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Self-Storage Maintenance Retains Customers and Property Value

July 2, 2008

12 Min Read
Self-Storage Maintenance Retains Customers and Property Value

Because a storage owner sees his property daily, he may miss signs of deterioration. “A large percentage of your storage renters decide whether they want to rent from you based on the curb appeal of your facility,” says Brian Byrd, vice president of sales and marketing for Landvest Corp. in Wichita, Kan. “To combat the unintentional blinders that you often wear, you need to have a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly checklist of items that need to be evaluated.”

Items on this checklist should include things such as exterior lighting, drive maintenance, signage, bollards, doors and more. This list will help an owner or manager focus on specific items to assess. “Keep in mind that the items you are reviewing need to be items that can be seen from the street and within the property. Curb appeal continues on the inside of the property as well,” Byrd adds.

Buildings, drives, fencing and landscaping are the visual priorities in exterior maintenance. The other priority must be roofs and the prevention of damage from water, says Donna May, president Cross Metal Buildings Inc., Bulverde, Texas. “Ratty-looking flowerbeds, trash against fence lines and clumsy or inoperable gates signify that the owners or managers don’t care, and potential tenants will go somewhere else for that reason alone,” May says.


The buzzword of the day is “green,” so know that your landscaping will be appreciated, says Dave Stefano, president of Norfolk, Va.-based D. Stefano, Building & Restoration Inc. “Keep it green and flowering, and everyone will be happier.”

Landscaping can break up long, plain views of your project as it becomes part of the architecture. Plants and bushes may also hide rodent traps and unattractive areas like dumpsters or parking areas. Remember to properly irrigate and fertilize everything you’ve planted.

“Landscaping is often a customer’s first impression of the facility and is the feature of the facility they like the best, or draws their eyes the most,” Byrd says. If neglected, it can also become the worst feature of a property. Keep bushes trimmed, eliminate weeds and replace plants immediately if they die.


Fencing provides security and makes an attractive statement. Several kinds of fencing—chain link, brick wall, wood—can create solid and secure barriers. A steel ornamental fence with the proper base material and coating should require only moderate rinsing to remove dust and dirt buildup, says Mark Meek, president of sales and marketing at Ameristar Fence Products, Tulsa, Okla. Heavier dirt buildup, mineral deposits, bird droppings, etc., can be removed using a non-abrasive detergent cleaner.

Quality fence coatings will not mar or scratch easily, but if the surface is impacted forcefully by a sharp steel object that exposes the base material, a surface repair may be necessary, Meek says. In this case, the affected area should be smoothed with a fine-grit sandpaper, cleaned and dried. Coat the fence with a zinc-rich primer, then with UV-resistant touch-up paint of the same color and gloss as the factory coating.

Fencing needs to kept in good repair at all times, May says. “Damaged fencing automatically makes tenants think that the security of their units are compromised. So does a gate that does not work as it should.”

For gates, check tracks, wheels, chains, lift mechanisms, rust and paint, May advises. “Logic and manufacturers’ instructions are the best guidelines to follow in establishing inspection or service frequency. Vendors and service providers are generally very helpful in answering questions regarding maintenance.”

Paving and Parking

Asphalt paving is prone to weed and water damage. Materials growing up through asphalt must be “nipped at the bud” by using topical weed killers, May says. Cracks and holes from vegetation, water damage and stress should be sealed annually. “When asphalt loses its color and small surface crumbles appear, it needs to be seal-coated,” May says. “If it is damaged more extensively, it probably needs to be replaced.”

The weight of concrete drives as compared to the weight of slabs and buildings causes them to heave at different rates when affected by moisture, according to May. Prevent moisture from getting into the ground beneath buildings and drives as much as possible, particularly where there is expansive soil or freezing. Sealing all joints and abutments can prevent moisture-related unsightly buckling or uneven concrete drives. Keep parking stops in good repair. They are not expensive and make parking areas look shabby when broken.

Roadways should be clean. Also, repair low places where water collects, which will increase the asphalt’s lifespan significantly, Stefano says. Asphalt should be sealed within three months of completion, then every other year for lasting results. If you want to control traffic patterns, paint the roadways.

Posts and Bollards

Steel bollards can protect the storefront, storage units and landscaping from accidents. But steel bollards require considerable maintenance to keep them looking fresh. Over time, they will need scraping to remove rust, and a coat of fresh paint.

One solution is to cover posts with sleeves that are water- and chemical-resistant, can withstand extreme temperatures and are treated with UV and anti-static additives. “By covering bollards, the bumper-post sleeve improves a storage facility’s appearance,” says Chris Parenti, vice president of Ideal Shield in Detroit.

Since post sleeves never need to be painted, they can save man-hours and eliminate the cost associated with the continual need for painting. The sleeves are easily cleaned with industrial strength soap and water solutions.


The visual condition of signs is a very important part of a well-managed self-storage facility, says Jerry Kincade, Sign Systems Inc., Stanwood, Wash. Signs that are old, faded and in poor condition don’t send a positive message or convey an image of a clean and safe environment. Over time, certain factors—weather, rodent or bird pollution, age, wear and tear—may result in less efficient signage and reduced ability to find the way.

There are several categories of signs a facility uses: instructional, directional, advertising, promotional, safety and security. These signs help tenants use facilities safely, securely and within the rules, and also provide marketing opportunities. The best way to evaluate the condition and effectiveness of your signs is to take a tour of your property, Kincade says.

“We all know how quickly branding and parking lot appeal is lost when the lights go out,” says Julie Lapacka, director of business development for Houston-based US-1 Sign Maintenance Experts.

Signs that are old, faded and in poor condition do not send a positive message nor do they convey a clean and safe environment. Exterior signs are subjected to the elements of nature: extreme heat or cold, sun damage, wind, precipitation in all its forms, and even pollution. These elements cause faces to fade and crack, vinyl to peel, paint to chip, neon to break or dim, and lamps and ballasts to fail. In addition, simple dirt and grime can create problems. An annual sign inspection will catch problems before they escalate.

Sign cleaning creates a better appearance as it extends the life of the electrical components, Lapacka says. When your sign begins to flicker, it’s important to act quickly. Flickering is a sign of a faulty transformer or ballast, which, when not functioning properly, puts a lot of additional stress on other electrical components. Simply turning your sign off as soon as you notice the flickering and calling for service will save a lot in repair costs.

If you have individual channel letter signs, birds often nest in the letters, Lapacka says. Their droppings, in addition to being unsightly, also break down the finish on the sign. Bird spikes are an effective and humane deterrent that can be applied by your sign company.


There are no typical lighting sources for exterior lighting applications, says Larry Leetzow, president for the World Institute of Lighting and Development Corp (Magnaray International) in Sarasota, Fla. If your facility is more than a few years old, chances are you are using high-pressure sodium (HPS) or metal halide (MH). Some facilities still use low-pressure sodium (LPS), which produces only a pure yellow light. Fluorescent (FL), which produces a white light, is preferred by most customers.

The choice of lighting determines how often bulbs must be replaced. HPS has a fairly good lamp life and lumen maintenance, but does distort colors of objects, takes a while to come on, and even longer to “cycle” in power interruptions, says Leetzow. In general, the lower the wattage of sources, the shorter the lamp’s life. Spot re-lamping (burnouts) is usually done, but can be costly. If the system is five years or less in age, only lamps normally need replacement. Older systems may need capacitors, ignitors, ballast and lamps replaced.

MH loses about 30 percent light output in the first 8,000 hours of use, while consuming the same amount of energy. LPS uses more energy as it ages, is hazardous to dispose, can cause third-degree burns if not handled properly, and requires protective clothing for installation, Leetzow says.

FL sources lend themselves to group-lamp replacement, which can save lots of maintenance dollars, Leetzow says. A scheduled re-lamp saves money on return trips, not to mention the safety consideration for parking lot and security lighting.

Replacing aging or broken neon with LEDs will virtually eliminate service calls as well as reduce energy consumption by an average of 80 percent, Leetzow says. Neon dims in cold temperatures and has significant lumen (light output) depreciation. Conversely, LEDs have almost no lumen depreciation and are unaffected by the cold, thereby providing a more consistent, brighter sign for a lower operating cost.

Regular group re-lamping of fluorescent signs and parking lot lights is more cost-effective than simply replacing what’s out. When lamps and ballasts start going out, others aren’t far behind.

Many sign companies offer scheduled maintenance plans with a fixed fee, or on-call maintenance services. Regardless of which scenario you choose, annual assessments will prolong the life of your signs, keeping them at their best and increasing your profitability, Leetzow says.


Dumpsters are a necessary evil on any storage site. They should be on concrete pads so that asphalt is not destroyed by heavy trucks maneuvering to pick up containers, May says. Never let trash accumulate outside the dumpster. It’s an eyesore that immediately draws attention and creates a negative impression.

“When possible, enclose a dumpster and rent a key to customers who actually need to use it,” says Stephano. The rental can be $2 per month; but the key holders will be registered and held accountable.


Doors are subject to constant wear and tear by customers and the elements including sun, snow, acid rain and salt air. Ultraviolet rays will eventually fade and chalk even the best paint. Salt air can oxidize and pit the metal, causing corrosion. Dirt and dust will settle on the chalky or oxidized doors making them appear dull and dingy.

Dirt or grit in the guides of the doors can gum up the mechanisms. Keeping doors free and clear of dirt and dust is difficult but minimizing this will add longevity to performance and the appearance of your doors, says Roc Hughes, director of business development and marketing (self-storage division) for DBCi, Douglasville, Ga.

Excess dirt and debris that collects in the guides and in the rain lip keep doors from sealing well at the bottom bar, Hughes says. Letting dust and dirt enter the guides causes wear and rough operation. The funnel effects between buildings caused by windy conditions, coupled with property cleanup by blowers, can force debris into, under and around the door openings. These conditions also leave scratches and pit marks, affecting the appearance of the doors, Hugh adds. The impact of winter salt can be minimized by regularly removing snow from the direct path of doors and guides.

Temperatures and moisture associated with direct sunlight, coupled with the dirt contaminants on the surface causes the paint on doors to chalk and fade. Wipe doors down with a wet cloth to remove dirt, then apply Armor All or any type of light-duty car wax twice a year.

Each time a unit is rented (or yearly, depending on which is first), managers should:

  1. Inspect door curtain for any scratches, dents or debris, and clean, repair or replace as needed.

  2. Sweep out unit, rain lip and guides.

  3. Apply silicone-based grease on the springs (white lithium works best).

  4. Spray inside of guides with a silicone spray.

  5. Inspect all guides and fasteners for tightness.

“Since the appearance and smooth operations of your doors project your image to the public, maintenance does not cost you money, it makes you money,” says Teresa Sedmak, president and co-owner of Everbrite Inc., Reno, Nev. After every vacancy, owners should check doors are securely screwed into the wall. The screws may have backed out after excessive use. Sometimes none of the screws are in place.

Check the pull cords, especially if they are on the outside, as they wear very quickly. Make sure you melt or singe the cord ends so they won’t fray.

Oil or lubricate the springs with a very light coat of oil to reduce friction and prevent rust. Finally, check the tension and adjust according to the manufacturer’s directions. Maintaining the spring tension and making sure it is balanced is critical. People who hurt their backs trying to raise doors that stick or open unevenly can file lawsuits.


When a roof is installed, it should be thoroughly cleaned by sweeping the entire surface with a broom or air blower, Stephano says. Metal particles on a metal roof can cause a chemical reaction.

A walking inspection of your roofs will reveal areas that need maintenance to prevent unnecessary aging and damage. When a roof has a nearly flat pitch, customers may toss debris up onto the roof where it won’t be seen or roll off.

Gutters and downspouts should be cleaned every fall, or more often in applicable geographical regions. Another inspection prior to the winter’s ice and snow is prudent. Care should be taken while using a garden hose to clean gutters and downspouts. Don’t let water pressure force water under the eaves, and look for roofing screws and other sharp objects that may wash into the roadways.  Installing downspouts into an underground water retention system reduces surface water, parking lot erosion, and ice in cold weather.

“Convenience, price and perception about the care your customers’ goods will receive are the three decision-making factors in choosing a facility,” May says. “Any one of the three can gain or lose a sale. That is why exterior maintenance is so important.”

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