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What Is The Best Temperature For Artwork? – 3 Tips To Protect

I’m asked all the time something along the lines of  “What is the best temperature for my artwork?” or “What temperature should my house be?” or “What environment is best for my collection?”  Well, its not a one word answer. The answer is kind of long, actually, but I think you’ll find the answer and the photos  interesting.

What materials are you worried about protecting? A wood sculpture, an oil painting, a watercolor, glassware, a plastic toy collection, photographs, leather book bindings? Each material reacts to it environment a little different but by and large the answer to this question is, thankfully, not a single number temperature (that would be hard… and expensive… to try and maintain!). Its a range. My detailed answer to this question would be different for someone in Florida than Wyoming, or for someone living in Puerto Rico or Utah. But in general, what your items need, much like all of us, is stability.

Here are three parts to my answer and tips to help protect and keep well your treasured items:

Tip #1. Keep the temperature within a 20 degree F. range within a 24 hour period. So, for instance, a storage area like a garage or attic where the temperature drops to 40 degrees at night and goes up to 80 degrees during the day is a very poor environment. What happens is that the materials your treasured items are made of are expanding and contracting in those temperature fluctuations. But while temperature seems like the real problem to solve, actually its humidity. As a general rule, items like temperatures that are a little on the cool side for people’s comfort: 55 – 65 degrees. In my house in Southern California I don’t have air conditioning. But we can keep our living space within a 20 degree range (in a 24 hour period) all year long without much effort.

Tip #2. Humidity is the real driving force of dimensional change in your items. I don’t want to get too technical here… but the range of humidity should also be kept within the 20% relative humidity (RH) range within a 24 hour period. This is more difficult to measure and control than temperature. Homes aren’t furnished with a dial on the wall for humidity control. But take a look at the photo below…

Cracking patterns (and cupping distortions) due to excessive fluxuations in temperature and humidity.

Cracking patterns (and cupping distortions) due to excessive fluxuations in temperature and humidity.

Temperature and humidity in our environments, outside weather or inside the home, are tied together. They move and change together. So, whether you live in the extreme of the tropics or the desert, try and limit your temperature to stay within a 20 degree F. range and you’ll probably be doing the best you can do without having to buy humidification or dehumidification equipment.

If your photos are tossed in a box all touching each other, then higher humidity will cause them to stick together (see chapter in book about getting them apart). Wide ranges in change of humidity also cause wood to warp. These are the reasons why many museums will let a crate containing artwork that has arrived, sit in storage all closed up and sealed for at least 48 hours before opening up… so that the item can acclimate to change in temperature and humidity slowly to minimize damage.

Extreme situations, like the tropics may call for dehumidification equipment to minimize mold growth etc. But as a general rule, you now know the best range. If you can control the humidity, a range of around 50% RH is very good. Once more thing…

Tip #3. Damage of an item will be accentuated as fluctuations in temperature and humidity take place. On the photo, look just to the left of the face, just into the white background area. Here’s a close up…

Bullseye cracking pattern is evidence of impact

Bullseye cracking pattern is evidence of impact

This bullseye cracking pattern (or it looks like a spiderweb) is caused by something having hit the surface. When it occurred, no damage was seen. But the stress on the paint/ground send shock waves, much like dropping a pebble into water. This pattern shows up, more or less severe, when temperature and humidity change a lot, over and over. So, protect your items from damage during handling, storage etc. or you may find problems arising in the future.

One night of temperature outside of the 20 degree range isn’t going to kill your painting. But, depending on the humidity, it may cause cracking in a wood item or photographs to stick together. Its the repeated fluxuations and the abuse the item has taken that result in the visible damage. This damage almost always has an effect on the value. If you have appraisal questions, go to www.faclappraisals.com

I told you it would be kind of a long answer but this is money you can take to the bank.

Questions about art conservation? Call Scott at 805 564 3438

Art appraisal questions? Call Richard at 805 895 5121

Also, see our fun videos on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/user/PreservationCoach?feature=mhee

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77 Responses to “What Is The Best Temperature For Artwork? – 3 Tips To Protect”

  1. Scott says:

    Remember Seguido, the important thing is to regulate the humidity. ONE of the ways to do that is to control the temperature swings.

  2. seguido says:

    I’ve always thought anything that is not freezing is a dangerous weather for art. Unfortunately my hometown is as hot as a boiling pot.

  3. Dino Maestro says:

    Hi! These tips are so important and useful. No we have an information about art work and the temperature for it… thanks for sharing the idea.

  4. Kayla says:

    One of my friends suggested this blog to me. I have been following this blog since then. I really like all the articles uploaded here. In each and every article useful tips are given. As my mother is an art enthusiast , we have a huge collection of art works. The tips given in this blog have helped us a lot.

  5. Scott says:

    Remember Isabel, even though you might not think its valuable, it might be. Or what about for those who inherit family items. They are worth taking care of. You are the curator. See the new video on the front page of this blog for a crazy story of a painting that wasn’t worth anything. CLICK HERE

  6. maria says:

    I organize art exhibitions in Montreal, Canada.I need to carry huge collection of expensive and exquisite paintings,sculptures,artifacts along with lots of show pieces,furniture and decorative items from one place to another.I often find the excessive moisture or heat damages the shape and spoils the shine of the items.I appreciate this post for the tips on temperature and humidity to preserve the items.

  7. Isabel Panks says:

    Its depends also on how good the art is or how valuable it is. But its good that you make us think about it falling apart.

  8. Jamie Medelson says:

    My friend loves to paint, she does it as a hobby, which later on became a business. She could certainly learn something from this.

  9. Eduardo Munoz says:

    You are giving us many advices about how to protect our paintings to the temperature. Thank you very much for giving us that information, it’s very useful for me.

  10. Eric says:

    Thanks for the article. I got many useful tips for my next painting.

  11. Baldwin says:

    Hi, this is totally awesome post. Actually I am not the professional artist. But I am interested in such activities. I think you have point out true reasons of proper temperature and humidity. Such pin points are important for art work.

    Thanks for sharing this valuable post

  12. Scott says:

    Dominic,
    Feel free to contact me at 805 564 3438 or faclartdoc@gmail.com. If you would like a video tour of our lab go to http://www.fineartconservationlab.com

  13. Scott says:

    Eric, The standard was set by the Library of Congress Scientific Research Dept. But you are right, 10 degrees would be better. The standards are a general value for all items. Obviously and oil painting is different than wood furniture or ivory.

  14. Scott says:

    Leah, you are confusing temperature with humidity. The most important thing to control is the humidity.

  15. Leah says:

    I thought before that the best temperature for painting is not too cold to avoid getting moist and eventually destroy the painting. Am I right?

  16. Hughes Chloe says:

    Very informative article. As far as I am concerned I think the art work should not be kept in extreme temperatures. Too cold or too hot will destroy the art work.

  17. Thank you for posting this article with all your tips and information. I think that keeping you temperature within 20 degrees is still to much of a range that it would be better to stay about 10 degrees if possible. That way there is not so much freezing and thawing. Also, do you think it would be different for oil based paintings verses water based paintings? Also, depending on what material the painting is made on say canvas or paper etc…?

  18. Sarah says:

    As far as I know is that it should not be too cold or too hot or else the artwork will be destroyed but I don’t know the exact temperature.

  19. These are great tips here. I have many paintings at home. But last year due to heavy rains some of them got damaged s the moisture level increased. I was searching for someone who could help me restore them. Glad I found your blog. Could you please help me with the same?

  20. Mark Cooper says:

    I like your tips.

  21. Dana Sealy says:

    woooww thanks for the tips

    u give me a great tips for newbie like me 🙂

  22. Adela Rosewell says:

    Pieces of art, of course, have their specific standards for maintenance. This is why they require so much detail to pay attention to.

  23. Scott says:

    Actually, Brandon, ALL antiques and art need to be taken care of. Can you tell me which old things today will be valuable antiques in 30 years? If you have questions about the preservation of your painting, give me a call and we’ll chat: 805 564 3438 office 9-5 CA time.

  24. Brandon Reed says:

    Very expensive and antique art works need a lot of care and attention. I too have seen a lot of cracks in one of my paintings. It is an ancient Indian art piece called Tanjore painting. I would like to get it restored.

  25. Scott says:

    Autumn, No, piles of stuff don’t provide a buffer from temperature and humidity fluctuations. In fact, attics and basements are where most paintings in storage get ruined.

  26. Autumn Harris says:

    Some of the paintings we still find in attics and storage rooms are piled under all kinds of stuff. Do you think the pile worked as a buffer against temperature and humidity change in these cases? Otherwise how they come intact after so many years? Any alternate idea?

  27. Steven says:

    Hi there..
    I need your help, One of my painting got damage because of moisture and I love the painting very much. Please help me restore that painting. 🙁

  28. Arvel Lopez says:

    The ideas and tips really helped. Thanks. I really liked the post about the paintings. Good information provided on this blog.

  29. Eve Pelham says:

    I still think, if it’s just self expression, arts should be temporary. But it’s great to know how to preserve artworks which you would like to keep 🙂 What I don’t understand totally is, what paints it does not apply to. They are not the same, that’s sure, so where are the differences.

  30. Scott says:

    You are welcome Kataskeui. Best wishes… its a tough job in the tropics to keep the environment controlled and avoid mold.

  31. Breece Elsinger says:

    Thank you for another fantastic post. We’re always wondering about whether its too hot or cold for our artwork. Your guidelines helped. Thanks.

  32. Kataskeui Istoselidon says:

    I am extremely pleased to find this easy to understand info on the temp and humidity for our art collection in our offices. Since we live in the tropics, its a hard task to keep them table but your info gives us some guidelines to follow. Thanks for staying up with the nice high quality writing. It’s uncommon to see a nice blog like this one nowadays with comments that are on subject.

  33. Ben Maurser says:

    Very helpful post man. Thanks for the info. We’ve got a bunch of artwork that may not be worth a lot but means a lot to us so, its worth the effort to save and take care of it. I’m surprised how much the stuff we’ve collected means to our kids.

  34. Ann Mareier says:

    The temp and humidity is so important to protect delicate pieces. I’ve seen valuable painting in our office crack because of heating vents.

  35. Scott says:

    Hi Mae,
    I have a couple of friends who do the same thing as you. One of them covered her bedroom and bathroom floor to ceiling with about 100 oil paintings but she never paid over $5 for one… and some of them were big paintings! Now that some years have passed, she still cherishes each of them. Its funny to “get the tour” cause she tells you about the story of finding of each one and tells you about the artwork like you were getting a tour of the National Gallery. Happy collecting. Btw, you will be interested in a new blog I’ve set up for art collectors at http://www.tipsforartcollectors.org

  36. Mae Fallsbrook says:

    This post is very informative because I love to collect paintings. The paintings I buy aren’t very expensive but its fun filling my house with treasures I find at garage sales. Eventhough they aren’t valuable, I still want to take care of them and your website is a great place to learn. Thanks for sharing your cool tips and ideas. Keep posting!

  37. Selene Clarkston says:

    Cool tips and ideas. For sure this will be helpful with my stuff. I’m sometimes worried about how items in my collection are reacting to the seasons and the temps in my house. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Keep posting!

    I got your book. I love it.

  38. Sarah Best says:

    Pretty cool ideas and information that help me with a problem I have. Thank you for the tips and guidance… The swings of temp. seems easy enough to try and control at my house but its in storage that it gets a little tricky. But now that I know the guidelines, I may be able to figure something out. You rock.

  39. Scott says:

    Hi Kathie,
    You bring up some very good questions and here’s the 411.

    Our readers may not know that a thermo-hygrometer is a fairly cheap monitor to read and record temperature and humidity. But, of course, it only reads… it doesn’t correct any problems your room might have. As an instrument that measures temperature and humidity, its value is only as good as the operator’s attention to recording the results over a period of time. In other words, if you just take an occasional look at it, you will have wasted your money. The value of the instrument lies in the data it reads over a period of time and the comparisons you will be able to determine.

    Your question about whether it will give you a good enough indication for the entire room is a good thought. If you have a fan that can circulate the air, your room will be more even and the reading on the instrument will more faithfully represent the whole room.

    As you are hoping, this will give you at least some idea of the humidity in the general space, and if it gets bad, you can run a dehumidifier. But note: a dehumidifier, like any other equipment, should be checked on and maintained regularly.

    Regarding your question about priorities to spend your money: your first priority is to slow or try to equalize adverse conditions. So, if you have temperature or humidity levels that are extreme, then that’s more important than buying acid free folders, in my opinion. Your desire to have a better understanding of the temp and RH is well founded. Lets talk about your other priorities after you get the thermo-hygrometer set up.

    Another option instead of looking at how little you can do on a limited budget is to raise some money so you can do more. I might be able to help you with that. So, lets talk.

  40. Kathie Gow says:

    Scott, hi. Thanks for that great advice on humidity and temperature. It answers some questions for me – but I have more! I have recently been appointed curator of our town’s Historical Society Museum, and I am just a beginner when it comes to preservation and conservation methods. I have put together an order for a variety of archival supplies to make use of some end-of-year surplus funds.
    In my order, I was planning to include a thermo-hygrometer for the museum, which is the 3rd floor of our town library in a historic old building. The few windows (including skylight) have been sealed, so at least we don’t need to worry about direct sunlight, but the un-air-conditioned 3rd floor gets very hot in the summer and cold in the winter (the museum is closed for the winter). So temperature and humidity levels are fluctuating very widely throughout the year. The town is working on a plan for a new temperature-controlled building, but that is, at best, several years down the road.
    I’ve seen that some smaller hygrometers are designed for display case use (of which we have many cases, medium and large), but the one I’ve picked (see below) doesn’t note the amount of space it could deal with.
    University Products, Jumbo display thermo-hygrometer for recording temperature & humidity: 746-1422 ($66.80)
    We probably don’t have money at this point for one that’s more expensive, unless it was worth getting rid of other archival supplies from my order. My thought was that at least this hygrometer would give us a heads-up when humidity levels are fluctuating most widely, and we could run a dehumidifier. My husband warns, though, that dehumidifier also output heat.
    Then again, we have a number of paper items (photos, newsprint, booklets) from the first half of the 20th century (and a few earlier) that are not yet in acid-free storage/display enclosures, so I’m also wondering if the money would be better spent at this point working to get the entire collection into archival storage and display environments. When money is hard to come by (as it usually is), and also because I’m new at this, it is hard to know what’s the best way to spend it! Thanks for whatever guidance you can provide. Come visit us at http://hatfieldhistory.weebly.com

  41. Scott says:

    Thanks for your comments. Whether you have art that cost a lot of money or you are decorating with free stuff, protecting your office or home will keep you safe if the building begins to shake! And, its all the more important if you have meaningful things: valuable items can be financially valuable, or emotionally or historical. Come back to see us soon. I’m adding comments and new posts all the time.

  42. The tips really help me a lot. Now I can answer someone who is always asking me what to do to preserve her piece. This one you have posted is very informative. Looking forward for more tips from you.

  43. Scott says:

    Good question Dan. Its not that CA is bad for your stuff and CO is good for your stuff. The “problem” is the change. So, no matter which direction you go, if a change is extreme, the item might react. This is the reason why when a museum receives a crated item, they let it sit closed up for a few days before opening it so it can climatize slowly. “Slowly” is the operative word here. As I said in the blog post, its the extreme fluctuations within a 24 hour period that cause the problems.

    As you can imagine, wood reacts the most. Ivory and bone can react not well also. Painted items react (are damaged) slowly and probably won’t show their reaction until further along. (See the blog post about the painting in front of the heating vent). Don’t worry about metals and glass or loose cloth.

    What kinds of items were you worried about Dan?

  44. dan says:

    Hey I just moved from Colorado to San Diego near the beach and just wondered what kind of precautions or things do I need to do here with my art because Colorado there was never any problem???

  45. Great article for newbie artists. Appreciate the effort. Cheers

  46. Colin Manuhere says:

    Hey, I really liked the post about the paintings. Good info! These posts are very good and are helping me to look at the art of painting a little differently.

  47. Angela says:

    We have a local furniture store with some art in a special room and we always maintain

    – a constant temperature. No fluctuations whatsoever.
    – dehumidification equipmenht wired in the walls.

    We’ve been doing this for nearly 10 years now and we haven’t noticed any decrease in the quality of the art. It works fine!

  48. Mr. Hashini says:

    I am searching this type of information sites, this will be useful for me, thanks for giving this post. Very professional credible information.

  49. Scott says:

    Good question Lori… especially from someone who works for a humidifier company! You already know that moving a piece of fine wood furniture from a humid to a dry environment will cause the wood to crack. As you can see from the photo in the blog, paintings don’t like the jump from dry to humid and back again either. So, a humidifier… or a dehumidifier should be used to help keep the humidity in the air as constant as possible. Try not to let the humidity fluctuate more than 20% in a 24 hour period.

    You already know, but I’ll mention it for the other readers, you have to watch humidifiers to make sure they stay on their setting, don’t leak and don’t foster mold growth. If the humidifier gets moldy, it can blow mold spores all over the room.

    Thanks for your question Lori and please link your blog to ours. You’re clients will find helpful suggestions here for the care of their treasures. Also, sign up for the FREE preservation tips at the top of the Home Page. Stay in touch!

  50. This post was mentioned on Twitter by ArtVisions

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