A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO ENVIRONMENTAL REQUIREMENTS FOR COLLECTIONS IN HISTORIC BUILDINGS
RICHARD L. KERSCHNER
Most discussions of museum climate control have focused on complete heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and controls tailored to meet the specific requirements of museum artifacts. Such an approach makes sense if one is building a new structure or renovating an existing structure to a point that equipment, ducting, vents, and vapor barriers can be installed properly. However, when one considers museum artifacts housed in historic buildings, the total system approach becomes much more problematic. On considering environmental improvement for the artifacts housed in 33 buildings at the Shelburne Museum, it quickly became apparent that a traditional climate control system installed in each building was not a practical answer to our climate problems.
Few museums have such a number and variety of exhibit buildings. However, many historic house museums face the challenge of integrating a climate control system designed primarily for new construction into a historic building. Problems created by extensive building changes required for installation of ducting and vapor barriers, high capital cost, maintenance and repair of equipment, monitoring the controlled environment, and long-term operating costs tend to discourage all but the most sophisticated and wealthiest museums from improving their environments. To date, few alternatives to complete system climate control have been designed and tested. Therefore, small and mid-sized historic house museums often take an “all or nothing ” approach to climate control; all too often, it is “nothing.”
Environmental control does not have to be an “all or nothing ” situation. Control measures exist on a continuum from no control to complete systems. To date, limited attention has been paid to many in-between measures, or partial climate control. This article will focus on a variety of actions that can be taken to improve environmental conditions within historic buildings and thereby significantly aid in the long-term preservation of historic and artistic artifacts housed in these buildings. The following topics will be discussed:
- evaluation of the collection to determine environmental requirements
- evaluation of the building to determine what environmental conditions the structure can safely support
- practical climate control actions applicable to historic buildings