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Maximizing Space in Self-Storage Design: The Office, Drive Aisles and Two-Story Ramped Sites

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A comfortable sitting area and retail display are areas that deserve attention. They should make use of color and light, with sufficient space to provide a pleasant experience for the customer. Management offices range in size from small (less than 300 square feet) to large (3,500-plus square feet). An approximately 1,500-square-foot office is a comfortable size. Creative use of the space is what’s important here. Presenting an attractive, user-friendly office that feels secure will go a long way toward making your facility a success.

Drive Aisles

Drive aisles are spaces, too, so they need to accommodate vehicular traffic in an effective way. Passenger vehicles and pick-up trucks will make up the majority of your traffic. However, drive aisles and turning radii need to accommodate larger moving trucks as well as firefighting equipment.

Wide drive aisles enhance the design appeal at Garfield Self Storage in Bell Gardens, Calif., which was later acquired by A-1 Self Storage.A minimum of 28-foot-wide longitudinal drive aisles and 35-foot-wide end aisles is recommended. This combination will provide sufficient turning radii for larger trucks, and the 28-foot-wide minimum aisles will accommodate the fire marshal’s typically required 20-foot minimum clear fire lane. It will also allow 8 feet of parallel parking on the side adjacent to the storage units.

Many self-storage owners prefer a fortress-style design where the storage buildings are on the property's outside perimeter. This provides security and maximizes the building area. With fortress design, the drive aisle is double-loaded and takes up less space, so there’s more room for income-producing storage units.

If you’re considering a multi-story, elevator-served facility, the access and parking for the loading areas is critical. Elevators and loading areas need to be located to minimize travel distance to the furthest units. This usually means a central location with five to 10 parking spaces, several of which will accommodate moving trucks.

Provide a covered loading area where possible. This takes on more importance in cold-weather climates. Canopies can provide protection for sun and rain but also hold speakers for music, all of which add to the user-friendliness of the facility. Elevator lobbies in the loading areas and on the upper floors should have a minimum lobby width of 10 feet to allow for the maneuvering of carts.

The Two-Story Ramp

Since we’re talking about the creative use of space, I’d like to discuss the advantage of the two-story, ramp-served project. This concept was pioneered when land prices were escalating and the coverage of a single-story facility would not pencil. This facility features a ramp over earth fill, usually with 10 percent slope. Customers drive up the ramp to access the second-floor units.

The benefit of this design is it provides two-story coverage while functioning like a single-story facility. Elevators are eliminated, which reduces interior hallway space and increases the net square footage to a gross square-footage ratio. Two-story, ramp-served facilities can achieve as much as 88 percent net-to-gross ratio where a two-story, elevator-served facility will likely only achieve about 75 percent ratio. A ramp facility is a great solution where coverage needs to support higher land costs.

For all facilities, the largest units should be readily accessible from the drive aisles, or from the entry points if the facility has internal or elevator-access units. Travel distance should not exceed 180 feet to the most remote units. Wherever possible, keep the hallways straight and predictable. Your customers shouldn’t need GPS and a coal miner’s hat to navigate your interior hallway system.

Self-storage is a retail business and the product is space. A user-friendly, safe and secure environment housed in an aesthetically pleasing, well-designed building will help you achieve the most competitive facility in your community.

Bruce Jordan is president of Jordan Architects Inc. He has more than 30 years of experience in architecture, preceded by an extensive background in construction and real estate development. Jordan's experience includes professional office buildings, high-density residential projects, mixed-use projects, retail facilities, hotels, restaurants, industrial, commercial and specialty projects such as museums and theme parks. For more information, call 949.388.8090; visit

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