If you have maxed out the storage space in your home and your book collection is overflowing, you may come to a point where you have no choice except to prune your collection or start storing the overflow in an attic or other less-than-ideal space. While attic storage is not recommended, there are ways to make the space somewhat safer.
Storing books in your attic is not recommended, but identifying some of the ways to make it better can significantly improve your storage space without negatively impacting the condition of the books. As with every storage location, it is important to protect against moisture, temperature extremes, pests, and dirt.
Do a careful assessment to be sure that you are not trading additional space for loss of part of your book collection. If you store books in an unsuitable location and they are destroyed or damaged, you have not gained anything. Consider finding ways to maximize storage within your living space, first.
Assess the available space
Before you start moving your book collection, do a careful assessment of the available space in the attic. Not all attics are created equal, and some will require extensive adjustments before trusting the condition of your books in the area. Some of the questions which you can answer during your assessment include:
- Is it insulated or not? Insulation is key for moderating temperature extremes, but in many climates, an uninsulated attic benefits the energy efficiency of the house itself.
- Are there roof vents? These may be desirable in some climates to help funnel heat out of an attic, but can provide an access point for animals or insects.
- Does it drop below freezing in winter and soar over 100°F in summer? Your local climate may affect how viable attic storage is for you.
- Are there signs of animals nesting in it, or is it safely enclosed? Look for feces, chewed debris, nests, urine smells, or sounds of occupancy.
- Are there parts which are more protected from temperature extremes? Think of a solid thermal mass like an unused brick chimney, or getting a steady draft from an access door from the temperature-controlled part of the house.
Obviously each of these assessments might be enough to make you rethink using the attic as your book storage space. However, it is probably worth taking a look at how you might do a workaround for each of them in order to make full use of the storage space.
What is an action plan to address major concerns?
A careful review of the available space may reveal some factors which need to be addressed before any books are placed in the attic. For all but the most critical concerns, there are usually solutions which may be applied to make your attic space into an environment that is conducive to protection of the condition of your books.
Once you have completed a full assessment, there are several things which you need to do in order to prepare the space for moving books into it. A thorough cleaning and airing out is probably the first step. In order to do a complete job, you might need to get some light into the space. This can either be from dedicated wiring, from outside windows, or from temporary light.
Most attic spaces are not pleasant places to spend time, so making it as clean and well lit as possible while you prepare the space will make the time go faster. Be sure to protect your lungs and breathing by wearing a respirator, especially if your attic is not enclosed. Be aware of the risks of fiberglass insulation, sharp edges and splinters, depending on the construction or your house.
Protection from moisture
Since books and moisture are not a good mix, any leaks which would touch book surfaces must be corrected. Leaks can come in from unfinished openings from the outside, from condensation due to temperature extremes, or sometimes from problems in plumbing lines. Minor general humidity can be resolved by the use of chemical dehydrators such as silica packets, stored with the books.
Protection from pests
Do not store books in a place where mice, bats, or other animals are living or nesting. There is a risk to the health of humans and pets when vermin are present inside your house. A professional exterminator may be necessary to clear out the vermin and their nests and droppings. Cardboard boxes are not good protection from any type of pests. In fact, some of the wild denizens of your attic may feed on cardboard and would also be interested in the paper, glue, and bindings of books.
Protection from heat
The glue in the binding of cheap paperbacks may actually melt in a hot car or attic, if the temperature rises far enough, and the high-acid cheap paper tends to brown and suffer acid damage more rapidly.
Hardcovers with sewn bindings can actually withstand these swings somewhat better. Using an acid-free (archival quality) cardboard box to contain books, then wrapping the box in insulation or crumpled newspaper, then placing the insulation-wrapped box inside a larger box and sealing it can help insulate valuable books against temperature extremes somewhat. Air flow in the attic space can also help with temperature extremes.
Adding insulation or fans can help to limit the buildup of heat in the attic to levels which are harmful to the books. Some homeowners put temperature sensors attached to smartphones or smart homes in order to regulate the temperatures.
Protection from dust, grime, and deformation
Closed plastic containers can help keep dirt from building up in and on books, but can cause condensation on the inside if sealed air-tight. Some types of plastic may even release off-gassing that contributes to acid damage. Pack the books in the bins flat and even, but not too deeply. Dust jackets or large paper covers may curl and warp in heat or humidity, so placing something flat and heavy atop such books can help to keep them flat and straight.
Once the space is cleared, you need to identify the area where the books will be placed. If you plan to use shelving of some sort, it should be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the books you plan to place there. The floor and the shelving needs to be level so that there is no risk of tipping or wobbling.
If you are really interested in making the attic space more accessible, and you have handyman skills, you may want to do some installation of sheetrock, with taping and texturing to provide a cleaner and more pleasing space.
A decision about how you plan to use the books that are being relocated to the attic is the next step. Do you want to be able to find and use the books that are placed on shelves? You may prefer to place some of the least-frequently used books in storage boxes. This approach means you do not plan to be accessing the volumes there except on rare occasions.
Use shelves or at least spacers
Books whether in boxes or separately should not be placed directly on the floor in case of a flood (though this is rarely an attic concern), water damage, or an infestation of vermin. Store the boxes or books off the floor, on a shelf or in a similar compartment to be sure that they will be out of the way of certain types of damages. Do not place containers tight against the exterior wall, because the fluctuations in temperatures can be more notable in that position, which affects the condition of the books inside.
Tips for packing
Be sure you use acid-free boxes that are archival quality for your book storage, if you are storing valuable or archival level books. If you are packing the usual run of volumes which have overflowed the existing bookshelves, then the pest protection that plastic containers provide is probably more important than maintaining archival quality storage.
Same or similar sized books should be placed together in boxes or containers. Iit is a good idea to do at least some sorting by size or rough dimensions. This will help to support the books, cut down on pressure marks, sagging, or other deformation indications, and will help to conserve space in the boxes.
Place books in the boxes in the same orientation as you would place them on bookshelves, with the spines perpendicular to the base of the box. If heat is a major concern, you may be wiser to lay the books flat, as any softening of the binding glue can result in deformation if upright.
As mentioned previously, cardboard boxes are not enough to solve all the problems which can go along with attic storage. However there are some steps you can take to lessen the problems associated with an attic location. Wrapping them before placing them in boxes provides an added layer of protection. However the wrapping should not be plastic wrap, which can attract moisture and promote growth of mold. Conversely, aluminum foil wrapping could attract damaging levels of heat.
Paper-based materials such as paper towels will protect the books from dust, while at the same time will help absorb moisture which might enter the bin and harm the books. Bubble wrap could be added for protection from impacts, but use the paper-based products first in order to keep out moisture. Wrapping books will keep them from sticking together and damaging the covers.
Maintenance of your books
While your attic might not seem like the most pleasant location to use as a storage space, for some people it is a better solution than discarding books just because room on the main levels of their residence is overwhelmed with the existing book collection. If you are looking for a long term storage location, have no desire to pay for offsite storage, and can put in the work to prepare the space and pack the book boxes, attic storage might be your best solution.