The environment in which the instrument lives.

A piano manufacturer does not know ahead of time in what kind of home a supplied instrument is going to reside.  The manufacturer can therefore not take into account in detail in which circumstances the instrument will dwell.  However, in consultation with you, Guus van den Braak is able to do so!  When moving home, the instrument will again be placed in a different climatic environment.  In a nutshell, a piano or grand piano, that contains wood and metal, cannot adapt outside its surrounding.  The adaptation will need to take place in its own environment.  The foremost factor a piano owner needs to be concerned with is controlling the relative humidity.

Temperature and relative humidity (RH).

Wood and metal do have an inclination to expand and contract a little with higher, respectively lower temperatures.  The types of glue used these days are to some extent still sensitive to temperature changes, but pianos and grand pianos are able to cope with those temperature changes within certain tolerances.  The danger lies not just only with changes in temperature but much more with the coherent humidity in the air.  The outside weather (Air pressure, humidity and temperature) determines the amount of moisture in the air.  Air does hold an absolute or actual amount of moisture.  These amounts vary depending on the temperature and pressure of the air at the time.  As the temperature increases, the air expands and is then able to hold more moisture.  Given that the air has an absolute amount of moisture in it, and that air is now warmer, due to its increased ability to hold more moisture, the air's RH is now lower because relative to the absolute amount of moisture it can now hold more.  This results in a transfer of moisture from such porous materials as our skin and wood or the ground.  This transfer of moisture will continue until the levels of moisture equalise.  In reverse, as the air cools, its ability to hold that moisture decreases, increasing the RH and trying to unload the moisture it has into the porous materials in the environment.  If those materials can no longer take on more moisture, condensation will occur in some form or other.

Climates with extreme high and low humidity variations in their wet/dry or summer/winter seasons (Darwin, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide) are extremely damaging to pianos and can be disastrous or fatal to your instrument, internal and external!  The tensions in woods drying too rapidly, are of such a nature that no structure is able to stand up against it.  Wood will become warped and would crack.  Wood will swell in a too humid environment and metals will oxidise, by which all sorts of parts can get jammed: sticking keys, noisy pedals, hinges and strings become rusted.  Because different kinds of woods are incorporated, each with their own specific properties and ability to absorb moisture at a different rate, controlling the relative humidity is a very important matter.

The ideal RH in our home is 42%.  Read on and find out why.  EMC (Equilibrium Moisture Content) is a measure of the amount of moisture present in wood. This is directly affected by the RH of the air around the wood.  As mentioned earlier, when RH increases, the air is trying to unload its moisture into anything that will soak it up and wood is ideal.  Even with a coating of varnish or other finishes, moisture in the air will still permeate into the cell structure of wood.  The only way to prevent excessive moisture content, or the lack thereof, is to control the RH around the wood.  Hence the need to use a Humidity Control System.

  • The ideal EMC for wood within a piano is determined by most manufacturers to be 8%.
  • To maintain an 8% EMC, an RH of 42% is required.
  • The safest range of RH for wood is between 35% and 55%.  RH swings within this range reduce the risk of destruction of the cell structure.  If RH swings are beyond this range, the cell structure of wood becomes fatigued and starts to break down.
  • Wood that has too high an EMC is soft and structurally weak because the cells are full of water. The acoustic properties are dampened, swelling causes stresses where it is glued together (like at the rim or by the ribs) resulting in fractured glue joints and compression ridges commonly seen in soundboards (which will split when they dry out too much).
  • Too low an EMC creates the possibility of a brittle cell structure.  This may be stronger than a too high an EMC, but will result in splitting or cracking if pushed too far.
  • Swings in EMC only exacerbate all of the above problems and speed up the process.


RH is measured with a natural hair or digital hygrometer.  Accurate digital hygrometers cost around $600.  Most digital hygrometers seen in homes are often grossly inaccurate and can be out by 25%, rendering them useless.   Natural hair hygrometers should be calibrated for accuracy once a year.  Place the hygrometer on top of a fully saturated sponge in a small, clear and sealed plastic bag for half an hour.  The needle should point to 99%.  If it doesn't, adjust the needle with the adjusting screw at the rear of the hygrometer.  Dry the hygrometer of excessive water and hang it near the piano.

Relative humidity & air conditioners

If the RH in the room drops below 42%, you need to add moisture to the room to bring it back to 42%.  If the RH rises above 42%, you need to lower the moisture content in the room.  Your piano enters the danger zone if RH drops below 35% or is above 55%.

An evaporative air conditioner rises the humidity in a home to a rather high level and is unable to reduce the RH lower than 60%, which is outside the safe zone for pianos.  It will swell the wood in your piano to much and will cause the strings to rust.  A refrigerating air conditioner does the opposite.  It removes moisture from the air in the home (and the wood in your piano) just as your fridge does.  In fact, a refrigerating air conditioner turns your home into a giant fridge, only not as cold. The removed moisture from the air inside your home drips away outside your home near the air conditioner unit.  If you place a carrot in a fridge, the carrot will loose moisture and will become as flexible as rubber.  On an already warm to hot and dry summer day with a very low humidity level, a refrigerating air conditioner will remove even more moisture from the air and the wood in your piano, which is extremely damaging to your piano because the wood dries out, shrinks and cracks.  Air conditioners turn on and off to maintain a desirable temperature.  When this temperature is achieved, the unit turns off, no matter what humidity level is achieved.  Heaters and ducted heating systems are also designed to give a comfortable temperature level, and are not designed to control humidity levels.  Pianos are made, primarily, of wood. Pianos go out of tune mainly due to RH fluctuations.

Humidifiers & dehumidifiers

To keep the entire room (therefore also the entire piano) at a constant and stable humidity level continuously, as an art gallery would have, would be a complex and very expensive set-up.  This is not practical in case you would like to move the piano to another room or home.  Some people have a room humidifier which can only raise the humidity level and cannot lower the humidity in the room if needed.  Those noisy and unsightly room humidifiers are a lot of up-keep.  They need refilling with water or emptying on a daily basis as the entire room is treated, and take up space in your room.  It is a messy time consuming business.  You also need to monitor daily with a Hygrometer.  In cold weather, room humidifiers can drive moisture into walls, causing mould growth, structural damage and an unhealthy environment for you to live in.   It is not an ideal and practical system.  Never place jars filled with water and newspapers in the bottom of your piano as it delivers too much moisture in one area in the piano and does a lot of permanent damage to the soundboard, bridges and strings.  Don't place a light globe inside your piano either to remove excess moisture in your piano, as it will attract lots of moths which will devour all the cloths and felts inside the piano.

Now days, with technology at our fingertips, we are able to deliver at a very reasonable price a safe, even and constant humidity level to your piano all year round.  This very popular and effective system is installed inside your piano.  It does not treat your entire room but your piano only.  It is very effective, no matter what type of air conditioning or heating system you have, or no air conditioning or heating at all.  It is a humidifier/dehumidifier system installed inside your piano and will prevent the wood of your piano from swelling or shrinking too much, prevents strings from rusting, and will keep your piano within the RH "safe zone."  This Piano Life Saver System® has the advantage of being able to rise and lower the humidity level, is silent, out-of-sight, consumes very little power, prevents mould, is all automatic, you fill the reservoir about twice a month only, and it carries a 5 year warranty.  Today, Piano Life Saver Systems® protect over 660,000 pianos worldwide. This is no "sales talk", but you should seriously consider the following:

The results of shrinking and swelling are;

  1. Pitch Instability .  Your piano must have stable pitch to hold a tuning well.
  2. Cracking and Splitting of wooden parts, which brings costly repairs.
  3. Glue Failure throughout the piano, which also brings costly repairs.
The benefits are;
  1. The system Saves You Money by avoiding the extra expense of pitch adjustments.  If your piano is "off-pitch" too much, the tuner needs to adjust the string tension to achieve proper pitch before he/she can even begin to do a fine tuning.  Pianos that have drifted radically off-pitch will usually go out of tune quickly after they are tuned.
  2. The system Prevents Shrinking and Swelling of the soundboard, thus stabilizing the pitch.
  3. The system Prevents Shrinking and Swelling of the bridges.  Rusty and/or loose bridge-pins will deteriorate the quality of sound dramatically.  False or self-beating string cannot be eliminated by tuning.
  4. The system Minimizes Tuning-Pin Movement which also helps stabilize pitch.
  5. The system Improves Keyboard Control noticeably.
  6. The system Prevents Rust on metal parts such as strings, tuning-pins, screws, and action mechanism parts from high humidity.
  7. The system Prevents Action Mechanism Parts from Becoming Loose, Noisy and Misaligned with other parts due to swelling and shrinking.
  8. The system Prevents Cloths and Felts from Absorbing Moisture or Drying Out too much.  Moist hammer-felts produce a dull sound and too dry hammer-felts produce a hard/ bright sound.

If you are not convinced that your valuable instrument warrants the protection mentioned above and have the "wait and see" approach, you may be shocked later when you find out your piano has serious damage, lost some tonal qualities, and dramatically reduced its value and resale value.  Believe me, I have seen it and it is no good telling you later "I told you so." Most people have anti-freeze in their car engine to protect it.  A piano needs similar protection and can live for many decades if it receives total care, not partial care.  I have seen very expensive, good quality pianos crack-up in a matter of 2 years.

The Piano Life Saver System® consists of:

  • A humidistat - This is the brain of the system, which senses whether the wooden parts of your piano are too moist or too dry.
  • A dehumidifier - Which carries moisture away from your piano using air currents when humidity levels rise.
  • A humidifier - Which moisturises the dry wood of your piano when the humidity drops below a pre-set safe relative humidity level.
  • A light panel - Three LED lights will tell you the status of the system.  The light panel can be fitted on the left or right and out of view.
  • A water fill tube - A watering can, supplied with the system, fits the tube.  An LED light will warn you when to fill the tank.  The fill tube will be installed out of view.

A Dampp-Chaser® system can prevent damage and maintain tuning stability in your piano!  It prolongs the life expectancy of your instrument by many years.  Major piano manufacturers such as Yamaha, Kawai, Bosendorfer, Schimmel, Seiler, Baldwin and the Pearl River Piano Group USA agree on the benefits of Dampp-Chaser®.

Guus van den Braak is qualified and a registered installer of Dampp-Chaser®.

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