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

More self-storage developers are adding temperature- or climate-controlled units to their projects, and for good reason. Here are the benefits and design considerations involved.

Steve Hajewski

November 29, 2016

6 Min Read
Building Temperature- or Climate-Controlled Self-Storage: Benefits and Design Considerations

A temperature-controlled self-storage facility is one that’s heated and cooled. Its purpose isn’t so much comfort as providing an environment suitable for preserving stored goods, so the temperature range will typically be higher or lower than what you would find in a home or office—usually heated to 50 degrees and cooled to 80. Higher-end properties may opt for a narrower range.

While it’s commonly referred to as “climate-controlled” storage, the term “temperature-controlled” should be used unless the building is also equipped with a system to regulate humidity. Claiming to be climate-controlled while failing to address humidity might leave you open to legal trouble if a customer’s items are damaged by damp. With today’s more efficient building insulation, it’s more important than ever to install a system that not only heats and cools but also monitors and removes humidity.

Let’s look at the benefits of temperature or climate control for self-storage facility operators and tenants as well as some of the more important design considerations.

The Benefits

The typical customer who wants to rent climate-controlled storage has rented traditional storage in the past with bad results. Now he wants to better protect his belongings. Higher-income renters are also more likely to rent this product. Finally, demand will be higher in areas with greater humidity.

Climate-controlled buildings offer a number of benefits. First, you get increased land coverage. Compared to drive-up buildings, which are typically 30 to 40 feet wide, climate-controlled buildings can be up to 200 feet or wider. This width reduces the amount of pavement necessary on the property and increases the amount of rentable space. The interior hallways are usually 5 feet wide and occupy only 15 percent to 20 percent of the space. This increased coverage can make it possible to develop on more expensive land in a better location than could be justified with traditional storage only.

Climate control can also serve as a market differentiator. Self-storage has penetrated just about every community in the country. Climate control can set your site apart from competition. We’re seeing these facilities being built in smaller markets than in the past, as demand for these units appears to be increasing.

Finally, while the cost to build and operate climate-controlled storage is higher, the increased rental rates are also significantly higher in most markets. These units usually rent for a 15 percent to 30 percent premium compared to standard units.

Design Considerations

When it comes to the design of your temperature- or climate-controlled self-storage buildings, here are some common items to consider:

Costs. It’s common for developers to phase a project, but when planning a site with climate control, consider how the design will impact construction costs. The most cost-effective building is a large, wide structure. Though a large project like this may take longer to reach the breakeven point, resulting in a longer period of negative cash flow, it’ll cost less per square foot to build than multiple small buildings.

Full vs. partial control. Some buildings are designed with both exterior-access ambient-temperature units and interior-access temperature-controlled units. While these projects allow for a variety of unit types in a single structure, they’re declining in popularity. One reason is that when you build in a northern climate, the weather can create challenges. Snow and ice will melt faster over the heated portions of a building, and if the runoff travels over a non-heated portion, ice dams may result.

Another reason is stricter energy codes specify there must be an insulated barrier between the foundations of climate-controlled and non-climate-controlled portions of a building. With the cost and complexity this adds to a project, it’s more cost-effective to design buildings that are completely climate-controlled.

Unit access. Climate-controlled buildings are usually built with interior unit access via hallways, but more developers are building climate-controlled units with exterior access. These units should be equipped with insulated sectional doors (typically R-19 insulating value) rather than traditional roll-up doors. They should also be priced at a premium, as clients are willing to pay for the convenience of direct access. For example, l0-by-20 units will be highly coveted by owners of classic automobiles.

Unit size. Interior-access buildings won’t contain units as large as those used for drive-up storage. The largest unit size in these buildings is typically 10-by-20.

Insulation. How much insulation you need and what kind will vary based on local building codes, weather conditions and owner preferences. Projects can be built with spray-in foam, fiberglass bats, insulated panels or a combination thereof. While building a project with a higher R-value will cost more, it pays benefits in two ways: Not only will your operating costs be lower, but lower expenses contribute to a higher property value when it’s time to sell.

Roof pitch. You can choose from a variety of roof pitches for climate-controlled buildings. Roofs can be designed to allow room for the desired insulation thickness (R-value) directly under the panels. Or, on higher-pitched buildings, the insulation may be placed directly over the ceiling of the heated/cooled space as you would find in a home, with insulation on the attic floor rather than under the rooftop.

Condenser location. Climate-control buildings commonly have recessed entries, which provide a staging area out of the weather and a place for the condenser unit. However, there are some options for putting the condenser unit outdoors. If there’s a place where it won’t vulnerable to client vehicles, this is the best option. Rooftop placement isn’t preferred, due to the potential for creating leaks when penetrating the roof, as well as possible damage from installers walking on the roof.

HVAC equipment. Your HVAC installer will guide you in choosing the equipment you need, but remind him of the low occupancy load for self-storage structures. Unlike a typical commercial building, there are very few occupants generating body heat, running electricity and opening doors; therefore, HVAC equipment should be undersized for the space. It’ll run more often but consume less energy. In the summer, the result will be that the smaller HVAC system will circulate more air and do a better job at removing humidity compared to a more powerful system that runs for shorter intervals.

While the workhorse of the industry continues to be the standard drive-up building, we’re seeing more sites include climate control in the mix. In some markets, many storage sites consist entirely of climate-controlled units. In the right market, they can be an excellent addition to your storage development.

Steve Hajewski is the marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems, including single- and multi-story, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and canopy boat/RV. He also owns a self-storage facility in Wisconsin and is a frequent contributor on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 800.356.5824; visit

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