The first self-storage in the late '60s used lightweight sectional doors with a galvanized-steel finish. They were later painted--per manufacturer's instructions--with only mixed success. These doors had a very poor locking system. Plus, the tracking system used for opening and closing the doors intruded into the storage area, taking up valuable space. Worse, there was the problem of broken springs, which created a dangerous situation and were difficult to replace.
For smaller-sized units, some owners used a lightweight, hollow steel door with a primed finish. This door was not very weather-tight and allowed rainwater to seep inside, which eventually led to another hazard: rust along the bottom of the door.
Some owners learned that the exterior swing doors could give a real jerk if the wind happened to grab them as they were opened. Another looming disaster for the facility operator who had installed swing doors was the possibility of someone exiting a unit via the door, having their field of vision blocked on one side by the door. In an unfortunate event, a tenant might step past the open door into the driveway and right into the path of an oncoming vehicle.
Fortunately, the self-storage industry and door manufacturers have been savvy enough to learn from past mishaps and mistakes. Let's continue to study the evolution of the self-storage door and facility construction as a whole.
Changes in the '70s
In the next decade, we saw three manufacturers begin to make a low-cost, steel, roll-up door. Two of them were of a modified slat design and one was a lock-seamed steel. This marked a major convenience breakthrough for door manufacturing because this model cost less and saved space. In addition, the door jambs did not need inside wood-jamb facing. Finishes were limited, however. Facility owners could select doors that were primed for painting or opt for the white, baked-enamel version, which is still the norm for sectional-type doors today. Also at this time, most buildings were of masonry construction and partitions were built from dry wall. Sites that are built in this manner are generally 24 years old or older.
By the late '70s, unit mix became the rage. A project that offered a variety of popular sizes rented much more quickly than a facility that offered a limited unit mix. For example, projects with 600 10-by-20 units or a site with 500 5-by-10s were missing the obvious need for different sizes. They were slow to rent up and, as a result, owners often needed to lower rental rates in order to reach higher occupancy levels.
Roll-up doors could be made any size, including smaller sizes down to 3-feet wide. Masonry openings could be 8-feet or 8.8-feet wide, allowing them to accommodate one or one-and-a-half block columns. A 12-inch vertical mullion was used to divide units into 3.6-feet or 3.10-feetwide doors, depending upon column size. These changes added flexibility in unit mix, making the facility attractive to a greater variety of potential clients. Therefore, the changes had a positive effect on the bottom-line profit. Needless to say, owners/operators should recognize the fact that small units rent for a lot more per square foot than do large units.
The Next Generation
The '80s brought a period of rapid development to the self-storage industry. In the early '80s, several door colors became available: Sunset Orange, Royal Blue, Tangerine, Valentine Red and other bright colors came on the market with a rush. The industry became known for bright flashy colors. As material prices increased with high interest rates and inflation, little attention was paid to quality and value. As we look back, we now realize that better paint finishes and higher-quality materials should have been used. We see doors badly faded and in need of repainting. Price wasn't everything.
Let's take a look at how self-storage has evolved out of the '80s into the '90s and what lies ahead for the next millenium. Climate-controlled interiors are now used for both new construction and the conversion of older buildings. The thought in the industry is that climate control is offering a new option that is driving the recent building surge. Swing doors, roll-up doors and partitions are all part of a systems approach promoted by manufacturers. Interiors are now bright with glossy-white finishes, and doors are color coordinated. In addition, it is not uncommon to see areas of large quantities of 4-by-4-by-5 stacked lockers and units as big as 20-by-20.
The variety of sizes, bright clean colors and good security are attracting higher-income customers, who likely feel more secure in storing more furniture and household goods in an upscale self-storage property. After people realize the need to store, they generally look for three things in making the decision to rent:
- No moisture or water
- No bugs or rodents
- Good security
As mentioned earlier, climate control can resolve matters of humidity and extreme weather conditions. Plus, security--in the form of door alarms, motion sensors, smoke alarms, TV cameras and entrance controls--are standard on most self-storage facilities built in the '90s. Door manufacturers accommodate all available forms of security in their door and hallway designs. Managers use video and audio monitoring to add additional security.
Hallway and partition systems are available in Gavalume-finished steel or in baked-enamel white. Knowledgeable owners have moved completely away from galvanized steel, which is known for heavy staining, finger printing and white rusting. Galvalume, a combination of zinc and aluminum, has a bright neutral finish, which will not change for years, if at all. Galvalume is standard for roofing as well as interior partitions. Doors can be obtained in as many as 20 colors. The present trends are for doors to match metal roof and trim colors.
Partitions and hallways are usually configured in heavier flush panels or in corrugated patterns. Roll-up doors are supported by columns and swing doors by an attached integral frame. This leaves a clear, fastener-free appearance. Five-foot wide hallways are used with several varieties of soffit systems. These are used to reflect light, hide the air-conditioning ducts and to enhance security. Glossy-white baked enamel is used for maximum light reflectance and clean appearance.
Partitions usually run vertical to avoid the dust that catches on horizontal surfaces. Some systems use horizontal partitions to give the building diaphragm-loading capability. This decision may be hard to make, as costs are lower with a post-and-perlin system using horizontal partitions. Most vertical partitions are seamed together for flexibility, maximum security and easy installation.
Into The Future
What's next for self-storage as the millenium approaches? Will the trend toward innovation continue? There is evidence that innovation and added value are here to stay. Owners and lenders know that value put into a project reaps several benefits:
- Higher rents
- Less deferred maintenance
- Higher resale values
Considering only cost without regard for lasting value will lose favor with buyers. The future will bring even better, higher-quality self-storage-door products. In this industry, the doors are never closed. We are always open to new ideas.
Dan Curtis is vice president of Doors and Buildings Components Inc. Based in Douglasville, Ga., the company provides the self-storage industry with roll-up steel doors, filler panels, partitions and complete hallway systems, as well as other services. Mr. Curtis is a frequent contributor to Inside Self-Storage magazine and well-seasoned speaker at Inside Self-Storage Expos. For more information, Mr. Curtis may be reached at (800) 542-0501.