Secrets to Battling Humidity in Historic Homes

Secrets to Battling Humidity in Historic Homes

Photo via Flickr.

As the winter season brings with it dry, harsh air and its potentially damaging effects, the marketers of Honeywell Humidifiers have turned to an unexpected source – iconic American homes – for lessons on how today's homeowners can protect their belongings for years to come.

The caretakers of six celebrated homes across the U.S., including several homes from architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the home birthplace of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, shared their experiences with historical preservation to show how low humidity levels can impact valuable artifacts, antiques, wood furnishings and even wallpaper from generations past.

"Homeowners may be surprised to hear that no region or home in the country is exempt from the effects of humidity," said Dr. Ted Myatt, an environmental scientist who oversaw the project. "Whether your home is big or small, old or new, to avoid damage to precious objects and everyday materials, it's important to monitor and maintain indoor relative humidity levels in the optimal range of 40 to 60 percent. This is especially critical during the dry winter months when levels can drop as low as 10 percent."

The six homes whose caretakers contributed insights from their experiences include:

  1. The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts
  2. Birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem, Massachusetts
  3. Black Point Estate and Gardens, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
  4. Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga, California
  5. Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona
  6. David and Gladys Wright House, Phoenix, Arizona

One way to monitor indoor relative humidity levels is with a hygrometer, which displays relative humidity and indoor room temperature. When the Honeywell Humidity Monitor was used by site directors at the historic homes, humidity levels ranged widely due to the climate of the different locations. But with continued monitoring, site directors can effectively deploy tactics like humidification to combat low humidity levels and protect the integrity of the buildings and their artifacts for many seasons to come. 

"Our wall coverings have come away from the wall in several locations and our artwork is often in need of conservation due to the conditions in which it is exhibited," said David Desimone, site director, Black Point Estate and Gardens, a Wisconsin Historic Site. "We plan on continuing to record temperature and humidity levels over the next year with the humidity monitors to establish a baseline and help us make a case for including proper systems and portable humidifiers within our restoration plans."

"The same preservation efforts that historical site directors employ can be mirrored by the average homeowner, such as monitoring humidity levels and ensuring windows and doors are shut tightly to prevent damage to artwork, for example," said Dr. Myatt. "These small changes can result in a big difference in the condition of items over time."

Protecting items in your own home from dry indoor air can be as simple as running a humidifier when humidity levels drop below the optimal range. By adding moisture to the air, homeowners can effectively relieve dry air discomforts and mitigate future damage to the home.

For more insights from the historic homes, including photos of artifacts and comments from preservation teams, and to find more information about humidification, visit:

Read more about home ventilation.

Topics: Dehumidifiers and Air Purifiers, Indoor Air Quality, Museums, Thermal Envelope, Ventilation, Windows

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