05/22/2009 - Added a related discussions section
04/22/2009 - Added links to specific items I used in my project and underlined links to make them obvious
04/16/2008 - Added additional RH references
08/22/2007 - Added links to specific projects
08/20/2007 - Fixed some readability issues and added additional information regarding auto defrost systems in fridges with a reference.
Many individuals look to fridges and wine coolers as a less expensive means of controlling temperature for their cigar storage. The primary driver for a temperature controlled environment for cigars is the fear of tobacco beetles. Even if the fridge is not plugged in, they make for great humidors at a fraction of the cost of a traditional cabinet. Because the technology employed within each is similar, I will refer to them collectively as fridges throughout this guide. Important differences between the two will be noted where appropriate.
What to look for
There are a wide range of fridges on the market that employ different technology for temperature control and monitoring. In addition, there are subtle differences between them that are important to understand when selecting one for your cigars.
There are two major types of fridges on the market, compressor and thermoelectric cooling models. Compressor systems are the most and use the evaporation of a liquid within a closed system for cooling. The thermoelectric cooling systems utilize the Peltier effect and heat sinks to cool the air. Thermoelectric cooling systems are most popular within wine coolers because wine enthusiasts prefer a vibration free system (no moving parts) as vibrations may upset a wine's sediment. Thermoelectric systems also are more compact in size and require less maintenance. These units almost always contain a fan to circulate the cold air from the internal cooling fins. The fan will also assist with keeping humidity consistent throughout the interior of the fridge. If you are considering a conventional fridge for cooling, ensure you stay away from models with a built-in freezer as the temperature within the fridge will be less stable and you will have less control of the auto defrost feature.
Many cigar enthusiasts also believe thermoelectric systems are less prone to condensation then compressor fridges and as such, effect the overall humidity less. However, this statement is false for one important reason. Condensation forms when the temperature of the water vapor is greater then the surface it is interacting with. Condensation also forms when the temperature of the air is cooled, causing water molecules to collide to form droplets. So assuming two fridges, one compressor and one thermoelectric, are at the same internal temperature with the same humidity level and are cooled at the same rate to the same temperature, they will both create the same amount of condensation.
Fridges come in a large number of sizes and form factors. The general agreement is to buy something as big as you have space and money for. One important factor to look for is the thickness of the fridge cabinet. The thicker the wall is, the more insulated the fridge should be, which means it should hold temperature longer. This will obviously be more important for people in warmer climates.
Most conventional fridges utilize an analog thermostat with a dial whereas most wine coolers utilize a digital thermometer with an external display. Due to how a thermoelectric cooling system work, the thermostat measures the difference between the ambient (external) temperature and the internal temperature. This means most of the thermoelectric thermostats are calibrated for a specific temperature. Mine was calibrated for 77 degrees F so when I set my interior temperature to 65 degrees F, it may cool to below or above that, depending on the temperature of my house. Fridges employing compressor type of systems tend to be more accurate.
In either system, you will more then likely want to setup an additional thermostat for finer control of the temperature. There are a number of models available which are prewired for a fridge as they are popular for home brewers. The thermostats work by cutting the power to the fridge when the desired temperature is reached. It is generally recommended the fridge be set on its coldest setting when using one of these thermostats to ensure the desired temperature is reached. This cycling of power to compressor systems can be hard on them as they are not meant to be cycled in such a manner. There is not enough data available to measure the impact of a thermoelectric system but it is likely less of an issue. It is important to also note that built-in digital thermostats will revert back to a default setting when the power is cycled. If possible, it is recommended that the buyer either find a fridge with a built-in analog thermostat or a digital one which defaults to a low setting.
Setting up the fridge
Once a fridge is acquired, it is important to follow a number of steps to prepare it for your cigar collection.
Some fridges contain a black plastic, mostly common within wine coolers, instead of the white for the interior. This black plastic also has a more pungent and lasting smell then those found in standard coolers or fridges. The first step is to rid the fridge of any plastic smell. I have found sunlight and fresh air to be the best means of ridding the fridge of the plastic smell. Others have had luck with using baking soda, white vinegar, and even bleach. The cooler-dor thread located at http://www.cigarpass.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=13217 contains various approaches and comments that would be beneficial.
Assuming you acquired an addition thermostat for the fridge, now is a good time to install it. The manufactures recommend running the thermometer lead along the outside of the fridge and between the cabinet and door seal. This does not require you to drill any holes that may impact the integrity of the fridge. I personally chose to drill a hole through my fridge and sealed it using insulating foam and sealant. If you chose this method, ensure you reseal the fridge and replace any insulation that you may have impacted. Also be careful not to damage the electrical and cooling systems. The thermometer should be placed as far away as possible from the cooling system to ensure an accurate temperature reading. If possible, the thermometer should not touch the sides of the cabinet as it will influence the temperature reading. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on properly wiring the thermostat.
The relative humidity within a fridge will be more difficult to control then a non-cooled cabinet. This is attributed to the formation of condensation when the interior is cooled which drops the humidity within the fridge. As such, it is recommended that a larger then normal humidity control system be used. For example, if you are using beads, I would add at least an additional 50% over the recommended amount. You may also want to employ an active humidification system to supplement the beads but I don't feel it is required. Remember, the more your fridge cools, the more condensation will form and cause more fluctuations in the humidity.
To control condensation (auto defrost), most fridges with a freezer compartment utilize a heating element whereas many wine coolers use a drainage system that evaporates the excess water using hot air from a fan. We will concentrate on fridges without a freezer compartment as they are not recommended for cigar storage. We want to keep the water instead of having it drain away so we can return it to the air. How to do this will depend on what fridge you purchase and where the drain is located. However, it is generally recommended to plug the drain and divert the water back into your beads. I personally filled the drain system with insulating foam then used a sealant to plug the drain itself. I also placed humidity sheets from Heartfelt Industries along the water collection path and on the bottom to absorb the water and release it back into the air. This seems to work alright but condensation is still forming. Make sure you do not place boxes close to the back wall or water will make its way inside them and potentially ruin your cigars.
If multiple hygrometers are available, place them at various heights within the fridge. If you notice large differences (+/-5%), you may wish to add an additional fan to help circulate the air. Many people find using battery operated fans, like those from Oust to be satisfactory.
Once you have your humidity system setup, monitor it for a few days until it aligns with the ranges you expect.
Cedar and Cigar storage
The temperature and humidity swings can cause problems for exposed cigars and it is recommended that all cigars be stored within boxes inside the fridge. I grab empty boxes from my B&M for my singles. Using a box creates a micro climate for the cigars and allows them to be shielded from momentary swings with the temperature and humidity. Assuming you do this, no other cedar is required within the fridge. Adding cedar shelving may cause more harm then good as it will restrict the circulation of air. If you chose to implement cedar shelving, route or drill holes to allow air to exchange.
The goal of this guide is to provide an aggregate of information about utilizing fridges and wine coolers for cigar storage. I am not an expert within the field of cigars nor refrigeration but do utilize a wine cooler to store my cigars. I spent a large amount of time reading and researching the topic and hope the information contained within this guide is beneficial.
Please feel free to send me comments, recommendations, and corrections as I hope to keep this guide up to date and accurate.
Thermoelectric vs Compressor
Common Products Used
Whynter SNO 28-Bottle Wine Cooler - WC28S
Freezer Temperature Controller
Oust Portable Fan
Spanish Cedar Trays
Spanish Cedar Planks
HygroSet II Adjustable Digital Hygrometer
Caliber III Thermometer Hygrometer
Boveda One-Step Calibration
Model Specific Projects
Johnson Controls A19 Thermostat Wiring - xRanger
Ranco ETC111000 Thermostat Installation - Fuscat
Vinotemp 28TEDS - AKmik
Vinotemp 28TEDS - rectifythis
Avanti 1.6cu ft. Fridge - Zach
Magic Chef - UTKhodgy
Whynter SNO WC-28S - chadth
Haier HVW12ABB - JLW
Vinotemp VT-21TEDS - smokintexas
Haier HVW12ABB 12-bottle - kent1146
Edited by chadth, 22 May 2009 - 12:49 PM.