The Next Level

September 1, 2004

7 Min Read
The Next Level

The Next Level

Multistory gives self-storage development a lift

By Tyson Hermes and Erik Hermes

Theself-storage market has begun to saturate in many areas of the country. As aresult, developers have found it necessary to put facilities on premiumproperty. New developments on highly visible, easily accessible sites are ableto contend with the competition by providing something many first- andsecond-generation facilities cannot: convenient, modern amenities. These do comewith a catch, however: cost. Developers may ask themselves, How do youjustify a traditional self-storage development on a high-priced, 5-acre site?The answer is simple: Dont use 5 acres. Build up, and use less land.

The premium for multistory construction is only slightly morethan that of traditional single-story facilities ($1 to $2 more per square foot,depending on the market and topography). The money spent on elevators,stairwells and sprinkler systems can be offset by less roofing, insulation,asphalt paving, storm-water systems, fencing and land. Amenities that appeal totenantssuch as automatic sliding-glass doors at entrances, motion-sensorlight switches, rounded hallway corners, and digital video recordingcan beadded at relatively little cost. Finally, the high-profile look of a multistoryfacility is more appealing to many planning commissions. It has enableddevelopers to petition municipalities that have previously said they would neverallow self-storage.

The success of a multistory facility doesnt come easily. Itstarts with a good plan on a great site. There are code considerations, designnecessities and increased responsibilities that come with multistoryconstruction. There are also key criteria that should be met. Not all of themare critical, but the ideal site would meet as many as possible.

Site Selection

Easy access, dense local population and a lack of competitionhelp make a facility a success. Some things to look for in a site are:

  • The site should see a traffic count of 15,000 cars or moreper day.

  • The nearest competitor should be at least 3 miles away.

  • There should be higher than average household income withina 5-mile radius of the site.

  • There should be popular retail outlets such as Wal-Mart orMcDonalds within 1 mile of the site on the same street.

Code Requirements

Many important code-related questions can be answered quicklywith the help of a construction manager familiar with the self-storage industry.Some things to ask are:

  • How high will the local municipality allow you to build? Itis preferable to have at least 35 to 40 feet for three floors. Keep in mind, anelevator penthouse usually projects at least 4 feet above the roof.

  • How many floors are allowed? How many square feet areallowed per floor? This depends on state and local codes.

  • What about emergency travel distance? In the event of anemergency, an exit or stairwell must be available to all tenants and employeeswithin 250 feet. Review the footprint of the building to see how many egressstairwells will be required.

  • What is the allowable square footage without a fireseparation? State and local codes will only allow a certain amount of openarea before requiring fire-separation walls.

Design Necessities

Once local authorities accept the site plan, its time towork out the design of the building. Put yourself in your customers shoes. Make the facility inviting and easy to use. The followingitems should be considered:

  • Unit MixThisworks the same as in any self-storage development; however, you want the largerunits to be closer to the entrances (and dock, if applicable).

  • Exterior Access UnitsBesure to include these, as they are still a selling point for many customers.

  • Elevator PlacementOnthe first floor, the elevator will require a 10- by-10-foot shaft and a10-by-10-foot equipment room.

  • HallwaysThelayout should have no more than 150 feet maximum travel distance for customersfrom an entry point to their units, keeping in mind the distance to elevatorsfor upper floors. Traditional facilities are able to attain 75 percent to 85percent rentable space. In a multistory site, 65 percent to 70 percent is morecommon once you account for the rental office, hallways, elevators, stairwellsand mechanical rooms.

  • Climate ControlTheamount of heating and cooled space depends on the local climate. Generally,multistory sites require a higher percentage of climate-controlled space thantraditional self-storage. However, a 100 percent climate-controlled facility will turnaway some customers who dont want to pay for it.

  • HVAC SystemSplit-systemvs. rooftop-units, ducts vs. circulation fans, fresh air requirements andhumidity control are considerations that can affect the floor-to-floor height.

  • Sprinkler SystemThechoices are wet or dry sprinkler systems. Both suppress fires with water. Thewet system keeps water in the pipes at all times. The response in the event of afire is almost immediate. The dry system maintains pressurized air in the pipes.In the event of a fire, water is released into pipes to the activated sprinklerheads. The initial response is delayed by about 15 to 30 seconds. Thesystem selected depends on climate and percentage of heated storage space. Wetsprinklers are acceptable throughout the facility if it is in a climate thatdoesnt freeze or is all heated. More than likely, a dry system will benecessary in the unheated areas to avoid frozen water in the pipes.

  • Office Size and PlacementThisdepends on personal preferences and the retail sales an office generates. Therecent trend is to make the offices spacious, well-lit and inviting with nicefinishes.

  • Gate PlacementCustomersshould be able to access the office without going through the gate. However, thegate should be situated so all who access exterior units must pass through it.

  • WindowsLargestorefront-type windows facing the street are an excellent way of showing thepublic what is inside the building, plus they act as free advertising. Windowsare a necessity inside the facility, especially at the end of hallways or nearelevators, to alleviate the feeling of being in a maze.

  • Color-Coded FloorsSincethe upper floors will likely have the same layout, consider using differentcolors on the unit doors for each floor. Customers tend to remember their doorcolor more than their floor number.

  • Loading AreasDockaccess is convenient for some customers, but not a requirement for most.Providing carts for tenants will make elevator use more acceptable. Allow astaging area and wider hallways near the elevators for tenants moving items tothe upper floors. Review the size of the entrance door and elevator door or anyother pinch points to ensure whatever can fit through the entrance can also fiton the elevator and down the hallways.

Potential Drawbacks

Phasing. With traditionalself-storage, the facility can be constructed one building at a time. This iscalled phasing. The ability to construct the facility in phases allows you tolimit your investment and risk. The unit mix can also be adjusted to match themarket as new buildings are completed. With multistory facilities, phasing isnot possible, as the entire shell of the building must be completed on the firstday of operation. Thus, more cash is required in the beginning for theadditional working capital. In addition, the unit mix and layout should beplanned very carefully because adjusting the units later can be costly.

Schedule. Drawing preparation,permit processing and construction time are longer with multistory building.Allow four to six months for drawing preparation and permits and eight to 10months for construction. The schedule varies greatly depending on themunicipalitys familiarity with multistory selfstorage and the building systemselected.

Managers Responsibilities. Multistorybuildings are more complex than traditional self-storage and, therefore, addgreater responsibility to the managers role. This includes checking wet anddry sprinklersystems, maintaining elevators, inspecting and maintainingsmoke detectors in elevator shafts and ducts, maintaining hallways andstairwells, and securing the facility at the end of each day.

Operating Costs. Multistorybuildings may experience higher operating costs, including utility costs (gasand electric). This depends on the amount of heating, cooling and lighting inthe facility. Elevator maintenance, sprinkler maintenance and yearly inspectionsmay also be higher.

Multistory self-storage is beginning to fill a niche that hasnot previously existed. With proper planning, a good manager and cooperationfrom local municipalities, multistory facilities can be built in communities andcities previously unwilling to allow self-storage. This is done by literally taking self-storage to the next level.

Tyson and Erik Hermes are brothers and owners of HermesConstruction Co. Since 1980, theyve specialized in the design, developmentand construction of self-storage facilities. For more information, call859.781.7198; e-mail [email protected];

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