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Choosing a Gate for your Self-Storage facility

By:Robert Toy

Robert works for PTI Security Systems in the Engineering Department, and has worked in the self-storage security industry for over 25 years. 

Maybe you’re building a new facility, or perhaps you have an existing site and you’ve just discovered a dozen 55 gallon drums of who-knows-what behind one of your buildings; either way, you’ve reached the point where you’ve decided to get a security gate.  Each type of operator has advantages and disadvantages, and knowing these in advance can help make your decision process easier.  There are also a few optional items available for most operators that you should be aware of, and those are addressed in a separate category at the end of this article.


Slide Gates

This operator is the most common, but don’t automatically assume that it’s going to be best choice for your site.  It uses a chain, belt, or hydraulic pump connected to pinch rollers to pull the gate open, and any gate company should be able to install one.  Limit devices connected to the operator sense when to stop the gate in the open or closed position.

Advantages slide gates:

  • Security.  Since the gate is a solid barrier, this helps prevent unauthorized access onto the property.
  • Convenience.  The gate may have signage that advertises the facility, explains operation of the access system, access hours and safety warnings.
  • Cost. Slide gates generally cost less than some other types of gates.
  • Size.  Slide gates can close off a larger opening than any other gate type.  Most others are restricted to a maximum of 20 feet for a single operator.  A chain driven slide gate can generally close off an opening of 35 to 40 feet, and a hydraulic/track operator has an essentially unlimited opening width.

Disadvantages of slide gates:

  • Space.  The large gate has to have somewhere to retract into while it is opening.
  • Speed.  Because of safety regulations, slide gates are restricted to a max opening speed of one foot per second.  That can take quite a while if you have a large opening.

Dual gate operators in a Main / Secondary configuration can be used for extra wide openings.  This increases speed, but at the expense of having two gates and operators.


Barrier Arms

These gates are also common, and are usually paired with a manual or motorized slide gate.  This operator uses a motor connected through a belt or chain drive to a lightweight (wood, fiberglass, etc.) arm that can be up to 20 feet long.  The arm rises to allow vehicle passage, and then automatically closes once it is through.

Advantages of barrier arm gates:

  • Speed.  This operator has the quickest reaction time.  It typically takes only 2 or 3 seconds to open.  This can be especially useful in a situation where the entrance has a limited amount of space for vehicles to line up to get into the facility.  For example, just off of a busy street.
  • Cost.  These operators are the least expensive.
  • Maintenance.  These operators generally require less maintenance than other types.
  • Space.  The operator has a very small footprint and requires no horizontal space to retract.
  • Battery Backup.  Some brands have a built-in battery backup system.

Disadvantages of barrier arm gates:

  • Security.  Since the barrier is only a small arm, the path into the facility is not secure and the operator only provides traffic control.  That’s why this type of operator is usually backed up by a slide gate that will close after hours.
  • Vulnerability.  Since the arm is made of a lightweight material, it can be susceptible to damage from vehicles.  (However, it can be replaced at a lower cost than a metal gate could be in the same situation.)


Swing Gates

This operator is less common than the others.  The motor is attached to a pivot arm, which is then attached to a hinged gate that swings open like a door.

Advantages of swing gates:

  • Security.  The gate is a solid barrier, improving site security.
  • Convenience.  The gate may have signage that advertises the facility, explains operation of the access system, access hours and safety warnings.
  • Space.  The operator requires no horizontal space to retract.  This can be both an advantage and disadvantage, see below.

Disadvantages of swing gates:

  • Space.  The gate does need to swing back when it opens.  For this reason, these gates are most often used for one-way traffic only.  If used for two way traffic, the keypad on the side the gate swings towards will need to be placed an adequate distance away from the gate to allow for this.
  • Installation Cost.  The cost of the gate fabrication may be more expensive than a slide gate.  The operator also requires a more elaborate safety loop installation than other operators.


Vertical Pivot Gates

A vertical pivot gate uses a motor and belt system, and is attached to a counterweight spring system with the gate mounted on top.  This allows the entire metal gate (up to 18' long) to open vertically.  The gate itself is purchased from the same source as the operator.

Advantages of pivot gates:

  • Speed.  Opens faster than a slide gate, but not quite as fast as a barrier arm gate.
  • Space.  Since the gate opens vertically, it needs no space to retract.  
  • Convenience.  The gate may have signage that advertises the facility or explains the operation of the access control system.  Depending on the weight of the signage, this may require adjustment of the counterweight system.
  • Battery Backup.  The operator actually runs on a 12-volt marine battery that is constantly charged.  That means the operator has a battery backup that will run it if the power goes out.
  • Security.  The gate is a solid barrier which helps improve site security.

Disadvantages of pivot gate:

  • Size.  This operator is the largest of all types.  Installing it requires a large concrete pad to be poured, and also requires mechanical help to unload it from its shipping transport and move it into position.
  • Cost.  This operator is more expensive than other types, but the cost of the gate itself is included.


Vertical Lift & Fold Gates

A VLF gate combines the operating principles of a Barrier Arm gate with a Lift gate.  The gate itself is made of pickets that are connected to the gate arms through pivot points.  As the gate arms are raised by the operator, the pickets "fold" into a smaller space.

Advantages of a VLF gate:

  • Speed.  Opens almost as fast as a barrier arm gate.
  • Space.  Needs a very small footprint.
  • Battery Backup.  Like a pivot gate, this operator runs on a 12-volt battery that is constantly charged.   
  • Security.  The gate is a solid barrier which helps improve site security.

Disadvantages of the VLF gate:

  • Installation.  A more elaborate installation process is required, including a reinforced concrete pad.
  • Cost.  This operator is more expensive than some other types, but the cost of the gate itself is included.


Optional Items

For all gate operators, there are some optional items that should be considered.  On some models, these may be standard equipment.

  • Radio Remote Control, or “clicker.” This is very handy to have when you drive your cart from the office into the facility.
  • Battery Backup. If this isn’t standard equipment with your operator, you should strongly consider it.  You want to make sure that the backup unit you get can open and close the gate with the usual input when the power is out, and not just open the gate and hold it open.  Of course, your access control system will need to be backed up as well.


Notes about Safety Requirements

  • Remember no matter which gate type you choose, that these gates are not meant for foot traffic. A separate pedestrian gate should be provided, and in some jurisdictions, is required by local code.
  • All operators have requirements for safety devices to be connected. Safety Loops and detectors should be used on all gates.  In addition, UL325 Guidelines may require safety equipment, like infrared beams or contact edges, to be installed on some types of operators or gates.
  • Some jurisdictions may require the installation of an emergency gate opening device for Fire Department access. The type of device varies, so you should check with your local fire department for instructions.  This device generally must be able to function even is the power is disconnected. 


Now that you know which gate is right for your self storage facility, learn more about mobile gate access control for your your security system with the all new EasyCode. 



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