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Building Climate-Controlled Self-Storage: Benefits and Design Considerations

In many self-storage markets, offering climate-controlled units is no longer an option, as it’s what customers want. However, designing and developing this kind of space has unique intricacies. Here are some benefits of offering the product and considerations for building it.

Aaron Rowley

April 14, 2022

6 Min Read
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Self-storage has come a long way. Unlike their simple predecessors, today’s facilities are all about the customer experience and standing out in an increasingly competitive landscape. There are many ways to distinguish a property within a market these days, but one of the most popular is to offer climate-controlled units. In fact, this product has become an industry mainstay and an expectation of our customer base.

Climate control entices tenants who want to preserve their sensitive and valuable goods. These renters are often looking for facilities that manage humidity as well as temperature, and they’re willing to pay a premium for this type of space. Providing it makes the storage experience more enjoyable for customers, but it also appeals to facility operators because it allows you to generate additional revenue through premium pricing.

Climate-controlled units are a great way to increase profit because they typically command higher rental rates than traditional space of the same size. In some markets, this could be 30% or more. Moreover, the newest generation of 100% climate-controlled, multi-story buildings enables a developer to build roughly three times the rentable square footage on the same amount of dirt. This means the owner can absorb a much higher land cost. It also allows them to consider many more parcels for a project.

That said, building climate-controlled self-storage is different from traditional. It has unique intricacies. Let’s look at some of the most important considerations for designing and building this kind of space.

Heat vs. Cooling

It’s worth noting that not all self-storage facilities with climate-controlled units offer both heating and cooling. It really depends on the area. If your facility is in Southern California, your system is most likely set up to cool things down. In Minnesota, the intent is to keep people and their belongings warm.

Generally, a climate-controlled facility should maintain building and unit temperature at below 90 degrees in summer and above 40 degrees in winter, with humidity below 60 percent to prevent mold and mildew. Sometimes controlling humidity is as important as regulating temperature. In areas that experience extremely high temperatures, for example, moisture control may be more important than temperature control.

Moisture is a much larger design concern. Split-system HVAC units work well for this application when used with a wider set-point range. In conjunction with dehumidifiers, these systems ensure that stored belongings stay dry. Many builders incorporate a few additional HVAC units for redundancy, downsizing individual unit tonnage to allow for longer run times and continually drawing out any moisture from the facility. They might also employ ionizers in lieu of additional “outside air” intakes, which also helps minimize moisture.

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Insulation Factors

Proper insulation within the self-storage building is critical for a number of reasons. The International Energy Conservation Council recently changed its guidelines in many areas, requiring more insulation to better preserve energy. In fact, it’s the most cost-effective way to keep temperature and humidity at optimal levels.

In self-storage, we’re mostly looking at an aggregate score on energy efficiency that allows us to use multiple design aspects, including increased wall and roof insulation but also:

  • White metal roof in lieu of dark

  • Separation between metal-panel skin and structural steel to provide a thermal break

  • Fully insulated partitions at marketing towers to separate heat gain/loss at windows from the rest of facility

  • Window tinting or film to reduce ultraviolet radiation

  • HVAC seasonal energy-efficiency ratio ratings

  • LED light fixtures

The Drive-Up Option

A new offering that’s gaining traction in the self-storage industry is climate-controlled units with exterior, drive-up access. These are situated around the ground floor. They’re desirable to a customer who intends to visit their unit more frequently and doesn’t want to transport their items up and down an elevator. Since these units are open to the elements, it can be difficult to control their temperature, but insulated door panels and the proper HVAC system can help overcome the challenge.

These units are typically the first to lease up and often have a waiting list. As a result, you can charge an even higher rental rate for this space than for a similar unit in the building interior. If possible, designing a driveway that circles around your facility can increase the number of these units. Plus, it’s a great way to provide an easy entrance and outlet for tenants.

Other Design Considerations

It’s no secret that construction costs in self-storage are on the rise. Not only are materials more expensive, but as developers seek out more retail locations for customer convenience, land becomes pricier. In addition, buildings in these more desirable areas are often required to blend with the local surroundings to gain municipal approval, which means investing in more elaborate architecture.

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As such, the premium rent made possible by adding climate-controlled units becomes paramount. Some developers are adding as many as 12 floors to their project to justify increased expenses and make their project financially viable. But a bigger building can be daunting to tenants, especially when they’re hauling lots of large, heavy items. When designing climate-controlled storage, a key consideration is how far a customer needs to walk to get to their unit from the entrance. Typically, it should be no more than 150 feet.

Here are a few additional considerations when building climate-controlled self-storage:

  • Design a unit mix that focuses on high efficiency rather than local market needs.

  • Limit the number of openings through the exterior skin. The fewer penetrations, the less likely you’ll have moisture filtering into the building.

  • Treat your subcontractors and design-team members well, as they manage a lot of the smaller details necessary in a successful a climate-controlled facility.

In most self-storage markets, climate-controlled space has become essential to compete. When building a new site or expanding an existing one, consider the many benefits this product offers to tenants and the business.

Aaron Rowley is a senior developer for MV Investment, which develops commercial real estate and multi-family units. He’s been involved in the real estate industry for more than 22 years, with a concentration in self-storage. He developed his first facility in 2000, and has been involved in the development and acquisition of more than 2 million square feet. Aaron holds a Project Management Professional certification and is a member of the Project Management Institute. For more information, call 877.684.7687 or email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Aaron Rowley

Senior Developer, Miller Valentine Construction

Aaron Rowley is a senior developer for Miller Valentine Construction, which develops commercial real estate and multi-family units. He’s been involved in the real estate industry for more than 22 years, with a concentration in self-storage. He developed his first facility in 2000, and has been involved in the development and acquisition of more than 2 million square feet. Aaron holds a Project Management Professional certification and is a member of the Project Management Institute. For more information, call 877.684.7687 or email [email protected].  

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