Fighting Brain Freeze: Winter Maintenance Tips for Self-Storage Operators

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By Molly Bilker

Five rental trucks. Six parking spaces. Snow 32 inches high. In February 2009, Penny Casassa spent the day jockeying trucks and trying to clear more than two and half feet of snow from her cramped parking lot at 21st Century Storage in Baltimore. Her snow-removal crew dropped off a single man in a Bobcat snow blower with slick tires. She would have been better off with a superior place to house the trucks, she says, and probably a snow blower of her own.

"It was a huge mess," remembers Casassa, a member of the Self-Storage Talk (SST) online community and current manager at an Atlantic Storage Solutions in Jobstown, N.J. "But then again, so was the entire Baltimore area!"

With winter weather arriving, self-storage operators in some parts of the country are facing snow-packed driveways, wet walkways, frozen pipes and a host of other challenges. Luckily, here are a few tips to help them keep climate trials  from creating a winter horror story.

Get the Equipment You Need

If you don't have the appropriate winter-maintenance tools, you won't even be able to begin dealing with larger problems. The Pogoda Cos., which owns or manages 38 facilities in Michigan and Ohio, ensures its managers have a variety of equipment to use when the weather turns icy, says John George, vice president of operations. The basics include:

  • Heavy-duty snow blower
  • Salt spreader
  • Salt with disposable cups
  • Snow shovels
  • Snow-track footwear and eye goggles for store managers
  • Lock de-icer
  • Jumper cables for stored RVs and cars

The more equipment you have ready when winter comes, the more innovatively you can deal with the host of problems that can arise, including ordinary troubles you may not expect. "A couple of the most common problems a tenant runs into are not being able to open a frozen lock on their unit door and a stored RV or car that won’t start," George says.

Routine Maintenance Is King

Preparing for winter weather early will help you handle issues efficiently when they occur. First, make sure your gutters are clean so debris doesn't block them and cause overflow when rain or snow hits. Protect outdoor hoses from frost damage by moving them indoors. Insulate exposed pipes and outdoor plumbing fixtures so they don't freeze, which can block your water supply and potentially cause pipes to burst. Remove temporary curbs so they don't get scooped into the snow pile, and service your facility’s heaters to make sure they're working properly.

A large part of preparation is having your equipment at the ready. In an SST thread about winter maintenance, forum member eileen recalls when hers wasn't. "Don't leave your snow shovels and Ice Melt inside a company unit in case a three-foot snow drift ends up in front of it," she says. "You'll only do it once."

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