Best practices for protecting and preserving fine art during energy curtailments


Authored by AXA XL Risk Consulting Manager, Marine, Pascal Matthey

Given the current geopolitical situation, energy curtailments lasting several weeks, if not longer, are possible in parts of the European Union. Although this is only speculation, and the scope and length of such disruptions are impossible to predict, the likelihood of energy supplies being cut off or curtailed isn’t small. Thus, anyone in the EU who owns or is responsible for a fine art collection — including museums, private and corporate collectors, galleries, auction houses or working artists — should consider the ramifications of being without power for an extended period and assess their options for limiting the impacts.

This article outlines some simple measures that can be taken to reduce energy consumption without harming protection levels or the comfort of clients, visitors or employees. This guidance isn’t meant to cover all possibilities and contingencies but to help stimulate discussions, analyses and the refinement of contingency plans designed to minimize the impacts.

Although this guidance was prepared in response to the current geopolitical situation, it also applies to and was informed by other instances in which the energy supply is or was curtailed for an extended period, e.g., following a severe storm or periods of civil unrest. As such, we hope this article helps companies, museums and private collectors better understand and prepare for the challenges associated with prolonged energy curtailments. While it isn’t possible to foresee all likely scenarios, there is no question that good planning improves an organization’s ability to respond to and recover from unexpected events. AXA XL’s Risk Consultants also stand ready to assist clients in these efforts.

Monitor temperature and humidity

Many fine art objects, including original oil paintings, paper sketches, antique books and wine collections, contain fragile materials that require the temperature and relative humidity to be maintained within a specified range.

Thus, any changes in the heating and cooling systems made to save energy should ensure that the settings stay within the limits needed to protect the items.

Improve heating efficiency

There often are many options for improving heating efficiency. Although some require capital expenditures, e.g., upgrading the insulation or installing more energy-efficient windows, many simple no- or very low-cost operating procedure changes will reduce energy consumption and improve heating efficiency, perhaps substantially.

Top of the list is simply reducing ambient temperatures to 19°C/66°F, especially in office buildings and private residences. Also, it may be possible to switch the heating off in some parts of the building outside operating hours and when the outside temperature is still over 10°C/50°F.

Another small change that can yield significant benefits is to avoid leaving doors, windows, skylights, etc. open for extended periods. Similarly, consider installing fast-closing doors on loading docks and instruct workers to keep them closed whenever possible, e.g., during lunch breaks.

In buildings with areas subject to excessive heat or cold, e.g., poorly insulated spaces during the winter months, consider temporarily relocating the materials to those parts of the building having better insulation or more efficient temperature control.

Finally, check the performance/efficiency of the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems by comparing each room against the required settings and respective energy output/consumption.

Limiting warm water temperatures

Limiting the water temperature to 60°C/140°F could reduce the boiler’s electrical energy consumption by up to 50%.

Limit electricity consumption

Here, too, a few simple steps can yield worthwhile savings. Start by reviewing and listing how much electricity each installation and machine consumes. Based on that review, consider replacing or upgrading older, less efficient equipment.

Then, similar to the tips outlined above concerning heating efficiency, look for opportunities to reduce electricity consumption by powering off non-critical devices when they aren’t needed and limiting the use of mechanical escalators and elevators.

Likewise, switch the lighting off when the spaces aren’t being used or the natural daylight conditions are sufficient. And only use external lighting needed to meet essential security criteria.

Finally, replacing older bulbs and spotlights with LEDs is a highly cost-effective way to reduce energy consumption while protecting the environment.

Loss of heat

When a building loses heat for an extended period, the sprinkler system will eventually freeze, causing the pipes to break. That can cause significant damages and entail highly costly repairs.

The measures that can be taken to prevent this include sealing up known cold air incursion points and installing inexpensive battery-powered thermometers to remotely monitor areas colder than the facility’s general indoor temperature.

Also, although wet pipe sprinkler systems can be left in service until the temperature drops below 4.4°C/40°F, provisions should be made to ensure the heat doesn’t fall below this level by, e.g., installing portable heaters and a portable generator.

Secure alarm systems

Intrusion and fire alarm systems are essential components in building security, and ensuring they will continue to perform during a curtailment is necessary for two reasons. First, some system components could go offline during a curtailment rendering the overall system inoperable. Second, there could be few, if any, people onsite in extended or even short curtailments. That makes it a tempting target for thieves, and any fires that break out might not be detected promptly, resulting in even greater losses.

While intrusion and fire alarm systems almost always come with backup batteries, the batteries aren’t intended for extensive curtailments. (If they don’t have backup batteries, the systems should be replaced with ones that do.) The backups are usually set for 12 to 72 hours, according to system and regulatory standards, but rarely more. However, the duration can be extended by replacing older batteries with newer ones and keeping a supply of fresh batteries on hand.

In addition, contact the building’s security company to discuss whether extra guards will be needed during an extensive curtailment period. Also, consider reducing day shifts to secure sufficient resources outside operating hours. Another option is to organize external patrols with similar establishments in the neighborhood requiring protection.

Finally, if the alarm can’t be switched on and precious items removed, AXA XL should be contacted immediately by its clients to identify adequate measures. These could include stationing an armed guard inside the location until the alarm works again and conducting regular outside patrols. And if the CCTV system allows it, performing periodic video patrols through the central security company.

Building security

In addition to the recommendations outlined above, some basic best practices for non-residential premises include:

  • Having enough flashlights/torches and extra batteries to offer sufficient light to close and navigate the premises.
  • Determining what actions can be done manually, e.g., opening/closing display windows. Or overriding electrical barriers or physical security systems.
  • Creating an inventory of all electromagnetic locks that cannot operate without power/energy.

Perform a real-time test of your installations

Finally, we suggest testing the various systems in natural conditions by closing the premises, interrupting the facility’s electrical power supply, and then activating the alarm system as per the usual procedure. That should identify deviations from the normal conditions as well as any procedures or systems that need to be changed or modified to ensure that artworks, employees and visitors are adequately protected.


About AXA XL

AXA XL is the P&C and specialty risk division of AXA which provides property, casualty, professional and speciality products to industrial, commercial and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises, here in the UK and throughout the world. With underwriting teams based in the US, UK, EMEA and Asia Pacific regions, we can make decisions close to the markets you serve and work with you to tailor cover to your business needs.

We help businesses adapt and thrive amidst change. Rather than just paying covered claims when things go wrong, we go beyond protection into prevention so your business can go beyond the unexpected.

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