44th Annual Meeting – Sustainability, May 16, "Sustainable Preservation on a Small Island: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Passive and Mechanized Environments" by Jeremy Linden et al.

This talk’s subject matter was as advertised: a preservation environment project on a remote island off the coast of Maine: Monhegan, Maine.
Never heard of Monhegan? Join the club. The island is protected by legislation – it is considered a conservation zone, since the island is fragile and so are its resources. On this tiny island is the Monhegan Museum. They were looking to improve the environment in the museum while also being sustainable: the environment was the only issue that the museum had not addressed in the CAP Report that was completed for the museum a number of years ago. So the museum got a PAG grant, bought some PEM2 dataloggers to get environmental data, and then brought in the Image Permanence Institute (IPI) to help improve their environment.
By the way, if you ask Ron Harvey, the CAP grant is the gateway drug to grants! 🙂
The island sounds like a lovely place… in the summer. Its remote location creates challenges, especially in the winter. The water lines are above ground, so water freezes in the winter. No wonder the population on the island plummets in the winter: 800 in the summer to *50* in the winter. it doesn’t help that the only way on and off the island is by boat: the mail comes by boat, the artwork travels by boat… you get the idea.
Overall, the building had some HVAC elements, but it wasn’t consistent, mostly due to the additions of buildings gifted to the museum, like the Assistant Lightkeeper’s house, which was gifted to the museum in 1998, and turned into a collections vault. The vault has HVAC and the office has heat, but the gallery spaces were unheated, mostly because they only have exhibitions during the warmer months.
First order of business: monitor the environment and get data. Some alarming conditions popped up:

  • Rising damp was discovered in the building due to how water flowed, so luckily that was simple water mitigation: move the water away from building instead of letting it drain into the basement
  • Working with climate control in a passive manner: using things like foam doors to reduce moisture migration, for example
  • Extremes of environment in this space

So, what’s an island with significant collections to do?
Luckily, this is not IPI’s first rodeo in challenging environments. So what were some of the things they chose to do based on the limited services and accessibility?

  • Period appropriate repairs to bring the keeper’s house closer to its original intended performance while remaining a passive building. Not every building needs an air handler, so let’s try to bring the building back to how it was supposed to behave in its original construction.
  • What about energy reduction and efficiency?
    • Testing strategies (seasonal set points, controlled shutdowns) to allow the mechanized vaults to operate passively for portions of the year while improving preservation
    • Improving energy generation on the island and recovering waste heat as a new source of energy
    • Good construction to original building helps a lot
    • Passive operations during parts of the year
    • Ranges and guidelines safe for collections
    • One of the HUGE challenges was electricity. The wiring needed repairs, but the museum was able to work with the power company and help from them to recover wasted heat for collections during the winter
  • Re-purposing appropriate structures to improve collections storage/ exhibit
    • Ice House
      • Extended the collection storage to include both the upper and lower floors to accommodate the need for appropriate storage for the expanding art collections
    • Gallery
      • CHECK THIS OUT: Solar thermal dehumidification to manage high summer RH! SO COOL (if you pardon the pun)
      • Addition of vapor and thermal barrier in the exposed dirt crawlspace to reduce vapor transfer into the building

To keep in mind: strategies and solutions that are appropriate to place – specifics may not be broadly applicable but the process certainly is! I thought it was an excellent example of collaboration while being considerate of an historic building – lots of places aren’t. This project demonstrated excellent teamwork and the awesomely amazing things an interdisciplinary team can do!
Some questions that came up after the talk:
How did you deal with the rising damp? The answer was downspouts and a French drain; also a plus that water loves to run downhill away from building, so the fact that the museum was set up high was to their advantage
What IS Solar-thermal Dehumidification anyway?: essentially they are running the desiccant system with the SUN only during the summer! The desiccant system is a Munters unit by the way. The vapor barrier is plastic sheeting over the top of the dirt layer in the crawlspaces to prevent rising damp.

One thought on “44th Annual Meeting – Sustainability, May 16, "Sustainable Preservation on a Small Island: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Passive and Mechanized Environments" by Jeremy Linden et al.”

  1. Great write-up, Tara! I loved this talk (and am now itching to visit the Monhegan Museum). I really appreciated the take-away here: that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to preservation environments, and any solution must be appropriate to place.

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