Putting the house to bed
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Ever wondered why some of our houses shut for the winter, and what happens behind those closed doors?
Each year thousands of visitors enjoy trips to the many of our houses, which have been lovingly preserved to reflect their past and our heritage. However, keeping the houses in such great condition is a challenge, and the winter offers the perfect opportunity to address the many conservation issues that arise throughout the year.
Why do we have to shut the doors?
The environments within our historic houses is closely monitored, as high humidities cause mould and encourage insect pests such as woodworm and death-watch beetle. We use low temperatures (on average 5 degrees above outside temperatures) to reduce humidity to safe levels, because installing the equipment needed for combined heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems can damage our historic buildings. If our places were to be open throughout the winter period, the heating used to make the buildings comfortable for visitors would tip the fine balance of humidity control with devastating effects on fragile materials such as wood (causing shrinkage) and delicate textiles.
Light is one of the most damaging elements that conservators have to manage when preserving a house for the public. We have a carefully planned light budget, which is calculated according to the light sensitivity of a variety of surfaces. To have the properties open all year round would seriously affect the amount of exposure that the vulnerable items receive, and therefore put them at further risk of damage.
What do we do while the doors are shut?
- Checking and cleaning
While the doors are shut to the public, the conservators are hard at work. One of the biggest tasks is removing the dust that has accumulated during the open season. If the dust is left, it can become cemented in place - and thus a huge problem to remove. The closed period also offers the perfect opportunity for taking a closer look at the condition of the buildings and contents. Conservators need time to look carefully for signs of general deterioration or insect damage, to see if any treatment needs to be planned or action taken to prevent further costly damage.
- Carrying out important project work
The other huge advantage of having the doors shut for a long period over winter, is that it provides a sizable amount of time for larger projects to be undertaken. These are typically rewiring and building conservation work that affect large areas of the building that cannot easily be carried out whilst visitors are being admitted to the property. Nevertheless we are always looking for ways to make this work accessible to and safe for visitors - so look out for opportunities to visit behind the scenes.