When I ask self-storage owners about managing safety at their sites, they bring up cameras, alarm systems, security guards and more. These are all great options, but there’s a foundational component that must come first: lighting. A well-lit facility is critical to safety. You need enough light to attract customers, avoid accidents and deter crime.
The Need to See
Why is lighting a such an important piece of security and even your overall business plan? First, humans are hardwired to distrust darkness. Evolutionarily, it was advantageous for us to avoid situations in which our primary sense—vision—couldn’t help us detect danger. In fact, the amount of light around a street or building still informs our subconscious judgement as to whether we feel safe.
I learned from designing and installing lighting for gas stations that having enough light is a key factor to people choosing one location over another. No one drives up to the “creepy,” poorly lit place. Similarly, in self-storage, your facility’s nighttime lighting will either draw customers or drive them away.
Your business also needs adequate light to prevent falls and accidents. A poorly lit facility is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Low visibility turns regular walkways into tripping hazards and your parking lot into a crash site. Not only do you need enough light, your fixtures should be placed so they create an even level of light across your space. The alternative is bright pockets of light with deep shadows in between that create night blindness and eerie silhouettes.
In addition, good lighting allows you to get the most out of security cameras and generally deters crime. Most cameras are useless in areas of low or no light. Footage becomes grainy, and it’s impossible to capture details like a car’s make and model, or a license plate number. If there’s an incident at your facility, that video won’t help much. You can pay at least double for infrared cameras, or you can simply use exterior lighting to support standard cameras and enhance the overall feeling of safety at your property.
If you’ve added security guards to your team, good lighting makes their job easier, allowing them to see and be seen. Having visible personnel goes a long way toward deterring opportunists.
Placement and Cost
Now that you know lighting is important for security, what’s the best, most cost-effective way to illuminate your self-storage facility? Where is it important to install lights, and where is it a waste of money to use them? To properly place lights and take advantage of energy-saving tricks, you need to think about your customers’ experience when approaching, entering and occupying your property.
First, consider your exterior lighting. When customers approach, you want a pathway of light to lead them from their car to the entrance. By enhancing your entry and parking-lot lights, you’ll ensure current and potential renters see your property as safe and inviting.
For facilities that are open 24 hours, keep lights on all night. Yes, you could save money with motion sensors, but the loss of perceived safety isn’t worth it.
For the facility interior, there are two methods to increase lighting performance and decrease energy bills. The first will sound familiar: Switch to LED lighting. Simply put, LEDs will add the least cost to your utility bill and won’t flicker like the fluorescents in scary movies.
The second is to use motion sensors. You can put them in places people visit only occasionally, like an upper floor. This will save you a ton of money. To avoid the off-putting effect of lights turning on and off as you walk down a hallway, set the sensors set to light up the whole floor or area at once.
You can also use motion sensors around the perimeter of your building in tandem with your cameras. They’ll trigger lights to come on when there’s movement and allow your cameras to capture any important details. Just don’t aim lights toward your cameras. This will only create glare in your feed. Place them along the same wall, facing the area of interest.
Some utility companies will offer to rent you security lighting and install it for you. As convenient as that may seem, the decision will haunt you. You’ll end up paying five to 10 times the cost of each light fixture just within the first 10 years. Instead, create your own lighting plan. Specifically, I recommend quality LED lights. Purchase products endorsed by the DesignLights Consortium, a nonprofit that promotes the use of energy-efficient lighting, to ensure the best value and the highest rebates for your upgrade.
Good self-storage lighting will pay dividends in increased safety and an inviting, worry-free customer experience. The initial cost of adding quality lighting may seem steep, however, the payback is short while the benefits are long-reaching.
Steven Brookman, director of the energy-management division at Joule Energy, is a veteran LED lighting designer. He helps businesses find cost savings in energy efficiency. Joule offers LED lighting, energy management and solar-system services. For more information, call 920.341.5337; visit www.joule-energy.com.