Home and case humidity and winter

November 19, 2018, 7:14 AM · Hello everybody,

I live in a flat where is impossible to hold down the humidity in the winter time. We have between 70 - 85% (sometimes over 90 for a shorter period of time). I bought hygrometer into my case (I will do the calibration - I know how to do it).

During this time, I have problems with tuning and worst sound. I am thinking about using silicagel in the case to decrease humidity a little bit. I just go to play on the lessons once a week. And I play at home between 1 - 3 hours a day (maybe less, sometimes more at weekend).

Do you think silicagel is a good solution? I would like to keep my violin in better humidity. Is it not bad to put violin out into higher humidity for avg 2 hrs a day? When I hope in case with silicagel I can manage around 60% or 65%?

I think that most of the time is good to have lower than whole winter in 80%.

Thanks for opinions.

Replies (34)

November 19, 2018, 10:54 AM · Be careful about that. You think it's more humid, but it's not. In cold weather the steam turns into dew easier, hence the humid sensation. But the absolute environmental humidity is often lower. Biggest problem in winter is dryness of the heated houses.
So if your violin comes from the cold to your heated place, the air inside gets suddenly dry and it will suck moisture from the wood.
In winter look out for dangers in extra dry storage places,rather than the opposite.
In all matters "humidity", your best tool is a plastic bag, regardless of the case you are using. The less humidity exchange between the violin and environment, the better.
Then again, I'll look forward David Burgess input. He is the real expert about this. My experience in humidity is as cigar collector.
November 19, 2018, 12:10 PM · I use a heated humidifier in my room to prevent nosebleeds in the winter due to the dry winter air in my region. Maybe try one of those? It could potentially save you a bit on your gas bill because it's electric, but I'm no expert.

For my oboe and English horn, I've got a humidty/temp-controlled double case and reed case that uses the D'addario humidipacks. They keep my cases between 54%-60% humidity all year long. You could potentially use one of those in your violin case, but you'd need to find a space for it and probably make a little holder for it if you keep it out in the spot near your shoulder rest.

My violin case came with a little humistat that I use in the winter.

If I'm wrong about any of this, do let me know!

November 19, 2018, 12:11 PM · Carlos, thanks for the reply. Yes I know, the weather is my hobby :) but I am not specialist about wood and instruments moisture so I am looking forward to every advice. I am living in 300 year old very very very humid house. We have huge problems with high humidity, so in the winter (now is zero degrees Celsius), we have huge humidity, here in bedroom where I am now, is 22 degrees and 88% humidity, it is terrifying, we fight with it, but what we shall do, all houses with heating just in 2 from 5 rooms ...
November 19, 2018, 12:15 PM · Kristen Stadelmaier: thanks for the tips, I have a different problem, so high humidity, nosebleeds issues I have at a job where is around 20% RH and air-conditioned air. D'addario humidipacks sounds interesting, I have heard about them that can balance, reduce or increase, it would be fine, I am also looking for new case with more space.

But our situation at home is annoying, when temperature decreases and sun hours are so rare humidity in our flat goes up, we are fighting fungi in corridor and toilet ... still absolutely wet windows etc

November 19, 2018, 12:17 PM · And I just add information, it is 100 years old violin around 3000usd price
November 19, 2018, 12:47 PM · If you can cut down humidity to 70% right before your practice time and keep your violin around the same, or bit less, your violin will be ok. Extremes aside, what is problematic are huge differences in temperature and humidity. For example, if you take your violin for a chamber music session at your friend's house with central heating and humidity at 25%.
November 19, 2018, 1:24 PM · Rocky: yes that can be a huge problem. It is clear to me that the worst are great changes. But I would like to keep my violin in a little bit better humidity when it is "sleeping". Because humidity in the case and around is going to be equal, I think that will be possible to hold little less in the storage. Of course, I can shortly decrease room humidity by opening windows, not for long, I have a 2 years old daughter and it is freezing almost. And I think and hope, that holding the violin case humidity at 60%, while around is 70-80% during that few winter months, but I don't know the better solution. Or should I let it be?
Edited: November 19, 2018, 5:07 PM · I see only 2 solution: a room dehumidifier, or humidipacks. I have a veggy bag full of silica capsules in my case (saved from medication bottles). I don't find it supper effective, lowering my case by a few rH units only, from 62 down to maybe 56, but that's all I need. I dry them out once in a while. The Boveda humidipack system (also sold under the D'addario label) would most likely work better for you and works both ways.
November 19, 2018, 5:25 PM · Oh, sorry, I read the original post too fast and misunderstood! I'd say a dehumidifier, then, or the humidipacks, like Roger says! I'd never thought about the scilia packs; that's a great idea!
November 19, 2018, 5:38 PM · Martin, I'd be interested in knowing what you are doing to produce such a high indoor humidity in the winter. As Carlos mentioned, typically one has the opposite problem when outdoor temperatures get low.

Are you hanging clothes do dry indoors? Do you have water leaks which you have not yet detected? Are you using non-vented combustion heaters? (Water vapor is one of the products of burning fuel)

November 20, 2018, 8:28 AM · Roger St-Pierre: thanks for tip I will look at that, I thought about silica gel as a quick and easy solution, at least slowing down humidity penetration.

Kristen Stadelmaier: It is okay Kirsten thanks for the advice. I think silica gel can be useful sometimes, but maybe for my hard situation it needs a more radical solution

David Burgess: David, my answer is quite simple. You are surprised, but few people in my country are. Almost anyone knows someone with these issues. We have brick-built houses with very bad or no insulation and wet insulation, with the poor facade. I am living in a house where the first floor is made from stone, 300 years old, our level (2nd) is built in the era of communism (until 1989 - I will not be boring with the history of my country). And in this era people made their own advanced levels or houses with "stolen" and shitty materials.

Few of my colleagues at the job has the same issues and we are giving tips to each other. Now the winter is coming (haha), and few months is rainy with snow, few degrees Celsius, still total wet. Water is the overall house and goes through the walls. Every dehumidifier is an overwhelming job because you are making air dryer but the walls release another moisture. Electricity needs to be well insulated when we had an issue with the cable, the guy put it out from the wall and the water was dripping from it.

The house needs reconstruction, but it is not ours, as soon as we will have a second child we move somewhere else. But I was living in 4 places in Prague, the Czech Republic during my life what was not panel houses or modern houses, in 2 of them were humidity issues, it is quite normal in my country.

Now it is still rainy and wet, October, November are bad. January and February and sometimes part of the march are good because of freezing temperatures (low humidity), then two bad months .... etc.

So that are the issues of some people in post-communistic former Czechoslovakia :D.

And I am trying to make living little bit better for my violin :)

November 20, 2018, 8:49 AM · OK, it sounds like the house has water infiltration issues. Thanks for explaining. I'll give it some more thought.
November 20, 2018, 9:32 AM · Your situation is challenging... Almost an engineering problem, considering limited resources.
There are several small steps but in you very particular circumstances I would use a shaped, as small as possible, violin case, and not made in wood. You can't dry the inside of the case. As soon as you open it, it will suck the environmental moisture. But you can limit how much your violin wood will absorb by limiting the amount of air inside the case, and surrounding the violin with materials that don't absorb moisture. And of course, as air tight as possible.
Problem is that such cases offer bad thermal isolation.
Edited: November 20, 2018, 9:37 AM · I say this:
Your violin is much more resilient than you think. I just got back from a tour in Poland, and I was in all sorts of venues with all sorts of different climates—a hot, dry hotel, an even hotter coach, freezing cold churches at 90% humidity, and even outside. With gut strings. My violin was fine and hardly even went out of tune.

If your instrument is really, reeaally old (150 years plus), then you should start to worry. For now, just make sure the post isn't too tight and that the neck angle is good.

Edited: November 20, 2018, 1:09 PM · At my day job as a BAS tech. we humidify constantly and monitor it. One building houses over 50 Steinway grand pianos. They get nervous if the humidity gets too low. 60% is a goal we usually shoot for. It is common though to have less than 50% using commercial humidifiers all winter here.

David Burgess probably knows more specifically about what a violin can safely handle. I wouldn't think 70% would be bad if there weren't large fluctuations back and forth. 50/60% I would guess to be better.

If it were me I might attempt to make a small insulated chamber to keep the violin or violins in and introduce heat into it with a small fan running at one side pulling air over electric heat elements from the other side through small openings in the box controlled by a PID controller that could control humidity and temperature to remove moisture out of the air, then cycle off when the set point is reached.
That isn't a fast easy solution. Would take some effort and a little money to do.Not a lot though.

Edited: November 21, 2018, 3:15 AM · Timothy, that isn't a bad idea. To lower the relative humidity from 80 to 60 percent (which I like to use as an upper limit with violins), the temperature would need to be raised from 70F to about 80 F.

To keep things as simple as possible, I might use a small light bulb as the heat source, starting with a very low wattage bulb, and increasing the wattage by small increments as needed to arrive at the 10 degree temperature increase. Doing it this way would avoid the complications of a thermostat, and the risk that a thermostat might fail, taking the temperature too high.

The light bulb would need to have a shield between it and the violin, because the goal is to have it heat the air in the chamber, not the violin. You wouldn't want some parts of the violin to get hotter due to direct radiation from the light bulb.

For the chamber, just a plywood box should do it.

November 20, 2018, 11:45 PM · Timothy and David, ha that is not a bad idea. I am Unix system programmer and I was used to programming a controlling systems, my hobby is to play with microchips programming (Atmel family etc) and I can do this at home, I have a few projects especially for weather monitoring made by me from scratch, but I did not have an idea to do this, maybe for a lack of space in our flat, we are in a very small place with child, but I think there can be possible places :) We have 3 violins at home (I have two and my wife has one). But this is a very long time project, I don't have a lot of spare time, and if I have one, I will spend it with my daughter or playing the violin :) So it is little bit long-term run.
November 20, 2018, 11:46 PM · Cotton Mather: I hope for it, because high humidity is scaring me more and more
November 20, 2018, 11:48 PM · Carlos D'Agulleiro: Yes it is, first I will try (as recommended) D'Addario two way pouches and try to isolate my case and stop absorbing new moisture from surrounding air. The worst thing is that it is great humidity but just for a few months. In the summer time we have a great 60% almost all the summer, sometimes near 50%.
November 21, 2018, 12:52 AM · Well, after all I agree with Cotton Mather very much. Like all specialized forums, we have a flair for the snobbism and seems like whatever isn't ideal, it's a disaster and unacceptable.
You live in a country that has a long history of violin making and playing, before any electricity and dehumidification, and most violins survived. It's not a reason to be careless, but neither it is to over-worry.
November 21, 2018, 2:53 AM · Carlos, yes I agree too, but it is maybe normal human nature to be overprotective or obsessed with hobbies. My country has a beautiful violin tradition, my luthier is, I think, 4th or 5th in the line of family craft and my violin is made here too.

We need to be careful but reasonably. I am not afraid about my guitars too much. I feel that is more robust and tolerant. Maybe it is not, Taylor guitars have a lot of information about the theme.

A part of my life I was a full-time rock musician and travel with the band all around. I was playing mostly on electric guitars but have 2 acoustic with me (one Fender acoustic jumbo guitar and one nylon stringed classical guitar). I am taking care of my instruments (I have 7 electric guitars and this 2 acoustic). But during travelling from gig to gig it is almost impossible to maintain proper conditions. Travelling during winters, summers from music fests in cars, caravans etc, sleeping from cheap hotels to tents...

After 15 and 22 years I own these acoustic guitars and they are perfect.

I will try to lower humidity in my case (using humidipak) at first, just stop to grow so high so tuning is very hard and I will control it. The best practise is to play often, to take the instrument to fresh air and check it, tune it and play :)

November 21, 2018, 6:47 AM · Martin, I cannot believe that during winter in central Europe you could possibly have humidity 70-85% at home. In climatic zones where one needs to heat up the apartment during winter is a too low humidity level a big problem in fact. During winter the humidity drops down significantly compared to summer. If you had a 85 % humidity during winter, you would have to live at a swimming pool.

I recommend buying a better hygrometer. Hygrometers are usually much less accurate than, for example, thermometers and those which are built in violin cases are usually there only as a decoration.

Edited: November 21, 2018, 7:31 AM · Robert Bauza: Hi Robert, I have 8 hygrometers, I am also in making free weather station measurement, I can create and calibrate my own hygrometers so believe me :) We have gas heating in 2 from 5 rooms, old house with wet walls.

I am a little bit obsessed by monitoring climate etc :-) I am making graphs statistic etc.

Yes we are heating at home, but again, whole today was raining outside, and the temperature is around 5 C, our windows (we have wooden 2 level windows, 80 years old - almost as my violin), are running with condensed water on it, believe me or not, it is quite usual problem with poor old houses that needs reconstruction, if You will have journey here, people say I am making a good tea, You are welcome to visit :-).

P.S. On the corridors between flats, the walls needs new color every 2 - 3 years, now at winter time it fells down on many places due to wettnes, you can see the "maps" on them made by leaking water.

November 21, 2018, 8:25 AM · Here's something that's fun to play with, and informative. By moving the temperature and humidity sliders, it will give rough assessments for speed of natural aging, and risk of mechanical damage, mold, and metal corrosion (targeted at preservation of collection items, like in museums and libraries).

http://www.dpcalc.org/

November 21, 2018, 10:07 AM · @Martin, you and I have something in common for certain! I built my own weather station when I was in middle school (including anemometer - not easy! took much experimentation) and had a graph of high and low daily temperature observation for two years stretching across the wall of my room!

Indoor humidity in homes in Europe can be a big issue, I know from my own experience, it is impossible to heat the northeast corner of my home and mildew on the walls requires special paint to stop it.

November 21, 2018, 3:51 PM · The gas heating is contributing to the high humidity if the burner is inside the room. I once left my flat with the gas stove on, and when I returned 5 hours later the wallpaper in the kitchen was soaking wet.
Edited: November 21, 2018, 8:30 PM · "It's not a reason to be careless, but neither it is to over-worry."

I agree, as I would worry much more about dryness than humidity, but humidity has a tendency to kill overtones, which isn't all that desirable. I also think, don't ask why, that the risk of wood splitting is greater from dryness than dampness.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that wood expands with dampness, hence compressing the fibers from their original state, whereas with dryness, it contracts, hence leading to separation.

November 22, 2018, 2:38 AM · David Burgess: Thanks David, that is so cool :-)

Dimitri Musafia: That is cool :) this is a lot of fun. Yeah, the anemometer is a lot of trouble and tuning. I love to make a system with modules and synchronized with a central device for logging graph making etc. Every time I think about it, I have an idea of some new things, so it is never ending hobby and fascination (as violin :)).

Yes, that is exactly what I know, humidity and temperature in old European houses are scary sometimes. We have a corner which is also the outer corner of the house, is situated on the north and is still wet, just only in summer without rain begins to dry.

Bo Pontoppidan: yes, it is little bit issue, but this heating is ventilated outside through the chimney, in our country is called "wawky", from company I think, I don't know english name, but is common in our country and maybe in Europe. It has direct ventilation, but yes, it is increasing humidity little bit too. Your experience is also typical to these heatings.

Roger St-Pierre: Yes that is right, I feel it like I am less scared from high humidity but low scares me much more, but low humidity is not my issue these days.

Edited: November 22, 2018, 5:01 AM · Bo Pontopiddan is very right pointing the gas burners. It is not a matter of ventilation of gas, but of the burners chemical reaction (C3H8 + 5 O2 -> 3 CO2 + 4 H2O + Heat). 4 burners all day long, they can add to a lot of water.
Same reaction as in the movie/book "The martian".
If you want to have a dry room, I recommend an electric heater with fan. Even a small portable one. I used to live in an old house in Spain that had such humidity in winter as the one you describe. It was disgusting going to bed for it felt wet and cold. One little heater with fan in the room and the bedroom felt heavenly dry. But this, is for your comfort. I don't think that the violin is going to suffer too much the mumidity you describe for just a couple of months.
November 22, 2018, 5:55 AM · Carlos D'Agulleiro: hmm, that makes sense, I love the book/movie and I know physics but less chemistry, you are right. Even in our flat where humidity was high even when heaters were turned off, but humidity is highest where heaters are not, we have 2 rooms, 1 kitchen, corridor, toilet and bathroom, the heaters are in kitchen and 1 room, wet is worst at corridor, toilet, than bathroom and kitchen (due to cooking also).

It starts with weather, but this holds it up during winter.

Edited: November 24, 2018, 6:13 AM · @David Burgress, I agree keeping the design the most simple possible would cut down on problems. It wouldn't take much heat and it would be easy to build it. I seen a PID that does both temperature and humidity for low price on ebay. If making one I would have some redundancy built in to it, fail to no heat,alarms or all of the above. Getting much more complex are the scientific units that maintain exact temp/humidity. They are very expensive
and considered a specialty scientific item. I had in mind a dumbed down version of it.
@ Martin, What you do sounds very interesting! I'm sure you could do most anything you set you mind to do.

You might get a kick out of this, here are a few photos I pulled from one of 7 units in the music building. There is so much programming involved in one of these that I can only show a very small part of it. These units are big enough for several men to walk in. Big as small buses.

ahu-7

logic

November 24, 2018, 3:01 PM · When you say "gas heating" do you mean the gas is heating a glowing panel inside the room, or do you mean you have a gas boiler that runs radiators in the room?

If it's a boiler with radiators then of course all the water vapour goes out of the flue (which might be what translates as "wawky"...)

November 24, 2018, 4:26 PM · The light bulb chamber sounds like a cool solution, but electric space heaters may spread the wealth a little further. (Not without cost, sadly...)
November 26, 2018, 7:09 AM · Gas heaters used to be ventilated into a chimney. Cooking on gas without a kitchen extractor hood is much worse.

As for the humidity differences, it is obvious, that the humidity does concentrate in cooler parts of the apartment, since we are speaking about relative humidity, not the absolute amount of water dissolved in a cubic meter of the air. If you are living in such a wet apartment, a device such a this one https://www.amazon.co.uk/Rohnson-R-9410-Dehumidifiers-Plastic-Metal/dp/B07DBZRLSR can solve your trouble. It does work on air condition principle. Although there is some (slight) noise and electricity consumption, such dehumidifiers are very eficient.


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