The self-storage industry has been evolving steadily for the past 35 years, but a seismic shift created by the coronavirus pandemic will no doubt result in changes to facility design and operation moving forward. Architects and developers must lead the way in creating healthier facilities, and they can take some valuable lessons from the healthcare industry. Let’s examine some ways in which storage buildings will likely be influenced.
Though in-person, self-storage interactions aren’t as intense as in healthcare, hospitality and retail environments, the business model does entail the storage of personal belongings. Many items could be exposed to mold spores, viruses, bacteria and other forms of allergens. One of the best strategies to contain airborne microbes is through enhanced ventilation systems. For example:
- Increasing the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers) standard for lowest minimum ventilation rate is beneficial.
- Increasing the fresh air flow from 20 cubic feet per minute to 40 greatly cleanses the air quality.
- Upgrading air-conditioning filters from a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value of 8 to 13 should be considered. Using denser filters (higher value number) greatly reduces the risk of transporting infectious airborne diseases. While higher-quality filters cost slightly more and require more energy to push air through, the health benefits to self-storage employees and tenants outweigh the extra costs.
Germ-Killing and -Resistant Materials
Germicidal ultraviolet (GUV) light should be used in high-traffic areas to eradicate undesired micro-organisms. It should also be used in ductwork to kill airborne germs before they reach customers and staff. The healthcare industry has been using GUV lighting for many years to help create healthier environments.
Copper and copper alloys resist viruses four times better than stainless steel or chrome. Copper-infused products can be used for items such as countertops, water fountains, door hardware and faucets. The healthcare industry has been using copper for many years, due to its germ-resistant and medicinal qualities.
While public spaces and common-touch areas are fairly minimal in a self-storage environment, design simplicity promotes the perception of cleanliness. The storage industry has been a leader in using simple materials, like polished concrete flooring, which eliminates places for germ hibernation.
Furniture surfaces should be seamless and easy to clean. Fabrics, carpets and blinds should be avoided, along with clutter in the management office.
Moving toward a touchless mindset will be important. Many self-storage operators are increasing their use of automation and other technology to offer contract-free rentals. For those who prefer a human touch, video tools like Facetime and Zoom are strong options for offering personal interaction without physical proximity. Down the road, even holographic communication will be refined for better commercial applications.
For multi-story sites, developers should consider elevators equipped with foot pedals rather than control panels that are pushed by hand. This design could be especially useful in self-storage, as tenants are often carrying boxes and other items and have trouble reaching the buttons.
All facility entry points should have automatic doors. New mobile apps can also allow tenants to access the facility gate and their unit door without touching keypads, keys or locks. Automatic roll-up doors should be considered to further enhance the touchless environment. For the facility restroom, there are motion-controlled faucets and hand driers.
Robotics are the wave of the future and will receive a large boost in popularity and affordability due to a new collective focus on cleanliness and healthy buildings. The healthcare and hospitality industries have been experimenting with them for years. They should be considered as new self-storage facilities are designed and existing properties renovated.
Robots can range from very simple to extremely complex. Floor-cleaning options have gained popularity for residential use and will be rapidly moving into commercial applications. A GUV-equipped robot can roam the aisles of a storage facility at night, zapping bacteria and viruses. Robots can even be designed to greet customers at facility entry areas and help in transporting belongings to storage units.
One day, most sites will be completely automated, eliminating human contact entirely. Believe it or not, robotic storage facilities are already gaining traction. They can allow for up to 25 percent more net rentable storage area and reduce operational costs. Such is the case at RoboVault Self Storage in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. At that facility, tenants don’t go to their units. Instead, the unit is automatically delivered to an enclosed portal, where it can be safely accessed before being returned to the warehouse.
The Future Is Now
Self-storage operators should start employing strategies now to make their buildings healthy. Many tools and processes can be implemented immediately with very little capital expenditure. Other improvements can be phased in during minor or major renovations.
Healthy-building certifications are already becoming popular, similar to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications for environmentally friendly architecture. A Well Certification from the International Well Building Institute can be awarded to indicate that a building is designed for well-being and consumer protection. To stay competitive, self-storage owners and developers must make health and safety a priority in facility design.
Stephen Overcash is principal of design at Overcash Demmitt Architects (ODA), which specializes in master planning, architecture and interior design. Based in Charlotte, N.C., ODA has provided architectural expertise in self-storage, office, hospitality, mixed-use and interior spaces throughout the eastern United States for more than 35 years. It’s designed more than 20 million square feet of self-storage. For more information, call 704.926.3369, e-mail [email protected]; visit https://oda.us.com.