Climate Control

September 1, 2004

7 Min Read
Climate Control

Climate Control

Keep it simple

By Bert Brown

In business, it can be good to thinkoutside the box. The thing to keep in mind, however, is the importance ofknowing when to venture forth with new ideas and when to keep things simple. Inself-storage, the area of climate control should remain uncomplicated. While theheating and cooling of buildings may seem like a no-brainer, events can turn totrouble when simple is removed from the equation.

Let me relate a story to demonstrate how seemingly ingeniousschemes can quickly turn to disaster. Most everyone has had at least one closeencounter at which they look back in wonder at having escaped without the lossof life or limb. For me, the first such incident occurred when I was about 8years old.

Like most of my near-death antics, this one took place with mybrother, five years my junior, at my side. We grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta,in what most would consider the country. Our father kept a garden, and everyspring before tilling the soil, he would burn off the remnants of the previousyears growth. I was captivated by his annual ritual. And during this particular year, after hearing my fatherremark to my mother about his plans to burn off the garden, I was eager to help.

With my little brother in tow and my father away at work, Ibegan planning the job. The same ingenuity that caused me to disassemble mypresents before my parents awoke on Christmas morning must have been what led meto use my fathers sprayer for the easy application of gas to start the fire.While my father traditionally used a cup or two of gasoline to start it, I musthave used several gallons. I ignited the garden by throwing a lit newspaper,just as I had seen him do. The plot burst into quick flame and went out. My8-year-old mind theorized that I must need more gas!

I renewed my efforts with the sprayer; and all was fine until I lit upon one small, smoldering twig.Suddenly, I was desperately running for safety, pulling my little brotherthrough walls of fire. The smell of burnt hair is something you never forget.Neither is the memory of your brother looking up at you with big, buggy eyes,eyebrows singed and hair frizzled to a powder.

At that point, I remembered the pressurized metal gas can wasstill in the burning garden. Thinking of it as a bomb that would level the houseand maybe the neighbors, I dashed back and grabbed it. Later, I buried it deepin the woods to hide the evidence. Surprisingly, I never heard a word about it from my parents.Perhaps one thought the other had taken the task (though I have no idea whatthey thought of my brothers eyebrows and hair!). I managed to escape with mylife and without reprimand. But looking back, had I just kept it simple, theexperience could have been far less terrifying.

The Importance of Trained Professionals

The most common problem in climate- controlled self-storagefacilities is a failure to keep things simple. HVAC systems are oftenover-engineered, making them inefficient and expensive to maintain. A properly designed system can provide a significant return toa site developer by decreasing his initial investment as well as operating andmaintenance expenses. Increasing profits by decreasing overhead will have direct and positive impact on the overallvalue of a project.

The simplicity of climate control must start with a qualifiedHVAC contractor or engineer. Unfortunately, many architects, engineers and contractors lackthe skill and knowledge to properly calculate loads and size equipment for thevarying needs of self-storage. While many contractors are experienced in installing a typicalresidential or commercial system based on rules of thumb, many are not qualifiedto engineer a system specific to our industry. A qualified professional will befamiliar with ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America) Manual N,commercial load calculations, which covers important principles such as heattransfer, R-values, U-values, air infiltration and lighting as well as physicalcharacteristics of a structure.

Consider All Angles

In a little town in north Georgia is a house my family sold tothe Atlanta Historical Society some years ago. It served as a hospital to Uniontroops during their march to burn Atlanta in the Civil War. I recently visitedthe house for a family get-together on an extremely hot, humid day. While there,I could not help but notice how comfortable it was inside. While the house hadno form of air conditioning, it was a comfortable retreat from the miserableSouthern heat. Much thought had been put into its design. The builder hadlearned by the art of trade to consider common wind and weather conditions,landscaping and tree coverage, and characteristics of the structure that couldcontribute to creating the most comfortable environment possible.

In self-storage, it is important developers ensure similarconsideration is given to the HVAC design during project development. While finding a qualified person to complete the Manual N loadcalculation is a first step, it is equally important the designer be familiarwith the needs of your particular site. Be sure to clearly define the desiredresult. Even if the engineer professes experience in the industry, dontassume he is familiar with the unique requirements of climate-controlledstorage.

Climate Control for Marketing

Climate-controlled storage is not defined by a constant,maintained temperature. The typical range is from 55 degrees to 83 degrees. Thepurpose of climate control is to eliminate the exposure of stored goods toextreme climactic changes in theenvironment. Of course, any operator can change thistemperature range to suit a specific marketing purpose.

One example of this might be in the case of pharmaceuticalclients. Some of these tenants products have a limited temperature range forstorage. You might want to accommodate these customers by narrowing your definedtemperature window in some units. Take into consideration, however, whether doing so willdrastically affect your utility expenses and if the revenue generated willjustify the increase. If so, the temperature adjustment might serve as apromotional tool to satisfy a specific market.

For some operators, humidity is the most important andchallenging condition. As a general defining rule, a storage buildingsrelative humidity should be kept below 50 percent to deter mold and mildewgrowth. A variety of people and goods will be moving through thefacility and, coupled with air movement, that could introduce mold spores to theenvironment. While this cannot be avoided, a well-maintained facility willsustain proper humidity levels, controlling the moisture on which mold thrives.


A significant issue yet to be discussed is air-handling. Because of the wide temperature range used in self-storage, itis very common to over-engineer the duct work for conditioned and return air.This is a common area of unnecessary expense, as minor temperature changeshotor cold spotsshould not be of great concern. Remember, the desired result issimply to keep all areas within the acceptable temperature range.

However, do not overlook the need for air movement throughoutthe entire area. Most industry partitioning and hallway systems provide gapsthat allow air circulationusually a typical 8-inch gap between the hallwayand divider system and ceiling. These gaps should be noted and used for aircirculation in the facility design. Air-handling is paramount in controllinghumidity.

While many residential homes require 1 ton (12,000 BTU) ofcooling capacity for every 700 square feet, self-storage usually requires 1 tonper 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. (This is only a general rule of thumb.) When youdownsize the HVAC unit, it must move a greater volume of air. This requireslonger, fewer cycles, which are less burdensome on the equipment, helping toextend its life and minimize maintenance. The greater volume of air also allowsmore moisture to be removed during the cycle period, allowing betterdehumidification. Finally, because more power is required to start and chargethe system during every cycle, a typical HVAC unit is more efficient whenoperating 70 percent of the time during run season.

At the Very Least

For most developers, this is very rudimentary information. Thepremise behind it is you can achieve desired results via extremely simple means.A system can be straightforward in conception, so long as it has balance in itsdesign.

By defining the requirements for climate-controlledself-storage to a qualified mechanical engineer or contractor, you are shaping acrucial part of the project success. There is a substantial return to berealized in the planning of the mechanical system. The designer should provideyou many options, but once he understands the desired result, decisions will befewer and of lesser consequence.

When I was eight, I achieved my goal and burned off thegarden. While I escaped serious injury, the methods and equipment I useddemonstrated my inexperience and poor judgment. I placed myself at a greaterrisk than necessary. At best, I should have been older and wiser; at the veryleast, I should have kept it simple.

Bert Brown is director of marketing for Janus InternationalCorp., which manufactures a complete line of storage-facility components,ranging from roll-up sheet doors to self-supporting hallway systems. For moreinformation, call 770.562.2850; visit

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