Space-Age Designs, Part II

October 1, 2000

6 Min Read
Space-Age Designs, Part II

Space-Age Designs, Part II

Building self-storage for a new era

By Victor Lopez

The following is part two of a two-part series on the evolution ofself-storage design and site-plan considerations for a new era.

As you may recall from reading part one of this series, the design ofself-storage facilities has undergone considerable evolution from its first generation. Wediscussed that the final evolutionary step in development of the self-storage product isthe quest to develop the most economical, marketable facility possible. Following is amore detailed discussion of self-storage building design and its specific components,including individual design products.

The Metal Grid

In today's industry, the most economical and versatile structural design system forstorage buildings is the 5-by-10-foot light-gauge metal grid. To understand this basicdesign, visualize the typical long and narrow building. At 10-foot intervals along thebuilding length is a load-bearing wall, which consists of metal columns every five feet,connected with metal panels that form the side partitions of the units. At the top of thecolumns, purlins are connected and run the length of the building, supporting the roofpanels. The back walls of the unit are attached to the columns of the bearing walls at thedesired unit depth. This simple design allows for quick construction of the building andalso spreads the weight of the structure evenly across the floor, allowing for a moreefficient and economical design for the foundation.

Additional advantages of the 5-by-10-foot grid system include the variety of optionsfor columns between doors and exterior walls. Columns between the doors can beconcrete-filled block masonry, concrete tilt panels or heavy-gauge metal-finished with atextured paint. These same materials are used for exterior walls and, most often, incombination with dummy door panels or a variety of metal sheathing. For eye-catching curbappeal at the front of the facility, the grid framing can be easily blended with moretraditionally framed exterior walls that support block and brick veneers or stucco.

Don't forget about the options available with coiling doors and the small area abovethe door called the header or filler panel. The most common choice is to use a corrugatedmetal panel like that of the door in the same or a different color. Header panels are alsoseen in various types of metal panels, pre- finished or textured and painted in the field.Finally, the header panel may be required to be a structural component of the building.Concrete-block masonry or concrete tilt-wall panels are commonly used to satisfy therequirement.

Roofing Systems

Roofing systems have also evolved into a more durable and maintenance-free component ofstorage building design. The standing-seam metal roof system has several advantages overthe older screw-down roof. With the standing-seam roof, there are virtually no exposedscrews across the span of the building, eliminating potential leaks from weatheredfasteners. Metal roofing panels are available in the standard galvanized finish or avariety of colors. When properly supported by purlins and the 5-by-10-foot framing system,a 26-gauge roof panel is all you need. Right along with the roof panel is the vinyl-backedroof insulation. This is an integral part of the roof system and serves an importantrole--even in buildings that are not climate-controlled. Without the roof insulation, theunderside of the roof panels are subject to condensation--especially in areas with highhumidity--allowing water to collect inside the units.

Multi-Level Designs

As discussed in part one of this article, more and more of the sites available forself-storage dictate the use of split- and multi-level designs. The advantages to thesedesigns are that they increase net-leasable square footage while reducing the basis forland cost, facilitating climate-controlled square footage and allowing your facility tobecome part of the skyline. The same principles of single-story building design also applyto split- and multi-level storage buildings. However, as your building goes up, you mustconsider some additional parameters.

In split-level storage buildings, there are a few additional design considerations oversingle-story designs. With the exception that you will add interior hallways, the upperlevel and roof system are the same. Retaining walls will be required where waterproofingand backfill are critical components. Load-bearing walls use stronger and/or additionalcolumns to support the second-floor metal decking. This metal decking becomes the floorpan into which the second-floor concrete is poured.

Multi-level storage designs have more considerations, yet they remain extremelycost-effective when compared to most commercial multistory buildings. The need for morehallways and common-area spaces will reduce your coverage of net-leaseable to gross squarefootage to about 72 percent. Fire sprinklers and monitored fire-alarm systems increasebuilding cost and space requirements. Each floor will require control rooms and additionaloverhead space to accommodate piping and sprinkler-head clearances. Elevators also requiremechanical rooms, as well as areas below the foundation and above the roof to accommodatethe shaft. Stairwells and stairs also add cost and consume space.

Storage Building Design Products

Now that we have discussed the framework and exterior walls of storage buildings, let'stake a look at design products that make up the rest of the facility. When designinginterior hallways, there are several factors that can go a long way towards a comfortable,user-friendly atmosphere.

To provide your customer with the best access to his unit, use swing doors for unitsthat are five or fewer feet wide, and roll-up doors for all others. For longer life, lowmaintenance and easy operation, choose a coiling door with axial ball bearings and quicktension-adjustable axles. Wall sections are typically metal panels and, whether they arecorrugated or smooth, a light glossy color should be used for the best light reflection.Consider using mitered corner guards and kick plates to help your hallways from lookingbeaten and worn.

Lightingshould be carefully planned. Well-placed light fixtures should not only illuminate thehallway but also the individual unit while the door is open. This is effectivelyaccomplished by placing fluorescent fixtures every 10 feet on alternating sides of thehall. Finally, corridor soffits offer a very nice finished appearance by concealing airducts and piping, and also provide an excellent option for flush-mounted or recessedlights.

Security products have also experienced significant evolution in this industry. Withsecurity being one of the major reasons your customers will rent at your facility, theseproducts deserve ample consideration. The first impression your security system will makeis with your office control panel. This is the best way to demonstrate your securitysystem is several layers deep. Fencing and entry control gates represent the first layer.The software available for entry control offers a variety of ways to monitor everyonepassing through your gate.

Adding cameras at all perimeter drive aisles and entry gates is your second layer ofsecurity. Place additional cameras at interior hallways and in the front office. Anotherlevel of security that is rapidly gaining popularity is individual unit alarms. These dooralarms have undergone major advancements in reliability and interoperability with thetotal security package. Yet, at a cost of about a dollar per gross square foot, you mightconsider using them in select areas. Wrap up the security system with customerconveniences such as intercoms and music piped into hallways and common spaces.

In conclusion, the evolution of self-storage has taken this industry from hit-or-missbackyard sheds to big business retail stores. Today, as we develop sites and designstorage buildings, we realize our industry compels us to be ever mindful of ways toimprove. Whether it is adding an ancillary business service to the office or using modularaerated concrete components for firewalls, we need to continue designing for the new era.

Victor D. Lopez is vice president of National Development Services Inc. (NDS) ofBulverde, Texas, which has designed and built more than 150 self-storage properties since1980. The company's accomplishments include receipt of the "Facility of theYear" award in 1990, 1991, 1994 and 1996, and the "Design Excellence" awardfrom Mini-Storage Institute in 1992. For more information, visit

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