July 10, 2006

6 Min Read
Set Your Own Standard

Why is upkeep so important? It makes a facility more marketable, increases safety and prevents litigation and customer dissatisfaction. Sound maintenance practices save money over the long-term and give your project a professional image.

Types of Maintenance

Maintenance strategies can be categorized in two ways: reactive and planned.

Reactive maintenance tasks require immediate attention because they were overlooked too long. Reactive maintenance tends to be more expensive to resolve. In most cases, you haven’t budgeted for the problem, damaging cash flow because you can’t shop competitively for best solutions or prices. Reactive maintenance is stressful for managers, vendors and owners.

Planned maintenance, on the other hand, is addressed regularly and usually isn’t as expensive. These items have been budgeted, alleviating last-minute decisions.


What type of maintenance standard do you want to maintain?

1. Casual maintenance. This approach minimizes expenditures throughout the life of the project. It requires a well-built facility, perhaps with concrete drives instead of asphalt, and other superior provisions such as top-of-the-line hardware, doors, locks, AC units and gate-operator motors.

2. Average maintenance. Middle-of-the-road standards require you to set a budget each year and follow through with it. Include maintenance contracts on elevators, lifts, gate operators, golf carts, etc. You may also want to allot a budget for snow removal and to have the on-site drainage system flushed every year, regardless of the amount of silt, trash or debris.

3. Above-average maintenance. This standard includes impeccably kept facilities. Sites may be in affluent communities such as Santa Barbara, Calif., or owned by developers demonstrating to city governments how their projects enhance communities.

Most self-storage facilities fall into the casual or average categories. Wherever you fit, set an appearance standard and maintain it. Define a budget to mirror your expectations, figuring $2 to $5 per unit a year for costs. Also establish a reserve account for foreseeable projects such as asphalt resealing and the repair of roofs, doors, landscaping, gates and security systems.

Who’s in Charge?

A manager can perform many daily and long-term maintenance functions, but some duties are beyond their capabilities, requiring trained service personnel or subcontractors.

Outside vendors should perform the following:

  • Large-scale painting projects 

  • Landscaping replacement 

  • Electrical installation or replacement 

  • Repairs to lifts or elevators 

  • Repairs to gates, operators or equipment 

  • Adjustments to door alarms, cameras or security equipment 

  • Asphalt repairs or replacement 

  • Door spring repairs or replacements 

  • Door curtain removal and re-installation 

For liability reasons, don’t allow staff members to work on certain equipment even if they have competency in the area of service. Hired subcontractors have liability policies protecting them and your facility. If one of your own employees—who may be a retired electrician—makes a repair that ends up harming himself or a tenant, you’ll be liable for damages.

Managing Maintenance

Tackling the myriad of maintenance jobs can become mind-boggling, but here are suggestions for keeping it all straight:

Make lists. The best strategy is to use monthly checklists. Establish your standards, make a list, check off items and keep files for all maintenance performed.

Become a fanatic about cleanliness. When equipment is always clean, a small hydraulic oil leak becomes readily apparent, for example. At the first sign of trouble, investigate the source of the problem.

Walk around. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to spot upkeep issues if you walk around or climb on the roof periodically.

Track your expenses. Some owners invest too much money in repairs. It’s a common mistake, but if you track and review expenses, you might find less-costly alternatives. For instance, if your gate needs continual attention and costs thousands in service calls, it might be better to replace it with a new, low-energy consumption model. The only way to be cognizant of actual expenses is to track them.

Get With the Program

Keep a watchful eye on all of the following areas to make sure your maintenance program is comprehensive:

Moving trucks. Impeccable maintenance records are a must. Follow the owner’s manual for maintenance and inspection intervals. Safety-inspect the truck every week, paying close attention to tires, brakes and steering equipment. Keep all repair and maintenance invoices. Don’t allow cans, glass or plastic bottles in the cab of the truck!

Office. Use a carpet-cleaning service every other month. Mop, strip, wax or vacuum floors frequently. Keep the office clean and sweet smelling. Look around: Is it inviting, professionally decorated, color coordinated and contemporary?

Restrooms. Keep restrooms immaculate and in working condition at all times. Provide seat covers, soap, towels and paper.

Landscaping. It’s best to hire a professional landscaper. Plant flowers for added color and change landscaping yearly. Place lighting in trees. Keep sprinklers repaired and working properly. Aerate and fertilize lawns annually.

Facility grounds. Walk your entire facility daily. Check fencing and gates. Inspect drains, gutters and downspouts. Turn on all timers and lights to make sure they work. Finally, drive through your facility to get a visitor’s perspective.

Fire-protection system. Your vendor should inspect and test the fire system quarterly. Check for discharged or stolen extinguishers. Are your gate valves chained? Leaking sprinkler heads? Remove turn handles from all system drains, and hydro test your system every five years. The fire department will inspect at any time.

Office equipment. Defrag and optimize computers every month. Install a virus scanner and use it. Good housekeeping is the best maintenance on most office equipment. Make sure backup disks have data on them, every month. Recalibrate computer times monthly. Use www.worldtimeserver.com to ping the atomic clock.

Electrical. Lock all electrical panels, time clocks and junction panels. Test emergency lights every month. Check exit signs for burned-out bulbs. Monthly test timers, switches, lights, and GFI breakers in the restrooms and kitchen areas. Inspect the smoke detector for proper operations, replacing the battery if needed.

Gate system. Inspect for proper clutch operation monthly. Adjust open/close limit switches if needed. Each week, check the reverse sensor, safety loops and the touch-pads, which should also be cleaned. Lubricate wheels, joints and axles monthly. Check the chain and adjust. Keep the gate operator locked at all times.

Elevator/lifts. Check daily to make sure everything is working right. Always purchase a maintenance contract for lifts and elevators. Use diamond-plate steel on the floors. Never bypass safety devices or attempt repairs on lifts or elevators; instead, hire qualified professionals. Inspect the emergency phone weekly.

Golf carts. Check daily for proper operation. Use only distilled water in the batteries. Never overcharge carts. Keep them clean at all times, taking special care on the seats and using Plexiglas cleaner on windshields. Lubricate all grease fittings monthly and check tire pressures weekly. Golf carts are your biggest liabilities; treat them like automobiles.

Security system. Check daily. Adjust computer times weekly. Perform backups daily. Respond to all triggered alarms. Keep housings locked at all times and all equipment repaired.

Company equipment. Never remove safety guards. Follow manufacturer recommendations for maintenance, oils, lubricants, gas, etc. Inspect parts and operation monthly. Store gasoline in flame- and vapor-proof containers only.

Heating and air conditioning. Service according to manufacturer recommendations. Inspect condensation drains and clean them monthly. Establish acceptable temperature ranges for the office, apartment and facility and monitor them with temperature gauges. Install an electrostatic filter in the office. Service your system seasonally.

Keep your property looking sharp and upgrade systems when money allows. This will always give you a competitive advantage in terms of marketing, curb appeal and eventual resale. 

Tom Litton is president of Litton Property Management Inc., based in Lodi, Calif. He is a well-known industry expert and professional seminar presenter. Litton Property Management specializes in self-storage as well as provides manager training, seminars, manuals, instructional guids, development, feasibility and management consulting. For more information, call 209.334.3800; visit www.littonmanagement.com

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