Climate control is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the self-storage industry. The term is a misnomer. “Temperature moderation” would more accurately describe what usually occurs in a storage operation. When you offer “climate control,” you should be managing both temperature and humidity within a narrow range, but often only temperature extremes are moderated, and humidity levels are usually ignored entirely.
We can trace the confusion to the fact that most people are accustomed to temperature control. They set the thermostat in their homes and offices to 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Or, if they want to be more economical, they might set it at 68 F in the winter and 77 F in the summer. This is known as “room temperature.”
If you have tenants who are pharmaceutical reps, temperature control is important for them, as most medicines must be stored at room temperature. For most customers, however, temperature is simply an issue of comfort.
Since people usually expend more energy than usual when moving goods in and out of storage, managers frequently moderate the temperature to the low end of the scale; 60 to 80 F is a typical range.
The vast majority of storage items are not affected by differences in temperature or even by low humidity. For example, many people think electronics should be stored in a climate-controlled unit. But flip through your equipment manuals (look for the environmental limits in the index), and you’ll find storage temperatures allowed at pretty extreme ranges.
The main problem in storage is high humidity. Relative humidity of 60 percent or higher allows mites, molds, mildew, rust, paper rot and wood degradation to occur. Many facilities rely on an air-conditioning system to dry the air. The first problem with this is high temperatures don’t always coincide with high humidity. Records show that high humidity is more likely to occur at night, while high temperatures naturally occur in the afternoon.
Another problem with relying on air conditioning is, in a self-storage environment, the temperature is often set higher than normal, so the AC doesn’t run as much. One way around this is to under size the AC unit so it will run longer. Or, if you have two units, set one at a low temperature and the other at a high one. Of course, the AC unit should also have a humidistat that goes on when the relative humidity starts getting too close to 60 percent. Since the humidity level in a building can vary from one area to another, 50 percent is the recommended humidistat setting.
What’s the best solution for your self-storage facility? Climate-controlled storage works best in higher-income areas; most people aren’t willing to pay high monthly premiums for what often only amounts to slightly more comfortable temperatures during move-in and move-out. For many facilities, the answer may be dry-air storage—a solution that lies between climate control and traditional storage.
The good news for those contemplating a new facility or an expansion is that dry-air storage, which only requires moderating high humidity, is easier and less expensive than controlling temperature in all respects: capital, operating and repair costs. No insulation is required.
Commercial dehumidifiers are less expensive, no outside units are required, and less ductwork is needed. Rubber draft stops and track brushes, which are less expensive than insulation, can be installed in exterior roll-up doors so even exterior units can also be built as dry-air storage.
Humidity is a well-known common problem in basements, so they’re perfect for dry-air storage. The temperature is already stabilized by all the soil surrounding the basement and the four inches of concrete overhead, so all that is needed is dehumidification.
The Customer’s Choice
Most people base their storage-rental decisions on the protection of their belongings, not their personal comfort in moving. But another plus for dry-air storage is tenants are comfortable in a broader range of temperatures when the humidity is low. Cold and clammy is worse than mere cold; hot and sweaty is worse than just hot.
If the dry-air concept is new to you, consider that Sovran Self Storage Inc., a real estate investment trust and a large self-storage operator, has been quietly designing and building dry-air storage into many of its new Uncle Bob's facilities since 2000. It has even retrofitted older, traditional buildings with this more economical technology.
As energy costs in America start to skyrocket, as they are sure to do, the self-storage industry will be driven toward dry-air storage and away from so-called climate-control storage. What are you doing to make sure your existing or planned facility is efficiently protecting your tenants’ belongings from high humidity levels?
David Montané is a sales consultant for BETCO Inc. He founded and owns Aragon Crown, a self-storage consulting and design firm in Decatur, Ga. Montané maintains a Georgia real estate sales license, and is an active member and frequent speaker for the Georgia Self Storage Association. For more information, visit www.betcoinc.com.