Maintenance Makeover

Dan Curtis Comments
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With self-storage properties popping up everywhere, to stay competitive, it’s important to keep existing facilities well-maintained. This is a simple task for new sites, but what about older ones? A 15- to 30-year-old facility might suffer many signs of wear and neglect: faded and poorly working doors, rotted weather seals, corroded and rusted door latches, cracked driveways, ponding water, overgrown landscaping, bent flashing and missing downspouts (to name a few).

Fortunately, most of these conditions can be improved or corrected. Repairs and upgrades will be an expense, but not as costly as losing business. For older properties, I suggest an annual allowance of $4,000 to $5,000 for deferred maintenance. This may sound like a lot of money, but when you consider the advantages new facilities enjoy—freshness, cleanliness and the appeal of novelty—it’s worthwhile to invest a few hundred dollars per month vs. sacrificing occupancy.

The condition of any self-storage site is largely determined by the quality of the components used to build it. Cheap products always cost more in the long run and tend to require more upkeep. They negatively affect revenue every day, in addition to bringing down property value. With that said, it’s OK to be thrifty, which means getting the most value for the money spent. An informed buyer recognizes quality and understands its long-term effects: less maintenance and improved building life.

First Impressions

There’s nothing more lasting than a first impression, and this is especially true in self-storage, where tenants often base their rental decision on appearances. Their first 10 or 15 seconds on a property will convince them whether or not to store there. Overgrown landscaping, trash-laden driveways and peeling paint will only encourage prospects to go elsewhere. Because customers tend to equate care for your property with how well you will care for their goods, the facility needs a fresh, inviting look. Simple upgrades include flowers and shrubbery, a fresh coat of blacktop on the parking lot and drives, and attractive entryways and doors.

Laying the Groundwork

If you have any ponding on your pavement, correct it immediately. Standing water will sometimes result if driveways aren’t properly sloped. A slope should have been built into the drive when the facility was constructed to bear water away from units.

Any broken concrete should be removed. Before refilling the resulting gap, make sure the area is completely dry, and key rebar (steel reinforcements) into the existing concrete. Allow adequate curing time before opening the area for use.

Never bury trash on site, as it will eventually rot, creating a large depression in the surface above it. This can be an expensive problem to correct. Recently, a 10-cubic-yard hole appeared overnight in the driveway of one self-storage facility. The hole had to be filled and compacted, and the entire area had to be repaved. Had that area collapsed under a vehicle, the owner could have had serious injuries and a lawsuit on his hands.

Inside buildings, old concrete floors can look cold and dirty. A simple upgrade that makes a big difference is carpeting. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but keep in mind carpet will require regular vacuuming to look clean. Some operators are even experimenting with trendy floor treatments, such as painted and etched concrete.

Got It Covered

Because self-storage units are only entered by their renters, it’s easy for roof leaks to exist without the facility operator knowing about it. With luck, your building has a standing-seam roof rather than a screw-down roof, which is more prone to leaks. If you do have a leak problem, there are several roof coatings that can be applied to alleviate the situation.

If you have a built-up roof, you can patch it for leaks, but this will only delay inevitable replacement. Consider installing a standing-seam roof over the top. Made of Galvalume, it will enjoy long life and can be easily coated in the future if necessary. As most built-up roofs have very little slope, special stand-offs are designed to give enough grade to the new roof installation.

Make sure downspouts are clear of debris and not backing water into the roof eaves. On a standard building, they should be used every 30 feet. Make sure water drained from the downspouts flows away from buildings.

Doors of Opportunity

Early self-storage doors were coated with alkyd or vinyl paint that would fade after only a few years. These doors can be recoated, but it might be best to replace them, especially if they work poorly or have worn weather seals or springs. New doors come equipped with stainless-steel bolts and latches, bearings, bulb-type astragals of UV resistant plastic, and pre-lubricated springs. They also have premium paint finishes with a 25-year guarantee against fading.

It’s possible to improve the operation of older doors with lubrication. First, wipe the guides or side rails clean and spray them with Armor All. Spray the exposed springs and axles at the door-support bracket with a heavy coating of white lithium grease. Repeat these procedures every time a unit is vacated. There is no substitute for preventive maintenance when it comes to making doors last.

Re-tensioning can also improve door performance. For older doors, it’s best to ask your manufacturer or dealer to correct the tension for you. New doors feature an easy, safe, tension-adjustment method that can be performed by the operator.

If the astragals are worn, cracked or missing, they can be replaced with a new, bulb-type product that costs as little as 50 cents per foot. Other plastic parts such as wear guards and side strip can also be swapped to prevent doors from rusting or getting scratched. Finally, watch for rusty latches and bolts and frayed pull cords. Pull cords are the most disregarded maintenance item, but they are very inexpensive and easy to replace. Most door manufacturers carry spare parts for all their models and provide them at reasonable cost.

If you are “blessed” with an older property, spend the money to keep it looking good. You don’t need to be new to be competitive. You just have to be clean, welcoming and well-maintained.

Dan Curtis is president of Atlanta-based Storage Consulting & Marketing, which provides feasibility and marketing studies to potential self-storage owners. Mr. Curtis 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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