With Maintenance in Mind

Donna May Comments
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Building maintenance begins at the drawing board. If you can imagine the way a facility will operate as you work at the layout stage, you’ll be better able to plan for long-term success. Consider all of the elements that work together to create a premier investment, focusing not just on construction details, but future facility upkeep. Some operators make the mistake of scrimping at the startup phase, only to lose the battle when it comes to expenses down the road. By building ease of maintenance into a site, you minimize time, effort and expense over the long haul. Here are few simple rules to assist in your planning:
  1. Evaluate your environment.
  2. Form must follow function.
  3. Build it right.

Rule 1: Evaluate Your Environment

Every state has building regulations to address major environmental factors: wind load, snow load, seismic activity, flood plains, etc. When building a storage site with maintenance in mind, you also need to consider smaller ecological issues, such as trees that shed leaves and twigs on roofs, anticipated rain volume, debris that could blow onto a site from adjacent properties, frost depth, options for snow removal (salt or no salt), humidity, temperature ranges, and a host of other factors. View the facility’s surroundings, assessing how these items can affect operation of your business.

Moisture is the No. 1 enemy of frugal maintenance, whether in the form of rainwater that leaks into units and electrical fixtures, ground swells that crack the asphalt and concrete, or freezing and expansive soils along building foundations. Controlling water-related damage is the most important factor in minimizing the expenses of facility upkeep. What can be done? Let’s start at the top.

Roofs.

The pitch of the roof needs to be adequate to shed the volume of water likely to fall on the surface at any given time—1/4 inch per linear foot is the minimum. Don’t plan for average rainfall; anticipate storms and high winds. In buildings with metal roofs, rolled step-downs are less likely to leak than vertical ones. Vertical step-downs require rake trim, flashings and angles that must be screwed, taped, caulked and sealed. Rolled step-downs provide a continuous flow to the roof line.

Using a good sealant on roof fastenings and penetrations is critical. There are many options, but butyl rubber caulk is tried and true. Don’t use neoprene washers, as they deteriorate in ultraviolet light. EDPM rubber washers and high-quality screws are essential to extending the life of the roof.

Hire only contractors experienced with the type of roof being installed. Excess torque on screws with washers can strip holes in eave struts or purlins and stress or crack the washer seal, which is an open invitation to water. Confirm the quantity and placement of clips and screws being used with the installer. If panels are insufficiently fastened, they can move and deflect, especially in windy weather.

Never leave debris of any kind on a roof, particularly metal roofs. The construction crew should sweep the roof clean after construction to remove any small fragments. Metal bits left on metal roofing (yes, even galvanized) will eventually rust.

Gutters and Downspouts.

If debris is likely to blow onto the roof, use covered gutters or establish a program for regular gutter maintenance. The number of downspouts must be sufficient to accommodate the volume of water. Clogged gutters and inadequate downspouts create pooling water, increasing the potential for leaks. It’s essential that the gutter-to-downspout attachment is cut out fully, without obstruction, so debris doesn’t collect at the junction. All joints should be screwed and caulked, as they are the most likely candidates for leaks over time. Make sure the joints are not above light fixtures. To prevent erosion of landscaping or asphalt, downspouts should empty into a splash guard.

Insulation.

Ceiling insulation must be properly sealed against moisture at the edge of the roof. There are products available to accomplish this, but a knowledgeable construction crew can fold the insulation’s exterior cover under the roof before screwing it into place, providing an adequate moisture barrier. If moisture comes in contact with insulation, it creates a “wicking” effect, drawing even more water. This water will pool in the insulation above a unit.

Block.

Block columns absorb moisture, which will cause efflorescence (salt stains) and, in serious cases, seepage into units. Block also deteriorates from salt used in snow removal. To prevent these problems, block must be sealed and painted with a material specifically designed to fill the pin holes that are naturally a part of its composition. It must also be sufficiently covered and sealed at the roof line.

Foundations. Different materials expand and contract at different rates in response to heat and cold. Because a driveway and building will respond to temperatures differently, spaces can be created between them, leaving an entry point for water. To lengthen the life of drives and floors, use pliable sealants to prevent moisture from getting into cracks and beneath structures. Each and every juncture should be sealed to the extent possible.

Rule 2: Form Must Follow Function

It’s fine to make things look nice, but don’t sacrifice function for aesthetics. To avoid unnecessary building maintenance and keep safety a priority, design your facility with practical use in mind.

Drives.

For example, the fire marshal may only require a drive width of 20 feet; but if one customer is parked and unpacking, and another is trying to get around him in a moving truck, you’ve got potential damage on your hands. Strategically placed bollards can help, but a wider drive is the better solution. Wide drives also reduce stress on the asphalt from sharp turning radiuses. If large trucks will access the property, use concrete at turning points, as it’s more durable over the long term. Concrete pads should also be used under dumpsters.

All driveways must be sloped to shed water away from buildings without creating torrents (the necessary grade can be determined by your civil engineer). If drives are flush with unit doors, water will flow freely into units every time it rains or snow melts. Brick lugs around buildings, particularly in front of doors, prevent water from flowing inside. Landscaping should always stop below finished floor elevations and drain away from buildings as well.

Electrical.

Calculate the minimum lighting you’ll need for the facility, including fixture intensity and placement. This will save on construction costs and operating expenses. As lights determine a good portion of the electrical installation, keep other needs in mind. For example, installing restricted-access electrical outlets every 400 feet will greatly enhance employees’ ability to handle facility cleaning and maintenance. (Creating water access on every floor will help in this area, too.)

Avoid using wall-mounted lights, as they are easily smashed when tenants move their larger items through hallways. Overhead lighting provides better illumination, costs less to operate and is less likely to be damaged. Make sure ballasts will accommodate long-life fixtures to cut down on replacement.

Modest illumination is usually sufficient for drives—it’s not necessary to use 150- watt bulbs at 50-foot intervals, and high-wattage bulbs use more electricity and burn out faster. The trend in most municipalities is to require “dark-sky lighting,” meaning outdoor lights can only shine downward. If there’s any chance the facility will be expanded in the future, consider installing dark-sky lighting even if it isn’t currently required. Otherwise, you could face an expensive retrofit.

Rule 3: Build It Right

Choose all building components and systems based on your particular site, not just the quality of the product. Your contractor should provide a warranty on the construction of your buildings. In addition, make sure you get warranties for all your individual products, as these are generally for longer periods. For example, the contractor may provide a one-year warranty on general construction, but there may be a five- or 10-year warranty on your HVAC system, and a 20- or 30-year warrant on your roof. (Factory-produced Galvalume carries a 20-year warranty, but it may not extend to product rolled on site. Check with the manufacturer.)

Your contractor should also give you specifications regarding maintenance and replacement parts for all of your primary systems. Never substitute less-expensive parts without first checking with the contractor or manufacturer. For instance, fluorescent light ballasts are made to handle a particular kind of bulb and wattage. Using the wrong one will significantly shorten the life of the ballast. In the end, this costs much more than what you could save by purchasing discount replacement bulbs.

Finally, plan and budget for ongoing maintenance. Examine every facet of the site that may require upkeep, and establish a regular schedule. When left to chance, maintenance is often left undone, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. To preserve a facility’s integrity, preparations must be made from day one of construction. You can build preservation into your site, maximizing its usefulness and longevity.

Donna May is president of Cross Metal Buildings, a member of The Parham Cos., which provides high-quality commercial, agricultural and self-storage buildings throughout the South and specializes in assisting first-time builders. May is the former president of Joshua Management Co. and a commercial real estate broker. She has been a partner in 11 startup storage projects totaling more than 703,500 square feet. For information, call 210.477.1260; e-mail ask@crossmb.com; visit www.crossmetalbuildings.com.

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