A Green Future for Self-Storage: Getting on the Eco-Bandwagon

From solar panels to green cleaning, self-storage operators and builders are embracing eco-friendly products and practices.

June 2, 2009

9 Min Read
A Green Future for Self-Storage: Getting on the Eco-Bandwagon

Andree Jansheski was looking for a life-defining moment when she decided to turn Bellam Self Storage & Boxes in Marin Country, Calif., into a certified green business in 2006. She knew that overhauling the facility—built in 1965 and converted to storage in 1982—and its business practices would be a challenge. And costly. But it wasn’t about money.

“You do this because it’s in your heart. Because you respect your customers and you respect your environment,” Jansheski says. “If you go into wanting to be green and all you see are dollar signs, it’s never going to give you goose bumps.”

While environmental sustainability has been a hot topic for the past decade, the reality of global warming has catapulted the importance of the issue. President Barack Obama has pledged to spend $150 billion in the next decade to create 5 million green jobs.

Communities across America are spearheading recycling programs, banning plastic bags and planting trees. Businesses big and small are slashing energy consumption and promoting environmentalism. 
Green isn’t a passing fad or even a movement; it’s a new way of life. Like Jansheski, many self-storage professionals recognize this and are embracing Earth-friendly products and practices. 
Harnessing the Sun’s Power

Although there are a number of ways for self-storage builders and owners to “go green,” solar panels are still the most mainstream option for those looking to add a conservational element to their facilities. Solar technology has evolved, making it more affordable and easier to install. Government rebates and tax credits also add to the lure.

“It’s a great opportunity for self-storage owners because they have lots of roof space and get a lot of sun,” says Matt Arner, president of SolarFlair Energy in Hopkinton, Mass. In March, the company installed 99 solar panels on the roof of 126 Self Storage in Ashland, Mass. Although the panels only cover about 5 percent of the facility’s roof space, they produce 60 percent of the power needed to run the facility’s office and exterior lights.

The project cost $149,817, but owner Michael Kane received a $67,568 rebate from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a $44,945 federal tax credit, a $7,221 state tax credit and other incentives, reducing the overall cost. Kane says he’ll pay the balance in six years and then, theoretically, should make money on the system, which is expected to generate about 18,900 kilowatt hours per year. In addition to saving about $3,800 on utility bills annually, he can possibly sell electricity back to his utility company.

Charlie Fritts, chief operating officer of Storage Investment Management Inc. (SIMI), is already seeing the benefits of the solar panels added to Planet Self Storage in Newington, Conn., one of 31 properties his company owns or manages. Installed 15 months ago, the panels produce 30 percent of the facility’s electricity.

“The financial benefit has improved because electric rates have increased,” Fritts says. SIMI is now converting the majority of its exterior lighting wall packs to LED technology. “These fixtures use more than 80 percent less energy for an equal level of light,” Fritts says.

The solar panels that cover just 2 percent of Acorn Mini Storage in Brentwood, Calif., generate more than enough power for the 1,000-unit facility, which opened in 2005. “This started paying for itself as soon as it was in,” says facility owner Jim Moita, who added solar in 2006 to take advantage of tax credits.

In the first year of operation, Moita had a credit of $1,400 from his electric company. Currently, California’s power companies do not pay customers whose solar operations generate an excess in solar power. Moita is hoping that may change in the near future, allowing him to sell power back to the electric company or to nearby homes and a shopping center.

Jansheski also invested heavily in solar panels to cover the rooftop of Bellam Self Storage & Boxes. The panels provide 100 percent of the electricity use for the 60,000-square-foot facility. 

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Adding a solar element to a self-storage property isn’t the only avenue to green. There are a number of options for owners and managers interested in eco-friendly products and services. Some are easy and low-cost while others are more challenging.

Jansheski admits that converting Bellam to an all-green facility was daunting. To become a Bay Area Certified Green Business, the site had to meet several requirements, and Jansheski tackled one area at a time. Easy changes included swapping out bleached white paper towels for natural brown in the bathrooms, and requesting that her cleaning company use only green products. Costlier renovations included installing low-flow toilets, motion-sensor faucets and an electric hot-water heater under the bathroom sink.

Jansheski also turned her attention to Bellam’s retail store. Employees now shred and sell paper to customers for packing. The store also carries green packing peanuts. And there isn’t a dumpster on the property, so tenants can’t throw away items. Instead, Jansheski gives every tenant a list of charities with contact information so they can repurpose their goods.

Repurposing was a key to Jeffrey Sitt’s first foray into the self-storage industry. Instead of building from the ground up, he found a turn-of-the-century, cold-storage building in New York, recycling as much material as possible during the conversion, and then installing the most energy-efficient products possible. The facility opened under the name Hall Street Storage, but was soon changed to iStoreGreen to reflect Sitt’s mission. iStoreGreen recently joined the Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership to use renewable energy for 100 percent of the facility’s electricity.

Sitt’s objective has reached far beyond the facility as well. He began an initiative to eliminate plastic bags in Brooklyn, sponsors a local park and even plants trees for every customer who stores with iStoreGreen. “We're not just a place trying to do green things. It is who we are,” says Sitt, who has been approached by developers interested in the green self-storage model. “The country as a whole has woken up to the fact that saving our planet is everybody's responsibility, and this is the new economy.”

Professional Self Storage Management, a Tucson, Ariz.-based consulting and management company, has also established a number of changes for its facilities, including using recycled ink cartridges and sending invoices by e-mail. Most of the company’s sites are in warm-weather climates, so desert landscaping is installed to minimize water use. Stores with indoor lighting are being converted to motion-sensor lights, and gas-powered golf carts are being swapped out for electric ones.

“I’m proud of my managers and staff for giving us numerous ideas of how to make our facilities more environmentally friendly, and hope that others may take our lead and join with us in this worthy cause,” says Mel Holsinger, company president. 

Capturing Water

Some facilities are experimenting with rainwater catchment systems, which capture rainwater and divert it for other uses such as landscape irrigation. “Metal roof panels are extremely efficient at channeling water to where you want it to go,” says Wes Brooker, marketing development manager for American Buildings Co. in Eufaula, Ala. “Self-storage buildings can be designed with commercial-size gutters and downspouts to move water into either holding ponds or even underground tanks.”

Bill Markson found another way to capture water and turn it into power. Without access to a natural gas source, he was forced to get creative when building Lakeville (Mass.) Self Storage. Although he wanted to add climate control to a portion of the facility’s 206 units, costly propane was his only choice. So Markson began looking for an alternative. In his research, he stumbled upon geothermal heating and cooling. “The cost of the heat pumps is comparable to that of an electric-operated air conditioner,” he says. “The additional expense is the piping.”

Once Markson’s development team determined the property’s well would yield plenty of water to sustain the system, Markson decided to give it a go. The geothermal system covers four storage buildings plus the office. Each building has a four-ton heat pump that will heat or cool. Water is piped from the well to the building, and then piped to a discharge well. Best of all, the system has the capacity to expand.

Markson was able to claim tax credits, which reduced the overall cost of the system. The facility’s only utility bill is electricity, which rarely exceeds $100 a month. Markson markets the geothermal system on the facility’s website and explains how it works to prospective tenants. “Some people are very interested in it. They’re pleased they’re participating in something that’s green."

Green Rewards

It’s hard to put a price tag on conservation. While there are typically higher upfront costs, the long-term savings can be easily measured. “On a business level, green is indeed good,” Sitt declares. “What we've found is that green produces more green—the more business you do because you're green, the more green things you can afford to do, and it continues like that.  So business and green go together today.”

While it may be hard to make the commitment, Sitt advises self-storage professionals to take baby steps. He suggests setting up a recycling area or switching to eco-friendly cleaners. Look for energy-saving products, including for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) and high-efficient heating and cooling units. “We're still building on it all at iStoreGreen,” he says. “The green initiatives never really stop, there's always something else to do.”

You should also market your green products and services to current tenants and prospects. “Every time I run an ad, it’s part of it,” says Jansheski, who also gives every customer a pamphlet outlining Bellam’s green products and services. The facility’s website includes the Bay Area Certified Green Business logo. Markson and Moita also market their green initiatives on their websites. Sitt takes it a step further, giving each customer a reusable tote bag, a CFL light bulb, and information about conserving and recycling.

Because there’s such a high demand for green products and services, there’s a ready-made market for storage operators. “We see everything from customers moving their stuff to us from far distances because we are the only green storage facility in the area, to customers who don't think about the green aspect until they come in and see all that we've done, and then feel even better about storing here,” Sitt says. “It gives them a sense of satisfaction, knowing they are helping the planet, and everyone wants to help the planet.”

Related Articles:

The Eco-Friendly Self-Storage Office: Tips!

Green Building in Self-Storage: Sustainability and Environmentally Friendly Options

Insuring Your Green Self-Storage Facility

Alternative Building Methods for Self-Storage 

Rabco President Owens Receives LEED Professional Accreditation

Green Apple Group to Develop Marketing Strategies for Green and Sustainable Building

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