Fighting Brain Freeze: Winter Maintenance Tips for Self-Storage Operators
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 11/27/2013



 

By Molly Bilker

Five rental trucks. Six parking spaces. Snow 32 inches high. In February 2009, Penny Casassa spent the day jockeying trucks and trying to clear more than two and half feet of snow from her cramped parking lot at 21st Century Storage in Baltimore. Her snow-removal crew dropped off a single man in a Bobcat snow blower with slick tires. She would have been better off with a superior place to house the trucks, she says, and probably a snow blower of her own.

"It was a huge mess," remembers Casassa, a member of the Self-Storage Talk (SST) online community and current manager at an Atlantic Storage Solutions in Jobstown, N.J. "But then again, so was the entire Baltimore area!"

With winter weather arriving, self-storage operators in some parts of the country are facing snow-packed driveways, wet walkways, frozen pipes and a host of other challenges. Luckily, here are a few tips to help them keep climate trials  from creating a winter horror story.

Get the Equipment You Need

If you don't have the appropriate winter-maintenance tools, you won't even be able to begin dealing with larger problems. The Pogoda Cos., which owns or manages 38 facilities in Michigan and Ohio, ensures its managers have a variety of equipment to use when the weather turns icy, says John George, vice president of operations. The basics include:

  • Heavy-duty snow blower
  • Salt spreader
  • Salt with disposable cups
  • Snow shovels
  • Snow-track footwear and eye goggles for store managers
  • Lock de-icer
  • Jumper cables for stored RVs and cars

The more equipment you have ready when winter comes, the more innovatively you can deal with the host of problems that can arise, including ordinary troubles you may not expect. "A couple of the most common problems a tenant runs into are not being able to open a frozen lock on their unit door and a stored RV or car that won’t start," George says.

Routine Maintenance Is King

Preparing for winter weather early will help you handle issues efficiently when they occur. First, make sure your gutters are clean so debris doesn't block them and cause overflow when rain or snow hits. Protect outdoor hoses from frost damage by moving them indoors. Insulate exposed pipes and outdoor plumbing fixtures so they don't freeze, which can block your water supply and potentially cause pipes to burst. Remove temporary curbs so they don't get scooped into the snow pile, and service your facility’s heaters to make sure they're working properly.

A large part of preparation is having your equipment at the ready. In an SST thread about winter maintenance, forum member eileen recalls when hers wasn't. "Don't leave your snow shovels and Ice Melt inside a company unit in case a three-foot snow drift ends up in front of it," she says. "You'll only do it once."

Buy your equipment and set it out early. If you have your salt and shovels ready before the first snow hits, clearing it will quickly become much more convenient. "Every [Pogoda-managed] store keeps a large bin of salt with disposable cups near the property entrance as well as snow shovels, making them easily accessible to tenants and employees," George says.

Remove Snow

When those winter storms do blow in, the most prominent issue is usually snow removal around your property. At Pogoda Cos., the managers walk the facility daily to look for snow and ice trouble areas where snow plows can't reach. eileen digs out the access gate so the chain doesn’t run through the snow. She also shovels and uses Ice Melt in front of the office, gate, climate-control exterior hallway doors, company unit and tenant units. "Keeping these high-traffic areas clear will benefit when snow or ice starts to melt because they will be the first areas to dry and minimize hazard to the customer," she says.

Piled snow can also make it more difficult for tenants and employees to see where they’re going. "When mounds of plowed snow become large and there is risk of visibility issues, the snow is physically removed from our property via a dump truck," George says.

Many operators suggest hiring a snow-removal company. In fact, Casassa says this should be every manager's first order of business. Likewise, Pogoda contracts with reliable snow-plow services to make sure its lots are plowed and salted efficiently. If you do hire an outside company to plow, protect yourself from risk. "Snow-plow companies that are contracted to maintain each location are required to provide us with a current Certificate of Liability Insurance naming the location as an additional insured  in the event damage is done to the facility grounds as a result of the snow plowing," George says.

Look Out For Customers

Customer slips and falls are common when winter maintenance hasn't been done properly, so it’s critical to remove as much snow and ice as possible. You also don't want to over-salt sidewalks because it can damage waterways. Four pounds per 1,000 square feet is enough, according to "Winter Maintenance for Cities and Businesses" by the Rice Creek Watershed District in Minnesota and Nebraska.

Another way to protect customers is via signage, George says. "Proceed with extreme caution" and "Weather-appropriate footwear strongly advised" are just a couple of signs that can help keep customers safe in bad weather. "This signage also lets tenants know that snow shovels and salt are available at the entrance for their use," he says.

The most important part of winter maintenance is excellent planning. If you come into bad weather, be prepared—with your own snow blower or a reliable snow-removal company. You’ll  come out of bad weather with minimal brain freeze and be safe, secure and feeling good.

Molly Bilker is a sophomore journalism major at Arizona State University in Phoenix, where she is part of the Barrett Honors College and completing a minor in Spanish. She comes from an arts-focused high school with a creative-writing background. She actively participates in the arts, including creative writing, guitar and vocal music, theater, photography, ballroom dance, drawing, and film. To reach her, e-mail mbilker@vpico.com .