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25 Design and Construction Mistakes Self-Storage Owners and Developers Should Avoid


By Marc Goodin

Common design and construction mistakes can cost a self-storage owner immediate extra expenses and possibly long-term financial losses or aggravation because they can’t be easily corrected. The best self-storage designs require input from several professionals including a building manufacture, architect, civil engineer, contractors and, most important, an industry consultant.

In fact, one of the reasons we see many of the same construction mistakes repeated time and again is because the property owner didn’t hire someone with industry experience to oversee the development. While the design group typically has enough experience to do a good job for its specific expertise, the coordination and self-storage particulars are often left to the novice owner.

Don’t fall prey to common blunders. Here are 25 design and construction mistakes to avoid when building your next self-storage project.

Building Basics

A big mistake many first-time developers make is poor communication, whether with planning and zoning boards or vendors involved with the project. Be informed and communicate openly with all parties to avoid these errors.

  • Not including all details in your site plans: Omitting information about phases or even the location of signage may require additional approvals from the city planning board, which will delay your project. If you’re not sure how many phases there will be for completion, show more. You can always combine phases and build more than one at a time. Likewise, include your site signage in your plans.
  • Driveway radius at the town road is too small: A minimum radius of 25 feet for cars and a preferred entrance radius of 45 feet for large moving vans should be provided.
  • Not including contractor specifications: You need more than good site plans to ensure construction is done right and on budget. In addition to having a solid construction plan, it’s important to include specifications for bidding and construction.
    Everything should be in writing, especially plan changes and associated fee changes. The contractor’s payment schedule should be included in each proposal. Any holdbacks should also be built in. All contracts should state, “The contractor shall review and accept any existing work related to his work prior to starting.” A 15 percent construction budget contingency is a must.
  • Not realizing your development will likely take longer than you think: This often causes the biggest heartaches. Finding land, creating the site plan and building design, gaining municipal approvals and financing, and bidding and construction can all cause delays. If you work diligently but are prepared for these setbacks, you’ll enjoy the journey.

Site Selection and Design

From choosing the right site for development to deciding on the unit mix, this is where self-storage owners make the majority of mistakes.

  • Choosing an out-of-the-way location: Certainly, veteran storage developers and novices have read why they should avoid this many times. However, we continue to see facilities that can’t lease up due to poor location. We often hear, “But I already own the land, so it’s free.” Don’t do it! Sell the land and buy on Main Street.
  • Narrow drive aisles: The minimum aisle width required by most zoning and building regulations is 24 feet. Some owners can get away with tighter passageways, but it gets difficult to accommodate two-way traffic as well as safe parking and passing when the drive aisles are narrower. If you go tighter, it’ll be noticeable to your potential clients, and they’ll seek the competing facility that has wider aisles down the street.
  • Not placing larger units on the facility perimeter: With 24-foot drive aisles between buildings, a car can just barley get into a unit. But along the outside edge of the facility, drivers have a couple of extra feet to maneuver. Bad drivers can use a couple of feet of grass, which is much better than hitting your building. You should also consider using 9-foot-wide doors for all 10-foot-wide spaces or at least for any units that will be dedicated to vehicle storage, notably the 10-by-20s.
  • Access aisles for boat/RV-storage not large enough: A large RV or boat and trailer can be well over 45 feet long, requiring an equal length to pull out of its parking space. Wider or angled spaces can reduce the overall access aisles required.
  • Storage units not visible from the road: You may have a lot of traffic on your road, but if potential customers can’t see the doors, it’s like being in the back woods with no traffic.
  • Adding dead ends: I understand you can get more units by adding a dead end or two, but maybe you should consider a larger piece of land instead. Dead ends don’t make for prime, first-class self -storage. No one wants to do a K-turn to exit a facility.
  • Choosing odd-sized buildings: They cost more and there’s often no reason for them. Since the raw building material comes in even, 10-foot lengths, 10-foot increments should be used for the building dimensions to minimize waste. I’ve also seen entire facilities with 10- and 20-foot-wide buildings, which doesn’t make sense because they can cost 30 percent more than the standard 30-foot-wide buildings.
  • Not enough variety in unit sizes: Even if it’s clear you that need a high concentration of a certain unit size, it’s important to have a variety of sizes for faster lease-up and more profit. Just because the facility down the street is out of 10-by-20s doesn’t mean the majority of your units should be that size.
    There are a lot of factors to consider when determining unit sizes. For example, college towns and areas with high apartment density typically need more small units. During phase 2, you can adjust the units to better meet local demand. Here’s an ideal 100-unit ratio for a new facility:

Self-Storage Unit Mix 100 Units***

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