Movin On Up?

July 2, 2007

4 Min Read
Movin On Up?

Considering a conversion or facility expansion? Self-storage developers can use light-gauge structural steel mezzanines to double rentable space while also seeking to maximize property value.

Existing commercial buildings are especially attractive to developers of self-storage facilities, primarily due to the reduced time and money required to meet local zoning regulations. Often, existing structures have previously complied with zoning ordinances and a second project on the same site can move quickly toward local approvals.

The opportunity for cost savings is further enhanced by including some of todays new light-gauge framing designs in the conversion of existing big boxes into multilevel storage facilities. Doubling the net rentable space significantly enhances the value of the finished project. The quickest method of increasing the bottom line is reducing the costs associated with getting the facility open. This includes all budgetary line items, including materials, installation labor, and the time associated with project completion.

Mezzanine Magic

For doubling space while minimizing costs, light-gauge structural mezzanines are a winner. Engineered on a 10-foot span grid and designed for a 125 psf floor load, mezzanines can be added to an existing building without cutting into the floor and pouring new footers every 10 feet or so. The steel framing is designed to spread out the required loads on the existing concrete, using a top and bottom track of adequate size and gauge to meet the local codes. The elimination of costly cutting, bracing and pouring of new footers saves money and, more important, construction time.

In addition, most mezzanine systems qualify as relocatable racking or storage systems, possibly making them eligible for accelerated depreciation. With increased rental-cash flow, accelerated depreciation, lowered costs and faster completion times, light-gauge steel mezzanines make a lot of sense to todays building owners considering the hot self-storage market as their next investment.

Full and Island Systems

Depending on the owners preference, a full mezzanine system can be configured to fill an entire former big-box building or just a portion of the space. An island system is engineered to maximize the total number of rental units, while only requiring an unobstructed minimum eve height of 15 feet. Using existing HVAC and lighting typically found in former department stores or warehouses, the island system can be joined with enclosed walkways and easily accessed by material lifts, providing convenient passage to every unit. Some inexpensive modifications to the existing HVAC, fire sprinkler and lighting systems may be needed, but such adjustments are still less expensive than purchasing new.

Both systems are quick and easy to install. Most manufacturers offer certified installers; however, the mezzanines can be installed by most contractors familiar with the installation of light-gauge steel framing. In addition to the speed of installation, an initial investment in a mezzanine quickly adds up to higher property values, plus the new storage business is now more attractive to buyers of self-storage facilities.

Where to Begin

The process starts with the mezzanine manufacturers design engineers, who prepare a preliminary unit-mix layout based on the schematic designs of the existing building. The intent is to maximize the net-rentable space, calculating the respective unit quantities based on national demographic averages.

Contractors prefer working with pre-engineered steel mezzanine systems because the design work is completed by the manufacturer. The contractor simply provides the engineers with the projects parameters, including height clearances, column spacing and access points; the manufacturer designs and creates the mezzanine level, storage units, hallways and associated stairs. Life-safety items, mechanicals and code-related items are all that remain with the contractor in a simple mezzanine conversion.

If the timing is right for re-engineering, light-gauge mezzanines provide easy access to increased rentals and profits. As urban areas become wall-to-wall buildings and newly built self-storage facilities must move to the suburbs where land is affordable, consider the empty big-box you pass everyday in your crowded community. Would the location make a great storage site but the building is too small? Maybe it just needs a cost-efficient second level installed to meet the net-rentable space required for a successful venture. A reputable mezzanine supplier can show you how to make it a reality. 

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

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