Americans love remodeling—to make the old new again. Homeowners proudly display renovation signs in their yards, while do-it-yourself shops sell new gimmicks that repurpose old gadgets.
When it comes to self-storage remodeling, there are a lot of trends out there. But there's one with which you may not be familiar: re-skins.
A Fresh Concept
Re-skinning means giving a facelift to older, first-generation wood doors and hallway systems in a low-construction, invasive-free manner. Patrick Reilly, president of the Washington Self Storage Association, proudly proclaims re-skinning as his own invention. “I’ve re-skinned several of my older facilities and, in fact, I believe I came up with the concept,” Reilly says. Like many owners of older facilities, he was looking for a way to change out the wood hallway components and hollow-core doors in one of his Urban Self Storage facilities.
To stay competitive with new construction, Reilly knew he needed a physical facelift that required more than just a new coat of paint. The challenge was finding a cost-effective manner that didn’t inconvenience tenants or risk liability by exposing their belongings while switching out the doors.
Reilly consulted a team of door and hallway professionals with a unique idea. Why not install the steel hallway panels, headers and doors over the existing wooden structures? The benefits were many—less construction time to interrupt his daily business, a cost-effective installation process, and a method to replace all the doors without having to round up each tenant to stand by for security purposes while the doors were updated. With a little more research and calculations, the concept of re-skinning became a viable remodeling option.
Re-skinning is appealing on many levels. As most owners are keenly aware, aesthetics are vital in attracting new renters, and the competition with new facilities is fierce. Units with old, worn doors look less inviting and may be perceived as less secure than professionally installed steel doors. Many re-skins utilize swing doors rather than roll-ups, which typically cost less to purchase and install. Less inconvenience to the tenants is a large factor for re-skins.
Typically an entire hall of steel doors can be installed in a day, without ever having to disturb the contents of a unit. Because new doors are installed over the previous ones, tenants can switch their locks when it’s convenient.
Tenants tend to appreciate this time-saver, and owners sidestep the myriad potential liability issues of switching out doors and exposing stored belongings. Finally, many of the surprises encountered with a remodeling job are eliminated because there are no major structural changes being made.
Again, the majority of the doors in a re-skin are replaced with steel swing doors rather than roll-ups. Swing doors are more cost-effective, and roll-up doors rarely can be effectively installed over existing doors. Installation crews can quickly install hallway panels and headers along with swing doors, reducing the impact of renovation on a facility’s daily business.
Swing doors are usually zip-tied closed for the procedure. When renters want to access units, the manager opens the steel door, allowing them to transfer their locks. Waiting on a tenant to be available to oversee his unit during door switch outs can eat up huge amounts of installer time. Re-skinning saves time, which adds to the owner’s bottom line.
Beyond doors, wooden hallways are given facelifts with steel panels, easily installed around existing lights, fire extinguishers, cameras, etc. Unless the old wooden panels are in gross disrepair, little to no demolition is necessary, and in a fraction of the time, the facility has a shiny new appearance.
The decision to remove old wood doors varies between facilities. For those with mold, mildew or decay problems, doors and panels are usually discarded, which adds more labor time. Also, not all owners prefer swing doors. Roll-up doors offer larger openings—a definite service to tenants—and some find swing doors to be cumbersome in the aisles especially when several are open at once. Roll-up doors are certainly an option, but will require the removal of old wooden doors.
Door selection should be handled in the same manner you would for a new construction job. You’ll want to consider a high-quality door that will last, not just the lowest bid. Most manufacturers will offer a three-year warranty on workmanship, but also look for extended paint warranties, durable finishes and customer-support programs.
If you opt for roll-up doors, make sure you select one with pre-lubricated springs and a ratchet-tensioning device. You’ll find that quality workmanship and easy tension adjustment will keep your maintenance and replacement costs to a minimum.
Door color is a point of consideration for re-skins just as one would find with new construction or other remodeling tactics. A certain amount of psychology goes into selecting a door color. Some owners select colors to match their logos or corporate colors, while others take tenant mindsets into consideration. For instance, blue (as in a blue ribbon) is considered a winning color; light greens are found to be soothing; yellow connotes caution; and white is known to be more reflective, which caters to the tenants’ need to feel safe within the facility.
Hiring a professional to install the job is paramount to success. Most major door manufacturers offer re-skin services, and some general contractors will bid for these projects, too. Compare bids carefully, as some firms may omit steps to keep costs down. Experience has shown that skimping at the onset means more maintenance—and money—down the road.
Rejuvenating Public Areas
With all the effort an owner puts into the re-skinning of the hallways, updating the rest of the facility should not be overlooked. Chances are when the facility was built, building codes may have been more relaxed. Today’s guidelines require an owner of an older facility to address Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, fire codes, asbestos removal, old circuit breakers and more.
In addition, tougher zoning guidelines may mandate your color choices, façade changes and even signage selection. You may also find you need to forego some rental units to increase your public function area. Installing lockers above existing units or in normally un-rentable areas can help you recoup lost rental income.
Reaping the Rewards
Re-skinning a facility is a cost-effective way to reinvent a tired facility. The newer surroundings can justify higher rental rates to help offset your investment. Once your site is up to snuff, make sure you price your rates competitively.
Thanks to the ingenious mind of an owner in need, as well as our constant quest to remodel, re-skinning is an attractive renovation option for first-generation wooden facility components. The perceived reinvention can drastically increase your occupancy rate and approval rating. And while you can’t put a price tag on perception, you can bank on the results. Now there’s an idea.
Ramey Jackson is vice president of sales for Janus International, a manufacturer of third-generation roll-up doors, swing doors and hallway components for the self-storage industry. For more information, visit www.janusintl.com.