Sustainable Buildings: Reducing Energy & Carbon Costs in Culture (Recording + Highlights)

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This week on ArtEvolve we were joined by Keith Esarey, a mechanical engineer who has worked with museums to reduce energy use in myriad ways, and Sam Anderson, an architect whose practice focuses on museum, library & archive projects. We discussed how art institutions can save energy, carbon, and money without huge financial cost.


How can energy be reduced in our buildings?

  • Building new mechanical systems (expensive and disruptive)
  • Replacing elements of the existing system (less invasive but can still be costly and disruptive)
  • Adding insulation (not feasible in all types of building, can also be expensive)
  • Widening the range of allowable temperature and relative humidity = adjusting the thermostat.


Just because HVAC systems tend to be designed for tight climate control doesn’t mean they can’t be adjusted easily. Over the last seven years, Sam and Keith have been testing how slightly wider ranges for allowable relative humidity and temperature can have a significant impact on energy consumption.

Their models are based on actual museums:
– older museum, built pre-1930 with thick masonry walls and no insulation.
– newer museum, built post-1980 with thinner walls and an insulation and vapor barrier.

Taking data from two existing buildings, they created models for four geographic locations (St Louis, New York, London, and Mexico City) and applied three different parameters:


TemperatureRelative Humidity

70°F +/- 1°F    21°C +/- 0.5°C


50% (+/- 2%)
Condition 1Winter:
68°F +/- 1°F    20°C +/- 0.5°CSummer:
72°F +/- 1°F   22°C +/- 0.5°C
Winter RH:
40-45%Summer RH:
Condition 2Winter:
68°F +/- 2°F    20°C +/- 1°CSummer:
74°F +/- 2°F   23°C +/- 1°C
Winter RH:
40-50%Summer RH:


Widening the allowable temperature and relative humidity ranges, with different ranges for summer and winter (condition 1 = seasonal reset), has the most significant energy saving. Adjusting those conditions further (condition 2) still results in energy savings, just to a lesser degree. The greatest energy savings are, perhaps unsurprisingly, made in summer.

According to the study, museums could save around 24-35% on energy costs just by making these minor adjustments to temperature and humidity. Considering that, by some estimates, a museum uses 8-9 times as much energy as a similar sized office building, these figures represent a not insignificant monetary saving for museums.



Why isn’t everyone doing this?


Green practices that outline how museums can care for artworks without excessive use of energy and resources already exist, but they are not being implemented. The BIZOT Green Protocol was launched in 2015 but the number of organizations that actually use it is miniscule.

We hope that by talking about the success stories and showing evidence from studies such as this one, that more and more organizations will have the confidence to relax their climate controls and save energy and carbon.

If you’d like to be involved in a pilot project between Sam, Keith, and Articheck that offers evidence-based support to organizations wishing to adopt greener, more relaxed climate protocols, please get in touch!



Thank you to our guest speakers Keith Esarey of McClure Engineering and Sam Anderson, of Samuel Anderson Architects.