Pianotech

  • 1.  Freezing pianos

    Posted 14 days ago
    I have a customer with a 7' Young Chang who is inquiring regarding the effects of leaving the piano in a house with NO heat during the winter.  Located in Oklahoma.  The only effects I can think of would be the possibility of condensation on the action centers and keypins. causing sluggish or sticking action.   What else should be considered?

    What remedies or precautions might I suggest?

    As always, thanks for all the great advice.
    --- Tim

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    Timothy Edwards
    Beckley WV
    740-517-7636
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  • 2.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 14 days ago

    I have to chime in.  The room with no climate control during a cold winter could get very dry or massively humid, knowing the far NE. You never know what you get there.  You'll may find soundboard separations or bridge separations/cracks, etc. Lots of buzzings.  The action will also have lots of issues, and then again, when it is reintroduced into a normal climate will come up with new issues, especially if warmed up too quickly.

    In other words, you're in for a world of hurt with this piano. Also how old is this Young Chang?  If early 90's Chinese made, the grave may have already been dug!

     

    Is there anyway to get any kind of stable warmth or stable 50% humidity around it (Dampp Chaser system) it?  This sounds like a nightmare.

     

    Paul






  • 3.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Posted 14 days ago
    Hi Tim,
    do you happen to know what the lowest temperature is in the winter there? And are the winters usually dry or humid?

    I work on pianos in the central and northern part of Alaska, and there is one that comes to mind that I service at a lodge in Denali National Park. It's a Farrand upright piano, about 100 years old. The piano is left in an unheated building for about 8 months out of the year. It's been left to freeze up every winter in extreme subzero temperatures, and to my astonishment it holds a tune quite well and hasn't had any action or soundboard problems despite decades of what I call "cryogenic storage."

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    Solomeia Kojin
    Fairbanks AK
    907-240-1702
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  • 4.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Posted 14 days ago
    Solomeia...wow just wow, that's a super interesting perspective  from some  real weather  conditions, I'm impressed ..
    www.snowpianos.com

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    Martin Snow
    South Burlington VT
    617-543-1030
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  • 5.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 14 days ago
    If the house has plumbing, it will have to have SOME heat, even as far south as Oklahoma.

    I have left pianos in unheated storage without much effect. The summer humidity was more of a problem. Alexander Brusilovsky is on this list and he has spoken about shipping pianos across Siberia in unheated boxcars with no damage.

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    John Pope
    University of Kentucky School of Music
    Lexington, KY
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  • 6.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12 days ago
    Adamant Music School is a wonderful summer-only, piano-only school in northern Vermont with many international participants.  We have 48 grand pianos, mostly S&S, including two concert grands.  It's a very humid environment with ponds and streams and waterfalls all over campus.  All of these instruments are in unheated buildings where the temps go down to -20 F in the winter.  The temperature changes come fairly gradually since they are indoors.  When I get back to these pianos in late spring they are exactly as I left them in September, as if the winter didn't count in their lifespans.

    When I first came to Adamant, some 25 years ago, they were in the habit of moving a few of the nicest, newest pianos to peoples homes for the winter.  The thought was that they'd be better off not freezing.  These pianos behaved very badly when they came back to AMS, and it took most of the summer to get their tuning and regulating stabilized under the prevailing humid conditions.  When we put an end to this shuttling, those pianos settled down again and behaved beautifully just like their mates in the inventory.

    Of the 48 pianos, there's one high-polish black Yamaha which has some crazing in the finish.  This predates my experience with Adamant (and that piano was one of the shuttled ones).  It doesn't seem to have worsened during my time with it.  Perhaps it was that way before it came to Adamant.  (Others may have something to say about finishes going through temperature changes.)

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    Tom McNeil, RPT
    Barre VT
    802-476-7072
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  • 7.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 14 days ago
    In addition to the mechanical and structural problems a piano might suffer, I believe the polyester finish will also be at risk. When the wood freezes and then warms up again, it will contract and expand at a greater rate than the polyester finish, will cause it to crack.

    I would definately recommend that the owner pay to store the piano in a climate controlled facility.

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    Willem "Wim" Blees, RPT
    St. Augustine, FL 32095
    Tnrwim@aol.com
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  • 8.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Member
    Posted 13 days ago
    I would be cautious about what you say because the effect is unknown. You may want to check the action brackets on this piano to see if they are silver and if the piano has expanding brackets. The serial number will help to see if its in the date range of the majority of action bracket issues but there are serial numbers that fall outside the main pool. The other issues may be the action center seizure problem. If you get involved with this piano be sure to document what you find before it goes into storage,
    While it is in an unheated house there is always the danger of burst water pipes, leaks. Varmints could decide to move in and do a number on the hammer, damper felts, chew up the keys etc.

    There will be condensation in one form or another and when the heat goes on temperature climbs it needs to be gradual. As Wim stated polyester can develop cold cracks which will destroy the lid and case finish. The glue joints could be affected by sudden changes as could be the hammer felt  attachment to the hammer core

    The owner should look at a better solution such as controlled temperature storage or having a friend keep it etc

    A customer here kept a Steinway in her parents home for over a year with the utilities off. Parents where in an assisted living facility and the house was vacant except for the piano. Mold was all over the inside of the action cavity and much of the walls and surfaces had mold. In the South with our humidity a working hvac system is needed year round with periodic maintenance, filter changes. I spend a great deal of time explaining how important humidity and heat control is important.


    If no one is occupying the house insurance may not cover any losses. I heard about a case here where a vacant home burned down but because no one had been living in it the insurer refused/denied the claim

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    James Kelly
    Owner- Fur Elise Piano Service
    Pawleys Island SC
    843-325-4357
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  • 9.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 13 days ago
    Bill Garlick told us that when he was manager of the hotel at Lake Louise, the turn of the century Steinway upright in the lobby was left in place each winter while the utilities were cut off, water drained, etc.  He would wrap it up and keep it that way for two weeks after the spring opening.  He said there was no damage and the piano was amazingly close to the same tuning he had left it in the fall.

       I don't think there will be a condensation problem if the piano is wrapped and well insulated against rapid changes in temp.
    Regards,

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    Ed Foote RPT
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  • 10.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12 days ago

    At Banff in the winter they left the uprights in the practice huts without heat all winter. Come summer, they seemed to be all right. Of course it's very dry up there.






  • 11.  RE: Freezing pianos

    Registered Piano Technician
    Posted 12 days ago
    This is knowledge and experience speaking, not supposition...
    I have had numerous opportunities over multiple decades  in the upper midwest to observe pianos which have been left in unheated spaces such as summer camps, personal cottages, and the like. In all cases the pianos fared better than had they been subjected to the extreme drying inherent in heating homes in the winter when the temperatures can be below zero F.

    In fact, there should be no ill effects from freezing to the function of the piano. There could be finish damage, but that is not likely. Finish damage typically comes from "temperature shock" where there is a sudden (matter of minutes or hours) change in temperature -- like being in an unheated truck for hours and then being brought back into normal room temperature.

    Condensation happens when there is a temperature differential -- typically an object that is colder than the dew point of the ambient surroundings. This doesn't happen with the slow cooling off of a building with a piano inside. The piano will be warmer than the air until slowly equilibrium is reached. In the spring, when things start warming up, the air will be warmer than the piano but the change is so slow that the piano will not be a large amount colder than the air. With a minimal temperature differential, there is minimal likelihood of condensation.

    Also, after this experience, tuning will be on pitch and quite stable because the piano has not experienced the low indoor humidity (below 10% is not uncommon) that wrecks pianos in heated environments.

    However...
    That is not to say that these situations are completely without peril. Although the piano will be fine with the temperature change, it may not be fine if pipes weren't drained and they burst. Also, animals like to come inside because even though unheated indoors will still be more sheltered than outside. Mice can sneak their way in but even worse are squirrels -- think nuclear-powered mice on steroids...

    So, don't worry about the effect of slowly lowering and rising temperature on pianos but consider other environmental factors.

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    Keith Akins
    Akins Pianocraft
    Menominee MI
    715-775-0022
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