By Rachel Adams
Embarking on a new build in the self-storage industry is a huge step that takes time, planning, preparation and, often, a lot of guidance. With the U.S. economy experiencing steady growth, it's no surprise most areas in the country are heating up in terms of construction, which is enticing for industry professionals looking to expand or build for the first time. Changes in the market, however, can also lead to changes in costs and other aspects of the construction arena, which makes it more important than ever for owners to stay informed.
In this article, some of the top builders in self-storage reveal inside information about materials, construction costs, trends and engineering processes to put facility owners and investors in the best possible position before building their next project.
The Price Is Right
Materials are among the most basic components when it comes to building a new facility, but they can also be the most influential when it comes to pricing. The general consensus among builders is the costs for raw materials has remained fairly level, with price increases in insulation and doors. Raw materials have been pretty flat over the past year, though insulation just experienced a 9 percent increase," said Todd Trepke, vice president of Compass Building Systems Inc., a full-service supplier and erector of self-storage buildings.
Although prices have been stable, there could be an uptick soon on materials and labor, according to Charles Plunkett, chief executive officer and owner of Capco Steel Inc., a steel supplier and erector of metal buildings and RV and boat storage. "We are on the cusp of seeing price increases," he says. "As things get busy, costs always get more expensive. If you're in a part of the country where construction is heating up, you can expect your costs to go up."
When it comes to design or engineering processes, one of the best things about self-storage is its simplicity. "Regardless of how the exterior of any of these buildings look, you could open them up and see the same design principles at work in 90 percent of the facilities today," says Caesar Wright, president of Mako Steel Inc., which designs, supplies and installs steel buildings for the self-storage industry. This, however, doesnt keep owners and builders from getting creative and finding new ways to attract tenants.
For example, Plunkett has been pumping up facility façades by using traditional materials in non-traditional ways. In a recent build, glazed cinder blocks were used as the exterior finish, along with aluminum panels to give the facility a colorful and unique look that will never fade or require paint. They used materials that have been around a long time and were used for a long time, but they took it up a notch," Plunkett says. The flat, aluminum panels were something we hadn't really done before. The glazed masonry was certainly something we hadn't done before. So these were traditional products, but one that have not been used this way in self-storage.
Finishing touches to the mansard roof and decorative louvers were made to a facility in Mclean, Va., before the brick and exterior insulation finishing systems were installed. The facility also has a rooftop garden. [Photos courtesy of Compass Building Systems Inc. Facility managed, but not owned, by Extra Space Storage.]
According to Nelson Hendrix, district sales manager for DBCI, a manufacturer of steel roll-up doors and other components for the self-storage industry, anything that helps differentiate a facility will draw attention. This philosophy has led to an increase in conversions and the addition of drive-through buildings. "A big trend we're noticing is the conversion of existing buildings," Hendrix says. "Drive-through accessibility for sheltered loading/unloading is another popular feature that distinguishes properties."
The increase in demand for drive-through loading/unloading bays has completely changed the engineering process, Trepke says. "Engineering has changed dramatically as more buildings have internal drive-through/parking/loading areas requiring large expanses of structural steel.
Keeping Current on Building Codes
Building codes are a particularly tricky issue to deal with throughout the construction process. While codes vary depending on the location, all states use or have adopted the International Building Code (IBC), a complete set of comprehensive, coordinated building-safety and fire-prevention codes. The majority of the difficulty in dealing with building codes is handled by builders/developers, although certain codes may affect costs and other factors of facility development.
For example, according to the IBC, self-storage facilities with four or more stories are now required to adhere to strict fire-proofing codes that will greatly increase the cost of the build. "Three floors is the max anymore unless you have an incredible market where you can afford to build a concrete structure," Plunkett says. "So it has actually changed the dynamics of self-storage such that it's forced us to build shorter facilities."
Wind- and snow-load requirements also need to be taken into consideration depending on the location of the facility. The buildings are being built stronger now than they were in the past couple years because they have changed the codes on how these buildings are engineered to meet the wind loads and snow loads of each building, says Eddie Huebner, lead account representative for A-Lert Building Systems, which designs, engineers, manufactures and installs self-storage buildings.
Energy Efficiency on the Horizon
In some areas, building codes have changed to encourage a more energy-efficient building. In regions where energy efficiency isnt required, its certainly on the horizon. One way developers are adding eco-friendly services is through solar panels, particularly at single-story facilities with a lot of roof real estate or on boat and RV carports. The benefits are many. Operators can produce solar energy to cover their own electrical costs while attracting customers looking for green-friendly businesses. In some states, businesses that generate solar power can even sell their excess energy back to the power company and make a sizeable profit.
This facility in Glen Bernie, Md., features drive-through units on the first floor and insulated metal-wall panels. [Photos courtesy of Compass Building Systems Inc. Facility managed, but not owned, by Extra Space Storage.]
Owners are taking advantage of the opportunity for energy efficiency by putting solar systems on top of these RV- and boat-storage roof-only buildings to run the facility, Huebner says.
Hendrix has also seen owners sway toward green options. "The obvious benefits are lowered costs and a smaller carbon footprint, which appeal to both owners and customers."
While lower operational costs is appealing to some owners, many are still unwilling to fork over the upfront costs to implement solar and other energy-efficient building methods without incentives. "From my perspective, if you don't have incentives, it's still too costly," Plunkett says. However, he does think building more energy-efficient buildings will soon play a bigger role in self-storage development. "Energy consumption is going to be more of an issue in the future. It's coming."
There are many routes owners can take to initiate and complete a new build, but theres one important factor to keep in mindinformation is key. Researching materials, developers, costs and manufacturers can help to keep costs in check and mistakes from happening. Getting the right people involved early on and understanding what the costs are can save you a lot of time, energy and headaches before you get too deep into a project, Plunkett says.
There are many resources for new owners and even seasoned pros, including presentations hosted by developers, webinars and other online avenues. "Go to presentations, go to webinars about construction, get to know each and every company. Visit the manufacture plants and just ask a lot of questions," Huebner advises.
With the right guidance and ample knowledge, owners and developers will continue to push self-storage new construction to new levels. [Developers] are building a better product these days, Plunkett says. Each year, we take it up another notch."
Rachel Adams graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Her passion for writing and culture propelled her journey through college and has continued to inspire her endeavors with VIRGO Publishing, where she contributes to "Inside Self-Storage" and "Professional Door Dealer." Contact her with questions, comments or ideas at [email protected]