Building a Fortress: A Guide to Self-Storage Security

Alexander Harris Aug. 17, 2021

Break-ins and theft are big worries for future self storage owners.

As more people turn to self-storage during moves and for commercial storage, vandals and thieves have started targeting self-storage facilities more and more as easy targets. So what can storage owners do to protect their renters and their property from illegal activity like burglaries and live-in renters?

If you’re building or retrofitting a facility, you’ll want to include security and access control tools in your construction budget and truly design your facility around security. Before ever renting out a self-storage unit, you’ll want to ensure your investment is well protected against vandalism, arson, theft, and illegal activity.

Creating fortress-like security for mini warehouses or a newly-built climate controlled building just takes the right tools and proper planning. Doing so will not only provide peace of mind, but will help your storage business make more money in the long-run.

So what will you need?

  • Property fencing
  • Lighting and motion sensors
  • Keypads and access control hardware
  • Security cameras and video monitoring
  • Gate and digital gate operator
  • Unit alarms and electronic door locks

Let’s break each one of these down (including how these tools bring in renters and help YOU make more money):

Property fencing

Installing a fence at your facility is a basic step toward protecting your renters’ belongings from theft. The type of fence you choose will largely depend on whether or not you’ll be providing climate controlled storage or traditional storage units, or outdoor parking for vehicles, motorcycles, RVs, boats, and campers.

A property full of shiny, expensive vehicles is definitely more likely to attract theft, and you’ll likely want to opt for razor wire and cut-resistant mesh over attractive (but less secure) ornamental fencing. If you’re in a high-crime area (or a market where storage facilities have been targeted by thieves in the recent past), you’ll also want to consider heavy-duty commercial fencing that is both climb and cut-resistant.

It’s easy to get carried away with fencing and create a prison-like appearance. Your goal isn’t for people to drive by and say, “wow, what are they storing in there – dinosaurs!?” But it is vital to choose a strong barrier fence that is functional first, and attractive second.

There are tons of great options for storage operators that are both functional and attractive – I highly recommend checking out a national trade show to see samples in person, or calling a fencing rep and asking for references in your area. Nothing beats checking out a fence in-person and getting the lowdown from another owner about their experience before making an investment into property fencing.

How it drives revenue: Your storage renters hear about self storage break-ins on the news all the time. By having a top of the line security fence with reinforced, hard-to-cut and hard-to-climb mesh and razor wire, your renters will feel like their stuff is safer at your property than at Storage Joe’s down the road.

Lighting and motion sensors

Even if you’re not planning on offering 24-hour access at your facility, bright lighting and motion sensor triggers are essential to protect the property from break-ins and theft.

When burglars are scoping out potential properties to break into, they’ll be wary of your brightly-lit parking lot and unit driveways where their illegal activity will be easy to spot. Motion sensor lights attract even more attention – it is easier for someone to blend into the shadows of a lit parking lot than it is to hide from motion sensor lighting that pinpoints their every location.

Motion sensor lights can also greatly lower your energy costs and lengthen the lifespan on expensive LED light bulbs. Flood lights, area lights, and canopy lights are all great options for bright, outdoor lighting for your parking lot, entry/exit points, or unit driveways. There are many professional lighting vendors and tons of options available to owners.

Whatever you do, definitely make sure you get LED lights – you’ll pay more up front, but save tons on your energy bill and extend the life of your lighting system (meaning less maintenance and work for you). Many LED light bulbs will even let you change the light’s color with a remote or smartphone app, so you can get a little festive during the holidays and really wow your customers!

How it drives revenue: Just like your property fence, your facility’s lighting is easy for renters to see and evaluate when checking out your property. Whether they’re checking out your property in the evening or wanting a storage solution where they’ll feel safe day or night, safe and secure, bright lighting is essential to bringing in customers and creating a secure environment at your facility.

Keypads and access control hardware

There are tons of options when it comes to access control, from basic, low-tech keypad entry to state of the art access systems, and every storage facility has unique access control needs. Since it depends so heavily on your target market and your business model, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to access control.

Your most basic access control hardware will consist of a keypad that opens a gate when a correct code is typed in – usually four numbers followed by the “#” key. A more advanced access control system will communicate with your software to automatically deny gate access to tenants based on their delinquency status, providing an easy way to lock out tenants who are overdue on rent.

Even more advanced access control systems integrate with your software to provide instant access to online renters and in-software alerts showing access histories, including who is on-site now. Keep in mind that everyone who accesses your property needs to use your access control keypad or entry system – including managers, lawn care teams, maintenance workers, and construction crews – so you’ll want a system that makes assigning non-tenant codes simple.

As far as hardware goes, you’ll need to find the right keypad, card reader, fingerprint scanner, or bluetooth reader for your environment. If you’re from a northern state that endures extremely cold winters (or Canada!) you’ll want to ensure your keypad is extremely hardy and won’t freeze up in sub-zero temperatures. Sand and sun can also be hard on keypads, wearing off numbers, causing buttons to stick, or in extreme heat situations, melting the plastic of your keypad. You don’t want your hardware to melt into a puddle, so if you’re in Arizona or a similar hot, desert environment, you’ll want an equally hardy keypad that can withstand the sun’s wrath and won’t burn your tenants fingers when they try to enter the property.

How it drives revenue: Convenience, convenience, convenience. Whether your tenants access their unit once a week or once a year, they want it to be a smooth experience. Business renters love an effortless system (such as Bluetooth scanners that allow access without the tenant even having to roll down their window) that lets them get in and out of your property fast and on with their busy day. Renters who don’t visit the property very often like something that’s easy for them to remember and simple to use. If they’ve forgotten to pay rent, some access control tools will lock out their code and even send an automated, customizable text message letting them know they’re locked out because they’re overdue on rent and providing a link to your website’s pay online portal.

Security cameras and video monitoring

Possibly the most important element to building your secure, self storage fortress is video surveillance. Security cameras are a great way to thwart burglars, deter crime, and monitor activity on-site. There are tons of styles of security cameras, from box cameras that look like an old VHS camcorder to PTZ cameras that allow you to pan, zoom in, and tilt the view, all the way up to thermal imaging cameras that detect heat changes in complete darkness and wireless IP cameras that offer push notification alerts to your smartphone when motion is detected.

If you can afford the setup cost, a wireless IP camera system is top of the line. These internet-connected camera systems provide the ultimate protection against theft and illegal activity – you and your team can receive instant notifications when movement occurs on site, then simply open the app to view what’s happening live. However, these cameras also have drawbacks: if your cameras are highly sensitive, you might get late night notifications whenever an opossum wonders across your parking lot or a moth flies in front of the camera. Usually these cameras allow you to adjust sensitivity so that every passing bird isn’t seen as a threat.

Whatever you choose, consider this: security cameras work best when they’re blatantly obvious. Whether that’s through large cameras placed conspicuously throughout your property or with signs that say “smile, you’re on camera” or “property under video surveillance.” Also, be careful of the verbiage you choose when marketing your security cameras to potential renters to prevent legal woes: 24-hour video surveillance or CCTV implies to renters that a security guard or manager is monitoring the video feed 24/7. “Security monitoring” is a safer phrase unless you plan to have someone to watch your live video feeds day in and day out.

How it drives revenue:  If you ever do have a break-in, security footage will be crucial when working with police to apprehend the individual and prevent future theft. High-tech security cameras are a very marketable security feature that can help bring in new renters online and boost occupancy. Many people consider security cameras to be a must-have before renting a storage unit, so don’t skimp on this technology tool.

Gate and digital gate operator

If you’re building a new facility, you’ll want to research gates carefully and plan your property layout before breaking ground on any construction. Some storage owners regret implementing both an entrance and an exit gate – using one gate for both in and out traffic can save owners a substantial amount of money and headache when it comes to gate maintenance.

Remember that every entrance and exit point on your property will need to be professionally maintained, outfitted with access control tools, protected by security cameras and alarms, and well-lit. If you’re offering indoor, climate controlled storage, you’ll likely have several “man doors” to maintain and secure as entrances/exits into your building, as well as elevator controls. Most of the time it’s necessary for a facility to have both an entry gate and an exit gate, but it can help to cut down on traffic if you’re located on a busy street or intersection.

How it drives revenue: Having a fence around your property makes tenants feel safer, and obviously they can’t access your fenced-in storage units unless there is a gate! By ensuring that your gate and digital gate operator align with your future renters’ wants and needs, you’ll be able to maximize the use of your entry/exit access control tools and align your security to maximize your unit rent rates.

Unit alarms and electronic door locks

Burglars are getting smarter: they know how to avoid triggering alarms by hopping fences or tailgating into the property and avoiding security cameras. Sometimes tenants are the thieves – by accessing their unit and cutting a hole through the wall, they can clean out every unit on the block. Individual unit alarms are designed to add an extra layer of protection to prevent people from cutting through the walls of units or breaking door locks to steal property.

Electronic door locks allow tenants to access their storage unit by entering a code. These door locks also work as unit alarms, but only when someone overrides the code and manually opens the door – not if they break in by cutting through the wall or climbing over the chicken wire separating the units. Some unit alarms feature infrared monitoring of the inside of the storage unit and can instantly alert you if a thief’s body heat is detected in the unit after hours.

Unit alarms and electronic door locks (also referred to as “smart storage units”) are some of the newest security technology on the block, and they come with a steep price tag. But if you’re in an affluent marketing and looking to charge premium rates on ultra-secure climate controlled units, they might just be perfect for your facility.

How it drives revenue: Electronic door locks and unit door alarms are top of the line security. If you’re looking to really wow your tenants with state of the art technology and best-in-class security features, then smart storage units are perfect for you. These are especially popular in suburban and urban markets where online tools and smartphone conveniences are big sellers – tenants can open their storage unit using their phone’s Bluetooth or with an app, making it one less code they have to remember and easy to share with family members. Premium security features like smart storage units drive premium rent rates. If you’re in the right market to offer class A self storage features, smart self-storage units are a great way to improve the marketability of your business and boost rentals.

Marketing your security features

With a number of security measures in place at your self-storage facility, your next task is to market these features to potential customers. Be sure to mention all of your security features such as surveillance cameras, door alarms, and LED lighting in your promotional materials. Don’t forget to include them when listing your secure self-storage facility property with online directories.

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