As RV and boat storage develops an identity independent of traditional self-storage, it’s important for developers to educate themselves on the design and construction issues specific to this exciting product. Sit down at a design kick-off meeting, and several hot topics are sure to surface: access and drive-aisle width, site slope, dump stations, wash bays and shielding.
Aisle Width and Access
First, consider the size of recreational vehicles. They can be 55 feet long, 8 feet wide (not including the 16-inch mirrors on each side), and more than 10 feet tall (not including satellite dishes, ladders and air-conditioners). You have acquired a parcel of land on which you want to cram as many of these behemoth machines as possible. How do you accomplish this?
There are some rules of thumb to guarantee drivers easy access to spaces while allowing maximum land usage. “The first question that must be asked is whether the facility owner prefers 90-degree access to the units or angled access is acceptable,” says Tony Cooper, vice president of T2 Architectural Group. “Most owners recognize the benefit of angled access and will choose that option. With 90-degree access, you need a 55-foot-wide drive aisle to properly enter and exit the spaces. If spaces are angled at 30 to 45 degrees, the drive-aisle width can be reduced to 35 feet and still allow ease of access, even for the largest RVs.”
The second major consideration is the turn radius built into the site. Most fire departments require a minimum turning radius for their trucks that meets or exceeds the turning requirements of an RV. If you’re in an area with no restrictions, a 35-degree inside, 45-degree middle and 55-degree outside turning radius should be sufficient.
Standard industry clear height for boat/RV units is 14 feet. This will accommodate even the most tricked out vehicles. For enclosed units, a 10- to 12-foot door width is safe, but doors are often designed at 14 feet wide.
Slopes and hills on a site can present challenges. If your boat/RV storage is not enclosed—meaning you offer uncovered or canopy-covered parking only—slopes can be easy to handle because parking areas can match the slope, and no stepping is required. But if your site includes enclosed units, it’s critical to use the most level site available.
For example, consider Eagle Storage & Development LLC, a fully enclosed RV facility under construction in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. The property slopes more than 40 feet from one end to the other. With only 13 inches of ground clearance on the largest RVs, the civil engineer who designed the elevations had to consider the risk of vehicles bottoming out.
The problem was addressed by stepping each unit a maximum of 9 inches. This circumvented the issue of needing the drive aisle to accommodate large steps in the slabs. Using so many steps was costly but necessary in this case. Another option to minimize the negative effects of grade is sloping the slab, which is helpful only on sites with very gradual inclines. That maximum slab slope should be 0.5 percent; anything greater could cause roll-up doors to bind.
Dump Stations and Wash Bays
Site owners like to include dump stations and wash bays with their boat/RV storage to increase marketability and add income. Unfortunately, these ancillaries are often neglected until late in construction, causing delays. The systems require underground work, which must be addressed early in the project. Owners should urge their civil engineers to account for these uses as early in the design phase as possible.
Dump stations are not allowed in some municipalities. Where they are permitted, they can be easy to build—or quite messy, depending on the city and the efforts of the civil engineer. In most cases, a station comprises a 5- to 6-foot-wide concrete catch, curbed at the edges and sloped to the middle, where a brass cap and flange provide access to a sewer pipe. The engineer’s challenge is to decide where the pipe leads. It may run directly to a sewer, a P-trap linked to a sewer, a holding tank or a septic tank.
It’s equally critical to address wash bays early in the design process. Most cities require interceptors for grease and sand because they can clog sewers and cause problems for local residents; but interceptors can be difficult to find. They are typically expensive and need to be ordered in advance and placed in the right spot. A wash bay also requires a removable grate system so it can be cleaned.
Finally, storage owners need to consider zoning stipulations. Some require RVs to be completely shielded from view, especially in the case of canopy or uncovered storage. This can be especially challenging if there’s a subdivision on a hill above the project. Building high earth berms with 8- to 12-foot walls is how most developers choose to deal with the issue.
The development of RV and boat storage can be very rewarding. A knowledgeable team of architects, engineers and general contractors can navigate the details of design and construction, ensuring a successful project.
Tarik Williams is the vice president of TLW Construction Inc., a self-storage and RV-storage general-contracting specialist for the Western states. Mr. Williams is a member of the Arizona, California, and Texas self-storage associations and a regular speaker at conferences of the Arizona Mini Storage Association. He holds degrees in construction and business, is a licensed real estate broker, and has formed investment groups for real estate acquisition and self-storage development. For more information, call 877.392.1656; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.