Historic Buildings and Museums

Commercial Pest Management Services for the Museum Industry

How Waltham Pest Services Can You Help You

Once damaged or destroyed, historic buildings and their contents can never be replaced. Extensive knowledge and experience in pest control is vital to their preservation. Our buildings and preservation program:

  • respects the unique needs of antique and historic buildings
  • recognizes the significance of these structures and their contents
  • protects and preserves the buildings you cherish
  • offers state-of-the-art information technology
  • does so in a cost-effective manner

Antique and historic buildings are susceptible to a wide range or pest problems. Whether the issue is wood-destroying insects or textile pests, our proactive approach protects your property with the least impact—not only upon the objects being preserved, but upon the environment, as well.

As industry leaders in protecting historic buildings and museums, we are keenly aware of the risks involved in managing and maintaining these precious structures and their contents. Our years of experience in preserving such properties ensures that your financial and cultural investment is in caring and competent hands.

Request a free inspection or to locate your local Waltham Pest Services branch.

Challenges Faced

Museums preserve and exhibit artifacts historically important to humanity. They display objects that are meaningful to history, art, and science in order to give us an up-close view of the notable things that make up human existence. We like to think these objects become frozen in time when they enter into museums, but in reality, they are still susceptible to the deteriorating effects of nature, one of which is pest damage.

Museum pests pose a substantial threat to the valuables contained in museums and historical buildings. These organisms indiscriminately destroy irreplaceable artifacts, ultimately breaking the connection with the past and robbing humanity of cultural wealth.

More than a dozen species of beetles, moths, silverfish, lice, and rodents threaten museums and historical buildings. Quite often, developing insect larvae do the actual damage prior to the fully grown adults being detected.

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Effects of Infestation

Museum pests primarily destroy artifacts by consuming them. Historical pieces are most susceptible to consumption because they are often made from materials that pests feed on in nature, like fur, skin, feathers, and wood. In addition to supplying ample food sources, museums provide pests with warm, dark, sheltered environments to thrive in.

Primarily thought of as threats to current exhibits, pests can also infest artifacts in storage. In fact, pests are commonly discovered inside acid-free boxes, Hollinger boxes, cabinetry, and textile storage boxes. If left unchecked, pests can cause irreparable damage to large quantities of museum pieces.

Pests are also a substantial threat to the buildings themselves. Historical buildings are especially vulnerable to pest attacks because most were built before construction materials began featuring insect-repelling chemicals. Wood-boring pests can burrow inside historical buildings and slowly eat away at the foundation, walls, and joists. In some cases, pests can cause enough damage to make buildings unfit for use.

Museums and historical buildings in the United States operate largely without the support of government funds. Most rely on private funding, donations, and ticket sales to maintain operations. Substantial loss of artifacts or building deterioration due to pests can result in lowered public interest, which causes decreased admissions and disinterested funders.

Common Museum Pests

Fabric Pests - Several species of beetles and moths feed on natural materials like:

  • Animal skin
  • Feathers
  • Fur
  • Horns
  • Hooves
  • Paper
  • Silk
  • Wool

From furniture and rugs to clothing and books, museums have vast arrangements of artifacts that fabric pests can destroy. Pieces in storage and dimly lit exhibits are the most susceptible to fabric pest attack because the insects largely feed in dark, undisturbed areas. A reclusive nature makes the pests difficult to detect; damage from feeding, discarded larval skins, and webbing are usually the only indicators of their presence.

The pests hatch into an environment rife with natural materials and feed throughout the larval stage, which can last several years. The black carpet beetle is the most common fabric pest found in the eastern United States. Larvae steadily feed on one spot, causing damage to a large area of the fabric.

The equally destructive webbing clothes moth is a serious museum pest throughout New England and tends to cause scattered holes as damage. Other important fabric-feeding museum pests include the warehouse beetle, the case-making clothes moth, the furniture beetle, and the varied carpet beetle.

Wood-Infesting Insects - Termites, carpenter ants, and wood-boring beetles are detrimental to historic structures and wooden objects. These insects tunnel into wood and hollow out galleries and chambers to make room for their growing colonies. Termites, carpenter ants, and powder-post beetles are all common wood destroying insects throughout New England.

Infestations can easily be overlooked because the tunneling happens inside of wood, typically at or near foundational walls. Wood damage to artifacts and furniture is generally more noticeable, with multiple small holes scattered across surfaces. Typically, wood-boring beetles, like the powder-post beetle, infest wooden pieces within a structure. Small holes with piles of sawdust-like material underneath indicate the presence of some wood-boring pests.

Silverfish - Some species of silverfish feed on starchy materials, like paper and book bindings. As a result, books and historical documents are highly at risk of silverfish attack. The insects also feed on textiles, which puts garments and upholstery at risk as well.

Unlike moths and beetles, silverfish do not go through a larval state. These insects hatch into nymphs, which are smaller versions of adult silverfish, and molt several times before reaching adulthood. A silverfish will feed on textile and paper material through its lifespan. Damage is usually indicated by irregular holes, yellow stains around the feeding area, and traces of small fecal flakes.

Why In-House Pest Control Doesn't Work

Museums should take preventative measures to curb pest infestations; however, once the presence of pests becomes evident, in-house pest management rarely works. Museum workers may try to clean the surfaces of objects to rid them of pests, but cleaning generally only offers basic cosmetic improvements by removing visible pests and debris. Though cleaning helps prevent infestations, the tactic does little to control existing pest populations.

If an object seems heavily infested, the museum may take action and choose to remove the item in order to prevent the pests from spreading. Like cleaning, however, simply removing the infested item typically fails to eliminate an infestation because the majority of the pests and eggs are unseen and most likely elsewhere in the museum. Additionally, the removal of artifacts is considered a loss for the museum.

Freezing, the most extreme of the in-house methods, kills pests and eggs by dropping temperatures below survivable levels. This tactic involves placing infested objects into plastic bags and leaving them in subfreezing temperatures for several days. Freezing may remove pests from individual objects but likely will not kill an entire population living in a museum.

In general, in-house tactics should be avoided or implemented extremely carefully. If performed improperly, these tactics could further deteriorate museum pieces.

How Pest Control Professionals Can Help

Pest control specialists can implement integrated pest management (IPM) plans, which use multiple approaches to remove entire pest populations. In most cases, there are no one-shot solutions to remove entire pest populations. Pest professionals usually need to implement multiple tactics in order to control populations from egg to adult.

Well-trained and state-certified, pest control professionals carefully select treatments that will not damage artifacts or buildings. In addition to removing pest populations, pest management professionals find and seal up the entry points that pests use to get inside. For guaranteed prevention of future infestations, professionals will continue to return to reapply pest management tactics/treatments.

Museums with ongoing pest control contracts remain in direct communication with pest control professionals. If immediate problems arise, professional pest management services have the knowledge of buildings and artifacts as well as the plans in place to take care of the issue quickly.

Why Waltham?

With over 120 years of varied experience, Waltham Pest Services is committed to providing superior commercial pest management services for the museum industry.

  • Well trained, state certified pest control professionals dedicated to providing treatment and prevention plans that will not damage artifacts or buildings.
  • Buildings and preservation program that respects, recognizes, and preserves historic buildings and their contents in a cost-effective manner.
  • Knowledge and expertise in treating the wide range of common museum pests like silverfish, fabric pests, and wood infesting pests.

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