Moisture in Towers

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Moisture in Towers

Postby JohnGouwens on Sun Jan 26, 2014 7:33 pm

This turned up as Guild e-mail message first, but since, alas, this problem is something nearly all of us have encountered, I believe it's worth having a discussion of it here, where people can refer to it later.

Here is the original e-mail:

Hi Everyone,

Does anyone have advice on how you deal with moisture in your towers? At Grace Church in Plainfield it can get very wet when there is a fast climate change. Everything including the walls, carillon keyboard, etc. can become saturated. We see some mortar erosion. The bells themselves are OK as they are in an open section with good air circulation.

Any guidance is greatly appreciated.

Kind regards,

Jeff Spelman
Grace Episcopal Church
Plainfield, NJ

http://www.graceplainfield.org/carillon.htm
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Re: Moisture in Towers

Postby davejohnson on Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:39 am

It's been a long time (1995) since I was at Grace Church, and I don't reliably remember the physical configurations there.

In particular, I don't remember if the playing cabin is an island unto itself in the tower or if it shares one or more of its walls with the tower walls themselves. Your description of major moisture inside the playing cabin--including, amazingly, on the clavier itself--tells me that you've got significant air circulation, insulation, and construction problems that should be addressed immediately by a professional. If this is more a winter season problem, try to get advice now.

The mortar deterioration that you mention, if proximate to the playing cabin, would almost certainly contribute to the moisture problem, but not as you describe it, i.e., you indicate that sudden atmospheric shifts can quickly produce moisture in the cabin. Tower deterioration is permanent and steady; your problem is situational. The tower itself could well have moisture issues: House of Hope Presbyterian in St. Paul, where I play, was found to have moisture issues about five years ago when time-lapse photography revealed that the tower in which our carillon is housed was shifting. These weren't radical shifts, but there clearly was instability. Subsequent close inspection revealed that the brick inner construction (there is no iron or steel in the tower, which is faced with Bedford limestone), was completely deteriorated throughout the upper portion of the tower owing to moisture. The church immediately opted for a complete professional rebuild. The brick turned out to have become pure powder. The top ca 25-30 feet of the tower was subsequently completely rebuilt. This winter, for the first time in at least fifteen years, there has been no observable condensation and icing in that portion of the tower stairwell that is exposed to the exterior tower walls themselves. The rebuild clearly achieved its purpose.

As for our playing cabin, it was built, along with a practice room two levels down in the same tower, in 1992, by Verdin under the direction of Rick Watson, who conceived and designed a complete restoration and renovation. We have two fine rooms with proper air circulation and insulation. I've never found moisture in either room. The playing cabin has independent walls, facing the outside with windows, on all four sides. These windows open, and are opened to the player's desire. The bells are immediately alongside (the three largest) and above (46) the playing cabin. The practice room has direct contact with an exterior wall on one side, and with other interior space in the tower on the other three sides. In other words, on only one of eight total sides do our rooms have physical contact with the tower walls.

In summary, our tower has two well-insulated, well-ventilated rooms, professionally designed and constructed. The only extant issue at the moment is that heat in the playing cabin has bordered, during this exciting cold winter, on inadequate. We solved the same problem in the practice room by replacing the baseboard heater with a bigger one, and we'll do the same in the playing cabin before next winter.

I think you need immediate professional advice, and hope that you'll seek it.

Dave Johnson
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Re: Moisture in Towers

Postby JohnGouwens on Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:17 pm

Wow! Thank you for that very thorough and helpful response, Dave! My tower at Culver (Indiana) has had brickwork slowly crumbling away every time it has rained. We've had tuckpointing done on the tower (which entailed not only sawing out the old mortar but in many cases replacing the exterior brick). The inner brick still crumbles, though at least we have steel framework as well. (As for the condition of that steel framework, I have wondered!) I sure hope we wouldn't have to have the tower completely rebuilt, but we've certainly had to do major surgery on ours at times. We get water leaks through the ceiling (which is the belfry floor), but fortunately far away from the console.
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