Storelocal Team Nov 19, 2021 10:15:16 AM 14 min read

How to Handle Self Storage Weather Damage & Best Protection Methods

Mother Nature does not always play very nice. 2020 is known as “the year of extremes,”  as 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters across the United States wreaked havoc on many businesses. The billion-dollar events of 2020 included a record 7 disasters linked to tropical cyclones, 13 to severe storms, 1 to drought, and 1 to wildfires. The 22 events cost the nation a combined $95 billion in damages. Going back to 1980, the cumulative cost for weather events exceeds more than $1.8 trillion. 

Ways to Prevent Self Storage Weather Damage

To keep your self storage facility protected from storm damage (and to potentially protect yourself from litigious tenants), here are some considerations depending on your region and most common weather events. And remember not to skimp out when it comes to insurance; you’ll want to be covered for the most likely types of disasters for your area. 

Lightning Storms

Is your facility located at a high elevation, or even up in the mountains or hills? You may be more susceptible to lightning damage. Your best bet is to install a lightning protection system. A lightning protection system helps ensure safety to a building and its occupants if lightning happens to hit it directly, a task accomplished by providing a good, safe path to ground for the lightning to follow. 

Contrary to the myths, lightning protection systems do not attract lightning, nor do they prevent it by “draining” a storm of its charge. It’s important to note that most lightning protection systems for self storage facilities do not offer surge protection for sensitive electronics, but most do offer fire protection and structural damage protection by preventing a hot, explosive lightning channel from passing through building materials. Learn more about lightning protection systems

Floods

Rising waters can damage both your facility and your tenants’ belongings (again, be sure to offer flood insurance to tenants if you’re in an area prone to floods). Of course, you can help mitigate damage by building your facility in no flood zones, or by using flood damage-resistant material. This is defined by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) as “any building product [material, component or system] capable of withstanding direct and prolonged contact with floodwaters without sustaining significant damage.” The term “prolonged contact” means at least 72 hours, and the term “significant damage” means any damage requiring more than cosmetic repair. 

“Cosmetic repair” includes cleaning, sanitizing, and resurfacing (e.g., sanding, repair of joints, repainting) of the material. The cost of cosmetic repair should also be less than the cost of the replacement of affected materials and systems. Some flood-resistant materials include asbestos-cement board, concrete, brick, and waterproof mortar (these materials are also helpful for withstanding rainstorms). Read more about flood-resistant materials in this FEMA brochure.

Earthquakes

While there’s no true “Earthquake proof” building (if the ground shakes hard enough, any structure can be damaged), there are distinct differences between older facilities and newer, more modern ones. In areas that experience frequent Earthquakes, buildings made of brick or stone on a solid foundation are extremely vulnerable. An inflexible structure doesn’t move with the sway of the ground and, depending on the severity of the quake, may crack or completely collapse. That’s why in states prone to Earthquakes, like California, new buildings are designed to move with a quake and therefore suffer little damage. 

If you're investing in a self storage facility in an earthquake-plagued area, learn about the building’s history (a self storage consultant can help when performing a feasibility study). You’ll want to know when the facility was built and if it was designed with Earthquakes in mind. If not, you may want to consider retrofitting the building. While new buildings must be built to code in many places, older buildings must be retrofitted by the owner. This can be costly, but worth the peace of mind you’ll enjoy. Check out state-by-state Earthquake statistics from the National Earthquake Information Center.

Tornadoes, Hurricanes, and High Winds

If your facility is in the path of a tornado, there may be nothing you can do to completely protect it. For example, in 2020, a Deland, Florida self storage unit was struck, damaging more than 60 units. And in 2019, a Little Rock, Arkansas facility was extensively damaged, with the tornado tearing off about 80 percent of the unit’s roof (you can see the frightening surveillance footage of the tornado here). Hurricanes can be just as devastating. Several self storage facilities in Houston were threatened by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, with the REIT being forced to close 116 locations. Another 125 properties in Florida were shuttered for a short time after Hurricane Irma.

Of course, there are some measures you take to mitigate damages, such as installing: 

  • Stormproof doors
  • Garage door bracing systems (which may help with roll-up doors)
  • Hurricane-proof retrofitting for walls and roofs
  • Strongly shuttered windows using window clips
  • Creating a storm shelter (to protect yourself, employees, and tenants)

Winter Weather

Cold weather damage, with snow, sleet, and ice, can really give a self storage facility a beating. Of course, it’s important to remember that significant property damage may not necessarily occur only in those states that experience major winter storms, such as the infamous Winter Storm Uri that wreaked havoc across Texas in February 2021. These regions, in which cold weather is the exception, not the rule, may suffer even greater losses. So how can you protect your facility from winter weather?

Buildings

  • Keep indoor temperatures above 40 degrees to prevent pipe freeze-ups.
  • Ensure doors and windows are weather-tight and secure any openings.
  • Inspect remote areas for possible freezing and keep portable heaters on hand.

Roofs and Gutters

  • Determine your roof's capacity for excessive snow loads and keep levels within safe bounds. A structural engineer can help. 
  • Monitor snow levels in roof areas susceptible to large drifts and clear any accumulation immediately.

Heating Systems

  • Examine the entire heating system on a weekly basis during cold weather and repair any deficiencies immediately.
  • Ensure heating equipment is capable of maintaining building temperatures above freezing at the coldest point within the building.
  • For boilers, completely drain idle equipment, elevate low points and dead ends, and check all service lines for freezing. Install heat tracing around control-line transmitter boxes and piping that carries water.

Water Lines

  • Frequently clear snow away from sprinkler control valves, vents, and other critical equipment.
  • Leave outside water faucets open to drain.
  • Install snap-on insulation on pipes subject to extreme wind chill.

Fire Protection Equipment

  • Keep equipment (hydrants, sprinkler control valves, smoke and heat vents, etc) accessible with a regular maintenance program to ensure that snow and ice are cleared.
  • Lubricate all sprinkler-control valves and locks to prevent freezing.
  • Label location of outside sprinkler-control valves and hydrants for easy visibility.

Storm Risk Management & Mitigation

Before a storm ever hits, it’s important to be sure you have weather damage insurance for the types of events most likely to impact your facility. You also want to offer self storage renters insurance to tenants. This protects you, is often relatively inexpensive to tenants, and gives everyone peace of mind. Plus, while they may think they’re covered by their own renter's insurance, it may only cover some situations for which the supplemental insurance can then fill in the gaps. 

You should also let your staff and tenants know how the business will respond to a crisis, whether that includes closing the facility, evacuating the area, or simply hunkering down. Before, during, and after a weather event, communication between teams (accounting, marketing, vendors, etc) is the fastest way to get a facility operational again. Of course, communication with tenants is also vital. They need to know whether their unit was impacted by the event and when they can check on or collect their valuables. This, of course, can be a challenge when people have evacuated, but maintaining a current email list is your best bet. You can also notify customers about the facility’s status on your website, through social media, and even via text if they’ve opted in. You may also choose to set up a hotline with a recorded update. Be sure to be honest with tenants about damages, access, closings, etc. Your integrity will be appreciated! 

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