How to protect your collection from summer heat damage

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Laura Murphy, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies

As the heat rises, art collectors need to take extra measures to help protect their valuables from the effects of high temperatures and humidity.

“Paintings and other works of art on paper expand and contract in response to changes in temperature and humidity, and canvasses can become looser or tighter, often changing shape,” says Laura Murphy, a fine arts specialist with the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. “Particularly during the summer months, collectors will want to take steps to prevent surface distortions, paint flaking, mould growth, staining and decay.”

Wood furniture and gilded frames absorb moisture when the humidity levels rise. If the gesso primer layer beneath a frame isn’t thick enough to flex with the expansion and contraction of the wood, then it can flake and detach, Murphy said.

Chubb’s team of fine art and collector specialists offers these recommendations to help protect fine art and furniture from deterioration:

  • When a room is not in use, draw the blinds, curtains or shades and turn off the lights to create a cool, dark environment. Paint is organic, and it can degrade in blazing heat. Light, especially ultraviolet sunlight, can cause irreversible fading or color change, especially in paper, textiles and photographs.
  • Keep the temperature and humidity in the home as constant as possible—65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 55% to 65% relative humidity.
  • Don’t turn off the air conditioning before leaving even for a short weekend getaway. Temperature fluctuations can loosen the joints of antiques.
  • Do not store fine art in your basement or attic where it can be exposed to dramatic temperature fluctuations, floods and leaks. Create an art closet with horizontal racks and a locked door. Wrap and store framed artwork front to back in a vertical position.
  • Frame all art. Paper, textiles and photographs should be hung with museum-quality materials by a professional art hanger.
  • Install water alert sensors in areas of the home susceptible to water damage, including above ceiling trays and under washers, dryers and radiators.