Art Conservation and Environmental Sustainability

Bansky Show me the Monet

The final version of my paper on HVAC shut downs has been written, edited, and turned-in to my advisor Dr. Joelle Wickens.  It will live in the files at Winterthur, and hopefully I will find a forum where I can talk about my findings with other interested conservators or building managers.  This project has made me more aware of groups like the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA) who may be interested in energy saving practices from a art conservation point of view.  Following is my project summary:

This study investigates how the environmental parameters required by a collection can be met using sustainable practices.
To save both energy and money it is possible to turn off Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems. If the systems are turned off when the buildings are unoccupied it is more likely the conditions in the buildings will remain stable. By turning off HVAC systems for short periods of time, the systems can be run in a more sustainable way as there will be less wear on  motors and fans.  The project researched the practice of these short shut-downs, and included a three-day HVAC shut down test at Winterthur.

Winterthur is a historic house that has 175 period rooms with various materials including: furniture, decorative arts, works of art on paper, books, paintings on wood and canvas, leather, basketry, glass, metals, and textiles. The building has thick masonry walls, insulation, and double pane windows.  The HVAC was installed in the 1960’s. The parameters at Winterthur in the winter are: 68°F-72°F, Relative Humidity (RH) 40% +/- 5%; in the summer the parameters are: 72-75°F, RH 50% +/- 5%. These parameters are a conservative standard for the materials in this collection.
A mild week in September was chosen for the shutdown, as the outside conditions would be similar to the collection parameters. During the 12-hour shutdown it was decided (by Bruno Pouliot) that if there were trends in the temperature and humidity moving quickly away from the parameters the systems would be turned back on.  Monitoring was done in a thorough and
systematic way, with readings taken by: building thermostats, thirteen dataloggers, and the building engineers took readings every two hours with a hand-held hygrothermograph.

The shutdown was for 12-hours, the entire system was turned off from 6:00 PM until 6:00 AM, three nights were tested.   The building temperature and RH remained within the parameters and the systems did not have to be turned on to regulate the environment.

There were fluctuations, the overall trend was that temperatures were elevated a few degrees, and the RH was elevated a few percentages.  The elevated temperature and RH is noticeable in the data charts, but when the data is examined in long time the changes during the shutdown are similar in degree to other general environmental fluctuations.

Interviews with conservators, archivists, and building managers gave insight into similar practices that will or have been taken at other institutions. These professionals described their experiences shutting down systems for days, weeks, or a season in a variety of climates spanning the United States.  They spoke positively about their experiences, the environment in their collections remained stable or improved and they saved energy and funds, in some cases thousands of dollars were saved. Data was also collected about system setbacks, and the buffering ability of buildings with no environmental control. The success of these conservators and of the Winterthur test case may indicate to other museums the possibility of using similar methods to save energy and funds while maintaining the environmental parameters required by their collection.
This research may continue as I move on to my third-year internship, and I will definitely continue to study sustainable facilities management as I find time and support for my research.