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FAQ: Considering Climate Control

A buildings climate and environmental conditions are worth spending some time considering

“We have always shut off parts of our home during the winter months to conserve heating expenses. Is this a bad idea in the long run?”

Whether you shut off unnecessary living spaces in your home parts of the year, shut down a second or family home in the winter, or participate on a community building committee, a building’s climate and environmental conditions are worth spending some time considering.

Buildings are really no different than our bodies in reacting to swings in temperatures. We are all familiar with the large temperature swings experienced in the Northeast climate, and buildings experience temperatures ranging from -30 below freezing to 100 degrees in the sun just like we do! Just as we desire cooling relief and the warmth of the furnace for our quality of life - buildings need these things just as much to preserve their quality. Significant fluctuations in building temperature directly, and negatively , impact the longevity of your preservation efforts. As you consider your building maintenance plan, and before you invest in a preservation effort, consider the importance of climate control.

Large swings in temperature cause all surfaces to expand and contract accordingly. These changes in surface tensions cause considerable stress on all building materials, as well as the contents of the building. The unfortunate result of these changing surface tensions is eventual failure of plaster, paint, glue, nails and wood. As the many surfaces move, interior paint begins to crack and alligator, plaster cracks and releases form its lath, nails bend or break, and glue cracks and flakes. Wood held with nails or glue in joints expands and if the fastener is stronger, the wood will crack and break. In addition to the building itself, large temperature changes threaten the preservation of manuscripts and documents, furniture and fixtures, antique sand other important building contents.

If you use the building during the colder months at all, it is more cost effective to maintain a minimum temperature and bring the building up to a comfortable temperature, than to attempt to bring the building from 20 degrees to 70 degrees on any regular basis.

It is our recommendation that the building heat be maintained throughout the colder months at 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit which is considered ‘Museum Temperature”, the minimum temperature preferred by museum curators, art historians and historic preservation professionals. This is a solid first-step toward protecting your important historic building and its contents.

Noelle Lord, along with husband Peter, operates Peter Lord Plaster & Paint, Inc., a restoration firm specializing in the preservation and restoration of historic surfaces and all plaster systems. They complete restoration projects, large and small, throughout the New England areas. 24 Moody Road, Limington, Maine 04049; (207) 793-2957.