Performing reliably through good and bad economic times
Self storage has been quietly growing for decades. Once seen as a quirky investment somewhat outside of the mainstream, it has gained respect as a solid investment that performs reliably through good and bad economic times. Following the economic downturn (as a result of nonexistent lending), self-storage construction came to a screeching halt. Since 2010 construction levels have gradually increased, with a significant spike in activity in 2014 and 2015. Self-storage construction is a niche industry upon itself. There are a variety of construction methods on the market.
Popular when self storage was a new concept in the 1970s, cinder block construction is one of the original materials used to construct self-storage facilities. It has mostly fallen out of favor today, due to high cost, industrial appearance, maintenance when painted, and the hassle to repair door jambs when renters back their trucks or trailers into them. Block facilities do have the benefit of being fire resistant unless equipped with wood trusses. Decorative faced block is sometimes used to dress up the exterior of some buildings, although the weight of the block can increase foundation costs.
|Photo courtesy of Trachte Building Systems|
Preferred by most large or experienced operators, steel self-storage structures dominate the industry. The buildings typically begin with a system of galvanized or red iron columns. Walls are generally located on 5-foot grid lines. Depending on the manufacturer, purlins and girts may bolt into place or may be tek screwed. Sidewalls consist of either A-panel door jambs and headers
(typically ranging from 26 to 29 gauge), or in higher quality buildings, a bolt together system of 18-gauge headers and jambs. As a builder, it is important to understand what the building package includes. Some systems require cutting of structural materials and trim around door openings, while higher-end offerings feature pre-punched components with less field cutting required. Steel buildings are generally less costly to insure compared to wood buildings.
Self-storage rooftops are most commonly steel; either screw down or standing seam. Standing seam roofs offer better leak resistance and longer life, but screwdown roofs are an acceptable choice for projects with higher roof pitches. Clients are often drawn to the aesthetic appeal of steeper roofs; however they should be advised that in snowy climates, the snow slides off in front of the doors if snow blocks are not used. Roof insulation should be a part of every project to prevent condensation from forming in the units.
Laying out a storage facility is a critical step during the development process. In most cases, this is a joint effort between a local civil engineer and the building manufacturer. While the civil engineer is essential in planning for proper stormwater handling, an experienced self-storage manufacturer will provide input on building size, unit mix and layout to maximize return and minimize maintenance headaches in the future. In areas that experience freezing weather, you want to avoid roofs draining to the north side, particularly over door openings.
The ideal site will feature buildings oriented north/south, with aisles that are visible from the street to provide a greater sense of security. Single slope, also known as lean-to, structures can be used to direct water to southern exposures. An overlooked component of self-storage buildings is doors. Most roll-up doors look and function about the same-and there is a temptation to buy solely based on price. But it’s important that the doors are wind rated to meet or exceed the local code requirements. As the facility ages, the door springs are most likely the first component to fail. Springs should be factory treated with a rust-preventative coating or thick grease to ensure a long life.
Trends in the industry have been toward higher end facilities. In larger cities, new self-storage offices resemble hotel lobbies. In mid-level markets, facilities are adding decorative elements or façades to increase curb appeal. Architectural features are often required by planning commissions in order to earn approval. As developers look to build on higher-cost land, multistory projects and heated/cooled facilities are becoming more common.
|Photo courtesy of Trachte Building Systems|
Building codes vary by state. In most areas, buildings up to 12,000 square feet have been allowable without sprinklers. However with the adoption of 2012 International Building Code, firewalls or sprinkler systems are required for buildings over 2,500 square feet. Firewalls of gypsum board or block may be used. Block is more costly, but is a better choice due to mold resistance.
While self storage may appear to be a simple building type (and in many respects it is), there are many different ways to do it. Partnering with an experienced building supplier will help to ensure a quality, well-designed project is built.
Steve Hajewski is marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, Sun Prairie, Wis. Trachte specializes in the design and manufacture of self-storage buildings sold worldwide. Additionally, Hajewski owns and operates a self-storage facility. For more information, visit www.trachte.com.