Methodologies for Sustainable HVAC Operation in Collection Environments (2010-2013)

Methodologies for Sustainable HVAC Operation in Collection EnvironmentsIn May 2010, IPI received a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Research & Development grant titled Methodologies for Sustainable HVAC Operation in Collection Environments. Focusing on the impact of mechanical system setbacks in temperature and humidity on collection materials, this project will continue through February 2013. HVAC operations in collection storage and display areas in most institutions have come under scrutiny, and reductions in operating costs have been suggested or mandated. A common response has been to take advantage of unoccupied night-time and weekend hours when thermostats can be set back or energy-consuming HVAC equipment turned off. This study is designed to determine to what degree such actions adversely affect the preservation quality of collection environments.

Working with common configurations of collection materials, such as books on shelves, manuscripts in document boxes, maps in flat-file cabinets, prints and photographs in boxes and paper in filing cabinets, IPI's research will address three questions:

  • How do temperature and humidity changes, from 6 to 60 hours in duration, propagate through collections?
  • How do seasonal HVAC settings affect collections?
  • How can collection managers assess the risks or benefits of dynamic changes in conditions that occur in repetitive patterns over long spans of time (seasonally or annually)?

The three main research activities will include laboratory testing, field study, and computer modeling. In the laboratory, typical material configurations will be subjected to both short-term and sustained temperature and/or humidity changes, and the effects will be monitored at the surface and at the core of the materials using electronic temperature and humidity sensors. In the field study, to be conducted at the RIT Libraries, the effect of intentional HVAC setting changes will be monitored throughout the collections and documented. Data collected in the laboratory and from the field will be modeled to allow the information to be more generally applied and provide a practical way for collection managers to assess the risks or benefits of dynamic changes in environmental conditions and make informed environmental management decisions.

Upon completion of this research, IPI will create a ‘Field Guide’ style publication explaining the results in plain language and providing a usable method for monitoring room environments and estimating the impact of short-term fluctuations.  Research findings will also be made available online and in technical papers, conference presentations, workshops and other professional venues.