Your security gate is your first line of defense against break-ins. It’s also the first security device your customers encounter, and one of the most used mechanisms on your property. So the gate has to work, plain and simple, 24/7/365.
If your site has 300 units, your gate will open an average of 50 times on a slow day. That’s 18,200 times a year. And over the expected seven-year lifespan of your gate operator, it will open an impressive 127,400 times. A quick look at your access log for any given month will show you just how reliable your gate really is.
An Ounce of Prevention
But if I’ve learned anything in my years of working in self-storage, it’s that if a gate is going to break, it will do so at 5:05 p.m. on a Friday before a long weekend. I’ve also learned that if a few simple guidelines are followed on a regular basis, 80 percent of the problems owners experience with their gates and gate operators can be foreseen or avoided entirely.
Before I go any further, let me emphasize that safety must come first. Before doing any inspection or work on a gate or gate operator, turn off the power. Then check to make sure the power is off. If there are any other employees on site, let them know you have turned off the power and not to turn it back on until you say so. It may sound silly, but I know of one manager who wishes he had notified his wife in this regard. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t so funny then.
All slide gates have two things in common: a set of rollers and a drive mechanism. If your gate is like most, the drive mechanism is a chain attached to the gate that runs through the operator. The drive mechanism is where most gate problems can be avoided.
For smooth operation, the chain must be kept tight and lubricated. Be careful not to over-tighten it, but don’t allow more than 1 inch of drop. This will cause undue pressure on the gears and chain, causing them to wear out. Use a spray lubricant, which can be purchased at any motorcycle or industrial supply store, and lube the chain monthly. This is an easy maintenance item that can be done in less than five minutes.
Check rollers monthly for wear and replace them as soon as deterioration starts to show, as the problem will only get worse over time. You won’t save money by ignoring the issue. If a roller shows wear on the outside, it has the same corrosion inside.
If your gate uses V-track rollers, you can check for wear by looking at the roller’s edge. There should be a flat spot on either side of the groove. If there is no flat spot, you need to replace your roller. This same rule applies to pipe-type rollers, which have a half-moon cut on the edge with a small flat spot on either side. Also check for cracks, chips or other noticeable erosion.
In addition to wear, check rollers for play along the axel. (To do so, you need to have the weight of the gate off the roller, so it may be wise to let a professional handle this task.) The rollers should be tight on the axel and mounting brackets. If they can be tilted from side to side or up and down, there’s damage to the bearings, brackets or axels, and repairs or replacement are necessary. Repairs should only be done by a qualified service technician, as mistakes in this area will cause other problems.
Two good indicators that something is wrong with your gate or gate operator are strange noises or metal shavings on and around the gate, operator and track. These may also appear as gray dust. In both cases, you need to investigate for problems.
The most overlooked aspects of a gate operator are the drive belt and drive gears. In areas with little moisture, drive belts will crack and start slipping. In humid areas, the belts can rot, which also causes them to slip. Check the belts just as you would on your vehicle. Some operators are designed to allow the belt to slip in the event the gate strikes an object. This is why I don’t recommend the use of belt dressings. If the operator is working properly, the belt should not slip.
Check the gears over which the chain runs. If they have sharp points, the sides are undercut, or they seem loose on the axels, they need to be replaced or serviced. Worn gears will wear out the chain. If a gear is not tight on the axel, it can cause the chain to come off or bind. Either situation can mean an expensive fix.
Some gate operators use a plastic roller instead of an idler or guide sprockets. The roller will show wear from the chain, but this is normal. By checking the rollers regularly, you can tell when they need to be replaced.
By code, all gate operators must have safety devices, which are either primary or secondary. A primary device is what users (your tenants) will encounter first, while a secondary is used as a backup. All safety devices should be checked often; if not daily, then weekly.
Safety loops are the most common safety devices. They are either embedded into the driveway or cut into the drive. To check the safety loops, open the gate and wait for it to start closing. As it closes, slowly drive a vehicle toward it, taking care not to hit it. If the loops are working properly, the gate should stop and reverse to the open position. You should have a safety loop on the inside and outside of the gate, so test both. If your loops have been cut into the drive, you’ll need to reseal them annually.
Some gates use a photo beam as a secondary safety device. The beam should work the same as the safety loops. When testing, simply place your hand in front of the beam as the gate closes. Again, the gate should stop and reverse.
Sensitivity or mechanical reversing devices are set at the factory and don’t usually require any adjustments. They reverse the gate in the event it strikes an object, so make sure your gate operator has them (almost all products manufactured after 2000 do). To check these devices, the gate must be stopped by an object while opening or closing. Only qualified professionals should perform this test or make adjustments.
Safety edges—rubber boots attached to the end of the gate, gate post and other areas of entrapment—are easy to install and make a great secondary device. They consist of three parts: the rubber boot, a transmitter attached to the rubber boot, and a receiver wired to the gate operator. They can be checked by simply striking the rubber boot with your hand as it’s moving, which should make the gate stop or reverse. If the safety edge doesn’t work, check the battery inside the transmitter. If it still doesn’t work, you'l need to have it serviced.
An Ounce of Prevention
When a gate or operator needs repair, there’s often more than one item in need of fixing. Generally, one central problem will cause others. For example, if the gears are worn, then the chain gets worn, which causes the gate to jerk, which puts strain on the motor and gear box, which causes the drive belt to get hot and crack, and on and on.
You don’t have to be a gate expert to foresee and prevent problems. If you’re not sure, ask your installer or service tech to show you common items of upkeep. Gates and operators are not overly complicated, and almost anyone can handle simple maintenance and inspections. Refer to your owner’s manual for items unique to your products. If you can’t find your manual, find a copy online or request one from your vendor.
As a rule, all safety devices should be checked at least weekly, and adjustments, lubrications and inspections performed monthly. Keep a log of all repairs and maintenance. This will allow you to see patterns as they develop and learn to identify and prevent problems. The log will also help your service company determine what issues need to be resolved and what has already been done. This will speed repairs and save you money.
Chester A. Gilliam works for Centennial, Colo.-based Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. and has been involved with self-storage security systems for the past 19 years. For more information, call 303.798.5337; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.