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Self-Storage Construction: Structural Piers and Headers

Structural piers and headers, a new construction design, could change the way self-storage facilities are built.

September 11, 2008

6 Min Read
Self-Storage Construction: Structural Piers and Headers

For most investors, self-storage is a return-on-investment (ROI) business, requiring minimization of development, operational and maintenance costs. These are just a few of the many reasons today’s self-storage projects consist of metal buildings and are aligned for easy access while achieving maximum land utilization.

In early years mini-storage was considered “land banking,” or a way to pay the mortgage and taxes on land until urban sprawl caught up with the surrounding area. Once stabilized, most projects quickly became cash producers and provided ROI greater than the sale of the land for an alternate use.

Americans bought more, requiring places to store it all. Mini-storage transformed in the 1990s into self-storage (better public awareness), and most recently into storage centers with retail mixed-use projects. Through all these transitions it has always remained an excellent method of acquiring ROI.

Metal Buildings Lead the Way

The Self Storage Association indicates that more than 2 billion square feet of storage-related buildings have been built or converted in the last 30 years, with more than half completed in the last eight years. This growing demand for buildings of perceived value, yet economical to build, was at the forefront of the storage industry.

The use of metal buildings quickly rose as the material of choice for the construction of these projects. Defining factors include short lead times, quick installation, minimal costs and, above all else, an inexpensive method of construction acceptable to the expanding customer base. Manufacturers of components and value-added engineering companies expanded nationwide to keep up with the increasing demand of self-storage. The search for economy of scale was on, and metal buildings and components was leading the charge.

Now, more than 20 years later, the use of metal buildings and related components is widely accepted for the self-storage industry. A design of vertical metal cee studs, horizontal zee- style purlins, and a metal roof is considered standard for many of today’s projects. Roll-up doors with matching building trim provide aesthetic variance from the standard metal building. The use of galvanized pre-painted steel for exposed components adds durability and longevity to the project’s appearance.

For the contractor or builder, lead times and construction productivity are of great importance. However, the owner is ultimately concerned about maintenance and durability. Metal buildings provide short lead times, componentized erection, strength and rigidity, and an end product with minimal required maintenance.

Many of today’s city officials suffer from “development tunnel-vision,” the ability to only see the negative impact or appearance of a potential new project. Metal buildings of days-gone-by have left a lasting visual impression. Dull aesthetic appearance, faded paint, 90-degree corners and long straight layouts, are all not pleasing to the city planners of today.

A metal-building standard since inception has been the use of three structural 16-gauge, red-oxide studs to form a pier or column between consecutive roll-up doors. Stood vertically and wrapped with a light-gauge decorative panel, these three cees form the structural support for the roof components above. Another red-oxide cee channel is spanned between the vertical columns, providing a weight-bearing surface for the attachment of roof components above the door opening.

Flush with the exterior surface of the pier, these horizontal cees provide attachment points for the application of corrugated pre-painted panels to finish the building side. Provided in matching or complementary colors each with its own corrugation pattern, these metal-building components offer a fast, pleasing, acceptable product. These old designs, although still available today, are no longer considered an industry-standard.

A New Design Emerges

In recent years, another product has been introduced into the metal-building component market, receiving widespread acceptance by city officials and owners alike. Single-piece structural piers, recessed weight-bearing headers and embossed steel in stucco patterns now offer an alternative steel component to the standards of yesterday.

Produced totally from galvanized steel and available pre-painted with an embossed stucco texture or prepared for field-painting to match architectural décor, these piers and headers provide an alternative look, faster erection times and stronger materials to withstand renter neglect.

The vertical structural pier, bolted to the concrete pad between roll-up doors or building entry points, provides a heavy-gauge exterior component that supports the roof structure while providing a damage-resistant component on both sides of the door opening. The structural pier assembly consists of a single-piece smooth or stucco-embossed 16-gauge component, a 12-gauge galvanized base plate anchored to the concrete pad and through-bolted with flush-style bolts to the pier, and a 14-gauge recessed top plate simultaneously through-bolted to the pier and the adjoining structural header.

A recessed single-piece structural header design provides engineered strength to support roof structures for single-story or multi-story projects, as well as aesthetic breaks in a long-building design. With half the quantity of parts to assemble, a metal-building perimeter can be installed in half the time. All structural components bolt together, providing maximum strength while allowing for easier design changes or maintenance requirements after project completion. The advantages include:

  • Faster installation time

  • Hot-dipped, galvanized, heavier-gauge components

  • Smooth or stucco pattern finish, pre-finished or suitable for field application

  • Flexibility of design

  • Low maintenance 

  • Aesthetically pleasing

Tomorrow’s Self-Storage Facility

Perhaps the next generation of metal buildings is already here. Tapered and apex header designs provide maximum strength the entire width of the building. All components are bolted for maximum strength. Structural headers create a continuous flush surface for proper attachment of the roof panels above. An extra-oversized hole is provided by the component manufacturer for other trades to easily run wiring and accessories the full length of the building, minimizing junction boxes or extra materials. Returns are adequate for proper installation of most roll-up doors. Consult your manufacturer for complete specifications.

Many municipalities require concrete exterior walls where the project is visible to the public. A combination of concrete and structural perimeter components can carry the design throughout the project. Roll-over roof design eliminates stop-and-start roofs, moisture access points and costly maintenance. Standing-seam or screw-down roofs simply “roll-over” most standard step-downs in today’s building designs. Single-piece step-down piers provide an exact fit to the concrete application. Using different colors in the décor of the building adds an aesthetic design.

Special flush structural headers are provided for installation of the hollow metal (HM) entry doors. Sizes are available to fit any size HM door, providing a continuous look the entire length of the building. In addition, gutters, downspouts, lighting, cameras and trims attach directly to the structural components.

As the self-storage industry continues to evolve, more innovation in design and construction components are on the horizon. These new methods will lead to better built facilities that will attract customers and complement city landscapes.

Chip Cordes is vice president of U.S. Door and Building Components, an international supplier of self-storage components, rolling-steel doors, wind-load certified doors, and garage-storage and mezzanine systems. Services include engineering, design, bid take-off and unit-mix layout. For more information, visit www.usdoor.com.

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