Extreme instrument danger!
If you live in the area which is experiencing record cold, do what you can to keep the humidity up to a reasonable level.
Where I live, it is currently -18 F, and the outside humidity is 70%. That means that when this air is brought inside and heated to 70 F, the relative humidity inside will be below 2%.
Why does it matter? When we have cold conditions like this, it is followed by repair people getting a flood of crack repairs.
If you don't have proper humidification equipment (which you should), it will help slightly to put the instrument in a cooler place. For example, in a 50 degree room, the relative humidity will be 4% rather than 2%. That's still horrible, but better than nothing.
Tips from someone for whom this is standard fair:
Thank you for that David...
Thanks for this, David. Up here in Boston it's around -10 F - I'll be sure to keep this in mind.
Wow. I'd been keeping my violin outside on these -30° nights, and with blotting paper in the case as well to make sure it doesn't get too moist. With this new information in mind, I'll be sure to find a new place for it.
Thank god it's only been 25 degrees in Oklahoma.
I run an evaporative humidifier in the room my violin is stored in, and use Stretto humidifying packs in my case. I'd been using a Dampit, but took it out for a performance and decided that my violin doesn't need it in there for now. My hygrometer (the humidity gauge) says the humidity percentage is in the 40-50% range, which is pretty good I'd say - considering!
My model airplane fleet is kept in an insulated shed with sealed seams and door, double HVAC systems with humidifiers and dehumidifiers, each system completely separate from the other, even plugged in to two different circuits from the board. The shed is kept in a corner of a shop away from wind and water. Some of my planes are 50+ years old and still look good. They used to win antique R/C competitions when I played that game.
Even with a whole-house humidifier system that is installed next to my practice room, I'm still not getting a humidity level above 27% to 28% (with a house temperature of 70 degrees).
We have just had a dip to -30C (with windchill) in Toronto, while same parts of Canada went as low as -50C!
Excellent point and warning David. Where I live those temps along with very low humidity levels are common for our winters and prudent musicians have learned the big "pay now or pay later" cliché. Invest in adequate humidity control for your instruments or pay dearly later. Our summers can be just as bad with average humidity levels of 15 to 20%.
What can happen to a violin in low humidity? I guess I've been lucky--I did nothing to maintain humidity while I played through Chicago winters--and nothing happened to my violin.
I live in Denver, and we have humidity like this several times a year. Fortunately my whole house humidifier is up to the task, and I monitor humidity daily with devices calibrated by David himself.
Low humidity can crack a violin.
It was once common to get ribs shortened on old violins in the US. Central heating shrank top and bottom lengthwise, but the ribs stayed about the same size.
It's amazing how much simply keeping the violin in the case seems to help.
In the place we used to live, we had an underfloor heating - and a wooden floor. What a stupid idea! In winter the wood of the floor shrinked and huge gaps between the planks opened. Not only that it looked untidy, the extremely dried out wood seemed to absorb any moisture one would add! Even with a huge humidifier in the living room = practice room it was absolutely impossible to keep humidity above 35%. Without the humidifier it went down below 20% in winter, record was 12% but I'm not sure how exact my hygrometers are working in this range. The only good days were when the floor was wet mopped, but one cannot soak the floor on an everyday basis "only" to maintain a room climate healthy for violin and violinist. Yes, it's not only a problem for wooden objects, it isn't healthy at all for us humans as well.
Agreed. The case and materials can serve as a moisture reservoir and buffer, and that reservoir can be quickly depleted if the case is left open.
@Nuuska M. Since you have now moved I guess the floor heat issue wouldn't matter. I only wanted to say I think the floor heat or flooring must have been improperly installed in that case. Normally radiant heated floors are some of the very best heat because the floor is always warm and toasty. You don't need to set the temps as high because the warm floor makes it feel warmer. I am preparing to do a high mass radiant system in an addition. Called high mass because it's heated hydronic tubing poured in gypsum concrete. Sorry if I'm boring you, it's kinda my thing right now. Sorry you had such a bad experience with radiant floor heat.
Just to be a party pooper, here's a list of things that can happen due to low humidity: plate can crack, seams can open, fingerboard can detach, and of course pegs slip and strings unwind. Bridge dries out too, and if it's not kept perpendicular to the top plate by adjustment after tunings, the bridge can fall and crack. I have seen all this stuff happen to me and/or friends who think that their houseplants release enough humidity to sustain their violin/viola/cello. BTW, the hygrometer in your case is probably wrong, according to Mr. Burgess's excellent article on humidification:
Erin, agreed, as in an older thread on hygrometers, that on average most case mounted ones are inaccurate, but that is easily remediable by periodically buying one of the Boveda (or comparable) hygrometer calibration kits and recalibrating your hygrometer, as long as it is capable of being adjusted.
Timothy, it definitely wasn't installed perfectly, but I think this is another story. I believe the main issue was the combination with the wooden floor. David described how the wooden violin case can serve as a moisture reservoir and buffer, and so can any larger quantity of wood (like a floor) serve for a whole room. But when you expose this wood to a permanent heat drying process, it will absorb any moisture you will add via a humidifier. And a 40 square meter wooden floor can absorb some moisture, I'm telling you! One could see it, the largest gaps in the floor were about 5mm - and closed immediately after wet mopping. But opened again the very next day. So if you're going for a heated floor, cover it with stone or tiling, and you'll be fine.
I wanted to thank David Burgess for posting this reminder. David -18F? Now that's cold!
Mr. Smith: I am so glad you asked! NO! Never spray water at or in your violin or case.