Clever Custodians


Did you know? Leaving electrical devices on ‘standby’ consumes about 10% of total energy.

As clever custodians, we can be more energy efficient by starting to consider the savings we can make in our own institutions. Then we can talk about the savings we are making to our staff, volunteers and supporters as well as to our visitors. But energy efficiency for museums and galleries is about much more than keeping up with the latest fad. It can deliver real financial savings and help engage our audiences in new conversations.   

Small changes within an organisation can make a big difference to how much energy is consumed but before you go ahead and put in place efficiency measures, take the time to calculate your existing energy consumption. This forms your baseline position against which you can measure change. You can do this yourself by looking at your utility bill, or you can commission a professional energy audit that will also look at different retrofit projects you could undertake to make changes.


It can be enlightening to study exactly what happens during a typical day and then consider where behaviour could be changed to reduce energy consumption.

Brisbane hotel example:

An example where taking a fresh look at how things operate can make a big difference to day to day operations was within a small Brisbane hotel business. The cleaner, who arrived early each morning before anyone else had arrived, turned on all of the lights as they cleaned each of the rooms and then left them switched on. The lights stayed on all day, until the last person to leave switched them all off again. As part of an efficiency review that also involved retrofitting energy efficient LED lamps, the cleaner was asked to change their routine behaviour - to switch the lights off after cleaning each room. These simple changes have contributed to an annual saving of $10,000 (at 2013 prices).

Behaviour change

Education and behavioural change are fundamental to achieving energy efficiency targets in any organisation. It is possible to save a substantial amount of energy with minimum effort through education and awareness. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate our assumptions and attitudes towards energy use and come up with new ways to exhibit and care for our significant collections, and at the same time, save money.

Because we know that our old habits die hard, it’s important to involve, educate and follow up on behavioural change programs to see real change over time. 

Making someone responsible for this behavioural change with a plan of how to change the program.  Keep it simple and stay on message.

Harnessing the power of staff can be done in such a way that it becomes a team effort which helps to boost morale and productivity as well as reducing energy consumption. Turning things off overnight can make all the difference. Did you know that air conditioning an office for an extra hour a day uses enough energy in a month to power a TV for over a year? 

Support for planning and implementing a sustainability program at your place can be found on the web, for instance the Carbon Trust’s ‘Creating an Awareness Campaign’ guide.

Make it easy

Make it easier for your staff and volunteers. Upgrade your lighting circuits to enable timers, occupancy or movement sensors to take the strain. In back of house areas, you can now buy a standard fitting screw or bayonet LED lamp with a built-in motion sensor. This will provide light only when it is needed

Try a technological solution to take control of devices plugged into a standard power outlet. Belkin’s WeMo Switch lets you turn electronic devices on or off from anywhere. It uses App software and a Wifi network to provide communication between the Wemo switch and a smartphone or tablet.

Install power boards to collect plug-in devices together and locate them at a convenient easy to reach position to make it easier to switch off devices at the end of the day.

Efficient Appliances & Behaviour at the Discover Eumundi Heritage & Visitor Centre

Celebrate savings

Museums and galleries can go further by using education and research to raise awareness, to encourage the development of new skills, and embrace change. Staff and volunteers see the benefit of saving energy through this process and go further by implementing the same changes at home.

It may be possible to act as a leader in energy efficient thinking for the local community. If you have installed solar voltaics and are making a saving, why not display your achievements and encourage others to do the same? Perhaps you could celebrate your new project in the newspaper or involve the local school in your sustainability project and an exhibition.

Baseline. Bill & Audit


You may have heard of establishing a baseline in relation to energy consumption. A baseline is a position statement, an expression of your current energy consumption. It’s a good idea to measure how much energy you are consuming before you start making changes because then you can re-measure later to see what savings have been made. The starting point for this is getting to know your electricity bill because it is the simplest and easiest way of getting a sense of energy consumption. An energy audit looks at how much power your place is consuming and considers how and when your operational needs demand that power.


Your bill provides a record of energy consumption. Looking at the current bill and comparing it to previous bills can quickly let you know how much energy you are using and whether it is more or less during a particular season or not.   

Some institutions, because of the way they are structured, don't automatically make the energy bill available to the user of the building where the power is being consumed. Make it your business to know what the bill says.

Tariffs (as of 2014)

Make the most of the different Tariff rates that are offered by the electricity retailer (this varies from one retailer to another and also from State to State). It may be that you can take advantage of an off-peak Tariff for some of your energy consumption (ask about Tariff 31 and Tariff 33). Also, in a recent development, some retailers are offering cheaper 'peak-smart' Tariffs with the proviso that they are able to limit energy supply to air-conditioning equipment at your place at times of high demand (ask about Tariff 12). Tariff 12 is charged variably at peak, shoulder and off-peak rates. As part of changing your Tariff, you may need to upgrade or change your meter which incurs an additional cost, so it is best to get some advice from a local electrician before contacting the retailer and discussing options.

Auditing energy

Another practice that can lead to making energy efficient decisions involves developing an understanding about energy consumption in your organisation. You can get a broad idea of consumption by making your own calculations or you could ask for assistance from a professional. See the sections below for more information and a breakdown of the levels of energy audit offered by professionals working in this field.

DIY energy audit

To help with your audit there is a lot of professional external expertise to draw on but it is also quite possible to analyse your energy consumption as a non-expert, you just need to make a list and do some maths.

Start with the energy bill to get the big picture. Then look at the energy consuming equipment and work out how much electricity they consume each year. Electrical devices carry information about their consumption on a label or plate in units called Watts (W). 1000 W is called a kilowatt (kW). This is a measure of how much energy they consume. In one hour of operation a device rated at 1kW will consume 1kWh. By looking at the labels on equipment that you have you can start to calculate how much energy each device uses over a period of time, say a year. It is likely that it will not be on 24/7, so you will need to work out how many hours it is in use to calculate the annual consumption in kWh.

Professional energy audit

To get a more detailed picture, you can commission an energy audit tailored to your own institution. There are three different levels of energy audit offered under the Australian Standard, which differ in their complexity and detail of analysis (see below). The cost of an audit also depends on the size and complexity of your institution.

For most institutions a Level 2 audit will provide enough information for the auditor to plan and recommend the most effective changes to become more energy efficient. Depending on the size of the institution this audit could cost anywhere between $500 and $7,000. Use your internet browser to search for an accredited energy auditor near you and ask them to provide a quote.

If you have a large and complex site, it may be worth carrying out a Level 1 Audit initially to provide information to assist you in deciding whether its worth while to proceed further to a Level 2 Energy Audit or Level 3 Energy Audit - where more detailed energy efficiency analysis is performed to extract more site specific energy saving initiatives.

For many small to medium museums and galleries the Level 2 audit would provide a reasonable understanding of energy consumption against which targeted recommendations can then be made.

One activity that an energy champion might suggest is an energy audit.

Below is a description of 3 energy audit types:

LEVEL 1 ( Is a ‘Site Walk through’ or ‘Overview’ Audit )

  • Energy audit complying with ‘Level 1’ as defined in Australian Standard AS3598:2000
  • Analyse energy bills (Electricity & Gas), check tariffs & look for unusual seasonal usage patterns. 
  • Seek the best tariffs available and recommend the ‘best value’ for the client. Energy is costly, why pay more that you have to. 
  • Perform a ‘walk through’ inspection of the site & highlight where energy wastage typically occurs.
  • Create a short report that describes site energy usage, indicates areas of energy waste & approximately how much energy can be saved, cost estimates & payback periods for each initiative required to rectify. This is usually 40% accurate, as it is a ‘big picture’ approach, without the detail. 

LEVEL 2 ( Is a ‘Standard’ Audit with brief recommendations )

  • Includes all Level 1 tasks listed above. 
  • Energy audit complying with ‘Level 2’ as defined in Australian Standard AS3598:2000
  • Perform a more detailed inspection of the site to reveal energy wastage. 
  • Major appliances that use energy are checked for energy efficiency. 
  • Calibrated energy & temperature meters are used to assist in understanding site-specific energy usage patterns. 
  • Pinpoint Energy Wastage on site thereby creating a ‘shopping list of main issues’ for discussion & subsequent incorporation into an ‘Action Plan’ forming part of say a 5 year business plan.
  • Provide a Report with recommendations listing energy saving initiatives, ie. Brief solutions are outlined that will reduce site energy wastage & improve energy efficiency. 
  • Advice on ‘expected energy savings’ & estimated costs to achieve savings. (~20% accuracy)

LEVEL 3 ( Is a ‘Detailed Analysis’ Audit & targets maximum possible energy savings)

  • Includes all Level 1 & 2 tasks listed above. 
  • Energy audit complying with Level 3 as defined in Australian Standard AS3598:2000
  • Perform a thorough & detailed inspection of each building to reveal all energy wastage.
  • All appliances that use energy are checked for energy efficiency. 
  • Calibrated energy & temperature loggers are used to drill down & understand actual energy usage patterns. 
  • Perform onsite maximum demand measurements, graphing & analysis of the results. 
  • Provide a detailed report with recommendations listing all energy saving initiatives, ie. solutions required to reduce energy wastage & improve energy efficiency. 
  • Advice on ‘expected energy savings’ & more accurate costs to achieve savings.
  • For each proposed energy initiative, if required - compilation of full lifecycle costing & payback period analysis for client financial assessment. 

Quick wins

  • Create a baseline
  • Inspect the utility bill
  • Install power boards
  • Think before you print
  • Elevate somebody to champion status
  • Raise awareness about switching off lights
  • Label your switches

Long term wins

  • Have an energy efficiency policy
  • Equipment maintenance makes for efficient operation
  • Upgrade to energy efficient models
  • Showcase your energy efficiency savings to the public - lead by example Commission an energy audit and plan to implement its recommendations


Did you know? A poorly insulated building will lose one third of its heat through the walls, a quarter through the roof and the rest through the doors, windows and floors.

Each and every place has specific environmental conditions which make it unique, so it is an important first step to consider 'What are the environmental factors that affect my place?' Appreciating the external environment that you are working with is a great start.

Australia is a country with vastly different environments. If you want to find out about the climate where you live, you can find the Bureau of Meteorology's Climate classification maps online at

This will help you to get a general idea of your external environment.

How the building presents to the immediate surrounding environment and the natural weather conditions is also an important factor. You can employ passive design measures to reduce the requirement for energy consumption, depending on your climate zone. A north facing aspect may get full sun whereas south facing aspects are shady. Prevailing breezes can be used to provide a cooling effect. Trees and other types of vegetation can provide shade.

New buildings

Energy efficiency should be a guiding principle in the design and construction of new buildings because wise decisions taken in the construction phase can reduce the ongoing cost of operation.

Energy efficient design pays particular attention to insulation, ventilation and orientation. The selection of materials, finishes and construction techniques, as well as the equipment used to maintain environments within it, will dictate how much energy a building consumes over its whole life.

Even just ten years ago, building design was not strongly led by how energy efficient the building would be during operation. Keeping down the one-off capital cost of construction was prioritised. Today, with the increasing cost of electricity driving operational budgets upwards, building designers are exploring new ways of reducing the operational cost of buildings and there are some really innovative and inspiring projects to consider. For instance at London's Tate Modern 2, the excess heat from an adjoining electrical switch house is diverted to provide the majority of the new building's heating requirements, and during the summer months the vertical building design enables natural ventilation to provide a cooling effect. Tate Modern 2 is also constructed from materials with a high thermal mass, which slows fluctuations in the building and creates a more stable environment.

Coo-ee Heritage Centre, Gilgandra example:

In Australia, the Cooee Heritage Centre in Gilgandra was recently expanded, re-using an existing building and adding an extension made of local materials and, as far as possible, built by local businesses. They used high thermal mass materials such as rammed earth in the walls and floors. The building's aspect and the positioning of its roofline was designed to allow winter sun in and keep summer sun out. The winter sun, tracking lower in the sky, shines in through windows positioned for the purpose onto the rammed earth floor, whose high thermal mass acts like a radiator, storing heat energy that it will dissipate as night falls each evening. The locally sourced materials for the rammed earth floor and walls with wool insulation under the tin roof also present an aesthetic dimension which was deliberately in the architect's mind, creating the look and feel of a station homestead with a raised water tank.

Passive Design at Coo-ee Heritage Centre, Gilgandra

Existing buildings

Whilst it would be nice to build an energy efficient building to care for our collections, the reality is that many museums and galleries operate in older buildings. In fact, sometimes the building itself is the largest object in the organisation's collection. Unfortunately existing buildings can be very inefficient and their renovation and retrospective upgrade is an important consideration for energy efficient practice.

In some cases there may be important reasons why standard energy efficiency retrofitting techniques are just not suitable. However, if it is possible to insulate and draught proof existing buildings they will become more efficient spaces to heat and cool. Energy efficient design pays particular attention to insulation, ventilation and orientation. Retrofitting existing buildings with passive design features is another important consideration for energy efficient practice.


It will depend on the approach that you have decided to take to collections storage and display, but if you are trying to control an environment it will assist greatly to improve the insulation of the space being controlled as well as ensuring it is well sealed. In many cases, a well-sealed and appropriately insulated building is the most important thing to get right. Improve the insulation in the roof space, the walls and floors. There are many sorts of insulation to choose from and each one has an R-value rating.

Insulation R-values are a measure of the thermal resistance of the material in question. The higher the value, the more resistant the material is to thermal transfer. The thickness of the material makes a difference. There is some really useful information available about different materials and thicknesses. Use this resource to look at what the recommended R Values for insulation are for your place and climate. (


If appropriate for your venue and collection, louvres, positioned low down near the floor and close to the ceiling, are an effective method for providing natural ventilation. Cool air is allowed to enter through the lower vents and hot air can escape through the ones near the ceiling. Ventilation creates a more controllable and comfortable environment without requiring air conditioning. The use of ceiling fans can also minimise the need for energy-hungry air conditioning.


A building's aspect such as how the building presents itself to the passage of the sun, the prevailing seasonal wind direction and how other buildings, open areas and plantings nearby impact on its presentation, are all important factors. Even with existing buildings that are locked into a well-developed neighbourhood, it may be possible to introduce shading or reflective plantings within the surrounding environment.


Consider the equipment being operated inside the controlled environment, as this can be a contributing factor. Photocopiers and fridges emit heat and so do older style incandescent light bulbs. Try to relocate heat-generating equipment outside the controlled environment so as not to add to the load of the air conditioning unit.

Passive Design

You can employ passive design measures to reduce the requirement for energy consumption, depending on your climate zone.

A north facing aspect will mean that the sun falls on the building throughout the day. In the winter, this solar gain may help to reduce heating costs, but during the summer may produce excessive heat. So look at the position of the shading verandah and make sure it keeps out the high summer sun and lets in the lower winter sun.

Maybe your place gets a lot of the western sun in the afternoon. Perhaps you could consider planting some deciduous tree species in this direction. During summer the leaves on the tree will provide shade, and in the winter the leaves will fall off and allow the sun to fall on the building. If it is a problem all year around, maybe plant an evergreen species or think about artificial shading: external shutters, window shades and window films are some of the different options available.

One Australian made product example is 'Renshade', it is an aluminum coated paper product which reflects 80% of heat when installed ( Aesthetic considerations as well as street presence and marketing issues need to be borne in mind when considering changes like these, but in the right location, shading can reduce the amount of incoming heat considerably.

There are many new products being developed which offer energy efficient choices. For instance different types of smart windows are now available. Triple-glazed windows are a type of super efficient glazing now available for buildings. They are a sealed window unit that uses triple low-E glass and contain a low heat transfer gas such as argon to deliver impressive performance. Another innovation, smart windows or smart glass, is a type of glazing that changes its light transmission properties with the application of light or heat. (


Establishing a zoned approach to environmental control can be very effective in saving energy. Maybe your building could be zoned with the 'onion skin' principle in mind, where environments become increasingly controlled as one moves deeper into the building. This approach enables natural ventilation to be enjoyed in the outer, less controlled zones, and energy to be employed efficiently in the more sensitive inner collection display and storage zones.

Quick wins

  • Seal up gaps
  • Plant a tree
  • Install internal blinds or films
  • Insulate the roof

Long term wins

  • Shade the building externally
  • Use reflective paint on the roof
  • Add more insulation to walls and floor
  • Upgrade to smart windows which changes light transmission properties with
  • Light or heat
  • Introduce natural ventilation
  • Develop a zoned approach

Image courtesy of Tweed Regional Museum


Did you know? Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems often consume between 40% to 60% of energy in museums and galleries.

Creating the right environment for your collection is an essential part of being a custodian. Every institution will have a differing set of requirements when it comes to creating the right environmental conditions for their collections and exhibitions. In general terms, the best situation for collection care is to keep the environmental conditions as stable as possible.

In many museums and galleries, heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are used to control the environment for both object conservation and for visitors' comfort. Maintaining an environment in this way can result in a very high consumption of energy. This is particularly true when it is operated 24 hours a day and where temperature and humidity levels are maintained within a strict range. HVAC systems have to work extra hard to remove water (humidity) from the air, so in a more humid climate HVACs consume a lot more energy than they do in a drier climate. Different prevailing conditions require different approaches.

When you are considering your perfect environment, you are examining your core activity, the storage and display of collection items. Environmental damage of collections is the result of three main agencies; chemical, biological and mechanical. For more about environmental damage and how to avoid it, consider the detailed advice given in A Practical Guide for Sustainable Climate Control and Lighting in Museums and Galleries (2014)

It may be that you choose to keep a tight control on the environment at your place because you have fragile collections, or are committed to do so through agreements with other institutions. In collection loan agreements, for instance for many travelling exhibitions to Regional Galleries, the levels of Relative Humidity and Temperature stipulated by lending institutions have been fixed around 45-55%RH and 20-22 degrees Centigrade. These loan agreements require a stable environment to be maintained with little fluctuation allowed, and so do not allow for a more flexible approach to be taken.

An ongoing international debate

Internationally, some museum and gallery institutions are considering making the environmental parameters more flexible to suit the changing seasons, working with nature rather than against it. This flexibility can also help to make your place more energy efficient.

The rising price of energy has also led custodians around the world to reconsider environmental parameters, and current thinking about relative humidity (RH) levels is that most of our collections are more robust than previously thought.

Providing the RH doesn't change rapidly or frequently, maintaining an environment within a broader band from 40-65%RH is fine for most items. Whilst these international discussions about environmental parameters may one day allow greater flexibility, it is important to note that the proposals have not been adopted as standards here in Australia. If you are interested to find out more, look at A Practical Guide for Sustainable Climate Control and Lighting in Museums and Galleries (2014) which introduces the Australian Institute for Conservation of Cultural Material's Guidelines and the alternative United Kingdom version, PAS (198), a risk-managed, holistic approach. (

What is your place like?

Australia is a country with vastly different environments. If you want to find out about the climate where you live, you can find the Bureau of Meteorology's Climate classification maps online at

This will help you to get a general idea of your external environment.

Inside, your own museum or gallery will probably have certain spots where it is always warmer or colder. Becoming aware of them and making use of these naturally occurring characteristics can play a part in being energy efficient. Getting to know how your building operates from an environmental perspective is crucial to devising the most appropriate environmental control system. Where does it stay cool naturally, and which walls heat up quickly? Work with the areas that have more stable environments for collection display, and find other uses for those difficult environments in the building.

Do you really need to be running HVAC to provide the right sort of conditions for your collections? Why not review your institution's purpose and intention in regard to collections. Do you have collection items that require a specific narrow band of environmental conditions for their safe keeping? Or is there a broader band within which they would not be adversely affected?

To find out how this applies to you, look at the sorts of materials you are caring for in your collection and find out how sensitive the materials are to temperature and relative humidity by referencing Barbara Reeve's research at the Australian War Memorial and seek professional conservation advice.

Safe relative humidity ranges

Safe temperature ranges

Reconsider your collection from this angle and develop a better understanding of the sorts of materials you have in your care. For more detailed information look at A Practical Guide for Sustainable Climate Control and Lighting in Museums and Galleries (2014) that considers how levels of temperature and relative humidity can be reviewed in order to provide an opportunity to reduce energy consumption (


It might help to think of the building not as one space but as a series of zones which have different purposes and uses. Maybe you can distribute your sensitive collections in zones that offer the best environmental protection, either naturally or created. A concept called the 'onion skin principle' looks to create a building with increasingly controlled environments, where natural ventilation can be enjoyed in the outer, less controlled zones, and energy employed efficiently in the more sensitive inner collection display and storage zones.

People versus Collections

Visitors (as well as staff and volunteers) are able to cope better with changing environmental conditions than some sensitive collection items. Create well-sealed controlled environments for display of the sensitive items and allow the space around them to change naturally with the weather.

Don't add to the load

Often our museum and gallery buildings are not designed to be energy efficient; HVAC systems are often needed to compensate for the lack of proper sun shading or insulation in an old building, or to remove the heat load due to large glass facades in newer buildings.

Our buildings can be poorly insulated and draughty, which leads to a loss of environmental control and higher energy consumption. Seal up gaps in the building envelope. Use a heat camera to 'see' where the windows and doors are letting in the outside environment.

Try to think about how activities might add to the load of your HVAC. For instance, installing an airlock would improve the efficiency of the HVAC system by reducing the influx of external atmosphere. Damp conditions can be brought in by visitors too so on rainy days provide an external holding point for umbrellas and wet coats.

Some types of lighting system will add heat as well as light to an environment; therefore a Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lighting upgrade could deliver a double dose of energy efficiency savings because the HVAC will no longer need to remove the heat created by incandescent lamps and the LED lamps are more energy efficient in their operation.

Procure and maintain your equipment for efficiency savings

HVAC systems typically have a long operational lifespan and are expensive items to replace, but there are now more efficient versions available and if the time is right for replacement, procuring more efficient equipment will result in energy savings.

In larger institutions, or in a campus situation, combined heat and power systems, also called cogeneration, and trigeneration systems may be a sensible option - this is where power is generated on site and the waste heat is used to provide heating and cooling functions as part of an integrated system. Take a look at the Department of Industry and Science fact sheet

Seal up gaps in the HVAC ducting to improve its operational efficiency. Make sure that, if you are running HVAC or smaller air-conditioning units, you have them serviced regularly and keep them well maintained. Just like your car, they need to be serviced and tuned for efficient performance.

Tweed Regional Museum example:

When they were designing a new storage facility for the Museum service in the Tweed Valley it was developed in a modern concrete walled building typical of many that you see in out-of-town estates. The interior is fitted out with fixed and moving shelving systems and a mezzanine level, making good use of the available space. Also, inside this concrete shell, Tweed Regional Museum have built a box within a box, a heavily insulated storage space to care for their more fragile collection items. It is really quite a simple solution using tried and tested cold-room construction technology. Whilst energy consumption data is currently unavailable, it seems as if the domestic-sized air conditioning unit will be able to control the environment very efficiently because of this approach.

Environmental Control at the Tweed Regional Museum

Quick wins

  • Plug gaps and stop draughts
  • Choose the right space for display
  • Keep wet coats and umbrellas outside
  • Create micro-environments
  • Keep heat-generating equipment separate from areas which you are trying to keep cool

Long term wins

  • Overhaul existing HVAC delivery system
  • Service and tune HVAC plant to maintain high efficiency
  • Build a vestibule which will reduce infiltration or loss of air into a space creating an air lock entry
  • Procure energy efficient plant equipment
  • Review the need for HVAC


Did you know? Office lights that are left on overnight consume enough energy in a year to heat a home for almost 5 months.

Some museums and galleries spend about half of their total electricity consumption on lighting and effective display lighting is fundamental to the visitor experience.

The older style incandescent lamps are being phased out because they are very energy in-efficient. In a museum and gallery setting, where the environment may be controlled using air conditioning systems, they also put out a lot of heat alongside the light. The extra heat needs to be removed in order to maintain temperature and humidity levels in the display case or gallery environment and that requires more energy consumption. Fitting more energy efficient lamps, including Light-Emitting Diode (LED), T5 linear fluorescent and metal halide lamps, will reduce your energy use.

Natural light

Consider where the light falls within your museum or gallery space. Natural light distribution determines how efficiently the area is lit - where to provide additional lighting, to reduce glare, or even where you might only use natural light.

Artificial light

Artificial light distribution is determined by the characteristics of the lamp chosen and can be changed for different purposes. Of course, light levels should always be considered to prevent damage to objects. If you want to really understand the science of lighting you should look in detail at Section 3.2 of A Practical Guide for Sustainable Climate Control and Lighting in Museums and Galleries (2014) which explains Lighting Design Parameters in more detail.

Lighting survey

The first step to considering energy efficiency in lighting should be to review the current situation. Look into what sort of light fittings you have, where they are and how they are controlled. It is a good idea to know where you stand before leaping into a project that can be an expensive undertaking. Lux levels can be measured using a Lux meter and this sort of survey will give you an unbiased map of the light levels in your place. Of course, lighting levels inside will be different on a sunny day, on a cloudy day and at night as well as across different seasons as the sun traverses the sky in a lower arc during the winter months. To get an accurate picture it is worth mapping light in different conditions and seasons.

Look at upgrading existing

You may be able to do quite a lot by changing the way you operate or upgrading existing fittings without needing to change the fittings or bulbs. It may be that you can make better use of natural light, which is a very energy efficient solution to use as appropriate. Other ideas which can make a surprisingly large difference to lighting include cleaning light bulbs and diffusers as well as upgrading older opaque diffusers to reflective versions (this tip can work particularly well on linear fluorescent fittings). Many LED lamps are available as screw or bayonet fittings to suit existing luminaires. Existing linear fluorescents can be upgraded to energy efficient LED versions or T5 linear fluorescents (T5s sometimes require an adaptor).

Comprehensive upgrade

If you are still thinking about a more comprehensive upgrade plan carefully and take a systematic approach which might have phases of delivery spread over a period of time. And remember that you have a lighting system that includes the track, fittings, bulbs and a control system to consider in this process.

New technologies

Government legislation has been introduced to phase out the inefficient incandescent lighting options previously available to museums and galleries. In parallel with the change in government regulation and driven by it, the recent development of lower energy-consumption lighting technologies to a high quality standard means that there are now some fantastic energy efficient solutions for museum and gallery lighting.

The good news is there are now reliable low-energy lighting solutions for both back of house areas and public spaces. The advent of LED lighting has revolutionised the delivery of lighting generally but they may not be the best solution for every part of the museum and gallery. Metal halide and T5 linear fluorescent and compact fluorescent lighting technologies also have many benefits when utilised correctly and in some instances may be a better solution. For more information about lamps look at the Technical Industry Report on Museum and Gallery Lighting and Air Conditioning Conditioning (2011) by Steensen Varming and International Conservation Services which was commissioned by Museums & Galleries Queensland and Regional and Public Galleries Association of NSW. (

In the museum and gallery, as well as being more energy efficient, LEDs offer three additional benefits. Firstly they can be dimmed without changing the colour of the light (previously the colour of light emitted by incandescent lamps would become warmer as they dimmed). Secondly, LEDs do not produce so much heat as they generate light, which is a feature of incandescent lamps, and if the space they occupy is being environmentally controlled, this reduction in heat generation can reduce the energy required to maintain the temperature of the environment, which can be seen as a double saving. Thirdly, the lamps have a much longer operational life, so fewer changes of lamp are required in comparison to incandescent lamps (e.g. 100W incandescent lamp 1,200 hours versus 14W LED lamp 50,000 hours).

In storage areas, light levels should be zero when not in use. The key to energy efficient lighting is balancing the initial investment with operational and maintenance costs. For those with existing lighting systems, who do not want to spend on a complete upgrade, there may be many different opportunities for cost-effective retrofits. Make use of sensors and timers. Occupancy detectors, daylight sensors and timer switches are inexpensive and easy to install. These options can be installed stand-alone or as part of a lighting control system.

The Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre were able to take advantage of the recent extension of the building to include Margaret Olley's relocated residence and carry out a comprehensive retrofit and new installation of LED lighting. Director Susi Muddiman says that she is very impressed with the performance and flexibility of the new LED system, 'It's like the walls have been repainted' but she also acknowledges that not every institution would be able to raise the capital to afford this comprehensive overhaul.

Efficient Lighting at the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre

Taking operational control

The operational efficiency of your lighting system is dependent on the way it is used. Turning off gallery lights when not in use will reduce consumption and also benefit collections. Some larger spaces have only one light switch which controls all of the lights. Instead, consider having several switches so that some of the lights can be left off if they are not required - for instance in a room where daylight provides enough light through windows and areas further away from them require artificial light during the day.

Control systems can be simple or complex so you need to consider what will work best for you. Technology can be employed to take the task of switching lights on and off away from people.

Daylight sensors can detect when there is not enough daylight and automatically switch on artificial lights.

Proximity sensors can detect when someone is nearby and only then switch the lights on, automatically switching them off when there is nobody there.

Without technological assistance we rely on personnel to operate the lighting system efficiently, so labelling switches and training staff and volunteers become more important. Check out the Behaviour section of this resource for more information.

Lamp Wattage Efficiency (Lumen/W) Lamp Life (Hours) Light distribution Control Value
Incandescent 100 15 1,200 Point source Not very controllable Becoming unavailable
LED 14 77 50,000 Point source. Versatile and flexible Highly controllable, dimmable and tuneable High but reducing
Linear Fluorescent T5 28 75-105 20,000 Diffused source, shadow-free, uniformed Most T5 lamps can be dimmed smoothly Reasonably priced
Metal Halide 70 95-115 12,000 Point source. Good optical control Not dimmable through electronic means, only filters. Instant on/off not possible. Reasonably priced
Halogen 52 20 2,000 Highly directional light output . Limited range. Immediate on. Dimmable. Gets very hot. Reasonably priced
Compact Fluorescent 13-15 54 8,000 Diffused source, shadow-free, uniformed Not dimmable. Takes time to warm up. Quick on/off reduces lifespan Reasonably priced

Quick wins

  • Review types of lights and lamp wattages
  • Upgrade to efficient versions - LED, Metal Halide, Linear Fluorescent
  • Look at your Lux levels (Lux is defined as a measure of the intensity, as perceived by the human eye, of light that hits or passes through a surface and is measured by a Lux meter)
  • Remove dust every day to increase efficiency
  • Maximise daylight where appropriate

Long term wins

  • Install timers
  • Install sensors
  • Take a systematic approach to upgrading/replacing your lighting system
  • Use a Lux meter to map your lighting levels

Bimblebox: art - science - nature (exhibition overview)
Image courtesy Redland Art Gallery
Photographer: Carl Warner


Did you know? Today 95% of consumer production eventually ends in a landfill.

As public venues involved in education and life-long learning, museums and galleries hold a particular position in our society. They have an opportunity to showcase existing and ongoing research into energy efficiency as well as interpreting their own efforts to be to energy efficient.

Being energy efficient is driven by economic factors; a rising cost of electricity; but as well as this there is a new-found social conscience inspired by a greater awareness of the inter-generational impacts of our consumption of resources.

As places that can interpret change over time, museums and galleries can explain where we are heading as well as where we have been. If we can put the changes we are making into this context, we can show others that striving to be energy efficient is a worthy effort.

If you work in a small-to-medium sized museum or gallery, you will probably already have good environmental habits in place because you use your resources carefully, but there is more that can be done to develop energy efficient exhibitions.

If someone asked you, 'What's your core activity?', you would probably say, 'We display things and explain the story behind them for our visitors to enjoy'. Display and exhibition is a big part of what custodians do, so it's important to consider how we can display and interpret sustainably. Whether you are considering a permanent exhibition which you expect to last for 10 years, or a three-month-long temporary exhibition in a space that gets changed every quarter, you will make savings by thinking sustainably from the very start.

Temporary exhibitions are important for attracting new visitors and encouraging others to revisit, but they can also be expensive to mount in relation to their lifespan and have the potential to be more wasteful of resources in comparison to permanent displays. Therefore our conundrum is, how to make temporary exhibitions more energy efficient while maintaining the quality of presentation, standards of conservation, and durability of displays.

Exhibition development

Energy is consumed at every stage of the exhibit life cycle - from producing raw materials and processing, to design and fabrication, to exhibit building and exhibit disposal. While museums and galleries have varying degrees of influence over processes at each stage, most do have control over exhibit design, materials choice, and the partnerships that are developed with suppliers and manufacturers.

A great example of the re-use of waste materials can be found at the Coo-ee Heritage Centre in Gilgandra. Plywood-topped plinths that are used for temporary display at the Heritage Centre are supported on sturdy metal bases made from re-used sections of Heating and Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) ducting. An innovative re-purposing that has proved very functional.

Reuse at the Coo-ee Heritage Centre, Gilgandra

The design process offers enormous potential to reduce environmental impacts and increase innovation at each stage of an exhibit's life cycle, beginning with two basic principles: eliminate waste and reduce energy use. 'Screw, don't glue!' That was a key finding at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne which is a good example of innovative sustainable exhibition practice in Australia. The 'Identity: yours, mine, ours' exhibition at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne was developed between 2009 and 2011 and is designed to run for 8-10 years. Why not get some inspiration from the 'Identity' development team by considering their response to this challenge. Re-use and De-materialise to be sustainable in your exhibition design and execution.

Cut down on unnecessary traveling and make use of the skills and experience you have to hand locally. Try to source materials and services locally. For instance, is there a sign writer or an artist whose style would suit the next exhibition's theme? Maybe they could be commissioned to create an entry statement and labels instead of using acrylic lettering?

Thankfully, there are some great resources out there already. Have a look at the links provided. For instance, a rating system to help guide museums and galleries to build greener exhibits looks at renewable materials and reusing resources. There are also good online resources for understanding which materials are better to use to build your exhibitions and displays. Think about the materials you are going to employ, try to buy Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) timber products, go for paint and glue products that have low emissions, and include recycled materials if at all possible.

Exhibition communication

Museums and galleries are public places of learning; so don't be shy about communicating your best practices. Take this opportunity to tell the public about your energy efficient exhibition and collection management practice - you may be surprised at the level of interest.

You could go further and exhibit artworks and artefacts that explore environmental issues and sustainability topics.

There are many artists who produce works that make you think about waste in the world.

Quick wins

  • Reuse and repurpose cases, plinths and signs
  • Design for reuse from the start
  • Screw don't glue
  • Go for Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) materials & green printing methods
  • Consider resilience and longevity
  • Use local artists and suppliers for signage
  • Buy local

Long term wins

  • Build waste partnerships
  • Employ a green exhibition strategy
  • Develop internal capacity for delivery
  • Share knowledge and examples with others
  • Create flexible display spaces
  • Communicate with visitors


Did you know? A photocopier left on 'standby' overnight wastes enough energy to make 30 cups of tea.

You can be more efficient by reducing the consumption of resources, such as energy, water and other raw materials. When you are buying a new appliance, look at the Energy Star rating system that will help you to compare the energy consumption of similar product models. Models with lower energy consumption will cost less to operate over their whole life. Extend this careful consideration to the procurement of fridges, washing machines, kettles and IT equipment.

Energy efficient operation is not just a good idea for big business. No matter the size of your museum or gallery you can significantly change the total amount of energy consumed by your organisation. From the way in which you operate, through to the appliances you choose and the way you use them, to the way in which you manage waste - reviewing these can all help.

The price of electricity is always changing. Making a reduction in the amount of energy required by becoming more efficient is the best way to insulate your organisation from rising prices.

Energy generation on-site, using renewable sources like solar or wind power, helps to reduce the amount of energy required for normal operations. Considering whether solar electrical generation is right for your place needs to take into account the site and its limitations as well as operational requirements.

Buying appliances

Everything that draws energy for its operation can be more or less efficient. There are good efficient versions of most appliances available which will operate more energy efficiently than older units. Watch out for tell-tale signs that you fridge or freezer is not working like it should. Check the seals and see if they need replacing, this can extend its useful life. If the motor is running most of the time, it is probably time to upgrade to a more efficient model.

We now have some great options when it comes to procuring the most efficient equipment for our museums and galleries. The Energy Star system provides a comparative measure between electrical appliances of the same type, enabling customers to see which is the most energy efficient through the simple star rating system. A list of the most efficient products currently available can be found at the Energy Star website. (Visit the website at and use the search function on the site to find the most energy efficient versions of different sorts of equipment.)

One feature in the Energy Star rating of freezers is worth noting. Because chest freezers are more efficient in general, they are set at a different scale level to upright freezers which do offer the additional convenience of easy drawer access, however they let a lot of cold air out every time they are opened, unlike the chest design which keeps in the cold air on opening. So don't compare upright and chest freezers purely by their Energy Star rating.

To see how energy efficient the equipment item is, it is worth looking at exactly how many KiloWatt hours (KWh) it consumes. Electrical devices carry information about their consumption on a label or plate in units called Watts (W). 1000 W is called a kilowatt (kW). This is a measure of how much energy they consume. In one hour of operation a device rated at 1kW will consume 1kWh. By looking at the labels on equipment that you have you can start to calculate how much energy each device uses over a period of time, say a year. It is likely that it will not be on 24/7, so you will need to work out how many hours it is in use to calculate the annual consumption in kWh.

But even if you buy or have equipment which is an efficient model, the way you make use of it is also a factor in determining how much power it consumes. Look at the Behaviour fact sheet for more about the way we use things (Fact Sheet: Positively Charged Behaviour (PDF 6.11mb)). For instance, elimination of the consumption of 'standby' power is an efficient energy saving measure which you may be able to implement straightaway.

Solar Power

On-site generation of electric power, using solar voltaic panels or wind power, is one way of reducing the need to buy electricity from external providers.

The good news is that most museums and galleries will have their peak demand for electrical power during daylight hours, which means that they can benefit from offsetting electrical power that is required during the day by generating with solar voltaic panels. This benefit is independent from of the cost of electricity to purchase or the payback deal, per kWh, offered by the electricity retailer for any power fed back into the grid. Despite this some institutions will need to use electricity in the evening and at night, when the sun is not generating power.

By reducing the need to use energy for certain functions, you can make additional savings. Installing solar hot water heaters, for example, will save a lot on ongoing energy consumption. If solar water heating isn't an option for you, and for smaller institutions particularly, gas powered-on-demand water heaters currently represent the most efficient method of providing hot water.

Site selection

Your particular location and the building's aspect have a big impact on whether solar electricity is right for you. Clear sight of the sun's passage across the sky and somewhere to install the panels in line with local planning laws are the basic requirements. Excessive shading by trees or a predominantly southern aspect will reduce the effectiveness of the panels, so look into practical issues like this first.

Nambour & District Historical Museum installed a solar voltaic array on their roof and have seen the power generated on their electricity bill. The relatively small 1.5kW system delivers an average saving of 64% on their energy bill and they are very happy with that.

Solar Voltaics at the Nambour & District Museum

Designing a solar system

If you think it can work for you, a great place to start is to calculate how much power you need to generate. To do this look at your electricity bills and then find a company to design and install a system.

Contact your local solar power expert and find out what size of solar system would help to reduce the bill at your operation.

You can find detailed information about solar power and contact details for your local accredited solar installers at the Clean Energy Council website and follow the link to

Solar Thermal

Even if you decide that solar voltaic power is not for you, it is well worth considering solar thermal (heat) energy because that will minimise the energy required for heating water. By reducing the need to use energy for certain functions, you can make additional savings. Water heating can represent a large proportion of the electrical bill, especially if the organisation is not running larger plant, such as ducted HVAC. Again, you need to consider your requirements for hot water and choose a system that suits these requirements. Solar thermal collectors can be placed in the sun and storage tanks can be located next to the collector or in another less visible location. Both gas and electricity can be used as a booster for the stored hot water. If gas is available and you do not need to keep a large volume of hot water stored and ready for use, you may discover that one of the new generation of advanced electronic gas-on-demand water heaters offers the most efficient solution.

Heat pump water heaters use electricity to heat water in a very efficient way and are comparable or more energy efficient than solar thermal systems. In addition, heat pump water heaters can be easier than solar thermal systems to install. If you are interested you can go online to find out more about heat pump water heaters at: and

Check your water storage tank's thermostat temperature setting. If it is set too high then you are wasting energy heating it to the higher level. Historically water heaters were set between 65 and 75 degrees Centigrade. It can be safely re-set as low as 60 degrees Centigrade, a temperature that will kill legionella bacteria. Incidentally, many water systems then mix the hot water with cold water to achieve a maximum temperature of 50 degrees Centigrade at the tap to avoid scalding injuries.

Heat Pumps

You may know heat pumps by another name, reverse cycle air conditioners (RCAC). They use energy very efficiently to move thermal energy, or heat, in the opposite direction to the natural flow; that means they can take the heat out of a colder space and move it into a warmer one. It is the same technology that makes a refrigerator cold, but heat pumps work in the opposite direction by moving heat, rather than cold, into a controlled space. Reverse cycle air conditioners can be used as highly efficient heaters, because moving heat around in this way can be three to four times more efficient when compared to generating heat using electricity. There is a lot of choice in the market, as ducted and non-ducted (split) systems are now available in many sizes.

There are also less common versions of heat pumps, such as geothermal heat pumps, which take advantage of relatively stable ground or water temperatures. Geothermal heat pumps cost more to install than air-source versions, and there may be ground conditions which preclude their use at your place, but once installed they operate very efficiently and they represent a better solution in more extreme climates. These systems can be employed to move heated or cooled water through a building, for instance in under-floor heating systems.


Some of the regular activities in our museums and galleries create waste that needs to be disposed of appropriately. Reducing waste is one way of reducing the burden of waste treatment generally and that is good energy efficient practice at a community level.

Some museums and galleries have on-site catering operations which create a lot of compostable food waste on a regular basis. But even smaller work places generate waste from packed lunches and takeaway meals. Avoid introducing waste into the system where possible. Even if there is not a cafe which creates more significant quantities of food waste, leftover packed lunches and other wastes can be disposed of in compost bins, worm farms or even biologically recycled using chickens.

It's best if resources are used more efficiently and returned safely to productive use, for example through reuse and recycling. Practical everyday solutions such as partnering with an oil recycler if you have a deep fat fryer in the kitchen; introducing a composting system for staff and volunteers for lunchtime food scraps; recycling compost created into a herb bed and reusing water on garden beds if possible, all contribute to energy efficiency within your organisation.

Quick wins

  • Turn off power
  • Buy renewable power
  • Install timers
  • Compost
  • Recycle
  • Don't leave equipment in standby mode, turn off completely instead

Long term wins

  • Install renewable power on site
  • Upgrade to energy efficient models
  • Consider supply energy chain
  • Install Solar Hot Water
  • Service regularly for efficiency
  • Create no-waste culture in-house

About the Clever Custodians Project

Energy consumption makes up a significant portion of operating costs for our 'energy hungry' museums and galleries. More and more the sector is looking for sustainable, greener solutions to address rising operational costs without compromising collections care, exhibition design or visitor experience.

Clever Custodians is a resource that provides quick tips and other initiatives for improving the energy efficiency of small-to-medium museums and galleries. Prepared by respected industry consultants, Timeline Heritage, Clever Custodians combines factsheets, short films and links to other online resources that aim to assist the sector to reduce its operating expenses and carbon footprint, and to improve its long-term sustainability.

Clever Custodians also serves as an opportunity to engage audiences in a wider conversation about energy efficiency and sustainability practices. Museums and galleries are well placed to educate the public about broader themes of energy efficiency, sustainable living and environmental responsibility.

Clever Custodians is an initiative of Museums & Galleries Queensland developed in partnership with Museums & Galleries of New South Wales, Regional and Public Galleries Association of New South Wales, and Regional Galleries Association of Queensland.

This Activity received funding from the Department of Industry and Science as a part of the Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program and is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, state and territory governments.


The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Commonwealth of Australia and the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.

This resource is primarily intended to provide guidance for facilities staff and volunteers at museums, galleries, cultural and archival facilities. It is not intended to be exhaustive or definitive. It is recommended for users of this resource to exercise their own professional judgement and consult suitably qualified professionals when deciding whether to abide by or depart from it.