It’s that time of year for self-storage managers and operators to catch up on maintenance needs and prepare for the onslaught of unforgiving winter weather.
“It starts with the property manager conducting a full audit of their facility and putting together a list of what their maintenance needs are to protect themselves for the fall and winter,” said Michelle Wight-Sands, director of operations at Roseville, CA-based LifeStorage.
Many facilities across the United States will once again face frigid temperatures and fierce snowstorms, and unfortunately, this can lead to collapsed roofs, frozen pipes and ice-covered key pads. However, business goes on and tenants need to get to their units, even during the harshest weather.
“There’s nothing worse than when a customer comes to a property and can’t get into their drive-up unit because their door is completely iced and locked to the ground,” Wight-Sands said.
Winter preparation is essential in the self-storage business to ensure facilities are safe and accessible for tenants. Here are 12 tips to help guide you through this upcoming season:
1. Have a snow-removal plan in place.
You can contract with an outside company or have the equipment to handle the job yourself. Experts say spending the extra money to hire a snow-removal service may just be the smartest move.
“I’ve seen owners say I’m going to do it myself,” said Andrew Kelly, principal of Sierra Self Storage Consulting LLC. “I’m like you gotta be kidding me. You’re going to get up at 3:30 or 4 in the morning? Well, that lasted one season. It just wasn’t worth it.”
Wight-Sands said LifeStorage has its managers obtain three bids from snow-removal companies and makes sure they’re each fully insured. Once they select a company, they take an aerial shot of the property and highlight the areas that need to be plowed, shoveled and/or de-iced so the contracted company knows exactly what’s expected.
2. Stock up your maintenance room with winter necessities.
Stock plenty of shovels and salt so managers can take care of icy walkways. Also, make sure managers have de-icer spray for customers dealing with frozen locks on their units, suggested Todd Allen, managing principal of Roswell, GA-based Reliant Real Estate Management LLC and vice president of operations for StoreSmart.
3. Make sure doors and windows are insulated properly to prevent drafts.
“Look for gapping around exit doorways or overhead garage doors and repair any broken sealants, because that can create cold pockets throughout your facility,” Wight-Sands said. Also, do some general caulking of any gaps or holes to keep the cold air out, she added.
4. Check thermostats.
Make sure thermostats are in working order and reset them to the desired temperature, especially if you operate a climate-controlled facility, Wight-Sands said. Make sure your manager is checking the thermostats daily.
5. Make sure water pipes are insulated properly to prevent freezing.
A frozen water line can burst and result in flooding.
6. Check exterior lighting.
Make sure exterior lighting around your property is in good working order to keep customers and managers safe. Update timers on exterior marquees or outside lighting to reflect daylight savings time, Wight-Sands said.
7. Have an up-to-date vendor list handy
“Have a good gate vendor and a lighting vendor” Allen at StoreSmart said. “A lot of times if you have ice storms, lighting will have an issue. Security will have an issue. One of the biggest things that happens in ice storms is your keypads go out because freezing rain gets into the boxes. Sometimes it will blow out the keypads and you have to replace those.”
For your gate system, Allen said if your motor box is not covered or insulated properly, water can get in and freeze, leading to problems with either a gate staying stuck open or not opening at all.
Ensure that all vendors are fully insured.
8. Trim weak or dead tree branches around your facility.
This will help prevent branches from breaking and falling during an ice or snowstorm and damaging your property.
9. Clean out gutters.
“We use large hoses to flush out gutters at every facility,” Kelly of Sierra Self Storage Consulting said, adding that managers should make sure downspouts are also clear. “If gutters are not cleaned, water gets in and it backs up and freezes. Then it becomes an overflow and runs into the units and backs up under the roof, creating lift problems.”
10. Address roof issues.
Check for roof leaks and do repairs. Also, clear snow off your buildings’ roofs on a regular basis to prevent a sudden collapse.
11. Get out the paintbrush.
Kelly said during the fall they paint all metal surfaces including guard poles as well as curbs and asphalt signs. You can also repaint safety stripes in the parking lots and driveways.
12. Have an expert check the heating systems
Make sure you’re doing preventive maintenance on your HVAC system, so it will function safely and consistently through the winter.
“We call in a heating/AC contractor to check the office and the manager’s apartment to make sure the heaters are functioning properly,” Kelly said. “We also put new batteries in the apartment’s carbon monoxide detector.”