Many people are not aware that humidity can have a profound effect on the tuning and performance of your piano. Humidity is a measure of how much water vapor is in the air, relative to the maximum amount of water vapor it can hold (that’s why it’s called relative humidity!). Your piano is subject to wide swings in humidity. This is particularly true in the Hudson Valley, where the majority of our clients live. In the summer, humidity levels can go as high as 100%, while in the winter, your heating system can drop the relative humidity in your home into the single digits.
What does this mean for your piano? When the humidity is high, the soundboard and bridges absorb moisture and swell, increasing the tension of the strings and forcing the piano sharp. When the humidity is low, the opposite happens — the soundboard and bridges release moisture and shrink, reducing the downward pressure of the strings and forcing the piano flat. This is why almost all piano manufacturers — and your piano technician — recommend that your piano is tuned twice a year. In addition to forcing your piano out of tune, increased humidity affects the action parts, swelling the wood and increasing friction, which can make your action respond sluggishly (a major cause of “sticking” keys).
How can you mitigate the effects of humidity on your piano? There are several options. The absolute best solution is to have your whole house humidity controlled. This involves either attaching a humidifier to your HVAC system or installing a separate humidifier/dehumidifier system in your home. While this is the best solution, it can be very expensive to install and maintain, and is usually cost prohibitive.
The next, and we think best, solution is to install a humidity control system directly in your piano. The Dampp Chaser company, makers of the Piano Life Saver system, is the only company making these systems. Over the past 74 years they have perfected their system and adapted it to work in all pianos. This system maintains the relative humidity of your piano within a few percent of the ideal level of 45% Relative Humidity. A humidistat regulates the humidity, similar to the way your thermostat regulates temperature. If the humidity is high, the humidistat activates low power dehumidifier bars to dry out the piano. If the humidity is low, the humidistat activates a humidifier — a gentle version of that which you might put in a room. Periodically, you must fill the humidifier tank with water. This can be disconcerting the first few times, pouring water into a tube that disappears into your piano!
In grand pianos, the system is installed underneath the piano, in direct proximity to the soundboard. An under cover will aid in the effectiveness of these systems. A dehumidifier bar is installed at either end of the underside of the piano, and a humidifier tank is located in the approximate middle.
In vertical pianos, the system is installed in the lower half of the piano, inside the knee board. There is one dehumidifier bar which runs the width of the piano, and the humidifier tank generally rests on the bottom board. A watering tube extends from the top of the knee board to underneath the key bed.
Routine care of the system involves replenishing the water for the humidifier tank, when prompted to do so by a discreet light panel mounted underneath the key bed. The system will be serviced by your technician when they comes to tune your piano; this involves replacing the humidifier pads and testing the system. The system comes with a five year warranty, which New York Piano Works will double to 10 years provided we continue to service the system.
Other than routine care by a qualified technician, a Piano Life Saver system is the best investment you can make towards the quality and consistency of your piano. Click HERE or contact us for more information! For more information click here: Piano Humidity Control