If your storage facility is in sunny San Diego, then this blog post isn’t for you. But if your self storage facility is in a city where you get the joys of shoveling snow, scraping ice, waiting out thunderstorms and hail, or sitting on burning hot leather seats in the summer, you’re in the right place. Read on to get tips to weatherproof your gates, keypads, and self storage access control hardware to stand up to icy conditions, lightning, and excessive heat.
While many technologies are marketed as being “weatherproof,” it’s important to remember that even the hardiest of tools have limitations, and the best way to keep your investment going for years to come is to protect it before severe weather ever hits.
Choose the right location: You can simplify your entry and exit woes by just choosing a good spot to put your gate and access control keypad. The entry and exit driveway should be smooth and flat, and not in an area where water pooling and flooding can occur. If you’re in a wintry location where snow and ice often blow in from the north, it’s best to have the back of your keypad take the brunt of the beating by facing the touchscreen or keypad to the south.
Choose the right gate: There are lots of different options for gates, but the most common in self storage are slide gates, swing gates, and vertical pivot lift gates. Swing gates stand up the best to snow and ice - all you’ll have to do is clear the driveway and your gate will be able to open both manually and electronically with ease. With a slide gate, you’ll need to ensure the fence that the gate slides along is free and clear of snow and ice, and that the wheels are not ice-jammed and able to turn freely. A vertical pivot lift gate is the toughest gate to use in blizzard conditions (especially if it’s windy) or if you lose power at your facility, since they’re difficult to open manually and can’t operate when weighed down by snow and ice. Don’t forget: if your facility has 24-hour access, you’ll need to have a plan for snow removal lined up 24/7 during winter months.
Perform routine maintenance: To keep your hardware going through tough weather, it’s important to take good care of it with preventative maintenance. Maintenance should only be done by trained maintenance technicians, and each gate has their own maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer, gate style, and system requirements. Slide gates need to be frequently lubricated with chain oil and the hydraulic track needs to be checked monthly to ensure rocks and sticks aren’t jamming it up. Vertical lift gates need battery inspections monthly to ensure that the gate continues to receive constant power and flooding hasn’t occurred. Swing gates need frequent lubrication on the hinges and to have vehicle detection loops inspected monthly. For all gate types, you should always ensure that no vegetation or debris is getting in the way of the gate. Your maintenance technician can perform additional maintenance on a quarterly or bi-annual schedule, depending on your facility’s needs. If your gate has a heating system, ensure that the thermostat sensor is operating correctly before winter arrives.
If severe weather is common in your area and often causes internet or power outages that affect your facility, it’s even more important to do careful research when choosing an access control product. During any internet outage, you’ll lose temporary data sync with your access control software. This will only affect new tenants who are renting online or current tenants who have become delinquent during the time the internet is out. (New tenants who rent a unit while the internet is out won’t be able to get in until after the internet is back up.) All other tenants won’t be affected and will be able to get in and out of the facility using their gate code as usual.
However, when you lose internet connection and your access control system is running on an on-site PC, it’s common to have to go to the facility and physically reboot the PC or restart the program to get the access control to start syncing again with your gate. This is especially a pain if you run a satellite property or an unmanned facility. With a modern, cloud-based access control system, you’ll have a much quicker reboot time after an internet outage, and because no on-site computer is needed, you won’t have to go to the facility to fix anything or restart the system. You’ll be able to see the status of your access control sync from right in your facility management software, and even remotely monitor who is coming and going at your facility.
If severe weather causes a complete power outage, you’ll lose the ability to open and close the gate with your access control keypad entirely. Most gates have a manual override so you can physically open and shut it in the event of a long-lasting power outage. You can also purchase a backup generator and additional battery backups for electronically-operated gates so that they’re never down, even when the power is out. Power outages are a weak point for every gate opener and access control system out there, so if you’re in an area with severe weather that commonly causes power outages, investing in a backup generator for your gate and access control system is a smart idea.
There are additional steps you can take to make sure your gate and keypad are operational even in the toughest of conditions. What you prepare for all depends on the type of extreme weather you’re preparing for and where your facility is located.
Welcome to sunny Arizona, where mailboxes melt in the sun and you can boil an egg on the sidewalk. If your facility is located in a desert climate, you know sun and sand can be just as hard on keypads and gates as snow and ice. Sand can cause keypad buttons to stick and gate hardware to jam, and extreme heat can wear off keypad numbers or even melt the plastic exterior of your keypad.
The best solution is to put your keypad in the shade if possible or use a large shade cover or hood to prevent melting. A large shade cover and proper placement (north-facing, if possible) will keep the keypad out of the direct sun and won’t burn your tenants’ fingers when they try to enter their code. Touch screen keypads will have less issues with sand than push-button keypads, and slide gates tend to need a lot more maintenance than swing gates or vertical pivot lift gates in an extremely hot, sandy environment to keep the hydraulic track clear of debris and chains well-lubricated. Try to avoid keypads with rubber or plastic buttons - they’re the least likely to stand up to those 120 degree summer days.
Prevent sand or monsoon-style rain from getting through small crevices in your keypad and gearboxes by using a sealant (such as Flex-Seal) around the gearbox and the keypad pedestal. After a heavy wind or dust storm event, don’t operate your gate until all debris has been removed from the gate track and check to ensure chains are still in their proper places before opening or closing.
Thunder, lightning, extreme wind and hail - oh my! If your facility often sees severe thunderstorms and hurricanes, you’ll need to batten down the hatches before the storm hits.
For wind and rain, it’s smart to protect keypads and their pedestal mounts with sealant. Most keypads are waterproof, but if you deal with heavy rain often, you’ll want to put a silicone seal around the keypad (such as Flex-Seal) after it is mounted on the pedestal so that no water can get in. It’s a good idea to seal any hardware or gear boxes for gates the same way - remember there are fine wires and electric running from these sources and underground, and any water that gets in can cause failure to the system.
What about lightning? Most access control keypads and gate hardware controls have built-in lightning protection to prevent against power surges and are grounded to reduce the chance of a strike. However, if you’re worried about lightning strikes, be sure to ask your technician about additional surge protection that you can implement on the power source feeding your gate and keypad. Lastly, make sure your gate is insured for damage that could be obtained during a lightning storm. If worst comes to worst and your gate is severely damaged by lightning, at least you’ll be able to cover the financial loss!
If you’re in the eye of a major hurricane and know you will likely lose power, it’s smart to turn off the gate power system entirely. If emergency personnel need to access your facility while you’re closed and the gate is turned off, they’ll still be able to manually open and close the gate to get to your building even if you’ve evacuated. (Check out this blog post for more tips on preparing your storage facility for hurricanes.)
When it comes to snow and ice, the best way to prevent keypad issues is to purchase a touch screen keypad or use key fobs. With key fobs and proximity cards, all you’ll need is to get close enough to the keypad to wave your fob, and it won’t matter if the buttons are frozen over. Touch screen keypads don’t have issues with buttons sticking or freezing, and you’d only have issues if the entire touch screen was covered in a thick layer of ice.
When it comes to gates, the best way to keep snow and ice from failing is to manually remove ice and snow before it starts to build up. Some gates contain heaters for the gearbox that are controlled by a thermostat that only kicks on once the weather dips low enough. Have a technician come out and double-check the gearbox to ensure it’s operational for winter and well-sealed to protect ice and snow from getting inside and damaging it. Try to keep the gate itself from gathering ice by opening the gate often during snowy and icy weather so that ice doesn’t build up. (Especially if you have a slide gate or vertical pivot gate.) If you can’t remove the snow yourself 24/7, hire a snow removal company to come out and keep the area clear.
If your keypad has a hood around it and ice is a problem, you can also order a larger hood or have your technician make accommodations to the hood to further protect the keypad from the conditions. Keypad hoods are inexpensive and most access control providers have several styles. In last minute circumstances, you can also find materials (like duct tape and small roof panels, or an insulated soft lunch bag with a hole cut it in it!) to fashion your own “redneck keypad hood” that can get you through an especially tough blizzard until your new keypad hood arrives.
Many keypads with pushable buttons also have covers that seal off the keypad from any outside exposure. Keypads with rubber buttons typically don’t stand up to the cold as well, so you’ll want to look at keypad covers or large hoods to prevent ice and snow from gathering on the keys. WD-40 can also help with freezing keys, but be sure to check with your keypad technician before spraying any kind of lubricant on the keypad. In extreme situations, you can also use a hand torch (at a safe distance, of course) to help melt stubborn ice and free up the keys.
No matter what kind of access control keypad or gate system you have, it’s a good idea to reach out to your access control or gate manufacturer and installer if you’re having consistent issues with your hardware standing up to the weather. They’ll send a technician out to troubleshoot the problem and often fix it for free if it’s under warranty or there is an issue with the hardware’s quality. But don’t wait - if you’ve had issues in the past, give them a call before bad weather hits to fix the problem before it starts.
Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, you may also like: How to winterize your self storage property, Building a self storage fortress: How the right security and access control tools can bring in high-paying renters, and How to prepare your self storage facility for a hurricane.