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Factors to Consider When Building Multi-Story Self-Storage

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For those new to the concept of climate-controlled space, it’s important to realize that as a general rule, 25 percent of the building is non-rentable space. This space is consumed by corridors, stairwells, elevator shafts, the equipment room, mechanical closets, etc. With this in mind, you have to back into the gross square footage required to achieve the net rentable square footage desired. This is accomplished by taking the desired rentable climate-controlled space and dividing by .75.

For example, if you desire 60,000 square feet of net rentable climate-controlled space, you have to begin with 80,000 square feet. Now add to that the square footage you believe you’ll be able to place on the ground level as ambient space. Then take the sum of those two figures and divide by two for a two-story building, three for a three-story building, and so on. This will give you a quick sketch of the size of the footprint required to achieve the square-footage goals.

Adhering to Building Codes

Spring Self Storage in North Houston, Texas, is an example of great building signage. Fronts on a major interstate and the design and colors are ideal for grabbing attention.In the past, there were several different building codes used across the country. That has changed. To the best of my knowledge, all municipalities now use a consolidated system known as the International Building Code (IBC). Most building departments are now using the 2009 version of that code.

With the occupancy classification for self-storage, a building more than three stories high is required to be a fire-rated structure. This means you’re not able to use light-gauge framing for  construction, as it’s too difficult and completely impractical to fire rate the entire building. The alternative is to build a heavy-steel-frame building with long-span members and fire-spray-proof each member supporting the structure, or a complete concrete structure skeleton.

In most cases, this is cost-prohibitive for the rent you’ll be able to effectively charge for the facility. A few cities are still using the 2006 version of the IBC, which allows the use of light-gauge framing. This type of system has been used effectively to construct four-story buildings and, in a few limited cases, five-story ones.

Signage and Visibility

One of the most important features of a multi-story building is it creates its own signage. Because of this, it’s important to design the facility in such a manner that it’s attractive, gets prospective tenants’ attention, and keeps in style with the surrounding community.

Unless it’s prohibited by zoning or some other special requirement of the governing authority, most multi-story facilities feature large expanses of glass displaying roll-up storage doors in the upper levels. These doors are normally highlighted by lights at night, thereby drawing the attention of passersby. This makes the building readily recognizable as a self-storage facility. This can be effective in spite of zoning requirements that may prohibit the project from appearing like traditional self-storage facility, possibly even prohibiting unit doors from being visible at ground or street level.

Budgeting the Project

Austin Highway Self Storage in San Antonio displays its name on the front of the building in a big way. Budgeting for a multi-story facility can be a daunting task and is best left to a seasoned professional. For conversational non-specific terms, take the cost of a single-story project and add at least $2 per total floor area per additional floor ($2 more for a two-story and $4 more for a three-story per total floor area), plus approximately $100,000 for each elevator and $10,000 for each level of stairs. Other considerations include any special exterior or architectural features on the building and other extraordinary requirements. This will get you a rough starting point with respect to construction costs.

Multi-story construction can be an exciting and rewarding development, but it does require careful consideration and the assistance of qualified professionals.

Charles Plunkett is founder, owner and CEO of San Antonio-based Capco Steel Inc, has constructed hundreds of self-storage facilities nationwide, totaling more than 50 million square feet over the last 27 years. This has included countless multi-story facilities. For more information, call 210.493.9992; visit

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