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Roundtable looks at simplified environmental control systems in historic house museums

June 8, 2011

pc-ham boiler install.jpg
Boiler install (right) at Hamilton House creates a new basement zone of heat and dehumidification.

Historic New England staff recently participated in a roundtable to share our findings and foster a dialogue with peer organizations about improving Relative Humidity (RH) control in historic house museums in the region.

Historic New England has been striving for a more comprehensive understanding of the environmental control systems in our historic properties since 1997. The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded us a two-year grant to support this work through 2011. 

This phase took a forward-thinking approach to 1.) implementing an improved environmental monitoring system for our historic house museums and 2.) upgrading the environmental control systems in four of our properties. 

In addition to Historic New England’s current four-step approach to environmental systems, roundtable attendees, through discussion, developed some basic guidelines:

  • Design systems that are understood by those responsible for the day-to-day site management.
  • Keep it simple, especially the controls.
  • Use local contractors who understand the proposed systems.
  • Require as-builts (documentation of how something was built as opposed to how it was designed) from all contractors: equipment as-builts and control as-builts, and create a system manual.
  • Review and update system documents at least annually.
  • Do not install any systems unless there is staff expertise available to monitor and troubleshoot the systems after the project is completed, and funds are available to maintain and update software as required. Staff turnover can be very costly unless the new staff member is well versed in the systems.
  • Continue reliable temperature and RH monitoring after the systems are installed.
  • Design systems to fail to a safe mode (i.e., heat turn off instead of overheat).
  • Include minimum and maximum set safety points for T (temperature) and RH with fail-safe mechanical cut-offs.

Read the meeting minutes from the roundtable (PDF).

Read an article on the relative success or failures of our earlier systems installed in the 1990s (PDF).

Learn more about our approach to environmental conditions in historic house museums.

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Roundtable looks at simplified environmental control systems in historic house museums