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Designing a Self-Storage Site to Maximize Land Use

By Steve Hajewski Comments

When laying out a self-storage site, you’ll find there are competing uses for the land. Of course, your priority is rental space, but you also need driveways, green space, storm-water handling features and possibly an office, none of which directly produce income. To maximize your land, you must create balance between rental space, customer convenience and ease of maintenance.

Regulatory Constraints

Before you begin, familiarize yourself with local regulations, including zoning, setbacks, easements, green-space restrictions, parking requirements and coverage constraints. These will all influence your layout. Similarly, elevation changes on the property can impact design.

Before attempting to create a building layout, work with your local civil engineer to determine if a retention pond is required, what size it needs to be, and where on the property it should be positioned. If a pond is necessary, consider making it deeper to reduce its surface size.

You’ll also want to understand the fire code for your area. Most jurisdictions have allowed fire areas (space of a single building or between firewalls) of up to 12,000 square feet in an unsprinklered building. However, a change in the 2012 International Building Code has reduced that space to 2,500 square feet in states that have adopted the new code. This will mean more firewalls in traditional buildings or possibly sprinklers in wider buildings. The cost can be significant and may impact your decisions, especially if there isn’t already adequate water service on the property.

Think Wide

What level of service and curb appeal do you want and need to succeed in your market? Newer sites are offering increasing levels of amenities. Typically, the higher rental rates a site can command make the increased construction costs a solid investment.

One highly effective way to increase rentable space is by using wider buildings with halls. Traditionally, basic self-storage facilities consist of 30- or 40-foot wide buildings. These are efficient to build, and with doors on all sides, they tend to offer an attractive unit mix. While these drive-up units are convenient and easy to rent, it’s becoming increasingly common to see wider buildings (100 feet wide or more) with interior hallways. Most clients don’t object to the interior units as long as carts are provided for easy access. In the end, you’ll spend less on driveways, and the wider buildings tend to cost a little less per square foot.

Building Types and Uses

Once you’ve made the jump to wide buildings with interior access, consider whether your community has a need for heated and cooled units. These have traditionally been more common in upscale, urban or humid areas, but as the self-storage industry has matured, climate-controlled buildings are becoming more common in suburban and smaller markets.

When land is scarce or costly, it can make sense to build multiple stories. A decade ago, new multi-story properties would often include a freight-only “lift” instead of a passenger elevator. Today, multi-story construction normally includes an elevator. If you commit to an elevator, consider going to three stories instead of two, since the incremental cost makes it worthwhile if you anticipate having demand for the space.

Multi-story buildings typically take longer to plan and develop. They also take longer to break even financially since a larger amount of storage is built all at once. If the property has a grade change of around 9 feet, consider a “two-story into a hill.” This design can add a second floor with walk-in access from both levels without the need for an elevator. For every floor added, expect 70 percent to 80 percent to be rentable due to space stairs and halls.

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