Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library Sustains Collections while Saving Energy

Monthly Average CCF: From 2012-14, Winterthur’s average gas consumption fell from 750,000 to 600,000 cubic feet.Monthly Average CCF: From 2012-14, Winterthur’s average gas consumption fell from 750,000 to 600,000 cubic feet.

Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library is located in the rolling hills of the Brandywine Valley just north of Wilmington, Del. Originally, the property was the family home of Henry Francis DuPont, a renowned collector of American art and decorative arts, a horticulturist known for extraordinary naturalistic gardens and a dairyman who created bloodlines that still influence American milk production. Winterthur opened as a public institution in 1951. The 1,000-acre campus includes 118 structures; 10 miles of paved roads; a dedicated water and sewer system; and extensive collections that require a specialized preservation environment, creating complex control and sustainability challenges for Winterthur’s Facilities Director John Castle and his staff.

A closer view shows the damage to the wooden substrate and lacquer coating caused by unstable environmental conditions.

A closer view shows the damage to the wooden substrate and lacquer coating caused by unstable environmental conditions. PHOTO: Jim Schneck, courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

The core museum complex consists of three interconnected buildings constructed at different times primarily during the 20th century: the Galleries with 35,000 square feet of displays; the Museum with 175 rooms containing distinctive architectural features and furnished with approximately 85,000 objects; and the Research Building, which houses the Winterthur Library and extensive conservation, research and education facilities. Winterthur’s collection spans more than two centuries of American decorative arts and contains some of the most important pieces of American furniture and fine art, including a set of six matching tankards by Paul Revere, the standing portrait of George Washington at Verplank Point by John Trumbull and the finest high-style American Chippendale furniture. The independent research library contains more than 90,000 volumes and 1 million manuscripts and images related to American history, technology, decorative arts and architecture.

Winterthur’s facilities staff working with conservators had undertaken several efforts during the last decade to develop energy-saving protocols but was consistently frustrated by the inability of monitoring systems to provide reliable real-time environmental information that would ensure collection safety while conserving energy. A unique team of engineers, facility and energy managers, collection conservators and preservation environment consultants had to come together and learn each other’s languages to move toward a common goal. Ultimately, they created a solution that resulted in a 20 percent energy reduction and led to Winterthur receiving the prestigious Corporate Energy Manager of the Year Award from the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers

Expert Collaboration

Winterthur’s core buildings were the primary focus of the energy-conservation project. PHOTO: AeroPhoto, courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Winterthur’s core buildings were the primary focus of the energy-conservation project. PHOTO: AeroPhoto, courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Winterthur’s collections require a stable environment that controls temperature and relative humidity within fairly narrow parameters. The complex physical plant and inadequate monitoring and control systems challenged the mechanical equipment’s ability to provide adequate environmental control and required massive amounts of energy that strained the institutional budget and gave Winterthur a significant carbon footprint.

The mechanical infrastructure includes a central steam plant, two central chilled-water plants, multiple high- and low-pressure air-handling units, hundreds of induction units, multiple fan coils and many pumps. These systems are tied together through a network of false walls, pipe chases, tunnels and hidden mechanical alcoves previously operated by three obsolete pneumatic controllers that could not communicate with each other. It is a complex system to which many undocumented and often counterproductive changes and adjustments have been made during many decades.

In early 2012, Castle initiated a comprehensive audit of the HVAC system, contracting with the Warrington, Pa., office of Limbach Engineering & Design Services, which already provided backend maintenance services for the system and was familiar with its issues. Castle shared Limbach Engineering & Design Services’ detailed report with Lois Olcott Price, director of conservation, an advocate for a more stable and sustainable collection environment. The recommended mechanical upgrades were fairly straightforward, ranging from boiler-burner and air-handler control upgrades to variable-frequency-drive installation. However, the monitoring and system control issues required radically new thinking.

The heart of the recommendations, therefore, was installation of a unified web-based system that monitored and controlled every fan, valve, motor, damper, air handler, boiler and chiller in the system, allowing the entire mechanical system to be monitored and adjusted from any place and using any device with Internet access. The web-based Building Automation System was developed by Richmond, Va.-based Tridium on the open-source Niagara framework.

Unstable environmental conditions caused the split in the top of a lacquer table brought to the U.S. in the early 19th century during the height of the China trade. The table currently is undergoing conservation treatment. PHOTO: Jim Schneck, courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Unstable environmental conditions caused the split in the top of a lacquer table brought to the U.S. in the early 19th century during the height of the China trade. The table currently is undergoing conservation treatment. PHOTO: Jim Schneck, courtesy Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Although reasonably confident in Limbach Engineering & Design Services’ findings and recommendations, Winterthur enlisted James Reilly of the Rochester, N.Y.-based Image Permanence Institute (IPI), which provides cultural institutions, preservation scientists, and consumer preservation industries with research, publications and tools to preserve image collections and material culture, and Peter Herzog of St. Paul, Minn.-based Herzog/Wheeler Associates, which is an energy consultancy, to review the proposal and meet with Limbach Engineering & Design Services and Winterthur’s facilities and conservation staff.

Reilly, who often partners with Herzog, has become a leading consultant for cultural heritage institutions working on energy and sustainability projects. Research at IPI has led to a much better understanding of the environmental needs and tolerances of collection materials; explored the ability of structures under favorable weather conditions to buffer the environment without the intervention of HVAC systems; and developed tools, such as e-Climate Notebook, that help quantify the response of objects to different conditions and balance that with reduced energy consumption that will not compromise collection preservation. Reilly and Herzog raised some useful questions and made a game-changing suggestion: Why not create an interface that would automatically populate e-Climate Notebook with data gathered by the web-based control system?

About the Author

Lois Olcott Price and John W. Castle
Lois Olcott Price is the Charles F. Hummel Director of Conservation at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Wilmington, Del., where she pursues issues related to sustainable preservation environments and more. John W. Castle, P.E., is director of Facilities at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Wilmington, Del. Under his leadership, Winterthur implemented 33 facilities improvement measures that helped it achieve the Corporate Energy Manager of the Year Award from the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers.

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