Advancements in Self-Storage Site Design: Projects Evolve Through Technology Sustainability and More

Self-storage has evolved into a more sophisticated product since the first facilities were built in the late 1960s. Now advanced construction materials, techniques and technology have elevated self-storage facilities into safe and secure places for customers to leave their belongings.

April 23, 2012

5 Min Read
Advancements in Self-Storage Site Design: Projects Evolve Through Technology Sustainability and More

By Kenneth Carrell

Self-storage has evolved into a more sophisticated product since the first facilities were built in the late 1960s, when they werent much more than garages. Now modern materials, new construction techniques and advanced technology have elevated self-storage sites into safe and secure places for customers to leave their belongings. Lets take a look at how facility design has changed to enhance curb appeal and create a more secure and sustainable environment.

Onsite Security

Self-storage security has come a long way since the development of first-generation facilities. The overall facility design, including the placement of buildings, the manager's apartment, the entrance and exit all play a factor.

This aerial shot of Quartz Drive Self-Storage in Auburn, Calif., shows how a fortress-style layout maximizes space and enhances security. One design element that has dramatically changed is the managers residence. Not that many years ago, the facility office had an apartment attached as housing for the manager. It was thought that having staff live on site meant better security for the facility. But that's not always the case, particularly with today's large projects. More and more, the manager apartment is being eliminated.

Instead, facilities are being built with better security systems and components. With more advanced cameras that can record at night and better computer systems to record data, security in modern self-storage can be even better than that of some banks.

Security considerations have also changed the way developers and architects think about the overall facility layout. It used to be that sites were graded as flat as possible to maximize their potential. Now developers try to take advantage the existing site topography. This has an added benefit of insulating a large portion of the building for climate control.

Many developers and architects these days like to surround the site with buildings in a fortress style. This gives you a 12-to-14-foot-high perimeter security wall vs. a little 7- or 8-foot wall. By arranging storage buildings in this manner, potential security breeches to the gate areas are closed.

Site and Office Design Elements

A popular design feature added to many projects is a tower element. This is used to get sign placement up higher for better visibility. An added benefit is the building tower can be used to hide a cell tower. Many jurisdictions don't allow a plain cell tower any more, so incorporating a tower element into the design allows it to be installed and disguised. The potential income from having a cell tower on a self-storage site is tremendous.

New offices are using display units to help customers choose the unit they need. Signage is used to describe what can fit in each size, and retail merchandise is displayed in the units to maximize space. The advantage is the manager doesn't have to lock the office and take the customer out to the back 40 to show him a unit, potentially losing business in his absence. One facility used this feature so successfully that 95 percent of the owner's customers selected their unit from the display.

Energy Efficiency

The hot-ticket item in self-storage design right now is energy generation. With so much bare roofing on self-storage sites, a number of operators are installing solar panels on their buildings, selling excess energy to the local utility.

The recently constructed Quartz Drive Self-Storage in Auburn, Calif., uses a number of energy-efficient practices, including solar panels on the rooftops. The facility also employs a irrigation system that places the water at plants' roots so theres little evaporation.Another growing trend is green roofs, or living roofs, which involve the installation of living plants on the roof top. The benefit is the roof will last a lot longer and reduce the amount of rain-water runoff. Using a green roof in combination with solar panels will improve the efficiency of the panels by helping them stay cooler.

Another trend is the use of recycled materials in the construction of new self-storage facilities. Almost all steel used now in storage buildings has recycled content. Fly ash, a by-product of coal burning, is used in concrete. Various other products contain recycled material as well. And because more people are using recycled products, the cost to produce them is getting cheaper.

There are even advancements in climate-controlled buildings. New high-efficiency HVAC units can control the temperature over a larger area, but sometimes low-tech works, too. A new form of cooling employs an earthtube, a simple device that uses very little electricity. A PVC tube is laid in a long trench under the building, then air from outside the building is pulled through the tube by a fan. Since the temperature of the earth is around 50 degrees, the air is cooled as it's pulled through the tube, thereby cooling the building.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is becoming more important all the time. The benefits of a LEED-certified building or project go beyond the tax breaks. Such a building will run more efficiently, saving money in the long run.

Ideally, LEED certification should be achieved in the early planning stages of a self-storage facility, but it can be accomplished after the business is open and operating. In any case, you don't need certification to enjoy the benefits of an efficient building.

Quartz Drive Self-Storage of Auburn, Calif., incorporated number of eco-friendly features as part of its design. The topography allowed for a two-story, climate-control building. The owner installed solar panels to generate electricity and installed cutting-edge technology in the landscaping. The facility's newly developed irrigation system places the water right at the plants' roots so there is very little evaporation. The HVAC system is a super-efficient heat pump, and the facility includes compact fluorescent lights.

Modern storage facilities incorporate the latest technology into the buildings as well as everyday operation. From the layout and design as well as the use of advanced technology and materials, storage facilities built today provide a high level of security and ease of use.

Kenneth Carrell is the principal architect at ARE Associates in Lake Forest, Calif., an award-winning architectural firm specializing in the self-storage industry. For more information, call 949.305.4752; visit

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