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What’s the Ideal Temperature for Art Storage?

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Last Updated on April 26, 2019


ideal temperature for art storage | temperature and humidity control system

Whether you manage a museum or library that contains a significant collection or own a gallery that showcases the works of an emerging artistic talent, the ideal temperature for art storage and finding the proper temperature and humidity control system for your building are important topics to consider.

Likewise, if you are a private art collector or owner of rare first edition novels, you need to protect your investment from both an aesthetic standpoint and a financial one. Let’s take a look at what can happen if you do not have an HVAC system that can reliably produce the ideal temperature for art storage.

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Actually, it’s both.

When it comes to artwork, books and documents, extreme heat and humidity can damage and devalue your collection. It is important to maintain the ideal temperature for art storage because high temperatures can shrink or expand artwork. It is essential to install the appropriate temperature and humidity control system because too much humidity can cause mold or mildew to grow and destroy pieces.

Have you ever packed away books in a box and hoisted them up into your attic? You may have found out that it doesn’t take long for the pages to turn yellow and the print to fade when the books are subject to the heat that typically builds in attic over the summer months. High humidity will also have the same effect on books as it does on a canvas – mold and mildew growth, which can ruin your collection.

Your museum or gallery may also contain sculptures and period furnishings. Too much heat and humidity can damage sculptures, especially those made from metals. Some metals can rust, turn green or black when there is too much humidity in the air. Wooden furnishings can warp under excessive humidity and dry out and crack if exposed to elevated temperatures. Fabrics can fade in the heat or be subject to mildew or mold growth in high humidity.

Certainly, you want to protect your investment and safeguard the integrity of works entrusted to your care. The best way to do that is to install a temperature and humidity control system that ensures the ideal temperature for art storage in your space.

Climate control factors and art storage

Let’s take a look at three key climate control components that need to be addressed in order to maintain the ideal temperature for art storage.

1. Heat
Although expert opinions vary slightly on the ideal temperature for art storage, most have set the proper range between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit (F). Many feel that 70 to 72 F degrees is the ideal temperature for art storage, particularly paintings. This optimum temperature also sits well with furniture and works for delicate papers, fabrics and metals.

2. Humidity
When discussing temperature and humidity control system issues, most HVAC professionals and preservationists have set the sweet spot for humidity at 50 percent for paintings. This humidity setting is also satisfactory with most other artistic mediums. Experts warn, however, if the humidity level deviates significantly on the high side, you risk mold and mildew growth. If your humidity level is substantially lower, certain materials can dry out.

When looking at the ideal temperature for art storage and temperature and humidity control system upgrades, it is best to keep temperature and humidity levels stable. If humidity and temperatures are going up and down like a yo-yo, it can result in materials expanding and contracting in response to the changing environment. These frequent fluctuations will put stress on the materials and eventually cause damage.

3. Air Quality
Pollutants can ravage art, other artistic works and documents that are worthy of preservation. The obvious solution is to reduce the amount of pollutants in the air. We’ll tell you how to remove these harmful contaminants in your review of factors relevant to the ideal temperature for art storage.

The first step to take in achieving an ideal temperature for art storage

One of the reasons you may not have achieved the ideal temperature for art storage could be that your building is old and the HVAC system has not been upgraded in a while. While achieving landmark status is desirable for certain things, vintage may not be apropos for your HVAC system. If you have an old HVAC system that was installed before you occupied your space, it probably was not designed to suit its current use.

The first thing you want to do is invite a reputable HVAC company in to assess your system and facility, and the different HVAC needs within your building. The design for an HVAC system for an old building might not be the same as for a new one.

Related article: Choosing the Right HVAC System: Older Building Air Conditioning

In your effort to establish the ideal temperature for art storage, it is imperative that you enlist the services of a professional for the proper design of your system. To learn more about selecting an HVAC company to design your system, check out our free guide:
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Achieving the ideal temperature for art storage: the basics

Invite in an HVAC professional to design an appropriate system for your needs.
Remember bigger is not always better when it comes to air conditioning. An oversized system not only can result increased upfront, maintenance and energy costs, but also will not perform as well as a properly sized one. An oversized cooling system cools down the temperature rapidly, but does not run long enough to remove moisture from the air, which is not conducive to art storage. Learn more: New York HVAC Systems: 8 Reasons Bigger is Not Always Better

When looking at the ideal temperature for art storage, consider implementing different cooling zones.
If you are a curator of a museum, you know that a room containing historic documents has different cooling needs than your office or the cafeteria. You may want to look at installing a ductless system for certain areas, which is comprised of smaller air blowers. These air handlers are usually mounted to walls and ceilings. With a ductless system, the blowers can be individually controlled, which is a nice option when you have varied HVAC needs within your building.

Today’s sophisticated programmable thermostats can be set to control HVAC functions based on varied needs and can monitor and regulate multiple HVAC units.
These computerized thermostats can maintain proper temperature and humidity levels and if the temperature deviates from the ideal temperature for artwork storage, a sensor will send out an alert to maintenance personnel.

Because humidity is a critical concern when exploring the ideal temperature for art storage, install humidity-monitoring devices.
A dial hygrometer can be mounted on a shelf or wall and measures temperature and humidity. An analog thermohygrometer, which can gauge temperature and humidity levels, is popular because it can be hidden in one of your display cases. A data logger downloads temperature and humidity data to computer for monitoring and analysis. Temperature and humidity cards show temperature and humidity levels by displaying colors.

Be vigilant about basement humidity.
In places like NYC where space is at a premium, it is not unusual to use every square inch of a building including basements, which are notoriously damp. If you are using basement space for artwork or preserved material storage, you may want to consider installing a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture. At the very least, humidity buffering products such as silica gel, can which can absorb moisture in exhibit and storage cases.

Improve air quality with the right filters.
As previously mentioned, pollutants can damage artwork and fragile papers. Besides having an adequate HVAC system to circulate the air, you need to have high quality filters, such as HEPA filters, to trap contaminants before they enter your environment. Another type of filter – UV filters – incinerates pollutants with rays of ultraviolet light.

Now that you can see some of the complexities of achieving the ideal temperature for art storage, wouldn’t make sense to consult with an HVC expert about the best options to protect your artwork or other valuable collections? Not doing so, could lead to a costly loss.

Do you have older HVAC or commercial refrigeration equipment? Due to EPA regulatory changes, R22 refrigerant (the standard used to power AC and commercial refrigeration systems for decades) will be phased out come January 2020. Get informed about how this change impacts you with this information bulletin. R22 Refrigerant Phase Out: Do You Need to Replace Your AC?.