Self-storage builders and developers are looking at alternative construction methods to create more energy-efficient structures while minimizing the environmental impact.

July 20, 2009

7 Min Read
Green Building in Self-Storage: Not a Fad. Not a Trend. The Future.

Since the first Earth Day was proclaimed in 1970, protecting the environment has evolved from a grassroots demonstration to a global cause. Individuals, businesses and the government have all taken steps to ensure the planet will be a healthy environment for generations to come. From recycling to alternative sources of energy, the hunt for a green future is on.

With buildings generating 72 percent of all energy consumption in the United States, it’s no surprise that a major focus of the green movement has turned to the development and construction of buildings. Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED), a voluntary building-certification program developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, offers further guidance on creating more energy-efficient structures while minimizing the environmental impact.

In the commercial building sector, self-storage already has many inherent green qualities. Facilities are made of steel, a recyclable product. They use less energy to operate (particularly those that don’t offer climate control), and require few employees to operate. Once built, little waste is produced, compared with an office building, for example.

But while the self-storage industry already has many green aspects and its buildings leave a smaller carbon footprint than other types of commercial real estate, there’s still room for improvement. Some developers and builders are taking up the challenge.

On Rooftops

Many self-storage facilities are already going green by installing solar panels on rooftops to harness energy from the sun. Solar technology has evolved and is now more affordable and available. Plus, there are many government rebates and tax credits available to offset the cost of installation. In some states, most notably Florida, facility owners can even sell excess power the facility generates back to the power company. Solar panels can also be installed on RV and boat carports, a huge boon for developers looking to create future profit.

Another cost-effective element that can be added to rooftops is “COOL” systems or white paint. COOL paints or panels have a special pigment that reflects solar radiation by at least 25 percent. Metal roofs coated with PVDF-based resin can achieve solar reflectance of more than 25 percent, reducing energy consumption by up to 40 percent as part of a total system design, says Wes Brooker, marketing development manager for American Buildings Co. The Eufaula, Ala.-based company offers a number of COOL paint products including SmartKote PVDF premium coatings.

Facilities with climate control will have the biggest advantage, particularly in warmer climates. “Compared to bare Galvalume roof panels, which are used extensively in self-storage, savings in cooling can run as much as 50 percent,” Brooker says. “Another advantage of COOL coatings is they help reduce the heat-island effect by reducing the amount of heat absorbed and held by a building."

New Construction

With the overall green-building market for commercial and residential expected to increase from today’s $36-49 billion to $96-140 billion by 2013, according to McGraw Hill Construction, there’s no denying green building is the new frontier in construction.

“This is not a fad. This is not a trend. This is the future of the world,” says Buster Owens, president of The Rabco Corp., Winter Garden, Fla. Owens’ interest in green building compelled him to become a LEED-certified accredited professional in new construction and major renovations. Owens was also recently invited to participate on the design team for a new Metro Self Storage facility in Murray, Utah.

While Rabco has yet to embark on a full LEED-certified self-storage project, the company is working with customers to bring green systems and products into their designs. It is building a covered parking lot in Knoxville, Tenn., that will feature solar power. Other green initiatives are being considered, including gravel and open-grid pavers instead of asphalt. The project could even qualify for LEED certification points.

In addition, the project’s solar panels will enable the owner to depreciate the structure and the solar panels together, Owens says, decreasing the cost of the overall project. “That’s a big deal, because that’s a big part of the cost of the project. The cost of the structure is significant and that accelerated depreciation is attractive.”

There are also a number of federal and state tax rebates, incentives and credits for new projects with sustainable aspects. “There are all kinds of offsets, especially in renewable energy like solar, to offset some of those costs,” Owens says.

Plus, there are other benefits for self-storage facilities that are built to green standards, including a reduction in operating costs and a higher return in investment (because the value of the building increases). Occupancy ratios typically go up 3 percent as do rental rates, Owens says.

Case Studies

In addition to choosing green materials for new construction, there are other avenues that, with some thought and planning, can lead to a more eco-friendly building. This includes selecting a conversion over a new build, or using products made from a higher content of recycled materials. “These are simple things you can do that don’t cost a lot of money,” says Charles Plunkett, president of Capco Steel and Artistic Builders Inc.

Some builders and developers may soon find they no longer have a choice when it comes to building sustainable projects, as more cities and towns adopt green ordinances. “There are a few cities out there that are ultra-progressive, so there will be pockets that are more stringent with green building,” Plunkett says.

Plunkett came across this firsthand while building a facility in Austin, Texas, four years ago. Because the building was in an affluent area, the owner had to adhere to higher standards. Stor Bee Caves is 100 percent steel with a small footprint, and uses a water-catchment system to irrigate landscaping. The project also included waste-segregation management, a streamlined way to repurpose materials from construction sites.

“You actually separate the waste into containers so everything that can be recycled is and doesn’t end up in a landfill,” Plunkett says.

Similarly, when building Safe & Secure Automated Self Storage Systems in Coconut Creek, Fla., all trash left on the jobsite went to a co-mingle yard and was separated into plastic, paper, wood, cement and dirt materials. The facility, the first fully automated self-storage project, provides direct access to individual units using a patented retrieval machine. “When it comes to energy, we have a huge advantage on the conventional facility,” says Paul Talley, vice president of Automated Self Storage Systems LLC.

Because the building is automated, minimal lighting was installed. Water-efficient products, such as dual-flush toilets and automatic water faucets in restrooms, reduce water usage. And the building’s electric and climate control are on a management system, keeping use on track.

In addition, the developer, Automated Self Storage Systems LLC, made careful choices when purchasing materials for the facility. “We tried to use material with high-recycle content as well as regional materials, things mined or manufactured with in 500 miles,” Talley says.

Future Demand

The demand for green products and services is only going to increase. “Green building is absolutely the thing of the future,” Plunkett affirms.

According to a McGraw Hill Construction Smart Market Trends Report, green building demand in 2008 was $12 billion. In 2010, it’s projected to be $60 billion. There are many reasons for this: government initiatives, the demand from a population concerned about the environment, and improvements in sustainable materials.

While choosing green can often be more expensive, it can also be an effective marketing and sales strategy. A self-storage facility that has some green aspects may be able to win over more customers. “The manager will say, ‘By the way, our facility is green-friendly.’ If everything is equal, that individual may decide to rent from the green facility,” says Plunkett, who likens it to buying an alternative-fuel car or organic foods. “What percentage of the population will do that? I don’t know, but there is a portion of the population that will choose to rent from that facility because it’s eco-friendly.” 

Related Articles:

A Green Future for Self-Storage: Getting on the Eco-Bandwagon

The Eco-Friendly Self-Storage Office: Tips!

Green Building in Self-Storage: Sustainability and Environmentally Friendly Options

Alternative Building Methods for Self-Storage 

Rabco President Owens Receives LEED Professional Accreditation

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