Design concept with blueprints and color swatches

The Elements of Self-Storage Style: Design Factors to Ensure Success

Though self-storage facility design may appear straightforward, there are several factors to consider when building a property for success. Here are ideas for creating a unique architectural presence while maintaining cost-efficiency, function and security.

From the outside looking in, self-storage facilities generally appear to have a straightforward, basic design. Single-story, steel-and-mason buildings make up most of the storage properties in the United States; but designing these structures is much more in-depth than it seems. Let’s take a deep dive into some important design elements and understand what it takes to create a successful project.

Incorporating Style

Most traditional self-storage facilities aren’t the greatest display of architectural genius. Square buildings that lack color and unique features span the nation, in part due to startup costs. Builders must consider their return on investment, and historically, budgets haven’t included much for attractive exteriors. This is changing, though, with designs that include bold colors or innovative materials. Here are some ways to add elements of style to your project:

  • Match the color of your buildings to those of surrounding structures.
  • Use bold colors.
  • Incorporate unique architectural features.
  • Build up! Multi-story facilities stand out.
  • Add glass through real or faux windows. It adds a nice touch.
  • Install lush landscaping.
  • Use masonry to add aesthetic appeal.

Municipal design and review committees now consider how your design integrates with existing buildings in the area. Keep in mind that a mix of aesthetics, function and cost will contribute to the success of your project. Incorporating some of the options above will put you well on your way toward being approved for construction.

Layout Essentials

When you seek to get approval for a self-storage development, there will typically be competing uses proposed for the same land. Demonstrating that you’ll maximize the potential of the parcel will put you one step closer to your goal. To maximize use, you must balance rental space, customer convenience and ease of maintenance.

There are several factors to consider when designing your facility layout, with building size and driveway widths being among the most important. Typically, you’ll want to design buildings in 10-foot increments, simply because steel is manufactured in 10-foot lengths. This will enable you to create the most cost-efficient project.

Generally, a 30-foot-wide building will provide options for a variety of unit sizes. If you don’t have that much area available, you can develop a 20-foot-wide building, though this can cost more per square foot to build. There are also options for larger buildings at 40-foot widths, though these will only provide a balanced layout if you’re planning to incorporate 10-by-20-foot units back to back.

Though 30- to 40-foot-wide buildings with exterior drive-up access are efficient and offer a great unit mix, it’s becoming more common to build 100-foot-wide buildings with interior hallways. As long as you provide tenants with handcarts and dollies, most won’t object to renting your interior units; and you’ll ultimately spend less on driveways and general construction.

Where land is costly or scarce, it makes sense to build multi-story. If you commit to a multi-level design, however, consider raising it to at least three stories.

In some areas, fire and zoning regulations will specify the distance required between buildings. Typically, 25 feet is used for a self-storage facility. Toward the end of buildings, the driveway should be a little bit wider (30 feet is standard) to accommodate a minimum vehicle-turning radius. Avoid any driveway dead-ends except for areas that allow for snow removal and piling.

Unit Mix

Deciding on a unit mix can be one of the most difficult tasks you face during the development process, especially if you don’t know where to start. The mix is crucial to how a facility will perform within its marketplace. Because it’s so closely tied to market dynamics, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Start by gathering information in a feasibility study. The overall goal is to ensure a proper launching point relative to the market.

Ensuring your facility has the right commercial-to-residential ratio is also key. Most markets will have 75 percent residential to 25 percent commercial.

Climate Control

Considering whether your community has a need for climate-controlled units is important, as this is a growing demand. Climate control will add to your overall square footage, since most of these units are wider than traditional ones.

A simple plan would be to aim for 40 percent climate-controlled units to 60 percent traditional. Just keep in mind that mixing climate control with tradition will add expense, so obtain as much information about your market as possible to ensure cost-efficiency. Developers of smaller facilities sometimes choose to build 100 percent climate control, which raises the overall square footage.


There are several design factors that can help bolster facility security, including building placement. Using the height of your buildings as “fencing” around the perimeter of your property can increase security immensely. Since buildings are much taller than a traditional seven-foot fence, this fortress-style layout ensures most breaches will occur at entry and exit points. If this configuration isn’t possible, perimeter fencing is perfectly acceptable, though barbed or concertina wire usually aren’t tolerable to local municipalities. Spear-point fencing is a great alternative.

Interior elements are also important to ensure client safety. Here are some items to consider:

  • Incorporate seven- to 10-foot-wide hallways.
  • More doors and windows create a sense of security.
  • Straight hallways limit hiding places and reduce security risks.

Self-storage is a competitive industry, and facility design is playing an increasingly important role in business success and market differentiation. Though there are many other factors to consider, creating a unique architectural presence while maintaining efficiency, function and security will go a long way toward ensuring you build a standout facility.

Dakota Kerkove is marketing assistant for Precision Structural Engineering Inc., a Klamath Falls, Ore.-based structural engineering firm specializing in self-storage and shipping-container uses, as well as sustainable residential, commercial and industrial projects. For more information, call 541.850.6300; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.structure1com.

TAGS: Development
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