Protecting Collections During Home Renovations

Who doesn’t like a home renovation—when they’re completed! Until then, they tend to be noisy, prone to delays and cost overruns, and full of dust. And for the collector, renovations also can damage paintings, sculptures, and other valuable fine art collections.

Not that these detractions are curtailing the recent rise in renovations, which increased 3.5 percent in 2020 and are on track to rise another 3.8 percent through the end of this year. The renovations take many forms, from simple bathroom and kitchen refreshes to building room additions.

During a renovation, including those undertaken by an adjacent neighbor, collections are vulnerable to damage from vibration, leaking water, dust accumulations and construction workers. One of our clients insured a painting purchased for more than $500,000 that was destroyed when a worker carrying a ladder made a sharp (and devastating) turn. Its value had increased to a few million dollars, but the client had forgotten to increase the insurance limits.

With 64 percent of successful families and individuals planning home renovations this year, it’s important to discuss the risks of construction with the project’s interior designer and general contractor. In these discussions, here are a few points to consider:

Vibration Risks. Construction equipment creates vibrations that may dislodge artwork from walls and sculptures off pedestals. A professional art handler or conservator may advise reinforcing the items with appropriate hardware, inserting vibration-absorbing foam behind artworks, and stabilizing fragile items with museum wax. The installation of vibration sensors can alert the homeowner of excessive shaking to call a temporary stop to the construction.

Theft, Fire and Water Risks. Most art thefts occur at private residences, with many thefts considered “inside jobs.” Ask the general contractor for documentation verifying that background checks have been performed on laborers. Consider contacting a professional art handler to temporarily relocate the collection to a vetted fine art storage facility or an environmentally stable and secure area on the premises. Restrict access to the area and install locks and/or 24/7 monitored burglar alarm components, smoke detectors and a water leak detection system. 

Accidental Damage Risks. Construction zones are a minefield of “trip and fall” accidents. Avoid stockpiling tools, building materials and supplies near valuables. Display or store artwork out of the direct path of workers and elevate items off the floor. If this is infeasible due to the item’s size, such as a large heavy sculpture, install a protective covering on the piece.

Dust, Dust, Dust. Even minor renovations generate airborne debris that can adhere to the surface of paintings, decorative art, and other collections. Require subcontractors to install plastic sheet barriers between the construction area and the rest of the home. To further reduce dust accumulations, seal off fireplace dampers, windows and air vents, and clean HVAC filters regularly.

Every renovation project eventually draws to a close. When this welcome day arrives, allow appropriate time for curing, surface drying, and ventilation, and conduct a home systems test-run to make sure all is in working order. Then it is time to remove protective materials and display a collection in its rightful place.


Michelle Impey is AVP, Fine Art & Collections Manager, Risk Consulting, Chubb Personal Risk Services.

The opinions and positions expressed are the authors’ own and not those of Chubb. The information and/ or data provided herein is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Insurance coverage is subject to the language of the policies as issued.