Factors to Consider When Building Multi-Story Self-Storage

When contemplating development of a multi-story self-storage facility, there are many factors to carefully consider. This article explores some of these factors as well as the benefits of a multi-story structure.

August 11, 2012

7 Min Read
Factors to Consider When Building Multi-Story Self-Storage

By Charles Plunkett

When contemplating development of a multi-story facility, there are many factors to carefully consider. This article explores some of these factors as well as the benefits of a multi-story structure.

There are many reasons building a multi-story facility can be a tremendous and rewarding option for a self-storage owner. In many urban areas, land may be in short supply or a developer may not be able to put together a large enough parcel to construct a traditional single-story facility. The cost of land in some areas may simply make it prohibitive to purchase enough property. In addition, there are situations where going vertical is a matter of helping your facility be more visible in a sea of larger buildings.

One of the first things that must be considered is how to be efficient in your design. Some design considerations include:

  • Where is the property located?

  • What is the visibility exposure?

  • What is the shape of the land?

  • What is the traffic flow?

The size of your building should always be dictated by two important factors: How many square feet you want to place in this market and what the unit mix should be. Maximizing the efficiency of the building footprint is seemingly an exercise in reverse. First, determine the amount of square footage and the unit mix, and then you can begin to layout various versions of the structure on the available property and see how it best fits.

This exercise is tempered by many elements. What are your mandated setback requirements for the front, side and rear yards? In addition, many cities have special requirements for landscaping, which can include buffer zones or the placement of trees for parking-lot shading. There can be easements or encumbrances on the property that further restrict the area where youre able to build. You also need to consider the driveway around the building, parking requirements, areas designated for unloading at the elevator lobby, fire-lane access, customer parking, any required special features, and other pertinent items.

3009 Self Storage in Schertz, Texas shows how developers can maximize site layout with available land and use the building for signage. The doors are visible through the glass windows.Another item to consider is the topography of the land. If you have a piece of property that has a lot of slope, you might consider a split-level loaded building. This means tenants will enter the first floor on one level, and drive up or down to the next level and enter from the opposite side. If youre constructing a two-story building, this can possibly eliminate the need for elevators or stairs, an important factor since an elevator typically costs in the neighborhood of $100,000 when all is said and done. In addition, this design can save the rentable space required for these elements.

Determine all your necessary design requirements, place them on the site plan, and see what you have left. Needless to say, completing a properly designed site plan can be an overwhelming task. This process should involve the services of specialists. Your team may include architects, civil engineers and others who are highly versed in the development process.

Climate Control and Square Footage

Certainly a major factor to be considered is the amount of the facility that should be climate-controlled vs. ambient. Most multi-story facilities are climate-controlled in the interior portion of the first level and on all upper levels.

For those new to the concept of climate-controlled space, its important to realize that as a general rule, 25 percent of the building is non-rentable space. This space is consumed by corridors, stairwells, elevator shafts, the equipment room, mechanical closets, etc. With this in mind, you have to back into the gross square footage required to achieve the net rentable square footage desired. This is accomplished by taking the desired rentable climate-controlled space and dividing by .75.

For example, if you desire 60,000 square feet of net rentable climate-controlled space, you have to begin with 80,000 square feet. Now add to that the square footage you believe youll be able to place on the ground level as ambient space. Then take the sum of those two figures and divide by two for a two-story building, three for a three-story building, and so on. This will give you a quick sketch of the size of the footprint required to achieve the square-footage goals.

Adhering to Building Codes

Spring Self Storage in North Houston, Texas, is an example of great building signage. Fronts on a major interstate and the design and colors are ideal for grabbing attention.In the past, there were several different building codes used across the country. That has changed. To the best of my knowledge, all municipalities now use a consolidated system known as the International Building Code (IBC). Most building departments are now using the 2009 version of that code.

With the occupancy classification for self-storage, a building more than three stories high is required to be a fire-rated structure. This means youre not able to use light-gauge framing for  construction, as its too difficult and completely impractical to fire rate the entire building. The alternative is to build a heavy-steel-frame building with long-span members and fire-spray-proof each member supporting the structure, or a complete concrete structure skeleton.

In most cases, this is cost-prohibitive for the rent youll be able to effectively charge for the facility. A few cities are still using the 2006 version of the IBC, which allows the use of light-gauge framing. This type of system has been used effectively to construct four-story buildings and, in a few limited cases, five-story ones.

Signage and Visibility

One of the most important features of a multi-story building is it creates its own signage. Because of this, its important to design the facility in such a manner that its attractive, gets prospective tenants attention, and keeps in style with the surrounding community.

Unless its prohibited by zoning or some other special requirement of the governing authority, most multi-story facilities feature large expanses of glass displaying roll-up storage doors in the upper levels. These doors are normally highlighted by lights at night, thereby drawing the attention of passersby. This makes the building readily recognizable as a self-storage facility. This can be effective in spite of zoning requirements that may prohibit the project from appearing like traditional self-storage facility, possibly even prohibiting unit doors from being visible at ground or street level.

Budgeting the Project

Austin Highway Self Storage in San Antonio displays its name on the front of the building in a big way. Budgeting for a multi-story facility can be a daunting task and is best left to a seasoned professional. For conversational non-specific terms, take the cost of a single-story project and add at least $2 per total floor area per additional floor ($2 more for a two-story and $4 more for a three-story per total floor area), plus approximately $100,000 for each elevator and $10,000 for each level of stairs. Other considerations include any special exterior or architectural features on the building and other extraordinary requirements. This will get you a rough starting point with respect to construction costs.

Multi-story construction can be an exciting and rewarding development, but it does require careful consideration and the assistance of qualified professionals.

Charles Plunkett is founder, owner and CEO of San Antonio-based Capco Steel Inc, has constructed hundreds of self-storage facilities nationwide, totaling more than 50 million square feet over the last 27 years. This has included countless multi-story facilities. For more information, call 210.493.9992; visit www.capcosteel.com.

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