One Step for Preservation
Let's just suppose that your roof has collapsed in a thunderstorm and all your family treasures are wet.
Q: What should you do?
Hurricanes and floods threaten not only homes, but treasured possessions: family heirlooms, photos, and other keepsakes. Even if they are completely soaked, they can probably still be saved if they are not contaminated with sewage or chemicals.
The Heritage Emergency National Task Force, a coalition of 40 national organizations and federal agencies including FEMA, offers these basic guidelines from professional conservators:
* Safety First! With any disaster there may be health risks. Wear long sleeves, sturdy shoes, and plastic or rubber gloves during cleanup. Protective gear such as goggles and a fitted face mask is recommended if there is mold.
* Prevent Mold. Mold can form within 48 hours so you will need to work fast. The goal is to reduce the humidity and temperature around your treasures as you proceed to clean and dry them.
* Air-Dry. Gentle air-drying is best for all your treasured belongings—indoors, if possible. Hair dryers, irons, ovens, and prolonged exposure to sunlight will do irreversible damage. Increase good indoor airflow with fans, open windows, air conditioners, and dehumidifiers.
* Handle with Care. Use great caution in handling your heirlooms, which can be especially fragile when wet. Separate damp materials: remove the contents from drawers; take photographs out of damp albums; remove paintings and prints from frames; place paper towels between the pages of wet books.
* Clean Gently. Loosen dirt and debris on fragile objects gently with soft brushes and cloths. Avoid rubbing, which can grind in dirt.
* Salvage Photos. Clean photographs by rinsing them carefully in clean water. Air-dry photos on a plastic screen or paper towel, or by hanging them by the corner with plastic clothespins. Don’t let the image come into contact with other surfaces as it dries.
* Prioritize. You may not be able to save everything, so focus on what’s most important to you, whether for historic, monetary, or sentimental reasons.
* Can’t Do It All? Damp objects and items that cannot be dealt with immediately should be put in open, unsealed boxes or bags. Photos, papers, books, and textiles should be frozen if you can’t get them dry within 48 hours.
* Call in a Pro. If a precious item is badly damaged, a conservator may be able to help. Be sure to collect broken pieces. Set your treasure aside in a well-ventilated room until you find professional help.
One way to locate a conservator is to contact the American Institute for Conservation. You'll need to narrow down the type or format of the object(s) or documents for which you need a conservator to use the "Find A Conservator" database.
Heritage Preservation has posted several how-to videos on their website which clearly show appropriate recovery techniques. Why not take a few minutes - perhaps as your "1 Step for Preservation" on MayDay, Sunday, May 1st - and learn how to cope when damage happens?
Coping with Water Damage (10 minutes) It takes a few minutes to load. This video is designed for professional cultural heritage staff. You, as a homeowner, may not have all the equipment mentioned but adapt what you learn to your situation. Always place your physical safety at your highest priority.
If you happen to own an historic property, you may find the Disaster Response resources listed by the National Trust for Heritage Preservation helpful.