Improving Your Self-Storage Building Envelope to Increase Energy Efficiency and Save Money

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By Kenneth Carrell

The design of a self-storage facility’s building envelope can save an operator a lot of money or cost him dearly—and not just in energy costs, but with customers. If a tenant goes into a typical storage building in the middle of summer, the temperature can be 10, 20 or even 30 degrees hotter than outside. In the middle of winter, if the building is not insulated, some customers’ items could freeze. If the building envelope is not properly sealed, rain and snow could get in, ruining stored goods and leaving you with a customer-service nightmare. However, with some planning before construction starts, you can eliminate some of these problems and create energy savings to boot.

The Building Envelope

The first place a self-storage owner can improve building efficiency is with the building envelope. The envelope comprises the roof, walls and floor. The typical self-storage facility has an exterior wall of masonry or thin metal; but the bulk of the exterior walls are the overhead doors, which are thin metal, typically without insulation. Everyone knows just how air-tight self-storage buildings are. Wind and dust get into units with impunity because the doors are rarely weather-tight.

If you live in a warmer climate like Southern California or Florida, you probably don’t worry about heating and cooling your buildings. However, if you live in an area that gets snow and ice, you need to keep your buildings climate-controlled so customers' possessions are not damaged during the highs and lows of the weather. Planning ahead when it comes to insulating the building envelope is the first priority. Trying to do it after you’ve rented units can be a nightmare—although it is possible.

First, you can insulate the walls and/or piers of the building. Depending on the wall construction, you can add insulation to the inside of the wall using a variety of methods. For masonry-block construction, you can add insulation to block cells that aren’t filled with grout. If necessary, you can add furring strips to the inside of the walls and batt or foam-board insulation between, and then cover them with metal or gypsum board. Masonry piers are fully grouted, so you can't add insulation to those cells, but you can definitely add it to the surface of the block.

Spray-foam insulation is another good option for block construction. If the building is metal constructed, it becomes much easier to protect the building, and you have an even wider selection for insulation.

Doors

Instead of installing the typical overhead door of thin uninsulated metal, use an insulated door that will not only boost the energy efficiency of the building but help keep out dirt and dust. The one major drawback to using a door that opens to the outside is once you open it, all of the conditioned air starts pouring out of the space—a sure-fire way to run up your energy bill.

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