Conservators offer advice on saving irreplaceable items damaged by floods

Conservators who work at museums and galleries in Ottawa-Gatineau are offering their services to residents affected by floods to help save irreplaceable items like photo albums and family heirlooms.

Precious items like photos and fabrics can be saved, say conservators

Julie Theriault (right) and Jean-Francois Perrault push a canoe filled with a neighbour's belongings in Gatineau, Que. on Sunday, May 7, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When floods damage homes, some items like appliances and furniture can be replaced, but more precious, sentimental items like photo albums and family heirlooms often cannot. 

Those keepsakes can often be salvaged or restored however, so a group of Ottawa conservators is offering advice to anyone worried about losing their mementos to water.

Those are the things that make you and your family who you are. Those are your heritage. And I think if we can save them, we should.- Erika Range, conservator

Conservator Erika Range and her colleagues at museums and galleries in the National Capital Region have set up a Facebook page to answer questions and provide tips.

Erika Range is an Ottawa conservator offering advice to people with flood-damaged keepsakes. (CBC)
"People can post questions about stuff as they're salvaging, going through their basements, and we have a herd of conservators online that are willing to offer their services to offer advice," she told host Hallie Cotnam on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"I am a very sentimental person, and I love my old things that I have, and I think people really connect to those things. Those are the things that make you and your family who you are. Those are your heritage. And I think if we can save them, we should."

Put wet pictures in freezer

Pictures and photo albums are very vulnerable to water damage, so Range says your best bet is to throw them in the freezer right away.

"It just buys you time. It doesn't dry it out, it doesn't preserve it in any way, it just gives us time so that you can go back and spend the proper time cleaning it later," she said.

If you don't have access to a freezer, she suggests cleaning photos by running them under clean, cool water, but don't touch the surface.

Air out books, freeze fabrics

If bookshelves or boxes of books become submerged, Range advises taking books out individually and placing paper towel between some of the pages to let them slowly dry.

She also recommends freezing any fabrics that may get wet so they can be cleaned later.

"I wouldn't put them through your washing machine. But you can clean them in cooler, fresh, clean water when you have the time, and those can often can quite effectively be saved," said Range.
With family keepsakes damaged by floodwater in basements in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, conservators say some items can be salvaged. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Avoid hot air dryers

Drying out and freezing items as soon as possible is a good way to prevent mold. But Range advises against being too hasty by using a hot air dryer on some items.

"Heat causes a lot of material to expand, and a lot of things are made up of different materials that expand at different rates, so you could cause more damage," she said.

Range welcomes any flood-affected residents worried about damaged items to contact her group through their Facebook page.