piano humidifier - good investment?

Posted by: DoReMi Katie

piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/28/08 09:49 PM

I bought my grand almost a year ago and have had the tuner come about 3-4 times. I realize the first year on a brand new piano is different as it adjusts to the home. The thing is, I don't like using my air conditioner unit, and consequently leave my window open a lot. Since the weather has been getting warmer, the window stays open longer, and just within the last couple weeks I've noticed a big different on the tunning.
I've heard that a humidifier unit will cost about $500. Will it make much of a difference if I were to invest in it? Could I still keep my window open part of the time? Has anyone purchased one and have been unsatisfied with it?
I'm only 1/6th the way through paying off the piano, and I don't know if it's worth spending that much money accessorizing it. I would love hearing your comments and/or suggestions.
Posted by: currawong

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/28/08 09:54 PM

The Piano forum is where people really obsess about such things \:\) . In fact, there's a thread going on there now about the pros and cons of the Damppchaser system. Take a look!
Posted by: Late Beginner

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/28/08 10:51 PM

Hi,

Air conditioners themselves also often get blamed for tampering with the humidity, so it's not always easy to know what the best strategy is.

Refrigerated aircons can be blamed for drying out the atmosphere, whereas evaporative ones (that use water) tend to increase the amount of moisture in the air. In hot dry climates owners of antique furniture (which can crack if it gets too dry) sometimes use the remedy of putting small bowls of water in unobtrusive spots, under dressers and so on. You can even make a simple evaporative aircon by draping a wet towel over the back of a chair and blowing air through it with an electric fan. I have a digital piano which doesn't go out of tune, but just to be on the safe side I often stand a glass of liquid on it when I play. Wine or Guinness works well, but coffee or tea will do at a pinch... ;\)


The first step might be to find out what sort of baseline figure you have in your room, and how much deviation you get depending on the conditions. Something that simply measures humidity might be a lot cheaper than a full scale humidifier, which you may or may not need to invest in.

Good luck with the search. As Currawong says, there are more discussions at the Piano forum, and also the techs at the Tuner forum would probably have some good info.

Cheers,

Chris
Posted by: Cy Shuster, RPT

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/29/08 02:48 AM

Hi, Katie,

I just happened to see this topic go by. Mind if I drop in?

The Midwest is a very harsh climate for pianos. The summers are humid; the winters are cold, so the heat's on a lot. It gets so dry that there's static electricity and your fingers get those painful cracks at the tips. I know, because I lived in Minnesota for several years.

Yes, if you get a humidity control system, you can leave your windows open some of the time. You might need a string cover, too, if you like to play with the lid open.

The biggest damage comes in the winter, when the humidity plummets. This is when a typical Piano Life Saver System will put about a gallon of water every ten days into the air around your piano, keeping the wood from shrinking and cracking.

Yes, it's about $500, and you're still paying off the piano, but the system can only prevent damage; it can't repair it. You're protecting the wood of the piano itself (soundboard and bridges) from needing expensive repairs, not just keeping the tuning stable. It costs less than the sales tax for most new grands, and you get a lot more benefit!

Not every piano needs such a system; I had a piano in southern California for many years without one (we only had a single wall heater for the whole house!). But as soon as I moved to Minnesota, I installed one. My brother still has that piano today; it's 25 years old and in good shape.

Note that controlling temperature is not as important as controlling humidity. Country churches without heat are less damaging to pianos in the winter than those who turn the furnace on twice a week, stress-cycling all of the wood. It's relative humidity that's important (cold air can hold less water than warm air).

Please ask your own technician for her or his advice. More info can be found here:
www.pianolifesaver.com

DISCLAIMER: Yes, I sell and install these systems. But I have them in all my family's pianos because they work. It saddens me to find an otherwise excellent piano with a serious bridge crack, or rusted strings, that could have been easily prevented.

--Cy--
Posted by: Late Beginner

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/29/08 04:15 AM

Hi again,

Great post from Cy above. If I could just add a bit extra to his point that it's relative humidity that counts.

That's exactly right, and what that means is that the problems tend to occur when the changes are both large and also quick. Wood can be seasoned, and remain happily stable, over a pretty wide range of moisture content readings. It's when the moisture is added or removed too fast that the problems with cracking or warping are most likely to occur. Hence the reputation that some cooling/heating systems often have as villains amongst owners of wooden instruments.

Yamaha state that they season the wood for their pianos to a different percentage for the US market than they do for Japan, because the moisture content in the air is different in the two countries. Likewise for the ones they export to Australia. Given that the USA probably has an enormous range, depending on season and location, (and that Australia has everything from tropical rainforest to the harshest of deserts, and everything in between) this is probably not always as effective as the marketing blurb might try and suggest! \:D

I own a number of wooden guitars. Some guitar owners also buy humifidifiers, although I only know that from online conversations. Here we get a pretty wide range of both temperature and humidity. In over 30 years of varying conditions I've never had any problems with cracking or warping. However, I can certainly hear the difference that it can make to the tuning. Fortunately it only takes a few seconds to tune a guitar. \:\)

Good luck with the search.

Chris
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/29/08 09:05 AM

On my previous piano I had the entire Dammp-chaser system installed, and found it hard to keep up with "watering" the piano. However, with my next piano, my technician recommended that we only install the heating bars, and that I just try to keep the room humid in the winter with a room humidifier. I live in the Midwest too, so I know what those sudden fluctuations are like. I have a hygrometer in the room so I can make sure things stay around the "comfort zone" and any time it gets beyond that, the heating bars will compensate. So far, I've been pleased with this arrangement compared with the entire system. For me, filling a room humidifier is much easier to remember and to do than the one on the piano. Much more economical too, as I would have had to put at least 2 reservoirs on my concert grand. Just my opinion.
Posted by: Cy Shuster, RPT

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/30/08 01:15 AM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Morodiene:
On my previous piano I had the entire Dammp-chaser system installed, and found it hard to keep up with "watering" the piano. However, with my next piano, my technician recommended that we only install the heating bars, and that I just try to keep the room humid in the winter with a room humidifier. I live in the Midwest too, so I know what those sudden fluctuations are like. I have a hygrometer in the room so I can make sure things stay around the "comfort zone" and any time it gets beyond that, the heating bars will compensate. So far, I've been pleased with this arrangement compared with the entire system. For me, filling a room humidifier is much easier to remember and to do than the one on the piano. Much more economical too, as I would have had to put at least 2 reservoirs on my concert grand. Just my opinion. [/b]
There's nothing wrong with controlling the entire room's humidity. After all, you can't play with those fingertip cracks, can you? (Try the "liquid glove" that you paint on like nail polish).

I'm puzzled how it could be more economical, though. You certainly use much more water, and most of all, around ten times as much electricity (plus the noise). And it's often difficult to keep them full if you go for a week's vacation during the winter. See:
http://www.dampp-chaser.com/english/compare_electric.php

Yes, the two-tank system costs more initially, but will probably last longer than the room humidifiers. With an undercover, I'll bet you'd refill it a lot less often. (And why is cost an issue with a concert grand? :-)

When I lived in Minnesota, I was shopping for the humidifiers that add on to a furnace. That's the best comfort for both you and your piano (and everything else made of wood in your house!). You need to have a two-speed furnace fan, so it can stay on at a low speed to humidify, even when the temperature is warm enough and the furnace shuts off. And then you should have A/C for the summer to dry the air. I don't install heat-only systems; pianos are often moved many times during their useful lives. I'm glad your setup works for you.

--Cy--
Posted by: Piano Fingers

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/30/08 01:43 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Cy Shuster:
...

When I lived in Minnesota, I was shopping for the humidifiers that add on to a furnace. That's the best comfort for both you and your piano (and everything else made of wood in your house!) ...[/b]
I also have a humidifier attached to my furnace. I'm glad to know that this confguration works.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: piano humidifier - good investment? - 04/30/08 02:25 PM

 Quote:
Originally posted by Cy Shuster:
There's nothing wrong with controlling the entire room's humidity. After all, you can't play with those fingertip cracks, can you? (Try the "liquid glove" that you paint on like nail polish).

I'm puzzled how it could be more economical, though. You certainly use much more water, and most of all, around ten times as much electricity (plus the noise). And it's often difficult to keep them full if you go for a week's vacation during the winter. See:
http://www.dampp-chaser.com/english/compare_electric.php

Yes, the two-tank system costs more initially, but will probably last longer than the room humidifiers. With an undercover, I'll bet you'd refill it a lot less often. (And why is cost an issue with a concert grand? :-)

When I lived in Minnesota, I was shopping for the humidifiers that add on to a furnace. That's the best comfort for both you and your piano (and everything else made of wood in your house!). You need to have a two-speed furnace fan, so it can stay on at a low speed to humidify, even when the temperature is warm enough and the furnace shuts off. And then you should have A/C for the summer to dry the air. I don't install heat-only systems; pianos are often moved many times during their useful lives. I'm glad your setup works for you.

--Cy-- [/b]
This is what my piano tech recommended when I asked her to install the entire system on my piano. Since I do need to have the room humidity (we are in an older house with hydroponic heat, so no chance of getting a forced air system installed w/humidifier without tearing up the whole place!). And filling a room humidifier with a detachable reservoir is a lot easier than filling two dammp-chaser reservoirs with the little watering can they give you. Like I said, I'm not against it, and I think it's a good idea, but some techs say it's best just to get the heating bars to handle things in the summer and then use your regular humidifier for the room for the winter. The main rationale is that they found most people don't keep the reservoir filled to make it worthwhile. Oh, and I remember that the initial cost of the reservoirs was not the only cost, because there's the pads which need to be replaced regularly.

And don't think that because I have a concert grand that I'm not good with my money. I got this piano for a steal ;\) (but I didn't steal it).