Heat, Humidity and Sunshine


An unfortunate discovery when dealing with loved one’s possessions is finding hidden treasure troves in attics, basements, garages and, out here in the country, barns. These seem like wonderful places for storage – out of sight and out of mind – but many items may be greatly damaged or destroyed altogether. The monetary value may have deteriorated to only a fraction of the original.

These three environmental factors can wreak havoc on paper (documents, books and photographs), textiles (upholstery, tapestries and clothing), organics (ivory, leather and wood), and inorganic materials such as metal and glass.

Temperature – Fluctuations in temperature cause expansion and contraction of fibres particularly in wood. High temperatures cause vinyl records to warp.   Most importantly, temperature alters relative humidity levels.

Humidity – High humidity causes irreversible change to fibres. Textiles change dimensions, paper and wood swell. Mold grows on paper, photographs, books, wood and textiles. Metals tarnish. Dry conditions lead to shrinking and cracks in wood. Furniture joints become loose and veneers crack and peel. Paper and textiles become brittle.

Light – The UV rays in sunlight fade artwork, photographs and textiles.

So what should you do if you have a similar storage situation?

  1. Take the time to sort through all those things that you’ve gathered and stored over the years and determine what you really would like to keep.
  2. Items that are no longer of interest to you but are potentially valuable could be offered to another family member. And, if you’re saving something for your kids or grandkids, offer it to them now.
  3. It might be possible to sell what’s left after the family has gone through everything. After that, a donation to charity might be your next move.

These are three controllable problems. Here’s how:

Temperature – Keep your furniture and artwork away from radiators, heat ducts and fireplaces. Polishing with a high quality paste wax will help protect the wood. The optimal temperature range is 18-23°C.

Humidity – Humidifiers and dehumidifiers can be set to keep the room in the required range of 35-55% relative humidity.

Light – Keep out of direct sun and bright artificial light (which is why some museums and art galleries prohibit flash photography). Use UV protective glass on artwork and close drapes to block the sun.

If you are comfortable, then so is your stuff. Humidity and temperature monitors are easily available and can cost as little as $20. Keep artwork and photographs away from the stove top, oven, sink and dishwasher.

Display copies of delicate papers and photographs and store the originals in “archival” storage boxes and files. These are specifically designed for long-term stability (check that they are also acid-free). Keep larger items in dark, low temperature and low humidity conditions for long-term storage. Wine cellars are ideal.

When you’re on vacation heat, humidity and sunshine can be your best friends. Untamed at home they can become your belonging’s worst enemies.

About Penny Schneider

Penny Schneider, TEP is a Trained Professional Organizer who works specifically with executors on estates. On the 1st of each month Penny writes short pieces about things important to executors (what to do when) and on the 15th with things an executor might find (what to do with). Penny assists clients throughout Toronto, York Region and the surrounding area.
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