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Posted by Stephanie on May 20, 2024

If your warehouse or distribution center has a loading dock, the area must be properly sealed to maintain product protection and operational efficiency. If there are small gaps between the trucks and your loading dock, everything from insects and dirt to rain and snow can get into your space.

The right loading dock doors can save you money and keep your dock secure. There are two products you can choose for your warehouse, which include dock seals and dock shelters. Weigh the pros and cons of each to make a decision that suits your facility.

Loading Docks with Dock Levelers

Understanding the Need for Sealing

While it might not seem like a major issue, every gap between a parked truck and your loading dock costs you money. Unsealed dock doors can lead to exposure to the elements and energy loss. Even small gaps that allow in dust, rain, bugs, and wind can cost you several hundred dollars every year. These contaminants can cause product damage and create issues during warehouse inspections. Your personnel may feel less comfortable when working in an environment like this. 

No matter the size of the warehouse you manage, employee safety and product integrity are of the utmost importance. Keeping your employees safe and healthy can increase productivity. Maintaining the quality and integrity of your products is necessary to keep your customers satisfied and avoid replacing damaged items. Dock seals and shelters give you more control over your workplace environment. However, they are often used for different applications.

Dock Seals vs. Dock Shelters

Dock shelters are durable enclosures that are designed to seal the perimeter of a trailer. The product applies pressure against all sides of the trailer with the use of fabric curtains that contain fiberglass stays. Shelters can be placed into large door openings, which means that you can use them with a wide range of different trailer styles and heights. They aren’t compressed by a trailer, which means that they provide easy access to cargo for loading and unloading tasks.

Dock seals are fully compressed for an airtight seal. They are foam pads that are compressed by the trailer when it gets into position at the loading dock. Once the trailer meets the dock bumpers, a seal is formed around three of the trailer’s sides. While this type of enclosure provides superior sealing in comparison to a dock shelter, it’s usually more affordable. The main issue with dock seals is that they can be easily damaged by wear and tear at high-traffic docks

Factors Influencing Choice

There are several factors you should consider when comparing dock shelter vs dock seal, which include everything from traffic volume and trailer variability to dock dimensions. These factors determine the longevity and effectiveness of the seal you select. As mentioned previously, high-traffic areas might benefit from a dock shelter, which offers more durability. Dock seals can become worn quickly. 

The design of your building might also play a role in your decision. Your warehouse may not support a dock shelter or seal. Keep in mind that dock shelters are able to accommodate wider truck variability. If your warehouse or distribution center receives trucks in numerous sizes, it may be better to obtain a dock shelter. However, modern dock seals are more versatile than older ones.

Loading Dock with Dock Leveler

Comparison of Strengths and Weaknesses

The following compares the primary strengths and weaknesses that dock seals and dock shelters have. 

Some of the advantages of dock shelters include the following:

  • Can be used with any door size
  • Modular design makes it easy to repair or replace the product
  • Offers complete access to trailer and dock door
  • Seals every truck height and width
  • If you select a curtain-style shelter, it will slide away when you’re using it, which eliminates wear and tear

The drawbacks of choosing a dock shelter include the following:

  • Rain can still get into your warehouse from the top of the trailer
  • Requires more space to be fitted around the dock door
  • Air can transfer inside when the curtains move to the outside

The main reasons to obtain a dock seal include the following:

  • Provides an airtight seal that can be fitted over trailer hinges
  • Keeps water and rain out of your facility
  • Doesn’t require much space
  • Suitable for doors that range from eight to 10 feet wide
  • Offers a modular design for easy installation and replacement

A few drawbacks to using dock seals include the following:

  • Opening width will be just 7’6″ when sealing trailers that are 8′ and 8’6″ wide
  • Can be damaged by heavy pallet loads and forklifts because of the smaller opening size
  • Service height range can be limited 

If you purchase a dock shelter, all fiberglass panels, spring steel stays, curtains, and frames can be purchased when replacements are needed. You can also buy curtain sets when necessary. Dock seals are available in sets or as single pads. Seals are usually more affordable than dock shelters. However, dock shelters provide more versatility and durability, which makes up for the higher cost.

Detailed Specifications

Before buying dock seals or shelters, make sure you determine if your warehouse accommodates them. The main specifications of dock shelters are:

  • 18 90° brackets to properly secure the frame
  • Pressure-treated lumber frame that’s covered with translucent fiberglass for more natural light
  • Sloped header keeps water from collecting at the top
  • Overall projection is 24″
  • The vinyl pocket along the inside edge consists of pipe foam for a tighter seal
  • Bungee straps keep the head curtain from moving out of position
  • Draft pads are filled with foam at the lower corners to keep air from entering
  • Six pleats are available at the header corners for better impact absorption
  • Spring steel stays are located in the side and head curtains to secure them against the sides of the trailer
  • Steel bumper guards provide additional support for the frame while also protecting the shelter from vehicles
  • Numerous colors are available

As for dock seals, their specifications include the following:

  • Nine 90° brackets for the outer edges of seals
  • Wood backer board that’s pressure-treated and comes with an optional steel channel backer for additional support
  • High-density foam that ensures ample compression and a lengthier lifespan
  • Heavy-duty industrial adhesive that bonds the foam to the wood backer for a better appearance and performance
  • Multiple vent pockets are available on each seal vertical as well as the underside of the top pad for optimal compression
  • Tapered bottom edge keeps the seal from being damaged
  • Drainage holes keep moisture from accumulating
  • You can choose from numerous header types and heights to accommodate different truck sizes
  • Nine flat brackets that you can use when mounting the seal to the edge of a door

Dock shelters and seals can help you save hundreds of dollars every year. They’re also able to keep most snow and rain out of your facility, which will allow you to prevent your products and property from sustaining water damageThese seals allow you to keep your workplace clean and your employees healthy.

loading dock

Making an Informed Decision

Now that you understand the differences between dock seals and shelters, you should be ready to make an informed decision. To determine which product is best for your facility, consider how they can meet your operational needs. For example, does your loading dock receive a lot of traffic when loading and unloading products? If so, your facility might benefit the most from dock shelters. 

Are you trying to improve energy efficiency in your facility and reduce heating/cooling costs? In this scenario, dock seals are more airtight, which should reduce the amount of stress that’s placed on your HVAC system. 

Does your facility receive trucks of many different sizes? Dock shelters are able to accommodate a wider variety of truck and trailer sizes. In comparison, dock seals work best when paired with trucks that have a width of eight to 10 feet

When you’re choosing between dock seals and shelters, you must consider the long-term implications. While dock seals have a lower upfront cost, they require more maintenance, which means that your long-term expenses may be higher when compared to dock shelters. On the other hand, dock seals are more airtight, which should lead to a lower monthly energy bill. 

Conclusion

Dock seals and dock shelters are crucial if you want to close the gap between trailers and your loading dock. While both of these products are designed to keep the elements out of your warehouse and protect your inventory, they provide different advantages. 

Dock shelters can be used with any truck or trailer size. Dock seals keep more contaminants out of your facility and have lower upfront costs. To select the right seal, consider your company’s needs and operational requirements. If you require help with this decision, seek professional advice for more tailored recommendations.

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