I once worked in an archives that suffered from a freak flood, which damaged countless papers which had to be dried piece by piece. I also had a hot water pipe burst at a 90° angle – right on to shelves of museum artifacts. I’ve helped dry out a flooded historical society and once completed an assessment for a collections storage area that had a completely caved in roof.
Dealing with water is a never-ending job.
Needless to say, I will be sure to write about water damage in a future post.
But when it comes to creating the ideal storage environment in your home, steering clear of rusty pipes and flood zones isn’t the only thing we have to worry about. Let’s talk about humidity.
Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a place famous for its “dry heat”, you’re probably well acquainted with how humidity can make you feel. Well get this: your stuff your stuff feels it too. Many of our heirlooms are made of organic materials, meaning they’re carbon-based. Fabrics, leather, fabric, and clay are all organic. Thus, just as you can feel the difference between 50% and 80% relative humidity (RH), so can they. Organic material expands and contracts as it absorbs moisture, which can speed up its deterioration over time. Metal can rust. Paper can expand.
Museums track their relative humidity (RH) by using a hygrometer. At many museums, collections staff often spends the warmer months emptying dehumidifiers once or twice a day. Then, during the colder months (I’m looking at you, February) the humidity often falls too low, requiring the addition of a humidifier. It may seem like a hassle, but to museum collections pros, it’s an important part of the job.
As a goal, museums try to maintain year-round RH percentages at 50%, though for many institutions this is often not possible. But it’s always good to dream, right? As for my career, I have had the opportunity to work in organizations with ideal temperature and relative humidity figures, but to be honest, over the course of 20+ years, those opportunities have been few and far between. Let’s just say I have emptied many dehumidifiers in my day.
Hopefully, by creating a Dark and Cool storage environment, you will, by default, also create a relatively Dry one too. So, before you run out and buy a hygrometer, I recommend that you simply start paying attention to how you feel in your home. Is it dry in the winter? Is it uncomfortable in the summer? If so, adding a humidifier and/or a dehumidifier may be the answer you need to make your home more comfortable for both you and your stuff. Then, you can set the machine/s to turn on or off when the air feels best for you.
Come back soon for the final post in our DC⚡DC series: Constant. Check out the other posts here:
(Note: I should mention that there is a difference between the terms “humidity” and “relative humidity”. For more information about that, check out this article.)