Do you have standard practices to ‘winterize’ your collections, properties, or sites? How do you mitigate risks to your collections when a blizzard is forecast? Do you have tips to share for the upcoming season that might help others?

Apropos of the season, we recently asked the COSTEP MA network those questions. Thanks to everyone who submitted responses! The resources we found are comprehensive and broadly applicable. Hopefully they help you in your collections management practices this Winter.

Please feel free to share the information from this page with your administration as well as colleagues from your buildings, facilities, and maintenance staff. The costs associated with preparation are far lower than those associated with disaster recovery!

From “Hibernation — Not Just for Bears” webinar slides (Haavik and Chalfant, 2016)


Ensuring a stable and protective building, whether the structure is historic or modern, is of paramount importance for winter in the Northeast! One of our Executive Board Members from Historic New England, Ben Haavik, shared a webinar he and a colleague delivered in 2016, Hibernation – Not Just for Bears: Putting your house museum “to bed” for the season, hosted by the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation’s Connecting to Collections Care Program (FAIC/C2CC) and the New England Museum Association (NEMA). Thanks Ben, there’s some excellent info available here!

A short summary of their approach is as follows (but please don’t forget to check out the webinar recording! The video (AdobeConnect/YouTube), slides, and handouts are very informative!):

  • inspect and assess sites and structures
  • clean gutters
  • secure openings
  • secure outdoor art and objects
  • maintain active environmental systems or shut down systems/components not in seasonal use
  • have plans for snow removal (don’t forget to consider potential negative impacts from careless plowing)

We were pointed to additional resources from the Museums Association of Saskatchewan: “Steps for Safely Closing your Seasonal Museum for Winter“(which mostly overlaps with the webinar mentioned above, but with some more mention of security and insurance issues), and “Winter Preparations for your Site,” which shares the following helpful checklist:

And as winter turns to spring, snowmelt and rainfall could produce conditions susceptible to flooding. A respondent from the Cultural Stewardship Program of the Association of Manitoba Museums provided us with tips to mitigate flooding risks:

  • Check the drainage system (storm sewer) on your street and if it is blocked, report the condition to the authority or try to unblock the sewer. If you live in a rural area, check culverts and other waterways and remove any blockages if it is safe to do so.
  • If your museum is not yet open, or has buildings still closed up, check them for water infiltration.
  • Make sure that sump pumps are working properly. Consider installing a battery operated back-up pump in the event of a power failure, and make sure that batteries are fully charged.
  • Keep eavestroughs clear of debris to help drain melting snow and prevent ice from backing up under the shingles. Ensure down spouts are draining water away from the foundation.
  • Check the basement for water on a regular basis, especially in times of heavy rain. Consider elevating artifacts off the basement floor to prevent possible water damage or move them to the upper floors of the museum.
  • Remove snow piled up in window wells or against the side of your museum. Make sure melting snow and ice has a clear path away from the foundation.

Outdoor Ornaments and Statuary

A conservator recommended information from the pages of sculpture dealer Garden Traditions. Their “Care and Maintenance” page provides very good advice (excerpted below) and, if you are interested in their weather-resistant object covers, they offer Weatherbags specifically for Winter.

  • All urns, birdbaths, fountains and planters should be emptied of soil and water before the first winter frost and covered and/or tipped over to prevent the build-up of damaging snow and ice. Planted containers are more at risk if the reservoir is filled with dirt. Water can still enter, collect, freeze and thaw. Portable components, such as the tops of birdbaths, can be removed altogether and stored indoors….
  • If your garden ornament is portable, we recommend taking it indoors in winter.
  • Before the first hard frost, it is useful to raise your garden ornaments off the bare soil/grass to avoid their freezing to the ground. This can be accomplished as a temporary measure with bricks or blocks of wood.
  • For all heavier statuary we recommend installing permanent cement footings in the ground. Footings provide a more level surface than bare ground, giving extra stability to your piece.
From “Hibernation — Not Just for Bears” webinar slides (Haavik and Chalfant, 2016)

Indoor Collections Spaces

Let’s not forget about all of our indoor collections! The Hibernation webinar and the Museums Association of Saskatchewan Winter checklist previously mentioned actually also include some helpful approaches to prepare collections and collections areas. We were also pointed to the Canadian Conservation Institute’s page Agent of Deterioration: Water, created by David Tremain. Among all these resources, there’s two big recurring themes: 1. prepare, and then 2. assess.

Seasonal preparations include moving collections off the floor and out of areas known to be damp; moving collections away from walls, pipes, chimneys, windows; and covering shelving and objects with polypropylene plastic, especially if a storm is approaching. The ‘Strategies for storage and display areas’ section from CCI also includes the following advice:

  • Avoid displaying, storing, or examining objects…in the basement or attic; or under pipes, air conditioners, or other sources of water. – If storage under pipes is unavoidable, try to position shelving in between pipes.
  • Ensure pipes are well-insulated against freezing in winter.
  • Avoid: placing shelving or objects against walls because water from above may run down the walls
  • Avoid: placing objects on or against uninsulated exterior walls or near windows because there is the potential for damage from leaks or condensation.

It’s important to periodically assess how well everything’s holding up, especially after heavy storms. Are you seeing any increased pest activity? Are your environmental set points being met, and everything running smoothly with your HVAC? Are you seeing any water in new places? Any new leaks in the building envelope? Sometimes leaks can be hard to find out exactly where they’re springing from – so it’s helpful to know beforehand who to call for help should that arise.

One of our respondents shared a relevant story: a few winters ago, after some time of sustained heavy winds, the temperature dropped to the coldest of the season. An interior water pipe burst overnight, flooding the mixed-use (event/collection) spaces below until staff and vendors could get to the building. The water damage was extensive. The heavy winds from the previous week had caused damage to the building envelope, which eventually led to freezing air entering the interior spaces and bursting the water pipe. If possible, try to identify, assess, and fix potential problems with the building envelope so they don’t cause larger disasters.

Connect with Emergency Response Resources and Professionals

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), represented on COSTEP MA’s Executive Board by Ben Hiltunen, provides helpful content for the season. Winter Storm Safety Tips outline good individual (including some institutional) preparedness practices before, during, and after Winter storms.

One of the most important recommendations is to be aware of forthcoming storms and impending emergencies. MEMA has advice to “Be Informed and Receive Emergency Alerts.” The National Weather Service (NWS) covers Massachusetts from two locations and both have active social media accounts. If you’re located in Western Mass, the Albany office will cover your area; the Boston/Norton office covers Central and Eastern Mass, including the Cape and Islands.

There are also many Federal resources online that might be valuable, though they tend to focus on personal preparedness. Here are a few:

Thanks again to everyone who shared tips and resources! Planning, preparation, and periodic assessment to your sites, both exterior and interior, will help you get ahead of harsh winter conditions.

Finally, if you’d like to see the info above in a nice PDF, take a look at Winterizing Historic Buildings | Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts ( (also embedded below). It was compiled and published by the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts.

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