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MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES


The art of humidity control


Many exhibits in museums and galleries are vulnerable to damage from environmental factors such as humidity. John Barker of Humidity Solutions explains.


S


ome minor fl uctuation in environmental parameters such as temperature and humidity is generally not a major problem in most indoor environments. In museums and galleries, however, even quite small fl uctuations can cause signifi cant damage to arts, antiquities and other delicate objects.


For example, without humidity control wood will be prone to shrinkage (low humidity) and expansion (high humidity). This movement of the wood may cause cracking, separation of diff erent wood layers and will also destabilise any fi nishes that have been applied to the wood. The fi nishes themselves may also be subject to deterioration when exposed to low or high humidity. Moreover, high humidity may result in potentially damaging condensation on metallic, stone or other objects with cold surfaces, and could also create a slip hazard on fl oors. The impact of humidity on delicate works of art and other exhibits is well understood, so


46 November 2017


that many museums and galleries require close environmental control in both public areas and storage facilities. This requirement is addressed by BS5454, which specifi es that relative humidity (RH) should be in the range 40-65% (+/-5%) and temperatures in the range 16-19°C (+/-1°C). Environmental conditions may also be dictated by insurance companies or benefactors that are lending a piece to the venue.


In the UK, most humidity problems relate to low RH, so that humidifi cation is the most common requirement. However, there may be situations requiring dehumidifi cation – perhaps even both at diff erent times of the year. In all such cases, systems designed to provide the required level of control for the specifi c project are essential.


A case in point was the need to replace an ageing humidifi er in the old Westminster Abbey Museum, located in an 11th century vaulted undercroft. This presented a number of challenges


and very specifi c requirements. The optimum solution proved to be a new Neptronic resistive steam humidifi er, whilst also refurbishing the existing reverse osmosis plant.


The key for this project was to assess its


specifi c requirements and tailor the solution accordingly. As the Abbey’s works manager, John Kirby commented: “Humidity Solutions took the time on site to ensure they fully understood the issues and our requirements before making their recommendations, and then took care of the whole project.”


Horses for courses


The nature of buildings used as museums and galleries varies enormously so it follows that the best humidity control solution will also vary from one project to another.


For instance, it is relatively straightforward to maintain a consistent environment in a storage area that is unoccupied for most of the time. In contrast, in areas where exhibits are on public display the RH will be infl uenced by the body heat and moisture-laden exhaled breath of the visitors, factors that may vary during the day as visitor numbers fl uctuate.


Consequently, systems serving areas with variable occupancy – or subjected to non-


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