This grand piano was in Ford’s Theater the night President Lincoln was shot. It is now housed in the humidity-controlled environment of the Piano Technicians Guild’s Piano Museum in Kansas City, Kan.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Do any of your customers own pianos? To stay in tune and well regulated, these fine instruments need proper humidity and temperature control. Humidity in particular can affect the integrity and life-span of the instrument.

That’s why the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) had special humidity-control equipment in-stalled in its Piano Museum. The guild’s 14,000-square-foot building houses a warehouse, a 50-seat theater-style classroom, 2,250-square-foot hall (for recitals, club meetings, and receptions), boardroom, a large food-prep area, and a full-size loading dock.

The museum holds several rare antique instruments, including the piano that was at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot.

Piano Technicians Guild Executive Director Barbara Cassaday.

Humidity problems were be-coming apparent in the museum. According to Aprilaire communications manager Tom Ruse, guild executive director Barbara Cassaday was very concerned about humidity in the 2,200-square-foot museum.

“She showed me some piano keys where the felt had separated from the wooden hammers. There are a lot of antique instruments and parts.”

Installing contractor Mike Gross, owner of M.D. Repair, Oak Grove, Mo., worked on the project with cfm Distributors Inc., Kansas City, Mo.

“The museum is very cool,” said Tom Roberts, president of cfm Distributors. “Humidity control was a key part of the job.”


In addition to protecting its own precious instruments in the museum, the guild wanted to maintain proper humidity control for the instruments throughout the facility.

“The principal reason for the whole existence of the Piano Tuners Guild is that people do such a poor job of maintaining good conditions for their instruments, particularly the relative humidity in their homes,” said Roberts. PTG has plenty of consumer information about how pianos work and what affects the health of the instrument. The guild’s Website states the following regarding the importance of humidity control for piano care:

“Your piano is made primarily of wood, a versatile and beautiful material ideal for piano construction. However, being made of wood, your piano is greatly affected by humidity. Seasonal and even daily changes in humidity cause wood parts to swell and shrink, affecting tuning stability and touch. Extreme swings in humidity can eventually cause wood to crack and glue joints to fail.

“Other materials in your piano also are affected by changes in moisture content in the air. The many felt and leather parts in your piano’s action can change dimension, affecting regulation and friction, or stiffness of the touch. Very high humidity can even create condensation on metal parts such as strings, tuning pins, and hardware, eventually causing them to rust.

“Keeping the humidity level around your piano as constant as possible will help it stay in tune longer as well as slow such damage as soundboard cracks, loose tuning pins, and glue joint failures.”

An Aprilaire Model 1180 steam humidifier helps maintain a consistent 45-percent RH at the headquarters. (Photos courtesy of Aprilaire.)

According to Roberts, there was a two-and-a-half-week lead time on the new rooftop unit. The humidifiers were in stock.

The contractor installed a 25-ton York Millennium Series, cooling-only, ground-mounted rooftop unit and two commercial Aprilaire steam humidifiers.

The equipment needed to maintain 45 percent rh at all times during the heating season for the sake of the pianos, as well as for the occupants.

“Before the installation, the building was only maintaining 25 percent on a good day,” Roberts said. The building had needed dehumidification during summer, which necessitated the installation of the 25-ton cooling unit.

The steam units were tied into a control that turns the air-handling unit’s fan on in winter when there is a call for humidity.

Roberts described the installation as “a piece of cake” in spite of its complexity, and considering it was one of the first steam units the contractor had ever installed.

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Publication date:03/19/2007