Electronic Locks in Self-Storage (Guide & Product List)

How Electronic Locks Power Instant Access

Electronic locks in the form of PIN-pad access systems for gates have been around in self-storage forever. But as online booking is becoming more popular, tenants that have booked online have come to expect instant access, too.

Access systems have been released and extended to support locking and releasing self-storage units in the last couple of years. While Janus' Noke system might be the most marketed access system for self-storage, it's by far not alone.

For this article, Sebastian Kerekes, long-time self-storage IT consultant and founder of Rubik, shares what operators worldwide use in self-storage access today.

Prerequisites for Instant Access

Modern access systems use Bluetooth, NFC, and other technologies to open doors. Not all access systems are the same, though. If you want instant access, make sure your access system checks these boxes:

  • Locks for Units (not only Gates): Traditional access systems were developed for storage gates - and might not have a solution for unit access. Make sure the product you select has smart locks for gates, units, and all entrances in between.
  • No Handout Access Tokens: Handing out physical access tokens cards will require a handover. Make sure, your access solution has an app or other means of handing over access codes without having to mail tokens or meet your tenant.

Wired Access Control Systems

The majority of access systems in self-storage receive both power and data through cables. Older systems use copper wires; modern ones use the more versatile PoE (power over ethernet) cables.

Wired access systems usually consist of a central computer that connects both to the Internet and every single door in your facility. That includes gates and units and other entries on the way to the unit, elevators, or even secured dollies.

Once you've gone through the effort of wiring your whole facility, other applications can use the same wires - that is why virtually every wired access system includes additional features like alarms, cameras, and environmental sensors.

Most wired systems are complete security systems developed explicitly for self-storage, supporting locks, alarms, cameras, and other things - but cost more.

Wired access systems are more expensive but take less effort to maintain. In the best case, wiring happens when building the site. Retrofitting is more costly, and in some instances, a bad fit, like for containers - wireless locks are a better option here.

Wireless Smart Locks

Wireless locks use batteries that typically last two years. To some, this is the most significant disadvantage of these systems: Replacing hundreds or thousands of batteries every year can end up costing a lot.

Wireless locks are generally cheaper & easier to retrofit, but short battery life can cause higher operational expenses than a wired access system.

Battery life is increasing, though: Swedish Entryfy supports smart locks by Simon Voss that have a battery life of up to 10 years. And Finnish iLOQ has taken it one step further by developing a system where the mobile phone's NFC signal powers battery-less locks. We yet have to see applications in self-storage, though.

Complete List of Smart Locks for Self-Storage

These are the access systems self-storage owners use in self-storage today:

Is your system missing from the list? Let us know at info@rubikapp.com - we will add it.

What's the Best Smart Lock System for You?

There's no superior system. But there's a simple way that you can work out what would work best for you:

Are you happy with the self-storage facility management software that you are using today? If that is the case, your strategy is clear: Ask your supplier what access systems they support. They might even refer you to users of those locks in your region for honest, unbiased reviews. If possible, have a look at how they work in person.

If you plan to stick with your self-storage software, your strategy is simple: Ask your software supplier what smart locks they support and choose one of them.

If you are starting from scratch or are simply open to changing your self-storage software for a reliable access system, keep this in mind:

  • Prefer Standardized Systems & Components: Where possible, buy systems that use widely available cables, locks, and even software. It will keep prices low and make it easier to transition to another system if needed.
  • Have Your Suppliers Carry Integration Cost: If your preferred smart lock and self-storage software don't work together yet, ask both suppliers to connect it. Ideally, they will carry the cost of this "integration" and keep it up to date.
  • Make Time to Test before You Commit: Test 2 - 3 systems in smaller quantities to find the right fit. While it increases your cost, it's the single best way to ensure the system will work for you before you buy it in larger numbers.

If you want to reduce risk when buying an access solution, invest in tests, buy open & standardized systems, and have your suppliers help with some of the work.

Known Issues of Electronic Locks

Retrofitting in Operation: Retrofitting doesn't just cost more. In an active facility, you will have to access occupied units to install cables & locks. Even if your contracts allow you to access units, at least some tenants will file claims for damaged properties - rightfully or not.

Having Access to Occupied Units: In some countries, operators with access to rented units are legally responsible for all damages of stored goods. Some smart locks work around this by having managers use an app that doesn't open occupied units. Technically, access is still possible though. It's a legal gray zone you'd want to avoid.

While smart locks enable convenient instant access, the complex technology comes with high cost, dependency on your vendor, and unclear legal implications of technically being able to access occupied units.

Hardware Failures: You will regularly have to replace digital locks, prepare your operations for when it happens, so tenants are not locked out for too long. In a few instances, operators were so unhappy with a product they replaced them entirely.

Vendor Lock-In: As there are no standards yet, access control systems are not interoperable. With expensive hardware and recurring license fees, you're at your supplier's mercy regarding price.

Instant Access doesn't require Expensive Locks

Electronic locks are not for everyone. While some operators cannot afford them, others, like Lagerbox, one of Germany's biggest self-storage operators, prefer simpler solutions that are easier to implement yet solve "Instant Access": Padlocks!

How? Imagine a facility with a PIN-pad at the gate. Now put a combination padlock on every unit. Then, when a tenant books online, send them the PIN to both entrances - that's instant access solved for a few dollars!

Rubik agrees with operators like Lagerbox: If a simple, cheap solution does the trick, why complicate things? We've learned a lot from operators just like them - and compiled everything we know in The Ultimate Guide to Working with Combination Padlocks in Self-Storage. Curious? Have a look - the download is free!

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