Green in Action: Northgate Self Storage in Colorado Springs Achieves LEED Certification and Much More
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
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Posted on: 07/17/2011



 

By Amy Campbell

While the self-storage industry has flirted with green building, few developers have actually taken on the challenge. One reason is the cost—using sustainable products and practices definitely adds to the price tag. Second, the learning curve is steep. A developer can’t simply decide to “go green.” To be certified as green, a building must meet certain criteria, which is intricately detailed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Lee Fredrick, a self-storage developer and owner of Grow Your Storage LLC, knew both of these factors, but was determined to overcome the challenges to create a green-certified self-storage facility. After successfully building and operating seven facilities in Texas, Fredrick moved to Colorado. There, he found a dynamic site in Colorado Springs ripe for self-storage development. But rather than go the traditional development route, Fredrick was determined to try something new.

“When you spend as much time and capital as we did in the pursuit process, it only makes sense to take a little extra effort to build an exceptional facility,” he says. “We wanted to create the best opportunity for success, and we chose to distinguish this project in all areas—location, appearance, amenities and design.”

When designing for optimum performance and durability, a developer must consider the design principles incorporated in the USGBC’s certification system, says Fredrick of the decision to build a green facility. “Having asked myself what kind of self-storage property I wanted to own in 20 years, I decided to build it now.”

Getting Certified          

Although the land was available and the partner/developer/general contractor, Gary Erickson, was ready, finding a willing lender and hammering out the details of the construction loan took nearly two years. The addition of green design and pursuit of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was a factor that influenced the local lender, Colorado Springs State Bank, to consider making a construction loan when so many capital sources were sitting on the sidelines. 

In that time, Fredrick studied to become a LEED AP (Accredited Professional) from the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). “A substantial component of the added cost of LEED certification derives from the extra third parties needed to meet the stringent requirements of certification,” Frederick says. “I opted to become my own LEED administrator for the project. I personally oversaw the documentation and submittal of required materials. The knowledge I gained while studying to become a LEED AP has also helped me to direct other professionals to participate more effectively in the design and construction process.”

The voluntary building-certification program, developed by the USGBC, offers guidance on creating more energy-efficient structures while minimizing the environmental impact.

Meeting LEED Credits

In many ways, Northgate Self Storage is like other new developments. The 675-unit capitalizes on the multi-story trend in the industry with four stories. It also has climate-controlled units, a video-surveillance system, keypad-controlled access and elevators.

One factor that’s notably different, however, is all components of the development—exterior and interior—will earn LEED credit and will contribute to the structure’s LEED-certification with a gold rating. “There are several credits that tie in perfectly with self-storage,” Fredrick points out. For example, Materials and Resources Credit 4 pertains to recycled content of construction materials. “Most steel in self-storage structure and doors contain high-recycled content,” Fredrick says. “Our builder, Kiwi II Construction, provided documentation of recycled content as a part of their contract with us.”   

The building also incorporates significant, innovative electrical engineering. The electrical service for HVAC, lights and plugs are all on separate panels that are individually monitored and tracked. “We will know when our electric demand increases and can make adjustments accordingly,” Fredrick says. For instance, air-conditioning use can be increased during non-peak hours, saving money and reducing peak demand on the grid. This approach is a component of Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1, Optimize Energy Performance.

High indoor-air quality is another important component of a green building. At Northgate, the HVAC system operates with a MERV 13 (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) filter. An average system runs filtration with a rate of MERV 5-8, Fredrick notes. The air-handling system is designed to provide ventilation that exceeds a typical system by at least 30 percent. The indoor-air-quality plan also involves flushing out the air in the building over a 45-day period post-construction. “The use of low-emitting materials contributes to the high quality of the office and storage space of our building,” Fredrick says.

All carpets, composite wood, paints, sealants, adhesives and other architectural coatings do not exceed the VOC (volatile organic compound) limits as outlined in USGBC Reference Guide.  “When you have a population that spends 90 percent of its time indoors, the consequences of indoor pollution from trapped toxins and off-gasses is profound,” Fredrick says. “The notion of green building is to have a healthy building. That’s exactly what we’ve built with Northgate.”

Attracting Customers

Developing a LEED-certified structure typically costs 5 percent to 10 percent more than traditional self-storage. The tradeoff? Upfront costs vs. long-term ones, Fredrick says. “The building’s functional life expectancy is longer, and the life-cycle analysis demonstrates that costs in the long run are demonstrably less.”

Several warehouses and storage buildings have achieved LEED for core and shell, which focuses on the structural components; but Fredrick is pursuing the certification for new construction, which encompasses all facets of the finished building. “The first costs can be higher, but we made the choices that created an efficient and livable building,” he says. For example, adding insulated foam panels to the exterior of the building costs more, but it created a tighter building envelope, which reduces electricity demand and increases performance of the HVAC system. “We’ll spend more upfront to build an exceptional envelope, then we’ll enjoy the long-term benefits,” Fredrick says.  

Another reason to go green is distinction in the market. Consumers have proven they’re willing to pay for green products and services. “Prospective self-storage customers have easy access to price and amenity comparisons when shopping for a storage facility. They want the most for what they’re willing to pay,” Fredrick says. Despite the increased costs to build the facility and the green advantages it comes with, Northgate’s rent rates are in line with other facilities in the area. “At a comparable price point, we’ll show them the features and benefits of storing in a green building, to which most of our customers are favorably disposed.  The LEED certification is the final point of distinction between us and any other facility,” Fredrick says.

While the LEED certification process is arduous, Fredrick says more commercial developers, including those in the self-storage industry, should expect green building to become more prevalent in the market. “In some cities, all commercial buildings are required to attain some type of green certification and LEED is the industry standard.”