A Tenement So Hot, It’s Got to Have Shades
July 15, 2013

As you may have guessed, and as our summer visitors may have experienced, the temperature inside 97 Orchard can climb very high during the summer months.

97 Orchard is in direct morning and afternoon sun... and in the summer, it gets hot.

We monitor this using “HOBO” data loggers, small battery powered devices that are placed in the building to record temperature, humidity, light, energy, and a variety of other parameters. The data loggers, which were funded by an National Endowment for the Humanities grant, were installed last year. We haven’t downloaded the data yet for the very warm days we had over the weekend, but last summer’s high temperature on the 4th floor was 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit, in mid-July. That’s hot.

The HOBO data logger hidden in an apartment in 97 Orchard

And we’re proud to report that it’s going to stay hot, for the sake of the building. Working with Museum Climate specialist and under the guidance of the Museum’s Preservation Advisory Committee, we ruled out air conditioning the upper floors of the building for a few reasons. First of all, installing central air conditioning would require substantial destruction of historic fabric to install the necessary duct work, drainage, etc.; and secondly, in a poorly sealed building like ours, it would be impossible to reduce the humidity in the space – we’d have to try to dehumidify the entire neighborhood! Keeping the same humidity at an artificially lowered temperature would greatly increase the risk of mold and mildew in the building.

The shades are drawn in an attempt to cool off the Baldizzi apartment. Notice the 1930's style fan on the table to the right. The tenants of 97 tried their best to stay cool too!

Instead, we’re working to implement some lower-intervention measures to control the temperature extremes inside the building. The one that we’ve implemented so far is the installation of roller shades, which were put up throughout the building last month. We conducted a one-floor test in early May, wherein we compared the effect of light-blocking vs. light-filtering shades. In the end, the light-blocking shades performed better, reducing the temperatures recorded in those rooms by a small but consistent one degree more than the light-filtering shades did. These are operated on a schedule, and are lowered on the east side of the building in the mornings and on the west side of the building in the afternoon, to reduce the solar gain that occurs when the sun hits the windows.

Tenements aren’t comfortable places, but we here at the Tenement Museum are doing our best to protect our building and our visitors – which is why we provide our very own “Tenement Air Conditioning” to our valued visitors during the sticky New York City summers.

Tenement Museum Chief of Staff Emily displays our latest model of "Tenement Air Conditioning"

– Posted by Kathleen O’Hara and Lib Tiejten