"Prevention is better than cure," or "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Which do you believe? I suggest both are equally correct and, at the same time, incorrect. Paying for regular maintenance vs. paying for replacement is often a dilemma.
A regular program of prevention rather than cure will generally be cheaper than repair or even replacement. It will, however, mean spending money before an item actually fails. And, as a lot of self-storage facility managers could probably attest to, getting money from employers to fix something not yet broken can be like getting the proverbial blood from a stone. On the other hand, I have seen failures of an item due to overzealous maintenance.
Generally, every part of a self-storage facility requires maintenance, most by specialist contractors at prescribed times. For example, electrical equipment, including smoke-detection equipment, security systems, lifts, etc., requires regular testing and certification. Most of these systems are intelligent enough to tell you if they are experiencing a fault and require repair.
Mechanical items seem to need constant adjusting, tightening or loosening. Probably the biggest item here will be doors, and self-storage facilities more than likely have hundreds. However, facility managers don't open unit doors as frequently as customers.
Managers are only made aware of the problem when a customer complains his door is not functioning properly. This limits the opportunity of preventing a problem before it occurs. A good inspection of any unit after it is vacated could prevent doors from becoming a problem. In fact, it is a good plan to perform a general inspection of the internal condition of a unit and look for damage to partitions, floors and ceilings. It would be nice to think customers care for their self-storage units as if they were their own, but the reality is far from that.
Although there are some maintenance issues that are quickly carried out, roof maintenance can easily be forgotten—with catastrophic consequences. When operators have a problem with the roof, I can almost guarantee the end result will be water penetration. Other than fire, leaks are a self-storage manager's worst nightmare. Although there are many causes of water penetration, the most common yet often overlooked is a blocked gutter forcing water to overflow into the building. The cure is simple--regular cleaning of the gutters, especially throughout autumn. Since health and safety is always an issue, be sure to hire a competent contractor to advise a safe working method.
A lot of potential maintenance problems can be avoided if, during design, more attention is paid to the quality of materials. During the design of any self-storage facility, a balance must be achieved between cost and the quality of resources. It is pointless to design a fabulous, state-of-the-art self-storage facility with the highest-quality longest-lasting products if the final cost prohibits its construction. At the same time, there is no point in building a cheap facility that needs rebuilding every couple of years. You will get what you pay for. As the saying goes, "If you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys."
Graham Lomax is a founding director of Rabco Europe Ltd., based in Essex, England. Rabco Europe opened in August 2001 to expand The Rabco Corp.'s Orlando, Fla.-based operation into the European market. For more information, visit www.rabcoeurope.com.