Pipe Organ Advice

Memo from a local pipe organ builder

While working with a church in South Philadelphia, we learned about a September 15, 2006 memo from the Mudler-Hunter Company, Pipe Organ Builders, 2638 W. Gordon Street, Philadelphia 19132, (215) 229-5470.  We thought you might like to read it too:

“To prolong the life of the pipe organ, keep the heat as LOW as possible when the building is not in use. This not only adds years to the leather and other material in the instrument, but also saves on the fuel bill.

When the organ
is going to be used or serviced, the heat should be turned up soon enough so that the instrument is thoroughly heated, and has no cold air pockets. Cold air adversely affects the pitch and tuning, but when it is properly heated, the organ will return to the correct pitch and tune. This also keeps the wooden furniture, doors, pews, etc. from excessive drying and splitting.

“Many churches have programmable thermostats set to 50 degrees during the week. On Saturday it is set to 65 degrees. Approximately 5:00 AM Sunday morning it turns up to 72 degrees or whatever you would want for a Sunday service.

“As always, we appreciate the opportunity to be of service to your church. Please call our office if you have any other questions or concerns.    
Edward E. Schurig Jr.”

Pipe Organs and Cold Interior Temperatures

An article on Pages 8 and 9 of Volume 427 (January 2004) of Nature Magazine describes how some of the lead organ pipes in European cathedrals are falling apart. The study was funded by the European Union. Careful examination of the lead pipes showed that they were being corroded by acetic acid in the air blowing through them. The acid comes from new oak wood in the bellows and wind chests. The corrosion has become more prevalent in recent years. One theory is that central heating of the churches drives the acid from the wood. One proposed solution is similar to one that we described fifteen years ago – turn down the heat in order to preserve the pipe organ. Not all pipes are affected by corrosion. Ones that contain 1½% to 2% of tin mixed with the lead seem to be most susceptible.


Guidelines for Pipe Organ Temperature Control, © 2006, American Institute of Organbuilders are located here:

organ_temperature_guide.pdf  (opens in a new window, file size 45 kb)

Important additional  Pipe Organ Support Documents are located here:

pipe_organ_support_documents.pdf  (opens in a new window, file size 1.9 megs)

Report on Energy and Religious Art

The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research has confirmed that low interior temperatures help to preserve religious artifacts.  The report was originally written in May 1996, but we saw our first copy in September 2001.  Of greatest concern to the researchers is art inside Norway’s 843 wooden churches that are over 90 years old.

The report estimates that unheated churches have about 23% lower requirements for
conservation of mediaeval
artifacts than heated churches. The authors also estimate that lowering the interior temperatures in heated churches to levels similar to those in unheated ones reduces the accumulated requirement for conservation of artifacts by 19%.

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