To remain competitive, self-storage developers are looking at non-traditional construction methods and products, including hybrid buildings, wood framing, concrete tilt-walls and design through value-engineering.

September 9, 2008

5 Min Read
Alternative Building Methods for Self-Storage

The hard fact is the price of steel has increased by almost 60 percent since 2007, and economic forecasters predict it will continue to escalate throughout this year. To remain competitive, self-storage developers and builders are looking outside the established construction model for new methods and products.

The Hybrid Building

In response to the skyrocketing cost of steel, Rabco Corp., Winter Garden, Fla., has engineered a hybrid single-story building using wood framing and partition members.  “A year ago, if someone had said we’d be considering using lumber, we would have told them they’re crazy,” says President Buster Owens. “But with the downturn in residential construction throughout the United States, the price of wood is way down.”

The building exterior and roof system will remain steel. Buyers will have the option of a standing-seam roof system or a screw-down type, and the exterior will be sheeted in pre-painted Galvalume and Rabco’s standard pier and header system. The piers and headers can have either a field-applied textured finish or a pre-painted finish.

The building consists of standard 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 interior lumber frame wrapped with steel. “It looks like a metal building on the outside, but is basically all wood on the interior,” Owens says. Rabco’s construction reduces the amount of steel used to build a facility. “If lumber stays at the price it is now, it could be a 20 percent savings,” he adds.

Lumber for building is widely accepted, especially in the Northwest, Southwest Canada, British Columbia and areas where logging is big industry, Owens says. However, the major disadvantage is repercussions from fire departments. “Depending on the municipality, there may or may not be some issues with the fire department.”

Is Wood an Option?

Wood, long a staple in the building trade, is making its presence known in self-storage, says Tarik Williams, vice president of TLW Construction Inc., a Mesa, Arizona-based general contractor specializing in self-storage.

Lumber had not been used in storage since some of the first-generation projects were built decades ago, Williams says. The demising walls on these early facilities were either drywall or plywood, leaving units vulnerable to theft. In addition, wood is combustible and can completely change the fire-protection requirements for a building plus add cost to the project.

“I am not aware of any roof structure that has near the efficiency in cost of the steel roof deck,” Williams says. “We have had owners pursue other options such as wood trusses with plywood deck and asphalt shingles, which ultimately triples the cost of the roof structure.”

Storage can be build from concrete tilt-up walls.

Every time steel prices escalate, the option of using wood framing becomes a hot topic, says L. Bruce McCardle, vice president of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Mako Steel Inc., which erects metal storage buildings across the United States. The company considers the difference in cost between wood and steel framing, but there are other considerations to using wood. Codes, zoning, construction-type requirements and occupancy ratings prohibit the use of wood in some locales, McCardle says. Insurance for a wooden building is often cost-prohibitive. And long-term negative considerations with wood include termites, rot, moisture damage and a shorter lifespan.

For the environmentally concerned, wood is not green, McCardle says. Forests are cut down and habitats are destroyed. The overwhelming majority of steel produced in the United States comes from mini-mills that only use scrap steel for production of new materials, he adds.

The Concrete Consideration

Concrete tilt-walls are strong and can withstand considerable abuse, says Ed Heil, manager of operations and security at Lake Havasu RV & Boat Storage in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. Heil’s 207,000-square-foot facility is constructed primarily of tilt-up concrete.

Although building a concrete facility may result in a savings over metal, some unique properties of concrete affecting the final price should be considered. Construction costs may be increased due to concrete’s density. It is more difficult to drill through concrete than it is to drill through thin metal. Plus, wall perforations for lights and cameras on the exterior can add to the price of the structure. Increased construction prices can be offset by reduced maintenance costs since tenants seem less inclined to run into a concrete wall, and concrete sustains less damage.

An example of a steel storage facility.

The rough exterior of a concrete wall can be smoothed out with stucco. But unless applied properly, stucco can create a mess that is difficult and costly to remove from driveways and fixtures.

Reduced Design Costs

Since the beginning of 2008, Mako’s steel costs have risen about 50 percent, says Caesar Wright, company president. Compounding the problem, even though Mako is typically involved with the client early in the project, it’s not uncommon for eight to 12 months to pass between inception to actual construction. “Take that time and rising construction costs, and creating a budget for lending purposes becomes difficult,” Wright says.

“We are continually researching new ways to improve the design of our building systems,” McCardle adds. Mako performs value-engineering on projects that have already been designed, but it’s always less costly to complete this process before breaking ground. If plans have already been submitted for permitting, the company has no choice but to construct the buildings as they are designed. The only other option is to go through redesign, then resubmit the new plans, which adds even more time and money, McCardle says.

Value-engineering can reveal improvements through small details such as clips, fasteners, anchors, etc. “These may seem insignificant, but when you consider the volume of these items required to construct a storage facility, the dollars add up quickly,” McCardle says.

“In this marketplace, it’s best to keep your eyes wide open,” Wright adds.

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