Keep Doors Looking Their Best

The best time to think about door maintenance is at the point of purchase. Wise buying decisions will save you money and prevent future operational problems.

Always evaluate quality, value and the long-term consequences of anything you buy. Being thrifty means getting the most value for your dollar, but if youre cheap when shopping for self-storage doors, youll end up with junk that wont last long. An informed buyer inspects door quality and prices accordingly.

Purchasing Pointers

Avoid buying doors coated with low-quality paints. Instead, look for siliconized polyester, which offers a 20-year warranty and is available as a standard paint finishes from quality door and hallway suppliers. Most manufacturers have gone to grade E or F steel, guaranteeing strengths of 70,000 to 80,000 pounds per square inch. These doors are much harder to damage than their predecessors.

Choose models with stainless-steel latches; the slide part should be magnetic stainless steel to work with the security system. All springs should be lubricated with a heavy coat of white lithium grease. Exposed fasteners should also be stainless steel. Look to see if the manufacturer uses pre-lubricated bearings to protect drum wheels from axle wear.

Door tension is best when its adjustable within increments of l/l6th of a circle, with each spring adjusted evenly, not individually. The astragal should be a bulb typefor a continuous seal at the floorand be UV protected. If these specifications are followed when orders are placed, many future maintenance problems will be eliminated, promising long-term savings for facility owners.

Doors in History: First Generation

The first generation of doors, available l969 to l980, were heavy, hard to operate and used grease on guides and axles. The old paint systems lasted only five or six years without extensive chalking and fading. The locking systemheld onto the curtain with small pop rivetsadded virtually nothing to security. At the time, no thought was given to replacing worn parts; the lock systems werent secure and were easily broken, and the doors required constant maintenance.

Some facilities used sectional doors that were field painted and used valuable head room inside the unit. Again, they had inferior locking systems offering little security. Today, many of these doors have already been replaced; if not, they should be.

If theyre still hanging around your site, theyve probably been painted at least twice. Painting adds about six pounds per application, making the doors heavier and more difficult to operate as well as dangerous to adjust. Needless to say, its time to bite the bullet and spend the money to replace them. If you dont, chances are renters will go up the road to a better equipped facility, and your property value will take a dive.

Second Generation

Doors manufactured between l978 and the present are considered second generation. The paint system used was upgraded by most manufacturers in l998; any supplier not using a 20-year guaranteed paint should be passed by.

If you have second-generation doors at your site, the plastic used as an astragal on the bottom bar and in the guides as a wear strip has probably deteriorated completely. Most likely, the doors also have metal-to-metal wear between the axle and support bracket. In heavily used doors, this often causes the bracket to wear through the axle, making it impossible to open or close the door.

The springing in this generation was ill designed for heavy or long use, and the devices were allowed to rust without any lubrication from the factory. This leads to spring failure, making doors dangerous to operate but expensive to fix.

Springs in this era need to be lubricated with white lithium, and plastic parts cleaned and rubbed with Armor All (available at auto-supply stores), which will extend their lifespan.

Doors introduced before l999 lacked tension-adjusting devices, so spring tension had to be adjusted by factory-trained installers. Broken springs can now be replaced with a new axle assembly, which allows the door to operate like new. Doors lacking ball bearings will either need to be replaced or given a new axle assembly as well.

Installers of second-generation doors often bent the top inside corners, making the curtain go past the stop and flip around, sometimes hitting the person operating the door and causing serious injury. Stops should be aligned to hit the bottom bar squarely.

While more secure than first-generation doors, locking devices in the second generation were zinc-coated, subjecting them to severe rusting. In l999, one manufacturer introduced stainless-steel locks, now the industry standard.

Third Generation

Introduced in 2002, these doors have bearings between the axle and the drum wheel, making them maintenance free. Improved, 20-year guaranteed, siliconized polyester paint is also a standard feature. 

Third-generation versions have an easy-tension adjustment, which doesnt require removal of hitch pins. Instead, a bar is inserted in the fixture and turned to the proper tension. A bulb-type astragal of improved or UV-resistance plastic is used for exterior doors.

Springs are pre-lubricated with a heavy coat of white lithium grease and designed for higher cycle life of 15,000 or more operations. Door-latch systems are stainless steel with magnetic slides to accommodate various security systems.

Third-generation users have few, if any, maintenance problems.

Maintenance: First Generation

The first step in caring for these doors is to remove all the old grease gumming up the guides, impeding operation. If the paint is chalky and faded, try Armor All Clean Start to bring it back to its original luster and color, followed by a layer of auto wax. If the finish is too far gone, repaint with industrial-quality enamel. Next, you should probably add more tension to the door for smoother operation. Holding the axle with a pipe wrench, release the axle clamps about one-quarter to one-half turn.

Considering these doors are 25 to 30 years old, its probably wise to replace them. Dont forget most have already outlived their expected lifespan, so replacement is definitely a practical choice for appearances as well as liability reasons.

During replacement, most owners contact tenants to obtain a key for a short time. Some tenants may even want to attend the procedure, in which case, its advisable to hire a security officer to videotape the event. Within 20 minutes, a new door can be installed, protecting the owner against possible future litigation.

Second Generation

If a full replacement is not in the cards for your second-generation doors, then consider fresh paint and replacement of plastic parts. To remove plastic on the bottom bar and inside the guides, open the raceway with a screw driver, pull it out and replace with new material, available from any door manufacturer. The plastic can be replaced easily by a manager as units become available.

Apply white lithium grease to exposed springs and where the axle goes through the support bracket. Greasing the rusty spring wont completely stop deterioration, but will extend its lifespan a few more months. The manager can do minor spring and axle repairs and maintenance on vacant units and during tenant turnovers.

Make certain both top-inside stops of the door are bent in and fully engage the bottom bar. Many have come out of the tracks and hit people opening them. Clean the guides with a soft cloth and apply a coat of Armor All. If the door latch or outside-lift clips and handles are rusty, replace them with new stainless-steel parts. The interior and exterior of the door likely needs only an occasional cleaning and washing.

Because of the age of these doors, it might be easiest, safest and less expensive in the long run to replace them with improved third-generation models.

Third Generation

Todays models only need to be cleaned occasionally. Apply Armor All to any exposed plastic parts once a year. These doors are designed for low maintenance and long life expectancy.

Final Tips

Dont forget to clean hallways and inspect for damage incurred by moving carts. You might want to install corner guards and a galvalume metal kick plate about 14 inches from the floor along the hallway for protection.

When shopping for doors, think long-term quality and value. Dont settle for less than the best because youll regret it later when facing a myriad of maintenance woes. Finally, perform continuous cleaning and repair procedures to protect your investments. A good-looking project, even if it is l5 to 20 years old, will rent better and keep its value longer. 

Dan Curtis is president of Atlanta-based Storage Consulting & Marketing, which provides feasibility and marketing studies to potential self-storage owners. He is a frequent contributor to Inside Self-Storage as well as a speaker at numerous industry conferences. For more information, call 404.427.9559.

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