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

Self-storage developers take a stab at sustainability and explore environmentally friendly options for construction.

September 22, 2008

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

As an avid reader of The New York Times, developer Jeffery Sitt found himself re-evaluating his Sunday morning pastime. After some research, he discovered Amazon’s Kindle, a portable device that enables users to download newspapers and books. “I saw where things were headed and it kind of hit me,” Sitt says.

After canceling his subscription to the Times, Sitt examined his own development company, looking for ways to introduce sustainable building products and practices. “It’s the right thing to do and I’m hoping there are other like-minded people,” says Sitt, whose first green initiative is Hall Street Storage in Brooklyn, N.Y.

While it’s hard to ignore the “go green” mantras shouted by the media, corporate America and soccer moms across the nation, the self-storage industry, for the most part, has only begun to embrace the movement. This is, in part, because self-storage is in itself already somewhat of a sustainable product—with the majority of steel used in construction coming from recycled steel and capable of being recycled once again. And unlike office buildings, restaurants and retail, self-storage facilities consume less energy.

However, there are a handful of self-storage owners, builders and developers stepping up to the green movement, ensuring their products are earth-friendly.

Better Building

As president of San Antonio-based Artistic Builders Inc., Charles Plunkett plunged head first into the green-building movement four years ago. “When I first started this, I thought, ‘How silly is that?’” Plunkett admits. “As time has gone on, I’ve seen the benefits of trying to be a good steward of our environment.”

Artistic Builders has gone the extra mile, taking on projects certified as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) by the U.S. Green Building Council, including an 67,000-square-foot mixed-use development in San Antonio. The company even hired a LEED-certified architect to guide them through the process. “Most people believe it costs a whole lot more money to build a LEED-certified project,” Plunkett says. “But in reality, the additional dollars you spend on a project to make it LEED-certified are realistically about 5 [percent] to 7 percent, depending on the project.”

The additional costs are typically administrative, including extra paperwork and outside consultants to facilitate the process. Plus, developers may also hire a third-party person to confirm the LEED process is completed correctly. “It’s a learning curve, and there’s a lot of management and record-keeping,” says Plunkett, who also stresses it’s important to understand the difference between green building and LEED certification. Being green—using sustainable products, recycling, etc.—is much easier than employing LEED building, which has criteria that must be followed to achieve certification (see “A LEEDs Case Study,” page 106).

Another self-storage developer has discovered a simple way to incorporate green into buildings. American Builders Co. converted the company’s paint systems in May 2007 to cool-pigment systems. “They reflect heat back into the atmosphere, which reduces the heat-island affect. It also keeps the unit cool,” says Wes Brooker, vice president of marketing for the Eufaula, Ala., company.

What You Can Do

When building a new self-storage—or even remodeling an older facility—there are a number green steps you can take. For instance, when installing new products, look for energy-efficient ones, including air conditioning units and lighting.

Another easy way to be green-friendly is being cognizant of not wasting material when building. “You also want to recycle as much of your waste as possible,” Plunkett says.

Artistic Builders places different types of containers at every jobsite to separate recyclable materials, such as metal, cardboard, wood carve and concrete. Recycled concrete can be grinded and used on roads and streets, Plunkett notes. You an also make money by recycling scrap metal. “Why throw that in a landfill when, with just a little more effort, you can actually make a few bucks and save natural resources,” he says.

Foam-panel walls in facilities with climate control save energy and, over time, could be a superior product, Brooker says. “The difference between a fiberglass wall and foam-panel insulation might cost you another 5 percent, but it’s going to pay for itself quickly.”

White-painted roofs are another way to keep buildings cooler. “Even if it’s not climate controlled, a white roof is going to cut down on the heat in those units,” Brooker says. If using a different color, opt for cool paint.

Another breakthrough is humidity control. “It can save you another 20 [percent] or 30 percent in energy costs because you’re not cooling damp air,” Brooker says.

When considering landscaping, look for native plants that require little water. Adding trees and shrubs to the parking lot increases oxygen in the atmosphere and reduces heat islands, Plunkett points out. Also, consider adding water-catching systems, which collect water from rooftops and divert it to plants and flowerbeds.

In fact, handling water runoff is one of six LEED categories in which self-storage can participate, according to Brooker. Still, a major issue for self-storage developers is there simply aren’t enough products that meet LEED standards. American Buildings discovered this when looking for a LEED-certified skylight. “We’ve definitely got the horse in front of the cart,” Brooker says. “We’re ready to do it, but the products aren’t available yet.”

Treasure Trove

When Sitt decided to convert a turn-of-the-century cold-storage facility into an 80,000-square-foot storage facility, he had no idea what treasures he’d find inside. With a desire to recycle or repurpose as much material as possible, he was able to retain much of the building’s glory. “We’re trying to recycle the building, use it and minimize our impact on the environment wherever we can,” Sitt says.

The building contained a copious amount of wood, which was reused whenever possible or given to local furniture craftsman and landscapers. Sitt also chose to keep the building’s original brick façade in place. “I could re-stucco or paint it, but then it would be gone forever,” he says. The facility’s retail store stocks recycled boxes and packing peanuts made from cornstarch in addition to traditional ones.

Sitt chose the most efficient light bulbs and fixtures on the market, and also uses electricity from renewable sources. On the building’s seventh floor, a 200-square-foot area was home to a blower from 1908. Rather than make it rentable space, Sitt let the blower retain its home. “Anyone would say, ‘That’s rentable square footage.’ But I felt it was an artifact. How can you just throw it out?” he asks.

Sitts admits some of his ideas may not make sense. Take the solar-powered water heater he plans to install. “What storage facility uses hot water? None,” he says. “But our bathroom will have hot water. When people hear this and understand it, that’s my marketing.”

In fact, being a green facility is the cornerstone of the facility’s marketing strategy. “When someone makes a decision to store, it’s location, price, convenience and so on,” Sitt says. “We’re changing that. We’re saying, ‘We’re green.’ And we hope that grows.”

Employees—an integral part of the green-marketing strategy—give each new renter a welcome packet containing a CFL light bulb, a reusable tote bag and literature about being green. The accolades are already pouring in. Several customers told Sitt they chose the facility because of its green status.

Not only is Hall Street Storage Sitt’s first foray into green building, it’s also his first self-storage development. Primarily a developer of apartments and condos in the Brooklyn area, Sitt plans to develop at least 15 more green self-storage facilities in the next five years.

Greening the Future

While there’s no question that green is here to stay, at what levels sustainability will impact the self-storage building is still being determined. One factor is government mandates. Developers, already accustomed to stringent building codes and city requirements, will soon face green requirements, too. Recently, legislation was passed, mandating all self-storage buildings in 2010 be 25 percent more efficient. “Anytime a self-storage unit needs to be heated or cooled, these codes are going to apply,” Brooker says.

And while some may think small changes won’t make a difference, they need to think long term, Plunkett says. “There are developers out there who just don’t care. They’re going to continue to do that until someone makes them do it. They’re not looking at what kind of impact it has on the environment, if they’re being friendly to their community, city and country.”

Building green is not a trend or a marketing strategy for Artistic Builders, but a company mission, Plunkett says. “It’s the right thing to do as a partner with the community and in partnership with our environment. We’re committed to it.”

Charles Plunkett will present Green Building Practices for Self-Storage, Thursday, Oct. 9, at the Inside Self-Storage Expo in Nashville, Tenn. For more on this and other seminars, visit www.insideselfstorageexpo.com.

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