Dry-Air Storage: Managing Humidity in Self-Storage Facilities

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Climate control is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the self-storage industry. The term is a misnomer. “Temperature moderation” would more accurately describe what usually occurs in a storage operation. When you offer “climate control,” you should be managing both temperature and humidity within a narrow range, but often only temperature extremes are moderated, and humidity levels are usually ignored entirely.

We can trace the confusion to the fact that most people are accustomed to temperature control. They set the thermostat in their homes and offices to 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Or, if they want to be more economical, they might set it at 68 F in the winter and 77 F in the summer. This is known as “room temperature.”

If you have tenants who are pharmaceutical reps, temperature control is important for them, as most medicines must be stored at room temperature. For most customers, however, temperature is simply an issue of comfort.

Since people usually expend more energy than usual when moving goods in and out of storage, managers frequently moderate the temperature to the low end of the scale; 60 to 80 F is a typical range.

The vast majority of storage items are not affected by differences in temperature or even by low humidity. For example, many people think electronics should be stored in a climate-controlled unit. But flip through your equipment manuals (look for the environmental limits in the index), and you’ll find storage temperatures allowed at pretty extreme ranges.

The main problem in storage is high humidity. Relative humidity of 60 percent or higher allows mites, molds, mildew, rust, paper rot and wood degradation to occur. Many facilities rely on an air-conditioning system to dry the air. The first problem with this is high temperatures don’t always coincide with high humidity. Records show that high humidity is more likely to occur at night, while high temperatures naturally occur in the afternoon.

Another problem with relying on air conditioning is, in a self-storage environment, the temperature is often set higher than normal, so the AC doesn’t run as much. One way around this is to under size the AC unit so it will run longer. Or, if you have two units, set one at a low temperature and the other at a high one. Of course, the AC unit should also have a humidistat that goes on when the relative humidity starts getting too close to 60 percent. Since the humidity level in a building can vary from one area to another, 50 percent is the recommended humidistat setting.

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