By J. Mark Young
Self-storage developers and owners have seen a need to expand with the changing marketplace and are accomplishing this by offering their customers more than the facility "next door." A climate-controlled environment is one of the most common enticements. Benefits of climate-controlled storage spaces include preventing damage from moisture build-up, preventing the growth of mold and mildew, and preventing the corrosion of items stored inside the unit. When providing a truly climate-controlled space, we must consider both temperature and humidity levels inside the facility. At the same time, financial considerations are always a part of any business decision, and with climate-controlled spaces, all aspects should be explored.
Understand the expectations of your customer, and make certain he understands what benefits your facility provides him and the property entrusted to your care. Educate yourself on the methods and systems for providing a total climate-controlled environment in your facility. Remember: Whether you are building a new facility or retrofitting an existing structure, make sure you provide conditions that truly benefit your customer. Competition in every industry forces us to search for an edge in our respective markets. Total climate control can be that edge for you.
Humidity and Temperature
Humidity and temperature work hand-in-hand in our environment. Relative humidity is a measure of the moisture content in the air at a specific temperature. To understand the potential effect a particular humidity level will have on us or our property, we must first define the relationship between humidity and temperature.
As temperatures rise, relative humidity will fall. Measuring the relative humidity is how we account for the moisture in the air. It is basically a measurement of the moisture content of the air relative to the maximum temperature in the same area. When air is hot, the molecules spread apart, providing room for water molecules to evaporate. Conversely, when air temperatures fall, we see the relative humidity rise, due to the air molecules moving closer together.
At some point, condensation will occur. This is known as the dew-point temperature. Too much moisture is what allows corrosion to occur and for mold and mildew to develop. This is the result of high-moisture build-up and subsequent condensation on the surface of stored items. Too little moisture in the air can also cause problems. Without enough moisture present in the atmosphere, we would find woods separating and paints and wallboard cracking, not to mention the uncomfortable dry feeling we would have without enough moisture present. An acceptable balance is what we want to achieve.
To prevent corrosion and remove the environment suitable for mold and mildew growth, temperatures should be at or below 80 degrees with 40 percent relative humidity. These conditions happen to fall in the comfort zone most people find acceptable. Lower relative-humidity levels may be acceptable, depending on the contents of the storage space.
Drying Air With Desiccants
Desiccant dehumidifiers reduce the moisture content in the air by removing some quantity of the water vapor from the air with a desiccant wheel. Desiccant equipment is used to remove the moisture from the air stream and return it to the atmosphere outside the building. Dehumid-ification systems are able to reduce and maintain levels where corrosion, mold and mildew cannot thrive. After drying the air, conventional cooling equipment is used to bring the temperature to the appropriate level.
Desiccants can remove up to 10,000 times their weight in water vapor, making them much more efficient at drying the air than any conventional cooling or coil-type dehumidifier. For this reason, you are able to control the amount of moisture in a storage facility more precisely and reduce the air-conditioning tonnage required to cool the climate-controlled space.
Air temperature and the moisture content of that air are directly related. In a perfect environment, we would be able to control the temperature and moisture level with ease. However, with storage facilities, we cannot create a vacuum because customers need access to the property. Therefore, we must take into consideration other factors in the initial design phase of a project.
Remember: As the air temperature rises, the air molecules expand and make room for more water vapor. Also, the measurement of relative humidity to the air will decrease at the same time. These two reference points should be a part of the total climate-control design process. The moisture level in the air is the enemy of the stored property. Higher moisture content provides the environment for corrosion to occur and molds and mildew to grow.
Thinking back to our earlier discussion of humidity and temperature, we want to design for space conditions at or below 80 degrees and 40 percent relative humidity. For winter conditions, we can hold 60 degrees and 40 percent relative humidity, and maintain a moisture content low enough to be suitable for the storage space. Temperature and humidity always work together in your design calculations.
What Does My Customer Expect?
"Do you have climate-control units available for rent?" Is this the question my customer is asking me, or is he asking if the property he intends to entrust to my care is going to be safe and free from the effects of corrosion, mold and mildew? Understanding exactly what the customer expects and what service you are providing is essential to your success and reputation.
Do your homework. Equip your facility to provide a conditioned space that will protect your customers' property. Train yourself and your managers to be prepared with appropriate solutions for the customer. Document storage for business and storage of fine arts and antiques can be even more critical, as well as lucrative. Again, understand the expectations from the outset in order to eliminate potential problems in the future.
Coming Back to the Future
Now it's time for all self-storage owners and operators to look forward. The future is now. The self-storage client base is changing and so are its needs. The industry has begun to seek new and more efficient ways to operate, but we must also realize our customers are doing the very same thing. Total climate control is the direction the industry is headed as customers' needs become more precisely defined. Total climate control can provide you an advantage by offering a value to customers they may not find at a majority of self-storage facilities today.
J. Mark Young is director of commercial and industrial marketing for Logis-Tech Inc. of Alexandria, Va. Logis-Tech has been providing corrosion control and prevention solutions for military and government facilities for more than a decade. The company has developed and trademarked its Environmental Stabilization System (ESS®), as well as its Guardian and AIMMS systems, which are utilized for maintenance monitoring and asset visibility and tracking. For more information, visit www.logis-tech.com.