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Building Climate-Controlled Self-Storage: Insulation, Design, Equipment and More

Climate-controlled self-storage provides a number of benefits for facility operators and their customers. This article discusses the logistics of adding climate control to a new build, conversion project or existing property, including insulation requirements, design options, equipment and more.

By Kenneth Carrell

A growing trend in self-storage development is climate control. While many think this is about keeping storage units a nice, balmy 72 degrees, it’s not. Climate- or temperature-controlled storage is really about maintaining a small range of temperature, typically between 60 and 80 degrees. In hot climates, such as the desert, temperatures can be well above 100 degrees during the day and drop to the 50s or 60s at night. Inside the building, the temperature can be 10 or 20 degrees hotter. Plastics can melt in temperatures like that. In cold climates with regular snowfall, you need to keep things from freezing.

In addition to better protecting tenants’ belongings, climate-controlled storage offers other great benefits. First, you can charge more rent! It can also help bring in new customers. Let’s look at the logistics of adding climate control to a new or existing self-storage facility, including insulation requirements, design options, equipment and more.

Insulation Requirements

The components necessary for climate control are pretty simple. You need an insulated roof and walls—and sometimes flooring—as well as a quality heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. Once you have these components in place, you need to decide whether to climate control the entire building or just a portion. Think about how tenants will access the building and those big doors that open directly to the outside. Once you open the door, all of that heated or cooled air spills into the great outdoors.

One way to slow the loss of cool or warm air is to use plastic door curtains. However, the best way to prevent air loss is to condition only the inner storage units that tenants access via a corridor. The building’s exterior units can then be used as an additional layer of protection, especially if you add insulation between the inside and outside units. You can even add a plastic film over the insulation. Metal panels over the insulation on both sides will protect it from damage by customers. This limits the places where the structure will lose heated or cooled air.

Design Options

Another factor to keep in mind for good climate control is the orientation of the building. Reducing the amount of structure walls and roofing that face south will help to keep the building cooler. That could be an issue if you plan to add solar panels, which need sun exposure. If you do plan to add panels or already have them, you’ll need more insulation to help offset the added heat they generate.

If you have multiple stories, the upper floor can act as a buffer to the elements. The more space you have between the sources of heat or cool, the better insulated your building will be.

One thing to keep in mind when you add climate control to a building is the heating system will remove moisture from the air. That’s actually good in most cases, as it will help prevent mold and mildew.

Equipment

As far as equipment goes, there are many options for climate control. Energy-efficient split systems are popular right now. These have an exterior compressor mounted on the roof or ground and an air handler in the hallway. This type of system is highly efficient and can even help a facility qualify for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design credits. For retrofits, traditional, forced-air systems still work fine in some instances.

On facility conversions, there’s often an existing HVAC system, which is an added benefit. If the building already has mechanical equipment, you may only have to reconfigure the ductwork to blend with the storage layout. The shell of the building is often already insulated.

I recently converted an old store into a multi-story self-storage facility, and since it already had air-conditioning, we only had to modify the ductwork. The nice thing is the building has masonry construction, so it’s very well-insulated. The owner rarely turns on the HVAC.

Extra Services

One last thing to think about when considering climate-controlled storage is ancillary profit centers such as art, records and wine storage. For art and records, you definitely want to remove moisture from the air; but in wine storage, you need to maintain a much higher level of humidity, somewhere around 50 percent at a minimum. All of these also require a higher level of insulation to separate the conditioned space from the adjacent area.

Adding climate-controlled space is more expensive, but the advantages to you and the customer can make it well worthwhile. Since climate-controlled space is usually cleaner and feels better, many of your customers will want to rent it because of the benefits.

Kenneth Carrell is the principal architect at ARE Associates in Lake Forest, Calif., an award-winning architectural firm specializing in the self-storage industry. For more information, call 949.305.4752; visit www.areassociates.com.

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