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General Principles

Building Envelope

A well designed and maintained building with effective insulation is the best starting point for good storage. Environmental problems are usually associated with poorly designed and badly constructed buildings that are not well maintained. The most common problem is the entry of water into a building with resultant high humidity levels. Typical causes of water entry are:

  • leaking roofs, walls or windows;
  • blocked or cracked drains, gutters or downpipes;
  • porous walls and/or ineffective damp courses which allow entry of ground water. This problem is most pronounced in basements, cellars and buildings affected by rising damp;
  • poor positioning of gardens and garden watering systems that cause sections of the building to be frequently wet. This problem is aggravated if the building is constructed from porous materials such as sandstone or limestone; and
  • poor ventilation of kitchen and bathroom areas, allowing water vapour to enter storage areas.

Other issues to do with the building envelope are:

  • extremely low humidity that is associated with heating, caused either by sunlight entering through windows or poor placement of radiators and heaters;
  • unsealed windows, doors, ceiling/wall joins and other areas that allow for the ingress of dirt and pollution; and
  • poor housekeeping that encourages the activity of insects and vermin.

To improve the building envelope for collection storage the following should be considered:

  • establish a schedule to have an annual maintenance building check and a 5 yearly building survey. Make good any repairs that are identified;
  • install insulation in walls and ceilings to provide the best buffering possible from the ambient conditions, both in summer and winter. Insulation can be used to passively control the store environment;
  • put draft excluders on windows and doors to reduce the ingress of dust and pollution and to minimise air exchange;
  • ensure that kitchens and bathrooms are well ventilated and
  • check that the garden reticulation is not impacting on the humidity within a building.

Store Room/s

When selecting a room or rooms for storage consider the following:

  • internal rooms within a building offer the most buffering from the ambient conditions;
  • ideally the storage room should not have services such as water or drainage in the vicinity;
  • wide doors and corridors are preferable;
  • pallet racking requires space for forklift access and adequate height for manoeuvring pallets;
  • an anteroom is desirable for use as a holding/quarantine area;
  • avoid carpets in storage areas as they harbour dust and possibly insects, are an added problem if flooding occurs and may emit organic vapours which are detrimental to some materials;
  • seal floor and wall surfaces;
  • cater for different types and sizes of collections by choosing the most appropriate storage furniture and ensuring that there is sufficient space in the store. Storage furniture may include drawers for smaller objects, cantilever shelving for very long objects such as spears, map drawers for the flat storage of large format paper objects and racks for rolled objects;
  • it is useful to have a table (or two) in a storage area for examining objects;
  • if the collection is used for research, it is useful to have a research room nearby;
  • select the storage space so that the environmental conditions are the best possible with appropriate light, relative humidity, temperature, pest and pollution control (see the chapter Preventive Conservation: Agents of Decay).
  • a store should not double up as a work room nor as a storage area for such things as shop stock; and
  • have storage furniture designed to allow vacuum cleaning access underneath;

Holding or Quarantine Area

While private collectors are unlikely to have the luxury of a holding or quarantine area, it is strongly recommended that collecting institutions such as museums and historical societies set aside such an area. This area is used for temporary storage where objects may slowly acclimatise to their new surroundings and/or await inspection. New objects should be bagged and isolated from other objects until it is determined that there is no risk that they will introduce either insect pests or pollutants to other objects in the collection.

Condition Check

Before assimilating objects into a collection check for the presence of insects, mould, active corrosion on metals and dirt:

  • if insect activity is observed (live insects or larvae, larvae cases, frass or eggs) the object has to be treated before it is assimilated into the collection (see the chapter Mould and Insect Attack in Collections);
  • if fungal activity is detected then action needs to be taken to eradicate this before other objects in a collection are contaminated (see the chapter Mould and Insect Attack in Collections);
  • if active corrosion is present, place the object in a drier environment and seek the advice of a conservator;
  • if surface dirt is not an essential part of an object’s history then clean the object before putting it with other collection items (see the relevant chapter for cleaning details); and
  • record all observations and details of any treatment applied to the object.


Acclimatisation is particularly important for objects that have been moved from one climatic zone to another. For instance, wooden objects that were stable in the higher relative humidity surroundings of the tropics will lose moisture if moved to drier regions. Slow acclimatisation is necessary to minimise drying stresses and associated damage. This may be achieved by sealing the object in clear plastic. Over time the plastic should be perforated (pin holes) to allow for slow exchange of moisture with the surroundings. The number and size of the perforations can be increased slowly as the object progressively loses moisture. Closely monitor the object to ensure that mould does not form during the acclimatisation process.

Similarly, objects from a dry climate also have to be buffered if transferred to a wetter zone. Great care must be taken when acclimatising objects as no hard-and-fast rules apply. The length of time before an object can be exposed safely to a new environment will depend on a number of factors. These include the difference in the climatic conditions of the areas involved and the condition, material type (for example, wood, leather, textile etc) and the thickness of the object. Acclimatisation periods of up to one year are not unusual.


Guidelines are given in other chapters for handling specific material types, but the importance of care and common sense cannot be over emphasised. A few general principles relating to handling and moving objects are described below.

  • avoid unnecessary handling as most damage is done to objects through poor handling;
  • remove jewellery, particularly on hands and wrists, as it can scratch or snag objects. Smooth wedding rings are fine;
  • handle only one object at a time;
  • cleanliness is very important. Wash hands thoroughly and/or wear well-fitting disposable or washable gloves that provide good tactile ability to the user. Kitchen rubber gloves are not suitable. Synthetic gloves should either be powder free or have the powder wiped from the surface before handling an object;
  • choose gloves or use clean hands depending on the nature of the object to be handled. Use synthetic gloves when handling china, glass or smooth polished objects as cotton gloves are too slippery;
  • assess the condition of an object before handling it. Use flat supports to carry objects that are fragile or unable to support their own weight. As a temporary measure, small bean bags can be very useful. If using small bean bags ensure that they are contained in a box so the object does not settle through the bean bags to the bottom and thus have no support;
  • do not assume that handles are strong enough to support the weight of an object. Pick up objects with two hands cradling the strongest points;
  • remove all loose parts such as lids and drawers to reduce the chance of breakages;
  • place heavier objects on lower shelves and keep shelving at a safe height;
  • assess the weight of the object to be handled. If an object is too heavy for one person, see if any components can be separated for the move or enlist the help of others;
  • if appropriate use a trolley, forklift or similar device to move objects over smooth ground. Trolleys should have rubber wheels for a soft ride and swivel wheels to assist with accessing tricky places. If rough ground is to be traversed, manual lifting will cause less vibration/shock damage;
  • do not drag or push objects across a surface;
  • provide protection against temperature and relative humidity changes for objects being transported to an area in which different environmental conditions may be encountered (see Packing for Transportation below);
  • think ahead, clear passages, open doors, remove obstacles etc; and
  • be aware of and apply proper lifting techniques.

Care of Objects in the Work Area

  • keep food and drink separate from the work area;
  • keep the work space well organised and never compromise the safety of an object or staff;
  • fragile objects should be placed on a padded surface (blotting paper, Bubble wrap™ or Cell-Aire®) which has been taped down to prevent slippage;
  • prevent objects from rolling by wedging with a suitable material;
  • place tissue paper or Tyvek® dust covers over objects while in the work place to reduce the accumulation of dust. Place a notice on top of the dust cover stating an object is underneath (‘Care Fragile Object Underneath’ or similar); and
  • check the environmental conditions of the work area, particularly for sensitive materials.