“Ask James” – Humidity Control for Your Piano

James,

I have a Steinway grand piano and my technician told me to add a humidifier to it or the soundboard would crack.  He offered to install one for $600.  Is this a good idea?  Do I need it?  I know he’s selling something, but he’s got me scared that my Steinway is going to be ruined if I don’t put the humidifier on it right away!  Help!

-Linda (Student of PIE Teacher, Carole Browning)

I have spent all of my professional life in one river town or the other and I am very familiar with this scenario.  …but before I answer Linda’s question directly, allow me to take a second to explain her technician’s concern.

hygrometer

Use a simple hygrometer to measure humidity in your room.

Most decent pianos are built from a combination of metals and organic materials.  Wood makes up around 85% of the organic materials and, thus, pianos tend to be susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.  When a piano gets overly humid, wood expands – causing the piano to push itself out of tune.  When a piano dries out, its wood components contract.  This relaxes string tension and causes the piano to fall out of tune.  Because of its porous nature, unprotected wood can expand up to 6 inches during a warm/wet season or crack from extreme cold or dryness.  As the thinnest and most sensitive wooden part of a piano’s construction, the soundboard is especially vulnerable to damage from these changes.  It’s also a very costly part to fix or replace.

With that in mind, I can see why Linda’s tech might be worried.  However, while most major piano companies recognize the benefits of humidity control systems in cases of extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity, none advocate the inclusion of a humidity control system on every piano they make (That is why they don’t build them into their pianos at the factory.). 

I have spoken with technical representatives from every major piano brand and they make the following suggestions:

  • Before purchasing a humidity control system for your piano, purchase a hygrometer (available at Gist or any Radio Shack for $20 – $40) and test your piano’s living conditions.
  • Many modern home heating/cooling systems include humidity control.  Make sure yours is working properly if you have one.
  • To prevent excessive dryness, use appropriate window coverings, leafy plants and – where necessary – an in-room humidifier.
  •  To prevent excessive moisture, avoid sudden dramatic temperature changes, keep windows closed during cloudy or rainy days and – if necessary – use an in-room dehumidifier.
  •  If – and only if – all of these methods fail to produce a stable environment for your piano, consider the installation of humidity control system.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask?  Why not just install them on every piano and be done with it?  Steinway & Sons’s Technical Director, Kent Webb, said it best:  “Installing a humidity control system on a piano that doesn’t need one is like giving a patient medicine when he’s perfectly healthy.  You can create a problem where one doesn’t exist.”  By “over-controlling” the humidity around our pianos, we can cause the very soundboard damage, pin-block cracks, rust and tuning trouble we’re trying to prevent.

Humidity Control System

Grand Piano Humidity Control System

We expect reputable technicians, mechanics or medical professionals to provide us with data that indicates a logical course of action.  You’d never accept a strep throat diagnosis without an examination or a recommendation to replace your transmission without a checkup.  If your technician recommends a humidity control system for your piano, require him/her to show you the hygrometer readings he’s taken in your home before you give your “ok.”  If you’re ready to buy a new piano, don’t allow the company you’re buying it from to install a humidity control system without taking the necessary readings (Some piano companies will offer to “throw in” a “free” system.  This is a ploy to get you to purchase a piano.  It is not a legitimate attempt to protect your investment.  Instead, ask for an equivalent discount on the piano since the company you’re buying it from won’t have to pay for the system and its installation – or wait to purchase the instrument until the company has done the proper testing in your space.)

Make an informed decision about humidity control for your piano.  Don’t rush to treat an illness that your piano doesn’t have.  It’s not about the money – it’s about your piano’s long-term well-being.

Have something you’d like to “Ask James?”  Submit your piano question to jharding@gistpianocenter.com and I’ll answer it on The Gist Piano Blog.

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78 thoughts on ““Ask James” – Humidity Control for Your Piano

  1. william curry

    James, I am a manufacturer’s sales representative for a major custom cabinet company. I deal a lot with wood expansion and contraction related to humidity changes and how it effects the wood and the finishes on them. I would like to help you a little with your comment, “Because of its porous nature, unprotected wood can expand up to 6 inches during a warm/wet season or crack from extreme cold or dryness”. According to Terry Connelly, University of KY Agriculture department, who has done extensive testing on wood, says a 5″ wide piece of maple wood, can move up to 1/32″ with a 2% change in the wood moisture content. In order for a board to move 6″ it would have to be 66′ (feet) wide. However a 1/32″ crack in a black lacquered piano is highly visible. Wood is going to respond to the environment it is in whether it is finished or not(finished wood takes longer). The simple solution is to control the humidity in the room 40-55% relative humidity, and the wood, and or piano, will maintain it’s moisture content between 6-8%, the level the wood was kiln dried to initially. I have found that the most expensive homes with the best humidity controls get out of adjustment or the homeowner does not adjust them properly with the current weather daily. The $ 20.00 hygrometer is an excellent tool to see if the humidity system in the home is functioning properly.
    Hope this helps clarify wood movement.
    Bill

  2. James Harding Post author

    William,

    Thank you for your clarification. The research I was quoting didn’t mention the size or thickness of the wood in question. it simply stated the potential for heavy moisture intake – especially in unfinished wood (such as piano action parts) and under extreme climate fluctuations (15-30% variances). Also, piano wood (in Steinway & Sons and other “Grade 1” pianos) is typically kiln dried to 4% moisture content. I am not sure how this would effect the absorption rate.

    Whatever the degree of change, I think we both agree that wood movement is undesirable and often preventable without the installation of an integrated humidity control system (especially in a modern home). The ideal approach is to properly position your piano, maintain whatever home climate control systems you have, use good judgement in opening or closing windows and use a hygrometer to test your home climate conditions.

    I should mention that institutions (churches and schools especially) will have a much more difficult time with this than the average homeowner. In those cases, an integrated humidity control system may be advisable – if hygrometer tests reveal major climate control variances.

    In any case, thanks for reading, Bill! I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

  3. Lyle Conway

    Wow. Who knew I could actually be HARMING my piano by putting a humidity system on it?! I’m glad I read this. I’ll have to have my tuner come out and tell me what to do.

  4. James Harding Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Lyle. You’re right. You should have your tech check out your situation – OR you can purchase a hygrometer from Radio Shack (They’re about $20) and test it yourself. If you are seeing heavy fluctuations in temp and humidity, you might want to take a few of the other steps before adding the system. Good luck!

  5. Spencer

    Everyone is talking about relatively small changes in humidity. I need to know how to avoid the damage caused by major (but slow) changes n humidity. I have a rather unique situation and need a solution. I have a pretty decent piano (largely restored 1936 Chickering grand with an LX player installed) in a remote rural location. I am often gone for 4 months of the winter. It rains a lot and the humidity can get very high in the winter. I have had serious damage from electrical surges and do not feel comfortable leaving the power on when I leave. I have had two fires and one explosion caused by the surges. If I leave the electric heat on just 55 degrees, the piano is fine but without that, it gets very damp and as proven by one year when teh power was out for two months, the piano is definitely effected. It needed a long recovery period and major regulation. I was amazed that the sound board did not crack when the humidity reached normal levels again and that the action survived without broken or loosened flanges. Something did change because the regulation was really really bad.

    My idea is to put the piano in an airtight bag. I can get one that is guaranteed to be absolutely vapor tight. It would be made with rf welding and zippers that are used to contain biohazards. This is not going to ba a cheap bag.

    The question is what will happen if I seal the piano in a bag and the temperature drops. Will the moisture contained in the air condense on the piano and or absorb into the wood when the air no longer has the ability to hold it? Will a desiccant help or make it worse? Wil it dry the air to the point of causing damage?

    What about replacing the air with dry nitrogen? Will that just suck the moisture out of the wood the same as a desiccant?

    Art there passive moisture control systems for a sealed container, sort of like a moisture buffering material?

    I am talking about a temperature range of about 40 to 75 degrees, but possibly more. Again, it will be a sealed container so the total amount of water in the container will not change but the relative humidity and dew point will change with the temperature and this will effect the wood and the metal parts.

  6. James Harding Post author

    Spencer, thanks for your comment. It certainly sounds like you have a unique problem.

    We all discuss what you would consider relatively small changes in humidity because even a small change in humidity can dramatically reduce the expected lifespan of your piano. If you are experiencing the kind of major changes in temperature and humidity that you describe, I doubt very much that your piano will survive long in that environment. Pianos are acoustic instruments – made of organic materials with very specific temperature and humidity tolerances. Venture outside those tolerances and you can cause serious – and irreparable – damage.

    My recommendation to you would be to put your piano in a climate-controlled storage facility when you leave. This will cost the same (or less) as your air-tight bag and have much better results (Without power, you might be able to regulate humidity with silica gel or something similar, but you won’t be able to regulate the temperature inside your air-tight bag. You’re right – moisture sealed inside the bag will condense on your piano and cause damage – much like storing bread inside of tupperware.)

    The trick to protecting your piano is to avoid extreme climate changes. You don’t want the piano to get too dry (as it would inside the bag filled with dry nitrogen) and you don’t want it to get too humid either. The only way you can properly maintain this is to provide an active climate control system (which would require power). Move the piano to a storage facility when you’re not in town or trade your piano for a digital grand piano that is unaffected by the temperature/humidity changes.

    It’s not an ideal solution, but – in this situation – those are your best options.

    Thanks again for writing and good luck!

  7. jenny

    Hi James,
    I am purchasing a used piano and considering one that comes with a humidity control system already installed. Is this a mistake? Should I not purchase one? The piano is an 18-year-old Samick and the seller says the humidity control system makes it more valuable, i.e. expensive. I’d love to hear your opinion!

    Thanks so much!
    Jenny

  8. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Jenny.

    Thank you for writing us. I hope my answer helps you.

    First and foremost, I have to remind you that the most important “first step” in selecting a used piano is to have a local piano technician evaluate the piano for you. Having a pre-installed humidity control system does not necessarily guarantee that the piano was maintained properly in its former home. The technician should look the piano over for signs of rusty tuning pins or mold (in the case of too much humidity) or large soundboard cracks and/or tuning pin slippage (in the case of too little humidity). All the standard checkpoints apply.

    Assuming that the piano is in good shape, you will have to determine whether or not you need to use the humidity control system in your space. I recommend purchasing a $20 hygrometer from Radio Shack and testing your space for at least a week so you can see how much temperature and humidity variance the piano will experience (Testing a week isn’t optimal, but it’s the shortest time I would test. Some folks test for up to a month.) If you determine that you have a large climactic variance to deal with, then you should consider using the humidity control system as described in the blog. If not, you may leave the system unplugged and forgotten. It will not disrupt your playing experience.

    In the right environment, these systems can be desirable. The important thing is to properly determine the condition of the piano you are considering first, test your space to determine your piano’s needs, test the system to make sure it works and then move forward with your decision.

    The humidity control system will not increase the resale value of your piano (and, frankly, I would carefully consider doing business with someone who says it will), but it may increase the life of that piano in certain environments. Just take all the steps and consider your purchase carefully. It’s never good to be in a hurry.

    Good luck!

    -James

  9. Mike Mack

    Dear James, I know piano rebuilders who years ago rejected Dampp chaser systems due to the configuration of the hardware. Now the same people are installing these systems on their rebuilt pianos. However, grand pianos are difficult to control. The humidification resevoir is installed on the underside of the piano under the soundboard and sensor controled. Considering there is no access for humidity control within the action cavity, the area where the keyboard and action stack is installed, humidity control has little influence. The dehumidifier rods are also installed on the piano’s underside. This is helpful to control the shape of the soundboard, but has no useful purpose within the action cavity, especially in summer when humidity peaks and the piano is most susceptable to ‘sticky’ keys. There is no help to the exposed damper assemblies because there’s no way on earth for humidification/dehumidification to affect these compontnts.

    It’s baloney when dealers say control systems will increase the piano’s value. Pianos depreciate with age like cars. The idea is to preserve the pianos structure for playing and to assist in stabilizing tuning. However, playing will throw a piano out of tune and any piano technician who says the piano will remain completely stable either has customers who don’t play or the technician is a liar. In measurable situations, a piano will move +5 or -5 cents and more around 440 pitch in the midrange, depending on the room where it sits. Going deeper into the bass and higher in the treble, proximity to desired pitch wil be perceivable.

    Humidity control units are more effective in vertical pianos because the inner workings of piano are sealed and ths interior components are proximaal to the system.

    These systems are prone to failure because owners tire of adding water to the water resevoirs and are resistant to following simple directions. Ultimately, the majority of owners pull the plugs because when the piano goes out of use – what’sthe point of wasting electricity. With aged pianos that haven’t benifited by environmental controls, the damage may have done.

  10. James Harding Post author

    Hello, Mike, and thank you for your comments. I agree with much of what you said. A “whole room” approach to humidity control is much preferred in my book – mostly because people don’t properly maintain the humidity control system. If not properly filled, treated and maintained, the system does you no good! While studies at the University level do show that pianos with humidity control systems behave better than pianos without humidity control systems (in cases of extreme temperature and humiditiy fluctuation), these studies fail to address the amount of time and attention that the humidity systems themselves received. In most cases, the systems will be just as neglected as the pianos they are on. Thus, they offer little or no benefit.

    I also agree that these systems do not increase the trade value of your piano down the road. With some exceptions (Steinway pianos being a strong counterexample), most pianos will depreciate steadily over time. Pianos that are built well and maintained will depreciate at the same rate as inflation and, thus, appear to “hold their value.” However, it is true that pianos are judged and priced based heavily on their condition. In short, take better care of your piano and it will be worth more than one which was neglected.

    As for the rest, you make a strong case for digital pianos. Acoustic pianos do change (much like acoustic guitars do – only less radically) from day to day – depending on use, climate and construction. Digital pianos remain consistent. If having “perfect pitch” is your goal, you should purchase a nice digital piano. If the nuances of acoustic piano sound and touch appeal to you, then you have to take the good with the bad.

    In most cases, the humidity control system does little to help. At Gist, we only recommend it for churches and schools where (a) someone on the payroll will be tasked with system maintenance and monitoring and (b) the on-site technician can demonstrate a clear and undeniable need for the system.

    Thanks for your thoughts! I hope you will keep reading!

  11. V Bennett

    Hi, we have had a humidifier on our piano for 4-5 years without problems until recently. A few weeks ago the humidifier lights all started coming on including the red. Since I had recently put water in the piano we pulled the cover off to check to see if the water level was low and it wasn’t. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions on what we should do? Thanks,

  12. James Harding Post author

    Hello and thanks for your note! I am sorry you’re having trouble with your humidifier system, but this is not uncommon after five years of continuous operation. My first recommendation would be to replace the pads in your humidifier tank. Some folks don’t know that these need to be replaced… so they can become a problem after awhile. Replace the pads and refill the system. If that doesn’t solve your problem, you should have a piano technician check your system. These systems do fail after awhile, but it’s typically a simple fix. Best of luck!

  13. David

    Hi James,

    Thanks for the informative site! I was wondering if you could comment on my particular situation. I’ve just inherited my grandmother’s 1932 Steinway M grand piano. It spent its life in Pennsylvania and last month arrived at my house in Seattle, WA. We’re absolutely thrilled to have it – it plays and sounds so wonderful. It must be pretty hardy, because it endured Pennsylvania hot humid summers and cold dry winters for most of its life without any climate regulation and has remained in fantastic shape… However, I want to ensure that I’m taking care of it properly, and wondering whether or we need a climate control system. To that end, I am wondering what constitutes harmful humidity fluctuation.

    The piano is against an inner wall and away from the window and heat register. I’ve been measuring the room humidity for a month, and it’s consistently between 63-68. However, the fireplace is 10 feet away, and when we have a fire, the humidity drops to about 54 and remains there for a day or so.

    Are these fluctuations large enough to be concerning, or nothing to be particularly concerned about? And how would I be able to tell if the humidity changes were negatively impacting the piano? Would tuning be affected – sort of a “canary in the coalmine?” Or would something more serious be the first clue – cracking soundboard, etc.?

    Many thanks for your thoughts,
    David

  14. James Harding Post author

    Hello, David, and thank you for your question. I always enjoy helping folks who truly want to care for their heirloom pianos!

    From what you’re telling me, I’d say your piano is fine without a humidity control system. Typically, if the humidity fluctuates between 15-20% on a regular basis, I would recommend the system. It sounds like you’re in great shape.

    The best “canary” I have found is a good, hearty house plant. If you find yourself watering the plant more than normal – especially if the top soil is hard and crunchy – then you might consider an all-room humidifier. Otherwise, you should be good to go!

    Good luck with that beautiful piano and thanks for reading!

  15. Willie Tharp

    Hi James,
    I’m located in Ohio and I was recently given an A.B. Chase grand piano. The room I have to keep the piano in is best described as a garage type room. It has cement block walls and a garage door. The room is treated with sound absorption panels on walls and ceiling in specific areas (I do recordings in this room).
    During the winter months I only heat this room when it’s in use. That can vary from every day to maybe once a week. Maybe even once every other week! Aside from keeping this room heated, is there anything I can do to help protect this piano from becoming damaged in this room?
    Thank You,
    Willie

  16. James Harding Post author

    Hello, Willie, and thanks for your question. Unfortunately, I have a number of concerns related to your situation. Have you had a technician check out the piano you were given yet? Pianos have value – even old ones – and it’s unlikely someone would simply give you a “perfectly good” piano. They are worth over a thousand dollars! It is more likely that someone had an old piano that wasn’t tunable anymore or wasn’t playing well and they didn’t want to pay the dump fee to get rid of it. Before you do anything, you should have a piano technician tell you whether or not the instrument is even tunable. If not, it has no value, can’t be used for recordings and won’t do you any good. If it is tunable, then we move on to the next concern – climate control. Nothing destroys a piano faster that temperature and humidity fluctuations. If you are unable to provide a stable climate for this instrument, you will destroy it in a couple of years. You’re better off trading it in and getting a good digital piano (which is impervious to temperature and humidity fluctuations). Once you’ve determined that the piano is tunable and you’ve arranged for a consistent temperature, then I’d invest in a whole-room humidifier/dehumidifier system. They aren’t that expensive, but humidity control is very important for the life of your piano. A basic humidifier will be fine in the winter months, but you’ll definitely need air conditioning and/or a dehumidifier in the summer. I hope that helps. Best of luck with your piano!

  17. David Smith

    James,
    We are moving to Hawaii in the near future and have heard that products made out of wood are probably going to get ruined out in that climate/humidity. I am concerned about our heirloom piano, I would like to take it with us but am wondering how I should handle it or just not take it at all. Most homes out there do not have air conditioning from what we hear. Any recommendations/ideas would be greatly appreciated.

  18. James Harding Post author

    Hi, David. Thanks for your question. My gut reaction would be to encourage you to bring a whole-room de-humidifier with you when you move. Your best bet, though, would be to contact a piano store in Hawaii and ask them what they recommend. I know there are definitely pianos in Hawaii – so I am sure they will be able to help you find a good option. Have a safe move! I wish I were going with you! -James

  19. Barbara Hoffman

    My Lester Betsy Ross spinet piano was made about 1957. I’ve had it for about 18 years. I’ve moved 3 times and never had problems until now. Last night I opened the top and there was something that looked like green mildew all over the wood on the inside of the lid. It has never had a system to control the humidity in it. I live in Central Florida and it is very humid. My house has central heat and air. We keep the temp about 76-77 in summer and about 75 in the little bit of winter that we have. The piano is against the wall shared by the garage – an unheated space that gets very hot and humid in the summer.
    What do I need to do?
    Thank you for your help. Your website is a welcome relief to read, after all the conflicting information I’ve encountered.

  20. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Barbara!

    Thanks for your message. Unfortunately, it sounds like your piano has a fatal disease. Once the green mildew gets into the felts, they have to be completely replaced. …and then you’d have to remove it from all the wood, replace any parts that couldn’t be cleaned, etc. The cost to do this is far more than the piano is worth. My recommendation is to replace the piano immediately. The mildew you are seeing is a health hazard and I would get it out of the house asap. When you replace it, make sure you have a whole-room humidity control system in the same room with the piano and keep it 6-8″ away from your wall so it can “breathe.” Ideally, you might want to put it against a different wall or better insulate the wall it’s on. I wish I had better news! Best of luck to you!

  21. john

    Mr Harding,
    My Steinway L grand (now O) is circa 1974 I’ve owned since 1978
    It seems to sound better after removing pounds of stuff underneath it from
    a system installed by a technician 8 years ago that is no longer working.
    I could not believe how many cords, sensors, tubes were attached (by screws and fasteners)
    under her belly. She/he is happier and sounds better, looks better without all that s____.
    Half the time I was unable to monitor and fill unit due to prolonged travel.
    I do not worry about summer as the house is air conditioned for X’s humidity.
    If I leave this arctic (MN) environment for 2 months in the heating (dry) season, the humidity is not a part of the house heat system.
    Lowering the temp to 60 degrees will help but my plants dry out over a long period of time and a room humidifier would have to be monitored.
    I figure a beautiful Urn (plain bucket) with several gallons of treated water under her belly with a wick of ? cotton? wool? paper toweling?,
    What passive system, other than plants, would you recommend?
    Thank you,
    John

  22. James Harding Post author

    Hi, John. Thank you for your message. I think you’re on the right track. All you can do is make sure you have a system to water your plants over time (Boston Ferns do a great job controlling humidity) and keep your temperature low. Wicking is an excellent idea. …but I would recommend wicking your plants instead (I hate having water too close to the piano for any reason). Cut a few strips of cotton cloth. Place a large container of water next to your plant(s) and dip one end of the cotton strip into the water (clear to the bottom). Then, press the other end into the plant soil (about 3″ deep). As the soil dries out, water will travel up the cotton wicks to replenish the moisture. With a few plants (or a couple of clusters) in your room, you should be able to keep the piano safe while you’re gone. Best of luck!!

  23. Pingkai Liu

    What does this article try to tell people? Honestly I feel nothing.
    If the whole room humidity can be controlled, obviously one does not need humidity control system particularly for piano. On the other hand, if that can not be done, a humidity control system is better than doing nothing.

  24. James Harding Post author

    Thank you for your comment. This article is trying to tell people that adding a humidity control system to your piano should ONLY be done as a last resort. It is important to approach the problem from a “whole room” perspective first. Then – if you absolutely can’t make that work – you may elect to add a humidity control system. Too many technicians talk piano owners into adding systems to their piano that are either unnecessary or ineffective. This can lead to the vary damage humidity control systems were designed to prevent. Sometimes it is better to do nothing (depending on the conditions in the home, etc.). Let me know if you have any more questions. Thanks for reading!

  25. Allison

    Hi, Mr. Harding.
    I appreciate you writing this article and hope you can help me think through how to handle an intended move for our piano. My husband and I currently live in Florida and will be moving to Colorado soon. The move from a humid to a dry climate was brought to my attention by a family member aware we plan to move both our antique wood furniture and my family’s old chickering grand piano. It’s a beautiful instrument with a lovely sound, and I’m now concerned that I may do it harm in moving it from a wet to a dry climate. I’m wondering if you have advice on how to best protect it in this process. We have hygrometers in our house currently, though I’ll confess I never thought to place one in the music room. I’ll move one there today to get a better feel for our current humidity over the next few days, especially since we purchased a new Ac unit last year and having been running it more than our previous unit. Thanks in advance for your advice!
    ~Allison

  26. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Allison!

    Thank you for your kind words and for your question. It’s fantastic that you’re thinking about these things before you move. That will definitely help to protect your instrument (and furniture!) during the process. You’re right. Florida is quite a bit more humid than Colorado on average… but it’s the interior climate that is most important. If you use air conditioning regularly now, your piano will notice less of a change than you will because it never leaves the house. That said, I would definitely make sure your new home has a humidifier installed in the furnace. Also, I would plant some Boston ferns in the room with your piano and furniture if you can. They (and several other green plants) are GREAT for humidity management. Finally, I would religiously check your hygrometer in the new house and make sure you’re creating a safe environment for your wood furniture and piano. Consistency is what matters most – even if the mean climate is different than Florida. Try to smooth the transition as much as possible (maybe with a whole-room humidifier at first) and then slowly work the room to a new “normal.” If you do this, your furniture and piano will acclimate well and you shouldn’t have any problems. Good luck with the big move and say hi to the mountains for me! (James)

  27. Lisa

    Hello Mr. Harding,

    I appreciate your article. My son was given a beautiful 110-year-old Krakauer Brothers upright grand piano. It has been in our home for 2 years, and we have had it tuned twice, the second time yesterday. It was previously in a home that had a room built specifically for the owner’s piano and organ, so the air was humidity controlled. The tuner noted a couple new surface cracks of the soundboard and some chips around the pegs, and he thinks the pinboard is in great condition. He was able to seat the pegs better and thinks everything is in excellent condition, thinks it’s an amazing piano, and he recommended a piano humidifier to protect it and extend its life. He said some piano tuners here (Colorado) recommend a humidifier for everyone, and he doesn’t, but he said ours in particular “would love to have a humidifier”. The exacerbating circumstances are that we live at 7600 feet altitude. Our humidity tends to stay in the teens and 20’s, and in the summer may creep into the 30’s. We have a whole-house humidifier on our furnace, but most of our heat is provided by our wood stove, so the furnace rarely runs. The piano is located in a large dining room with oak flooring, and he said the wood floor will hog any humidity that is available – the floor naturally cracks in the winter and heals in the summer, but we don’t want the piano doing that! We could add house plants to the room, but in our case, I’m doubtful as their ability to provide optimal humidity for this beautiful instrument. He is recommending the Piano Life Saver System from Dampp-Chaser. I would be very grateful to hear your opinion, because we want to do whatever is best to make this piano last for a long time.

  28. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Lisa! Thank you for reading and thank you for your question. It certainly sounds like you have a couple of “red flags” to think about. The higher elevation and (especially) the wood stove will dry out the air in your home and make it difficult for your piano’s delicate wood components. That said, I still prefer a “whole room” solution if that is feasible for you. I am sure you’re right that the plants alone won’t be enough, but is it possible for you to place a room humidifier in the piano room? If so, that is what I would recommend. If not, the Dampp Chaser system is an excellent way to protect your piano’s belly from humidity damage in situations like this. Best of luck to you!

  29. emiko

    James
    i have an upright yamaha piano and live in brooklyn new york.
    i have lived in an apartment for 15 years and just moved to a house.
    in my apartment i had no problem with fluctuations of the temperature but moving to Brooklyn, i am facing a very difficult erratic temperature, causing my piano to go out of tune almost monthly. I have a small humidifier which seem to help (my hygrometer is at mid point). Last week, we had a row humid days and all of a sudden 3 keys went out of tune. I am considering getting a small dehumifier, but will a thermo electric dehumidifier do the trick? or should i invest in a compressor type larger dehumidifier. Your advise is very much appreciated.

  30. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Emiko, and thanks for your question. If you have the piano in a smaller room, the thermo electric dehumidifer should be fine. If it’s a larger room, I’d upgrade to the compressor-type. Good luck to you!

  31. SM

    Hi James,
    What about in tropical asia country? I’m from Singapore and all pianos here are advise to have a heater install. But recently I’ve heard a very wired suggestion of installing a heather on a grand piano externally, literally hanging at the bottom of the sound board. I was told the theory behind this is that constant heat radiating from the heater will have negative impact on the structure of the pinblock, and sound board of the grand piano. Do you agree with this, and kindly explain please.Thank you very much.

  32. James Harding Post author

    Hello and thanks for that great question! The ideal humidity for any piano is between 40% and 60%. …but THE most important thing for your piano is stability. CHANGES in humidity are harder on the piano that a constant climate – even if that climate is more humid. If your local technician recommends installing a dehumidifier on your piano, then you should probably do it. However, I would still recommend putting a “whole room” dehumidifier in the room instead of installing heating elements on the piano itself. If you can put a dehumidifier in the room with the piano and keep it between 40-60% humidity, then you’re far better off. Good luck!

  33. Lisa S

    Hi James,
    I just had a piano mover in my house to move another piano. He suggested that my Boston Piano of about 6 years was suffering some damage due to humidity. He is working on fixing the hammer mechanisms, and has suggested a dehumidifier for $250. He seemed very knowledgeable so I thought it sounded good to get the dehumidifier system. We live in Mountain View, Ca and here is what it says about humidity in our area. Please let me know if you think I should go ahead with this purchase.

    Humidity

    The relative humidity typically ranges from 41% (comfortable) to 90% (very humid) over the course of the year, rarely dropping below 24% (dry) and reaching as high as 98% (very humid).

    The air is driest around October 2, at which time the relative humidity drops below 51% (mildly humid) three days out of four; it is most humid around February 20, exceeding 86% (very humid) three days out of four.

    Thank you so much for your help.
    Lisa

  34. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Lisa! Thanks for your message. My first recommendation would be to buy a hygrometer and make sure that you need the humidifier system. The hygrometer can run for a month in your home and let you know what kind of fluctuations you are dealing with. In the meantime, I’d pick up a whole-room dehumidifier and put it in the room with your piano. That will be cheaper and more effective. You want to keep the piano in a 40% – 60% humidity zone if possible. If these measures show that you’re still climbing up over 60%, then go ahead and get the system. …but keep in mind that the system is designed really to protect your soundboard most of all. This is understandable (in that the soundboard is the most expensive part), but your action will suffer from the humidity as well. A whole-room approach is always better when you can do it. Good luck!

  35. Richard Frontera

    Hi James

    Thank you for this great information resource. I have become a little confused and I feel that you are just providing a great service.

    We recently bought a new Yamaha small grand piano with the Disklavier system. We have essentially no piano experience beyond an upright that was in the house for 30 years without incident.

    We were told recently that we needed to add a system like the Dampp Rid system. Reading your excellent commentary makes me hesitate. We live in the northeast and our home is well insulated, we rarely open the windows or doors and we have a new whole house air conditioning, humidifying, heating system-it is forced air heat. Our indoor humidity runs around 50-53% in the summer and maybe 45-50% in the winter. The piano is in a 3 wall room-the airducts are about 10 feet away. We are away for 3 months a year-but the climate control runs all the time (and we can monitor and adjust it at a distance).

    I do want to do whatever will benefit this piano. My concern is that it seems from what you say it isn’t desirable to add this to the piano. Additionally with us being away for a long period I do it know if that is too long without someone checking the water in the humidifier.

    Thanks again,
    Rich

  36. James Harding Post author

    Hello, Rich, and thank you for your question. Can you tell me who recommended the humidity control system for your piano? Was it your dealer or your technician? Based on the information you’ve given me, I would be VERY hesitant to put that system on your piano. Instead, buy a hygrometer (they should be about $20) and see what the climate inside your home is like. My guess is you won’t see many major fluctuations (more than 10 degrees or 10% humidity) during the month. If your piano is in a “stable” environment (very few if any “major” fluctuations) then you don’t need the system. If you see a bunch of steep changes in temp and humidity, then you might consider adding it. I am betting you won’t need to. Best of luck to you!!

  37. Kerry Taylor

    Hello James:
    My piano is a 1931 (well) rebuilt 67-inch Baldwin. When I purchased it about 10 years ago, it came with a Dampp-Chaser installed, with which I have faithfully cooperated’ and my piano technician, in whom I have complete trust, assures me that is well. (I live in Montreal, Canada, where humidity can be very high in the heat of summer, and very low in winter, as a result of the necessity to heat living spaces in a cold climate.) My recent move (within the city) has taken me to a living space where both heat and humidity this summer have been higher than they were in my previous location, yet the Dampp-Chaser continues to ask me periodically to add water! Has the dehumidifier gone into overdrive? Should I just unplug the darn thing?

  38. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Kerry, and thank you for your question. This is a common problem for humidity control systems. Your air conditioner is trying to bring the humidity DOWN (as well as temp) and the humidity control system wants you to add water! Of course, I’d always recommend you have the system checked out in case it’s defective. Failing that, it’s not uncommon that the system needs to be kept in balance. It always wants water (which will always evaporate – just at different rates) and it will always need power/heat. Again, I am not a huge fan of these systems unless you see BIG fluctuations in temp/humidity inside your home on a regular basis. If not, you’re probably wasting time, power, money and water keeping the system up. Best of luck to you!

  39. Julie

    Hello,

    We purchased a brand new Steinway D 2016 last October. It was in perfect condition for two months. I bought a hygrometer and it used to show the humidity between 45% and 53%. As soon as the cold weather began, it dropped down to 24%-30%. We live in North Texas and the winter is dry here. I tried to turn on a normal humidifier in the room, but having it turned on all day, the humidity would raise the room humidity by only 1% or 2% higher. Now the piano sounds BAD! Especially when the humidity hits below 30%, there are full of buzzes and few dampers are acting out leaving longer sound residue… Paying extremely high price for this instrument, we are very upset and scared. Since my technician was out of town, the piano was not looked at for a month. Would it be possible that something might have happened with the soundboard within a month?? We ordered a Dampp-Chaser and the technician will install it as soon as it arrives.
    We also own a Japanese brand grand piano (6′) but she is just fine – sturdy! Is a Steinway Concert Grand that sensitive!!?? The tail of the Steinway is under the vent where the heating comes out, but we completely closed the vent. Should we move the piano to a different room?

  40. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Julie! Sounds like you have a lot going on over there. Yes, Steinways are notoriously sensitive to adjustments in temp and humidity. …but you have done all the right things. I would definitely beef up the humidifier in the room with the Steinway and maybe add some Boston ferns (or good, leefy green plants) to keep the humidity more stable. I’d also make sure the vent is closed off and covered over. …but if your Steinway is new, don’t worry. They get more sturdy after they acclimate to your climate. It takes a year or two, though. Hang in there!

  41. Deon

    Hi James,
    I have a 6’3″ Konzert Shimmel that we bought new 7 years ago. I have a cold water humidifier in the room about 4 feet from the piano. The humidity goes up during the night to about 28 but during the day goes down to 21-23. My question is “Is this fluctuation bad for my piano”? Last summer the humidity was between 31-35 without a room humidifier. It is not in direct sunlight nor near a heater which is closed anyway. The West sun does shine on the front door in the summer time but not directly on the piano which is about 8 feet from the door. If we had the door open during the day, it would shine on the piano but the previous piano I had was already faded on one side when I bought it so I know not to have direct sun shining on any wood. Would the spread from summer to winter of 14 % have a negative impact on the piano. If so, would it be appropriate to have installed a humidifier/dehumidifier from Dampt System. I have recently learned about the Piano Life Saver System and Do you recommend I put one on? My husband and I have both enjoyed reading the questions and answers on this blog.
    Thanks for your time and input.
    Deon

  42. James Harding Post author

    Hi, Deon! Thank you for your question. I definitely think your piano is getting a bit dry. The ideal climate for that instrument is between 40% and 60% humidity – and it sounds like you never get close to that. This could cause the soundboard to crack. It could cause problems with the ribs and pinblock. It could even cause issues with the action over time. It sounds like your humidifier is too small for your room. Consider upgrading it or adding a second one. The fluctuation you are seeing from day to day of over 7% humidity is also somewhat problematic. It’s not “critical” (anything over 10% is a problem in my mind), but it’s something to keep an eye on. You might also consider some live plants for that room. They help with moisture content. I would also make sure your door is well sealed and I would encourage you to use it sparingly (if possible). Every time you open it, your humidity will drop significantly. Finally, the “Summer to Winter” change isn’t a big problem in my mind. The bigger issues are the daily changes and the fact that your piano is living in really dry air all the time. The internal humidity control system will help protect the soundboard, but not much else. I’d definitely suggest upgrading or adding another humidifier to that room. Best of luck to you!

  43. James

    Hi James,

    Before continuing, I would just like to say that I appreciate all the time you’ve put into writing this article and answering the numerous questions raised – most helpful.

    Having used a Yamaha digital piano for many years, I’ve recently taken the ‘plunge’ and purchased a Kawai K-15 upright. It is currently sat in my living room where the humidity ranges from 50 (RH) – 70 (RH). From what I’ve read, I assume that, although the humidity itself is within acceptable parameters, the fluctuations could pose a problem in the medium term. I live in the south of England and we often get relatively humid summers. My intention was to buy an electronic de-humidifier for the room and set it to maintain a RH of, say, 55. Is this the correct course of action?

    Many thanks.

  44. James Harding Post author

    Hello, James! (Good English name, right?) Thanks for your kind words and your excellent question. You are right. The biggest issue would be the fluctuation between 50 and 70RH. Ideally, if you could provide a whole-room solution (like the dehumidifier you are suggesting) and keep the humidity around 55%, you’d be doing your piano a huge favor. It should prolong the life of the piano while simultaneously reducing your maintenance costs. Great plan! I hope you enjoy that piano! Regards, Jmz.

  45. Charlene Kreidler

    Hi James
    I live in Colorado & have a GH2 Yamaha baby grand. It is in a room with vaulted ceilings & open to the rest of the house with no walls except outside walls. The house has forced air heat & central air conditioning. I have not had my piano tuned for several years after losing my technician. My new technician recommended a humidifier/dehumidifier system for my piano. Since the humidity that I would run from a humidifier would basically go throughout the house, do you think it would warrant this piano system instead? After reading your blog I’m having second thoughts about ordering this. I will get a hygrometer & monitor it but I think the wintertime here might give a better glimpse since it’s so dry in the winter. Thank you.

  46. James Harding Post author

    Hello, Charlene, and thanks for a great question! I have to confess that I am not sure what the climate is like in your area of Colorado so I am not 100% sure what to recommend here. It does sound like a “whole room” solution would be difficult because your house is so open. It would take an add-on to the HVAC system to adequately regulate the whole house’s relative humidity. If your humidity test reveals major fluctuations (20% or more) in humidity over a given month, I would definitely add the humidity control system to your piano. Forced air heat often dries out the air inside a home to levels that are difficult for pianos to endure. It’s worth a look, certainly. Best of luck to you and thanks for reading!

  47. Alfredo Deus

    Hi James,

    I recently got a 9 year old Kawai RX-5 and although it got here in tune, it is now almost sounding like an harpsichord in the low section. High section sounds ok.

    Oddly enough, I tried checking if the piano is out of tune with an electronic orchestral tuner and it’s in tune!

    The weather here has pretty extreme daily variations:

    – temperature goes from 20 degrees C at night to 40 degrees in the afternoon.

    – relative humidity goes from 90% at night to 15% in the afternoon.

    I close the house around noon because of the heat. It’s weĺl insulated and by doing this I get the house to be 10 or more degrees cooler. I open the house again around 8pm and close it 1 or 2 hours later.

    On the opposite corner of the room to the piano, there’s a fish tank that has a daily evaporation of 2.5 liters.

    I ordered an hygrometer monitor but it will take a few weeks to arrive, so I will try to get a simpler one tomorrow.

    What is making me worried is the fact that according to the electronic tuner, the piano is tuned, yet the sound is horrible in the mid and especially the lower section.

    Thanks in advance for your help.

  48. James Harding Post author

    Hello, Alfredo! Thanks for your question, but I have to tell you – despite what your electronic orchestral tuner says (they are often wrong when it comes to pianos) – there is almost no possible way your piano can be in tune. Read this article: https://www.gistpianocenter.com/blog/what-causes-a-piano-to-go-out-of-tune/ Have a technician come out and look at your piano. It sounds from your description that it needs some voicing, tuning and (likely) a humidity control solution. Good luck!

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