A book collection often grows well beyond the confines of a single bookcase or even several shelves for displaying books. When you have more books than you have indoor space to place them, searching for additional locations in your residence may lead you to consider places such as a garage. Before leaving your vehicles in the weather to make room for your book collection, be sure to learn how to store them correctly.
The best way to store books in a garage is to reproduce, as much as possible, the same type of humidity, temperature, air flow, lighting and pest control as you would provide for the books if they were to remain inside.
Learning about the factors that can cause books to deteriorate rapidly is time well spent, especially if you want to be able to read your favorites over and over, or if you are simply boxing up part or all of your collection in preparation for a move, for long-term storage, or to sort the books in some new way. Here are seven key factors to consider when looking at your garage as a potential storage location.
What Purpose Does Your Garage Serve?
If you look upon a garage as just a place to park your car, you are probably in the minority of homeowners. If you are a two-car family, you might only park one vehicle in your two-car garage and the remainder of the space is taken up by appliances, garden tools, lawn care equipment, storage for bulk purchases, renovation supplies, mechanical tools and products, and more.
An attached garage may be utilized in a different way than a detached space. The style of construction and the materials used to build the garage can also affect the way it is used. If you have upgraded your garage to serve as more of an additional room, you may find it easier to repurpose the space as storage for your book collection. If you are less precise about the space, there are still ways to add some extra book storage without the risk of losing books because of an unpleasant environment or seriously damaging their quality.
How Can Temperature Fluctuations Affect Books?
Unless your garage is very well insulated, it is an area that often has higher highs and lower lows than the other parts of your residence. The condition of books can be affected not only by temperatures which are outside of the 68-72°F range, but by sizable fluctuations from day to day or season to season.
Why does temperature matter? High temperatures can adversely affect leather-bound volumes, causing the material to weaken and become brittle. Heat waves can also melt some glues used in bindings. When combined with humidity, heat can cause mold and mildew growth, and encourage pests. While cool weather is generally less harmful to books than heat can be, and cold can be used as a pest-control mechanism, extreme cold fluctuations can damage binding materials over time or contribute to warping.
What Type of Pests Can Attack Books Stored in the Garage?
There are hundreds of insects that can do real damage to unprotected books in a garage. They include the larvae of some flying insects, all life stages of termites and silverfish, and many more. When insects come into the garage, they are often looking for the right temperature, moisture levels, and food sources for the eggs they lay.
Although ‘bookworm’ is a term used for someone who prefers having their nose in a book, there are actual bookworms that are attracted to the material which is in the book, rather than its content. Bookworms are the larval stage of hundreds of insect species, which feed on books. Some of these include the booklouse, powderpost beetle, furniture beetle, paper worm, larder beetle, Mexican book beetle, spider beetle, and silverfish.
Not all of these insects feed on paper, but they may damage the paper while trying to get to other materials. The insects create holes and tunnels through cardboard, paper, animal glue, starch paste, leather, and cloth binding. They can be a serious threat to your book collection.
For small private collections, prevention and monitoring is the most cost-effective method of controlling insect pests. If you know which kind of insect is taking up residence in your books, treatment can be tailored to fit the specific pest. If you are storing books in the garage, you will need to be aware of entry points for flying insects, as well as those which burrow or crawl.
Temperature control is a low cost way of dealing with insects. Place infected books in a sealed plastic bag and freeze them for several days to kill eggs and larvae. Preventing access is another good way to limit some or all of the damage due to insects.
Other Types of Vermin
Depending on your geographical location, and whether your garage is urban or rural, there can be other animals which can enter an unprotected garage. Mice and rats love to use paper to build nests for their prolific offspring. Not only do they chew and shred the unprotected books and bindings, but their droppings and urine destroy the books they don’t chew on. They carry diseases, and can rapidly destroy an entire library if not controlled.
Pest and insect control measures are best applied by packing the books to be stored in the right type of containers. Some types of containers do not prevent damage from insects, vermin, dampness and temperature fluctuation.
What Is the Best Lighting for Garage Storage?
Contrary to popular belief, sunlight on a book is not good. Just a few minutes of exposure to direct sun can lead to fading, desiccated paper and bindings, and brittleness. While most people don’t think of windows in a garage, it can happen. The wrong kind of artificial light can also be harmful to your books. Damaging ultraviolet rays are not visible to the human eye, but are part of natural sunlight as well as some incandescent and fluorescent bulbs.
The best lighting for books is very low level, and for limited periods. That is not a typical environment you would find in a garage, so the alternative is to install LED lighting wherever possible and avoid UV rays.
Is Air Circulation Important?
Moving air provides several benefits in a garage as well as in a residence. Allow enough room for airflow around books, and they are less likely to smell musty or to grow mold. When you combine a dehumidifier with air movement, you are giving your book collection the best chance of a long life.
Moving air can also help to maintain a proper temperature range, and filtering the air in movement can reduce dust, exhaust fumes, and other damaging particulates.
Will Books Get Damp In A Garage?
One of the major problems with storing your books in a garage is humidity. Because of the original purpose of a garage, it is likely to be subject to outside air, either when the overhead doors are raised to move the automobile in or out of the space, or when there is inadequate weather protection inside. If the outside weather is humid, or if precipitation is a common event in your climate, anything stored in the garage is likely to be subject to higher humidity than the recommended levels.
If you are unable to install climate controlled features to your garage, you run the risk of dampness as a constant factor in the condition of your books. This doesn’t mean you have to give up the idea, just that extra measures must be applied to maintain the best condition of the stored books.
Equipment and appliances can add to the humidity in a space like a garage. A warm car in cool weather can bring in a lot of moisture. The water in the air condenses onto all surfaces nearby and dampness and mold is the result. Humidity from equipment like laundry appliances, freezers, and other devices can raise the relative humidity significantly.
If you have the ability to install climate control features to your garage, the relative humidity should be in the range of 45 to 55 percent. More problematic is the combination of variations of temperature and relative humidity. If your garage is part of the central heating system of your house, you can keep the temperature within the desired range. This can be a major energy consumer, however, which can affect the cost of your utilities.
Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew live on the organic materials that make up a book. These include leather, paper, wood, and cloth. The old book smell is a symptom of the presence of mold. Improper storage is often the cause of mold and its distinctive odor. Mold is not only damaging to the structure and appearance of the book and its pages, but can be harmful to human health as well. The best treatment for mold and mildew is prevention, rather than extensive remedial treatment as described below.
Mold spores appear as threads, fuzzy spots, or webs, and are most often seen on natural and porous surfaces, including paper, leather, wool, silk, linen, and cotton. Because the air in garages is more likely to be brought in from outside, mold spores are likely to be present. It is critical to identify any active patches of mildew or mold and remove them before it destroys an entire library.
If you find evidence of mold on the outside of dry books, treatment measures are critically important. Use a soft cloth or a fine brush to brush away the spores. You can also use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, and a dryer sheet over the end of the hose. Paperbacks can be gently wiped down with a soft cloth dampened with denatured alcohol. Be sure the book is dry before returning it to storage. Other bindings can be tested for color change and spot cleaned with denatured alcohol.
To remove the mold and mildew growth from the pages of a dry book, slide wax paper beneath the affected page, and remove obvious spores with a soft brush or soft cloth. Hydrogen peroxide or denatured alcohol can be applied carefully. If the book is wet, it must be dried first and then treated.
Treatment of a wet book requires placing absorbent sheets between pages of the book and wrapping it in a towel. Set a weight on top to squeeze out moisture. Absorbent materials must be replaced frequently. Keep air circulating using fans or hair dryers to speed the process of drying. A damp book can also be dried by sprinkling cornstarch between the pages and letting it sit in a plastic bag for an hour or two before removing the starch carefully.
If the musty odor remains following treatment, place a sprinkle of baking soda or activated charcoal in a sealed bag or container with the book to absorb the scent.
Silica packets and other similar desiccants are an excellent option to reduce high levels of moisture in the air. This solution is best for placing inside boxes which contain books. Silica packs are readily available, and there are other desiccants which can be utilized. There are even some homemade packets which can be reused.
If you want to go to a solution with stronger technology, consider the installation of a dehumidifier in the garage. You can even align it with the features of a smart house so that if the humidity goes above the recommended level for book storage, the equipment goes into operation. In addition to whole house dehumidifiers, there are two other main types: desiccant and refrigerant.
A refrigerant dehumidifier works by creating a cold surface that is at a lower temperature than the air nearby. The equipment has a fan to draw the outside air over a metal plate that is cool. The moisture in the air condenses and drips into a water tank. The refrigerant type dehumidifier works best in locations that are not too cold. When temperatures exceed 15°C or 59°F, refrigerant types are able to extract higher amounts of moisture. They are more energy efficient, and cost less to operate. They also have a lower upfront cost.
A desiccant style dehumidifier works in a different manner. It operates at a lower temperature than a refrigerant type. This makes a desiccant style device recommended for areas that are already cool. It uses an absorbent material which draws in water from the air, in the same way that small desiccant packs pull in moisture. The moisture drips into a water condenser. It is quieter, since there are no moving parts, and many have antibacterial filters to trap allergens.
TIP: Learn more about non climate-controlled storage here: How do you store books in a non climate controlled storage?
What Should I Look For In Storage Containers?
If you are planning on storing books in your garage and it is likely to be long-term storage, the best options are opaque plastic containers. Plastic protects against moisture, humidity, pests, and sunlight as well. Because the plastic bins or totes are impermeable, they protect against all of the common threats.
The books must be completely dry, or you risk having a mold growth inside the container. Place silica or another desiccant inside the container to absorb moisture, especially in humid climates. Books should be cleaned before placing them in the container. This involves brushing to remove any dirt and debris from the surface. Also, remove any items which have been used as bookmarks, especially if they are made of metal. Even a tiny bit of moisture inside a closed container can lead to rust on metal surfaces.
Place the clean and dry books into the container. For hardcover books, stand them upright with the spines against the side of the bin. Softcover books can be stacked or aligned in the same way as hardcover books. If you want even more protection, each book could be wrapped in acid-free paper to help prevent yellowing. Books should not be stored in plastic bags, as moisture can be trapped inside the bag, leading to mold, pests, and warping. A plastic bin is not only inhospitable to insects and rodents, it can prevent some water damage in the event that the garage is flooded.
Once the bin is closed, be sure to label it so that you maintain an accurate inventory of your collection. An inventory is to your benefit not only for purposes of finding books you are searching for, but in the case of damage, it can help with insurance claims.
While a garage is not the preferred location for storing books, it can provide much needed space for the books you love. Prepare the books properly and place them in a controlled environment as much as possible, in order to best utilize your garage space for book storage.