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What is a cold room in a house? Do you need one?

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If you have ever heard people talking about their new home and mentioning a cold room, you may be wondering, “What is a cold room in a house?” While you have likely heard of the common rooms in a house, this designation may not be familiar to you. This article will explain what a cold room is and help you determine whether it is a feature you should look for in your next place.

 

A cold room

This designation refers to an area with a lower temperature than the rest of the house. It is traditionally used for storage.

Cold rooms are most often found in a house’s basement or underneath the front porch. They were common in the past before people had refrigerators to help keep perishable foods cool.

 

What is a cold room used for?

The most common use of a cold room is to store items that thrive in cold, damp spaces. Common examples include potatoes or flower bulbs. Cold rooms also function as excellent wine cellars.

 

What other names can be used for cold rooms?

Cold rooms are also referred to as root cellars or cantinas. Refrigeration rooms is another commonly used term for cold rooms.

 

How does a cold room work?

Effectively utilizing a cold room can be a cost-saving alternative option when compared to the price of buying and running an additional refrigerator. A cold room is typically not insulated, so it can stay cooler year-round due to being under the house or porch.

Well-designed cold rooms will have a vent to allow for good air circulation. This helps keep the room cool. If you are storing food such as potatoes in a cold room, the cool air will increase the food’s shelf life.

Typically, cold rooms have concrete floors, and the walls are unfinished. Because concrete is porous, moisture and air can easily move throughout the room. As a result, humidity is added. The humidity can increase the shelf life or longevity of the stored items.

At times, condensation will form. This is in response to warmer air circulating in a colder space.  Controlling condensation is crucial as it can lead to mold growth.

 

The best location for a cold room

Ideally, your cold room will be in the corner of the unfinished basement. A corner location is preferred because it offers two outside walls that can naturally cool the area. In addition, a wall on the north side of the house is preferred to help with the cooling process.

An unfinished basement is preferred because it will allow the cold room walls to be porous concrete which will help with air movement. The concrete floor will also help keep cold air cool. You can section off the cold room from the rest of your basement by building custom walls to insulate the cold room.

 

Cold storage room

You can store fruits and vegetables in the cold room from fall to spring. If the temperature stays between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit with 90% humidity or higher, you can store many fruits and vegetables for three to six months.

If you choose to store food in this manner in the root cellar, be sure to check on it periodically and remove any food that has begun to rot. You can also store preserves, wine, or jams in cold rooms all year (1).

 

DIY projects

Creating a cold room can be a good DIY project if you are interested in that kind of thing. Typically, you want to ensure that the room is at least six feet deep. This will allow easy circulation within the area. Common lengths for cold rooms are 8 to 10 feet.

 

Separate the space

You want to ensure that the room is kept separate from the rest of the basement. Dividing walls should be custom-built to add more insulation to the cold room.

An insulated door will help keep the area divided. Due to the humidity in the room, you should use moisture-resistant materials. This will help control musty smells and prevent rotting.

 

Vents

When building the cold room, you will need to add ventilation to the space. This can be accomplished by installing two dryer vents at least 10 inches apart in the wall. Be sure to use vents that have internal screens to reduce the risk of bugs or animals entering your cold room via the vents.

You should also caulk it well on the inside and outside of the house to create a firm seal. Finally, if you live someplace with extreme temperatures, you can add an adjustable damper that can be manually operated to control the airflow.

This will allow you more control over the temperature inside. For example, if the temperature is too cold in winter, you can keep the air intake closed to prevent the temperature inside from getting too cold.

The purpose of having two vents is to create a system where cold air comes in and is funneled down to the floor while warm air rises and escapes through the outflow vent. To achieve this, you will need to run ductwork from the intake vent down toward the floor.

 

Walls and doors

The next step is to frame up the walls and front door. Use rigid foam insulation panels and then staple a plastic vapor barrier on the outside. Then, cover the outside with drywall or paneling. It is up to you whether you choose to cover the inside wall. Functionally, it is not required, but some people prefer to have the room look finished like a living space would.

You should also insulate the ceiling. You should start with the vapor barrier and add rigid foam insulation for this part. Now that your walls are complete, you are ready to hang the exterior door. Do not forget to seal the base with weather stripping.

 

Lighting

If you are looking for a simple lighting solution, you can add a battery-operated light to the room. Alternatively, you can install electrical lighting before the walls are sealed up, but this will take more time and skill than most DIYers want to commit to the project.

 

Other considerations

You should also consider adding a thermometer to the room to monitor the storage conditions.

Finally, since the room is likely to be used for storage, be mindful of the type of shelving used. Remember, air circulation is vital to a well-functioning cold room, so consider adding ventilated shelving to maintain the storage items’ lifespan.

If all this feels like too big of a project to tackle on your own, consider hiring other contractors to take care of the work for you.

 

Common problems

Some new houses try to incorporate this old idea, but problems can arise if the cold room is not built properly. If the room is not properly constructed, there can be severe issues with mold growth (2).

Improper construction of a cold room can lead to the room getting too warm in the summertime and too cold in the wintertime. As a result of the temperatures reached, dampness can develop with high humidity. The dampness can then cause dripping condensation to form. Over time, this wetness can cause mold.

 

Ventilation

Ventilation is essential. Typically, the room is separated from the rest of the basement with a closed door. This limits the airflow in most cold rooms. That is why it is important to install vents to allow fresh outdoor air to circulate in the room. This helps keep the moisture level low and helps prevent mold from growing and spreading.

Generally speaking, two vents are recommended to help maintain proper airflow in the room. One should be placed at the top of the room and the other at the bottom. You can also consider using a dehumidifier or installing a vapor barrier to help keep the humidity levels at the proper levels and prevent mold from taking over the room.

 

Depth

Another common problem is that the room is not deep enough in the ground. Keeping the room cool won’t be easy if the top of the walls and ceiling are above ground level. Again, this is because the ground’s coolness competes against the heat from the exposed walls and ceiling.

 

Temperatures

Extreme temperatures can be problematic for cold storage rooms. If there is improper airflow from the vents, freezing temperatures in the cold room can be too extreme for storing items.

If you use the room during the winter, ensure that the temperature inside stays above freezing, or else you might have a mess on your hands.

Similarly, food or produce can spoil if the temperature gets too hot. If you use the cold room in the summer, ensure that the temperature range is appropriate for the items stored in the basement. You may need to rearrange whatever you are storing based on its proximity to the warm side of the room, such as external walls during the summertime.

Adding a cold room can enhance the storage functionality of your basement, but it certainly is not effortless. If you are not careful, the conditions in the room can cause more problems than benefits and leave you with a big mess to clean up.

While the cold room was meant to be a helpful tool to store food, such as produce that likes damp spaces with cooler temperatures. The food can spoil quickly if the temperature is not in the right range or the humidity level is too low.

Similarly, the conditions are also ripe for mold growth to spread and ruin the stored items. Keep these factors in mind when you decide whether adding a cold room is worth it for you in these modern times.

 

What is a cold room in a house FAQ

 

Why do some houses have a cold room?

This was a traditional way to keep items cool before refrigerators became common in homes. Nowadays, people opt to have a cold room for food or wine storage.

 

How does a cold room work?

The room uses the coolness from the underground exterior walls and the concrete floor to help maintain a cooler temperature.

 

What are the different types of cold rooms?

Cold rooms can be located in basements or under the front porch stairs. However, for the space to work effectively, it must be below ground level.

 

Sources
(1) – https://www.britannica.com/story/whats-the-difference-between-jam-jelly-and-preserves
(2) – https://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm

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