanding wine refrigerators cannot be recessed into existing cabinetry. They require a minimum of 10 inches of clearance on the right and left sides, 6 inches of clearance at the back, and unlimited clearance on top. It is important to follow any clearance requirements for your specific wine refrigerator to ensure it runs efficiently and does not overheat.

What are the Advantages of a Freestanding Wine Cooler?

There are many benefits to owning a freestanding wine cooler. The first noticeable advantage is the price. Freestanding wine coolers typically cost less than built-in wine refrigerators. The second advantage is the installation. Since freestanding wine refrigerators cannot be recessed into existing cabinetry, you can plug the unit in, and it is ready to use.

Here is a comparison giving a breakdown of the difference between freestanding and built-in wine refrigerators. One is not necessarily better than the other. Which wine fridge is right for you largely depends on your budget, style, needs of your collection, and the location where you would like to place your new wine fridge.


Difference Between Freestanding vs Built-In Wine Refrigerators
Built-in Wine Cooler
Freestanding Wine Cooler
Higher purchase cost
Lower purchase cost
Bottle Capacity
Able to cool a larger collection
Perfect for small to medium collections
Sound is comparable to a standard food refrigerator
Whisper quiet due to fewer moving parts
Variety of installations – built-in or freestanding
Rear exhaust are for freestanding use only
*Cost is largely dependent on the size of the cooler and number of bottles stored.


Questions about freestanding or built-in wine refrigerators? Contact Vinotemp’s cellar experts with our Contact Form.