Woman working on security-camera maintenance

Maintaining Your Self-Storage Security System: DIY Tips and When to Call a Pro

Keeping your self-storage security system running smoothly requires regular maintenance. Here’s advice on what you can do yourself and when you should call in an expert to help.

In today’s DIY (do-it-yourself) world, the line between when you should fix something yourself or CAP (call a professional) can be blurry. Many self-storage operators believe they can fix anything with how-to videos, which are just a click away. Beware, though, as many of those videos are filmed by amateurs.

When it comes to maintaining or repairing your facility’s security system, the key is to understand which simple tasks you can complete on your own and when to do them. Other issues will require the attention of n expert. The following advice will help you keep your gates, keypads, alarms, cameras and other components in great shape.

Gate Systems

Gates and gate operators have become more complex with the advent of the Universal Laboratory (UL) 325 standard. If your gate isn’t working properly, you’ll need to call a trained and certified professional to look at the system. However, maintenance and inspection should be done regularly and is simple enough to handle yourself. Just a word of caution: Always turn off the power to the gate before working on the system.

It should take less than 30 minutes to do the necessary gate inspections and testing. If you’re unsure how to conduct these tests or what features your system has, ask a local certified installer to review it with you. Have him do an inspection so you have a good point of reference. Following is some upkeep you can handle on your own.

All gates. Check the gate, post and other structural items for wear and rust. Keep them painted. This not only makes a good impression, it helps prevent failure due to corrosion. If your system is bolted in place, make sure the bolts aren’t missing and they’re tight, and that the posts aren’t loose.

No matter what type it is, your gate system should be equipped with safety devices such as photo eyes, safety edges and obstruction loops. Test them at least weekly to ensure they’re in working order. This is a simple procedure that takes only minutes. Keep a log on how they perform and when they’re serviced, including battery changes and any adjustments.

To check a photo eye, just block the eye with your hand while the gate is moving. The gate should either stop or stop and reverse. Some gates only have an eye for the closing direction while others have one for closing and opening.

To check a safety edge, simply press on it while the gate is moving. Again, there may be one for each direction, and the gate should stop or stop and reverse.

Checking the obstruction loops is a little more involved as you’ll need a car or golf cart. With the gate closing, slowly approach it in the vehicle. Before you enter the gate path, the gate should stop or stop and reverse. Test this from both the entrance and exit side of the gate. The gate should stop before you enter the gate path. If it doesn’t, you need to call a professional. This isn’t a DIY project.

Slide gates. If you have a chain-driven sliding gate, check the chain to ensure it isn’t too loose. Most manufacturers suggest it be tightened so there’s no more than a 2-inch drop from one end to the other. The chain can be adjusted by the bolts on the end, but don’t let it spin. Keeping it at the proper tightness will eliminate many performance problems.

You also need to keep the chain lubricated. Use a spray such as WD-40 Dry Lube or Blaster Dry Lube with Teflon. Both can be found at big-box stores or online. These won’t leave a wet film that will attract dirt and other particles, and they’ll extend chain life. Apply this at least once a month or more often in wet or damp areas.

Finally, inspect the rollers for wear or looseness. You should be able to see marks or filings from wear, either on the rollers, the gate or the ground. Note this in your log and track it to see if it’s a normal situation or something new that’s progressing. In most cases, roller replacement should be a CAP project. However, if you see the problem and can get it fixed before it becomes an emergency, it’ll save money.

Swing gates. Check the connecting arm that attaches to the gate and gate operator for wear and looseness. The bolts that hold the arm can become worn or slack, which can put strain on the gate and operator, resulting in a failure if not corrected. While it’s simple to replace the connecting bolt, it may be best to have your gate company do it to ensure there are no hidden problems.

Lubricate the gate hinges, if required. Some have grease fittings while others don’t. If your gate does, grease them at least four times a year. Inspect them monthly for wear or shavings, as this is a sign that they need to be replaced.

Finally, check to see the gate isn’t sagging. This can be done by measuring the distance between the end of the gate and the ground. Do this with the gate open and closed.

Pivot gates. The bolt that holds the lifting arm to the gate should be checked for wear and looseness. Also, check the gate-pivot bearings for wear points. Inspect the belts for looseness and cracks. While these belts don’t run at a high speed, they should be checked at least twice a year and replaced every three to four years.

A Quick Word About UL 325

Even though I’m a big proponent of UL 325, the addition of equipment and manufacturer requirements to make gates safer has had an adverse effect on some systems. While safer, certain gates are more susceptible to shutting down and requiring a reset. This is normal and shouldn’t be a concern unless it becomes a reoccurring problem.

Have your installer show you how and when to reset the gate operator. In many cases, this’ll get you back up and running in short order. Also, ask him what causes this problem and how you can minimize it. As with most issues, it’s easy to avoid with a little knowledge.

Keypads and Alarms

While it’s not recommended that you work on electronic systems such as keypads and alarms, there are things you should check if the system fails. Before calling a service tech, look for faults and communication problems. It’s not uncommon for provider to arrive at a site only to find the system had temporarily lost communication with some devices. Just about every system shows you when a device goes offline. It’s your responsibility to watch for and report these errors.

Most keypads are mounted on goose-neck stands. Over time, stands can become loose or rusty at the bottom. Ensure they’re securely fastened, and inspect the keypads for damage. A hard hit from a car mirror, for example, can damage the housing and even the electronics.

If your keypads look sad and worn, so does your site. Regularly clean them with a dust rag. Replace or repair faded keypads. If housings and stands are showing signs of rust, paint them. It only takes a can of spray paint and a bit of time, and will save you from having to replace costly items due to neglect.

If you have a battery backup or power supplies with batteries, write the installation date on the battery and in your security-service log. Batteries should be changed every two to three years. You might need a service tech to help you the first time, but for the most part, batteries are widely available and require minimal or no tools to change.

Check alarm wires when cleaning a unit to ensure they’re secured and out the way as much as possible. Look for wires that show signs of wear or damage. Check the main trunk line (the big wire) that runs at the top of the unit to ensure it isn’t drooping and can be damaged by the door. These items are secured with cable ties, which become brittle and break after years of service. They can be found at hardware stores in the electrical section.

On site walks, it’s common to look down or at eye level and forget to look up; however, most security wires run above units and hallways at ceiling height. These need to be checked for drooping or damage. If it’s simply a matter of tying them back up, it’s a DIY project. If they need repair, it’s a CAP job. In either case, don’t ignore them. Get them fixed quickly to avoid more damage.

Cameras

Camera systems almost always give a visual indication of any problem. It could be a simple menu selection or other easily solved item.

Make sure the recording device is receiving adequate air flow, especially since it has a built-in fan. It’s not uncommon to have a disk failure and find the device area is full of dust or other foreign objects. Not only does this kill the disk mechanism, it can do unrepairable harm to the electronics. Don’t put the recorder on the floor under a desk. It needs to be on a rack or shelf with space around it.

Check your cameras for dust and dirt on the lens or domes. This can affect the view, and in some cases, performance. Cameras use electronics to enhance picture quality. If they’re dirty, the picture will be compromised.

Also, ensure the camera is securely mounted and can’t move, which can cause damage to the wires and the device itself. Check around the mount to ensure no water can get behind the camera. You can use silicon to seal this area. In the event cameras are mounted high on your building, have a service tech check them once per year.

Watch and Report

Most parts of your security system are robust and will keep clicking away. They require minimal care relative to usage. If you can dedicate an hour or two each month to clean, check, adjust and lube them, you’ll find you have fewer problems and service calls. Furthermore, you’ll extend system life and save on replacement costs.

If you do discover a problem you can’t fix on your own, report it quickly. It’s not unusual for a tech to arrive on site to repair, inspect or install new equipment only to be told there are other problems that have been ignored or not reported. Not only does this put your servicing company at a disadvantage, it’s likely your issue won’t be resolved without a return visit. Most techs won’t have the proper equipment to fix an unanticipated problem.

Most security maintenance is simply being aware of changes. For example, a gate should run quietly. If it starts making a new or loud noise, something is likely wrong. If a system starts acting out of character, there may be a looming problem. Become a DIY maintenance specialist so your CAPs are kept to a minimum.

Chester A. Gilliam is the owner of Wizard Works Security Systems Inc. in Castle Rock, Colo. He’s been involved in the self-storage industry for more than 30 years, and holds certifications in the design and installation of automated-gate, access-control and video systems. He can be reached at 303.798.5337; e-mail wizard-works@att.net; visit www.wizardworkssecurity.com

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