Let’s face it: Self-storage facilities aren’t as heavily used by humans as other commercial real estate buildings like apartments, offices, retail stores and hotels that see much higher traffic. For this reason, many states don’t require that industry developments adhere to national energy codes. This makes it easy for an owner or developer to forego investing in eco-friendly structures.
Still, many are figuring out that there are great benefits to focusing on sustainability in self-storage. If you’re interested in enhancing the “greenness” of your next climate-controlled project, here are seven strategies that’ll help. While all of them are important, there’s one that’s by far the most vital to lessening a facility’s carbon footprint. Read on to find out what it is!
Eco Strategy 1: Go With a Small Footprint
Look for smaller urban sites that are close to your target market. They’ll disturb less nature than a large suburban build and reduce the amount of deforestation necessary. My company has designed many self-storage facilities that are more than 100,000 square feet on .75 acres or less. An added bonus is that a smaller building means a smaller roof. As this is the primary source of a building’s heat gain, less roof space means more energy efficiency.
A rendering of a storage facility with a green roof
Eco Strategy 2: Raise Your Roof Standards
Self-storage roofs receive a lot of sunlight, which make them good candidates to serve as green (aka living) roofs that are partially or completely covered with vegetation. This approach has several advantages:
- The thermal-insulative qualities of a green roof naturally reduce solar gain.
- It typically reduces the cooling/heating burden on the mechanical systems.
- It can serve as a stormwater-management device, reducing or eliminating the need for above- or below-ground water retention.
Large roof space also makes self-storage facilities ideal for solar panels, which can assist with powering the building and providing hot water for the restrooms. The collectors can produce more electricity than what’s usually needed, allowing the excess to be sold to local utility companies. They also provide shade, further reducing heat gain through the roof. Check for local programs that provide incentives for solar.
Eco Strategy 3: Focus on Building Envelope
Provide ample insulation for the entire self-storage building envelope, aiming to meet or exceed recommendations for the roof and walls. Specify light-colored roofing that has a high solar reflectance as well as insulated metal panels or insulate, exterior metal-stud walls.
Synthetic stucco is another economical solution for the exterior skin. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, it provides a continuous thermal seal.
Note: Designing a square building reduces exterior wall area. Burrowing the building into a hillside assists with energy efficiency by using the thermal insulative qualities of the earth.
Eco Strategy 4: Use Smart Lighting
LEDs should be specified for all interior and exterior lights, and they should all be on motion sensors to reduce energy use. Aim to reduce the amount of lighting throughout the self-storage facility while meeting national recommendations for minimum footcandles of a warehouse.
Eco Strategy 5: Choose Recycled Materials
Consider specifying building materials for your self-storage project that have been recycled or can be recycled at the end of their lifespan. There are many such products available for facility exteriors and interiors. For example, there are eco-friendly, composite-cladding systems made of wood fibers and recycled plastic that are ideal for a building skin. By focusing on materials that are recyclable, you save on the labor and energy to produce them. By minimizing the amount of materials you use, you also save on transportation fuel.
A rendering of Stash Self Storage in Washington, D.C., with solar panels
Eco Strategy 6: Insist on Efficient HVAC
Specify HVAC systems that are energy-efficient. Higher SEER (season energy-efficiency ratio) values signify a more economical mechanical unit.
Also, consider using minimal ductwork. Fans can assist with distributing the conditioned air to provide a consistent heating/cooling range appropriate for self-storage. Don’t over-cool the space, as this can lead to higher humidity and potential mildew. By the way, a square, multi-story facility will require less heating and cooling than a rectangular, single-story one.
Eco Strategy 7: Reuse Old Buildings
The most eco-friendly strategy when developing climate-controlled self-storage is to repurpose pre-existing buildings. This makes sense for many reasons:
- Large buildings comprised of steel and concrete take the most carbon to construct.
- There’s significant labor and fuel required to demolish a building and transport the debris to the landfill.
- Infrastructure and utilities already exist, reducing labor and materials.
- New construction requires labor and fuel to manufacture products and transport them to the jobsite. The average building produces more than 150 pounds of waste per square foot!
Post-pandemic, there’s a large inventory of empty buildings that can often be repurposed to self-storage for less cost than new construction. Even historic structures can often be restored and may even qualify for tax credits, enhancing your bottom line.
The need for climate-controlled self-storage will stay strong for many years, and architects and developers are encountering exciting and challenging opportunities to bring this product to market. Designing eco-friendly structures and repurposing existing buildings makes economic sense. Incorporate these seven strategies into your next project and lead the industry charge for being good stewards of the environment!
Stephen Overcash is managing principal at ODA Architecture, inspiring “FUNomenal Design” for all projects including master planning, commercial architecture and interior design. ODA has provided architectural expertise to clients for more than 36 years. It specializes in office, hotels, hospitality, lifestyle storage, mixed-use developments and interior spaces. To reach Stephen, call 704.905.0423 or email [email protected].