Steps for Safely Closing your Seasonal Museum for Winter
Hibernation – Putting your Seasonal Museum “To Bed” for the Winter
By Kathleen Watkin, MAS Museum Advisor
With the end of the tourist season upon us, and the cold weather on its way, it is time for many seasonal museums to close their doors for the winter. This process can be overwhelming, so here are some Tips, Hints and Self-Assessment Questions to make the transition easier.
- Inform your insurance company of the closing date and confirm that the coverage is adequate.
- Inform the fire department of the museum closing and activate the alarm system.
- Request that local police check the building daily.
- If the museum has an alarm system, connect it.
- To discourage prowlers, use a photocell or a timer to illuminate selected lights. Inexpensive movement detectors can be purchased and connected to the alarm system.
- Cover windows with well-constructed panels fastened from the inside.
- If large windows are not shuttered or boarded, masking tape may be applied to the panes to discourage birds from flying into them.
Inspect the Property
- Look for problem points on both the interior and exterior of the Museum
- Is the mortar intact?
- Are the bricks intact?
- Is the chimney cap(s) safely affixed?
- Are the flashing and joints securely affixed?
- Are the shingles lying flat?
- Are there any gaps? Between shingles? Between the shingles and the roof?
- Is there any biological growth?
- Are all the flashing, ridge caps and connections securely fastened?
- Gutters and Downspouts
- Are the gutters and downspouts intact?
- Is there damage around the system?
- Are they all clear and functioning?
- Is water pooling around the foundation?
- Where does the water go?
- Is everything secured and connected?
- Is there any evidence on the ground of oversaturation, particularly around the foundation?
- Does the siding lie flat?
- Are there gaps or other visible damage?
- What condition is the glazing on the windows in? Do they need to be replaced?
- What condition are the sills in?
- Is there any broken glass?
- Is any separation between glass, sills and framing evident?
- What are the proximity of the plants?
- Is there any evidence of plants or roots disturbing the foundation, windows or cladding?
- Are there any overhanging branches that need to be removed?
Any major problems should be addressed as soon as possible to ensure the problem and its consequences do not escalate over the winter season.
Clean Gutters and Maintain Water Dispersion
Ensure that all gutters and downspouts are completely cleaned out.
If your downspout feeds out close to your museum, consider adding tubing to the ends, so that water is released further away from your foundation.
- Tree Care
- Have your trees pruned so that they are lighter and thus will hold less weight in the winter.
- Remove any overhanging branches to prevent them from causing problems in a winter storm.
- Secure Doorways, Windows and Skylights
- Cover windows, doors and skylights with storm shutters and doors or large pieces of wood to ensure that everything remains safe.
- Keep snow and ice from the historical frames.
- Secure Outdoor Art and Objects
- When possible remove sculptures, plant pots, stands (etc.) from the museum grounds and place them inside in a secure location like a barn or basement.
- If the object cannot be moved, create a structurally sound and reusable box or wrap the objects for the winter. If you are creating a cover box, ensure there is ventilated so micro-climates are not created.
Turning Off and Draining Water Lines
- It is important to make sure that all water lines are turn off and drained when you are closing up your museum. This will help to ensure there will be no waterline breaks or explosions during the cold winter months.
- Drain and put away all exterior hose bibs.
- Turn off water and drain the line to restrooms and interior sinks.
- Ensure all lawn/garden irrigation systems are closed off and drained.
- If you are unsure or uncomfortable with doing this yourself, call in an expert.
- If you have drained the system by the gravity method ensure that all drain plugs, traps, faucets and valves are opened and removed.
- If you are draining using the compressed air method (used in museums that have old radiator heating systems), not all water can be removed (because of low spots). Some heat will be required to prevent freezing.
- Turn off the hot water heater and drain the hot water tank.
- Some museums add antifreeze (glycol) to water lines with inaccessible piping. ***Do not do this if there is any possibility of someone drinking from the water source!
To Heat or Not to Heat?
- This decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. However, most museums need some source of heating to ensure the integrity of the building and the collection.
- Monitor the systems closely to determine what your museum needs.
- RH should be kept between 30%-60% to ensure the long-term sustainability of the museum.
- Use Silica Gel around objects to help keep a micro-environment.
- In museums were electronics (computers, alarm systems, irrigation systems) are going to be left over the winter, some heat is required so that they survive the winter.
- If heating the entire Museum is not a feasible option, you can place all the electronics into one room with a small heat source.
- Make sure to clean your ducts and change your HVAC filters to ensure a safe winter season.
- One of the first places where condensation occurs is the inside face of exterior walls. It is therefore advisable to remove all objects hanging on these walls, and all furniture and objects positioned against or near exterior walls.
Prepare for Snow Removal
- Snow removal is essential for the maintenance of your museum in the winter, as you will need access in an emergency, fuel delivery and tenant access and/or to inspect the site after a storm.
- Stake the roadways so you can see where they are and what needs to be plowed.
- Snow melt and salt are harmful to the historical masonry – sand is safer for the museum and is more environmentally sound. Salt and snowmelt have acidic properties that can be very destructive to a museum’s foundation.
- Ensure you have good mats inside your access doors so sand does not get inside the museum in winter.
- Take steps to cover window ledges and doorway thresholds to prevent snow drifts from entering the building.
- It may be necessary to remove snow and ice from roof using snow rakes.
- Open cabinets so you can see inside them.
- Inspect after major storms and look for places water can get in.
Cleaning and Assessment
- While closing up the museum, remember to give your museum a deep clean!
- Dust ceilings and woodwork first with long-handled dusters.
- Vacuum historical textiles through a screen including table runners, currents, pillows, upholstered chairs and settees, etc.
- Vacuum under beds and case furniture.
- Vacuum behind drapes and radiators.
- Wash windows and plexiglass.
- Clean ceramic and glass objects.
- Make sure you have access to your storage areas.
- Cover large furniture, carpets and other hard-to-move pieces with plastic, and then a sheet.
- Look at the objects for conservation.
- Safely store all smaller objects in archival boxes, storage shelves or in drawers.
Protect Against Pests (See CCI Notes for more information: http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1439925167385)
- Pests like to live in dark, small spaces and in folds of fabrics and upholstery. Check these areas and seek treatment when necessary.
- Contract an exterminator to close up any exterior holes, so that you can ensure there aren’t any pests inside before closing everything up
- Ensure that all possible access holes, such as vents and windows, are covered with wire mesh.
- Bait and place mousetraps, recording their location. Check your mouse traps with every visit.
- To discourage rodents, remove anything that might attract them. Foodstuffs are likely to be removed before a closing, but remember that materials such as soap, candles, and sponges also attract rodents.
Preparing for Water
- Make sure that all exterior closures are water tight.
- Remove fireplace equipment so that you can access the fire hearth.
- Place water absorbing pads inside the fire hearth, leaky windows and doors to catch any moisture
- Remove objects from windows, doors and chimneys and store them in a safe place.
- Cover all objects with sheets to protect them from light exposure.
- If you need to remove a picture from a wall to cover it, do so carefully.
- Put all small objects away into storage for the season.
- Even if you have UV filters on all your windows you should still cover them with blinds or dark sheets (with tension rods) because visible light is also damaging.
Once the Museum is “Put to Bed” for the Season:
- Once a policy on closing procedures for the museum has been established, duties in preparation for closing should be assigned to staff, and contingency plans drawn up to deal with emergencies.
- The museum should be checked both inside and outside monthly (whenever possible) throughout the closed season. The person/people who are checking on the building should be looking at all the windows and doors for leaks, ensuring that all artefacts are still safely stored and that the museum is still safely locked up.
- The museum should be checked after every major storm and any damage documented and assessed.
For more information:
Heritage Preservation and National Park Service. “Caring for Your Historic House.” Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York: 1998.
Mary Peever Ethnology Laboratory. “Closing a Museum for the Winter.” CCI Note 1/3. Canadian Conservation Institute. 1988. Website: http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1439925169964
New England Museum Association (NEMA). “Hibernation Note Just of Bears.” Webinar. Connecting to Collections Care Online Community. August 31, 2016. Website: http://www.connectingtocollections.org/hibernation-not-just-for-bears-putting-your-house-museum-to-bed-for-the-season/
“Winterizing Your Historic Building.” Conservation Center for Art & Historical Artifacts. 2016. Website: http://www.ccaha.org/uploads/media_items/winterizing-historic-buildings.original.pdf