Environmental Monitoring Equipment Loans Program

Introduction

The damaging effects of an uncontrolled environment on artifacts and art objects are well known. There are many examples where low humidity has caused wood or ivory to crack and where high light levels have faded textiles and watercolours with fugitive dyes and pigments.

Unfortunately, intuitive assessments such as, "These lights appear to be too bright," or, "It feels dry in this exhibition room," are not sufficient to determine exact environmental control requirements. Accurate information is essential to evaluate the extent and urgency of any environmental problem. It is only after collecting the data can the exact solution to the problem be determined.

The equipment needed to monitor the environment is relatively expensive, and may be beyond the budget of many institutions. Although less expensive instruments for this purpose do exist, they often lack the accuracy and sensitivity to monitor the conditions in museums adequately.

CCI's Preservation Services Division makes equipment available to help museums and galleries monitor their environments for only the cost of shipping the instruments to and from CCI with insurance.

Environmental Monitoring Equipment

CCI makes available the necessary instrumentation for measuring the four most important environmental factors:

  • relative humidity
  • temperature
  • illumination level
  • ultraviolet (UV) radiation level.

CCI offers loans of instruments that permit either spot measurements or long-term monitoring.

Instruments for Spot Measurements

Image 1 – Description of Image 1 directly under the image.
Psychrometer, light meter, Elsec environmental monitor and temperature/relative humidity meter.

CCI lends motor-driven psychrometers and electronic humidity/temperature meters, which permit individual spot measurement of relative humidity and temperature. The psychrometer is particularly useful for calibrating hygrothermographs and checking the accuracy of electronic meters. For measurement of light and UV, a lux meter and UV meter are available. CCI also lends Elsec environmental monitors that permit spot reading of relative humidity, temperature, lux and UV levels. Most hand-held instruments are available for 30-day loans.

Recording Equipment

For situations where continuous long-term monitoring of relative humidity and temperature is required, CCI also lends recording hygrothermographs and electronic data loggers. These may be borrowed for periods of up to six months, depending on availability.

The recording hygrothermograph produces an immediate visible trace of the temperature and relative humidity throughout the monitoring period. The data logger, although it is much smaller and more robust, does not always allow the data to be examined until downloaded into a computer after the monitoring has been completed but some do have LCD screens showing current conditions. In the case of clients who borrow the data loggers, CCI will download and review the data when the equipment is returned, then send the results to the client.

CCI also lends data loggers that record lux levels over time in addition to relative humidity and temperature.

Image 2 – Description of Image 2 directly under the image.
Data loggers and hygrothermographs.

Data Interpretation

Correct interpretation of the data is essential in order to understand what is taking place and to consider possible measures to address any problems. Relevant peripheral information necessary for correct interpretation may include the type of collection involved, the HVAC system, the access to the collection (e.g. is this a seasonal museum), and the ability to make changes to the equipment, environment, or practices. Clients can request assistance in the interpretation of temperature and relative humidity data by contacting Preservation Services.

How to Borrow Monitoring Equipment from CCI

To borrow environmental monitoring equipment from CCI, telephone or write to:

Preservation Services
Canadian Conservation Institute
1030 Innes Road
Ottawa ON K1B 4S7
Tel.: 613-998-3721
Fax: 613-998-4721
E-mail: cci-icc.services@pch.gc.ca

You will receive a loan agreement form that sets out the terms and conditions of the loan. Shipping of the equipment to the borrowing institution and back to CCI is the responsibility of the borrowing institution.

For those who are considering purchasing environmental monitoring equipment, a list of equipment, distributors, and approximate prices is available from CCI on request.

Further Reading

  1. Thomson, Garry. The Museum Environment. 2nd ed. London: Butterworths, 1986.