Building an Expensive-Looking Self-Storage Facility Without All the Expense

While some new self-storage developments might have the look of a high-class hotel, a simpler design can be nonetheless appealing and attract tenants. Heres a look at some simple ways self-storage developers can achieve a high-end look without breaking the bank.

Steve Hajewski

September 16, 2013

7 Min Read
Building an Expensive-Looking Self-Storage Facility Without All the Expense

As you read the trade magazines, you probably cant help but notice that the bar has been raised for self-storage. Some large multi-level facilities have lobbies that look like those of high-end hotels. But the reality for most new projects is far more modest. Across the United States and beyond, basic single-story buildings with a low-pitch roof remain the workhorse of the industry. Economic to buy, easy to build and adaptable to the available land, the majority of sites use these buildings.

As storage developers look to build in more prominent locations geared toward commercial or retail development, planning commissions are requiring them to step up their game to build more attractive sites. This isnt a bad thing, as curb appeal can be an important factor in your customers decision on where to rent. The good news is with the right planning, those value-oriented, single-story buildings can still play a major role in an attractive site. With that in mind, heres a look at some approaches to achieve a high-end look without breaking the bank.

Buy the Land Right

Before we talk about the buildings, lets back up and consider the land purchase. As you look for land, prices can be all over the board. Location is critical, but also consider the value of existing infrastructure. For example, if you need to build a pond for storm-water retention, you could be looking at expenses into the tens of thousands of dollars, not to mention the extra time to engineer and excavate. A more expensive parcel of land with infrastructure in place may actually be less costly overall.

One pitfall a developer can face in buying land is to go too far into the process without having an accepted offer in place. You dont want to close on a land purchase until youre certain the municipality has granted A parapet wall like this one at Self-Storage of Brookfield in Wisconsin extends beyond the roofline to create the illusion of a more substantial building. In this example, faux windows and a combination of brick/stone panel have also been applied to the end wall. permits to build. Dont spend any significant amount of money on site design or engineering until you have an offer to purchase accepted by the seller, and you give yourself enough due-diligence time to arrange details such building plans, permits and financing. Check with your local municipality to determine the permitting timeframe. It will probably take longer than you think.

Add a Façade

One of the easiest ways to dress up a basic building is to add a façade to an endwall. These can also feature parapet walls (those that extend taller than the roofline) to give a building more visual interest or conceal a roofline. Some common finishes to apply at an endwall are faux stone, brick or stucco. When choosing a finish, consider the maintenance expense over time. Additionally, consider the weight and its impact on your foundation design. Faux brick works with a floating slab, but real brick would generally require a more costly foundation design.

As you choose a finish, think about the size of the area in which you will apply it. The faux-brick panels look best on larger areas, but dont have a realistic appearance when applied to smaller areas such as jambs and headers. A few strategically located sections of a premium finish will go a long way toward improving the curb appeal of the site.

Consider the Managers Office

If containing costs is a top priority, then an office is likely not part of the plans. But if youre building one, a small office can be the centerpiece of the site. Rather than apply architectural finishes, high-pitched roofs or other expensive treatments to the large storage buildings, use them on your office. The office is generally one of the most visible elements of the site, but usually not particularly large. Tie the site together visually by using the same finish in a few small locations elsewhere on the site that are visible from the street.

East Milford Self-Storage in Milford, N.H., consists of basic 3:12 pitch storage buildings. The office features stone wainscot and a full glass door, and is further set apart from the remainder of the structure by a slightly taller roofline.

If youre like me, you appreciate good design when you see it. But I know my limitations. When it comes to picking out what finishes and colors look good together, I get mixed results. If you want the look of a site with an architects touch without the expense, ask your building supplier to show you some of its best-looking projects and use that as inspiration. Or, identify attractive commercial structures on other retail Boulders from the site at Melrose Mini Storage in Manchester, Md., were repurposed to create an attractive sign for the and find inspiration for colors and materials.

Include Landscaping

You might have to include landscaping to get approval from your local planning commission. Even if its not a requirement, its still a good idea as its a low-cost element that can add curb appeal. Scope out home-improvement and warehouse retailers for special buys, particularly in the spring.

In creating a landscape plan, consider not only upfront cost but long-term maintenance. In planting beds, use rocks over a weed barrier instead of mulch. Select climate-appropriate shrubs and plants to minimize the need to water. Add punch to the site with perennials that come back year after year.

Get the Little Details Right

Of course there are many more details, each deserving special attention, including:

  • Security cameras. Theres no reason to not have cameras. The hardware and technology is very affordable, and their presence will give you an edge over competitors without cameras. 

  • Swing doors. Many sites feature some type of metal-swing doors. These doors tend to ship in primer white. Paint them to match your wall or the color of your roll-up doors for a more finished look. 

  • Office doors. Commercial-grade doors usually feature large glass sections with a narrow aluminum frame. If youre on a tight budget and choose a residential-grade door, go for at least one with a large window and paint the metal portion of the door to match or complement the building. Nothing says go away like a rusty (or yellowish faded plastic) door from the home center with a $10 knob.  

  • Office windows. Many sites skimp on size and quality of windows on the office. There probably wont be many windows in the rest of project, so go big and make an impact here. 

  • Lighting. Install enough lighting to keep the site feeling bright and safe. Consider whether LED lights are worth the investment. Equivalent output sodium or CFL lights can be had for far less money and are easily replaceable in the future as LED technology improves. 

  • Flowers. Just a few flowers around the entrance can make a big impact. Consider adding a basket, pot or window box near the office to give it a more welcoming feeling. 

  • Unit numbers. Stickers are commonly used to provide unit identification. But if youre looking for something that provides a finishing touch, check with your local trophy or engraving shop and have small plaques made instead. These will resemble room numbers at a hotel.

Creating a landscaped entrance to a basic site greatly enhances the appearance of the facility. Heceta Self Storage in Florence, Ore., also renovated an existing small home that was on the land to create a welcoming office.

Using a few of these ideas can make an otherwise ordinary site shine, and the incremental cost should be offset by the increased occupancy that comes with having a more attractive self-storage facility. As you design your next site, think about how combining basic buildings with a few smart upgrades can transform the overall look. I hope that you find a few of these ideas to be useful on your next project.

Steve Hajewski is the marketing manager at Trachte Building Systems, which designs, manufactures and erects a full line of pre-engineered and customized steel self-storage systems, including single- and multi-story, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and canopy boat/RV. Hes also a frequent contributor on Self-Storage Talk, the industry's largest online community. For more information, call 800.356.5824; visit .

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