Green Case Study: Highlands Self Storage Strives for Net-Zero Energy

Highlands Self Storage in Franklin, N.J., is using solar panels to offset its electrical costs. Learn how the owners achieved a “net-zero” energy-efficient building that includes wine storage.

April 25, 2015

4 Min Read
Green Case Study: Highlands Self Storage Strives for Net-Zero Energy

By Derek M. Smith

A little more than six years ago, Jonathan Brett and his wife, Allison, began their journey toward financial security and independence when they began construction of Highlands Self Storage in Franklin, N.J. Little did they know their simple dream would develop into a unique, revolutionary standard for self-storage facilities specifically and businesses in general.

“We said when we retired, our goal was to buy a motorhome and see the country,” Brett recalls. “What business could you run from the motorhome?”

Self-storage offered the potential income that would allow them to depart from their full-time jobs, become their own bosses and pursue their dream of travel. Unfortunately, the market in 2008 seemed to conspire to turn their dream into a nightmare, and the couple struggled to get the facility built.

“Everything went crazy,” Brett says. “One of the things Ally and I learned is that we are not builders. It was horrendous building the first phase! For four years, we didn’t sleep.”

Financial fluctuations, contractor difficulties and other issues were constant roadblocks. Upon completion of the first two buildings (phase one), the Bretts didn’t expect to proceed with a second phase. But in time, the pain of the initial construction became more distant, and Jonathan felt it was time to expand. This time, however, he wouldn’t be content with just another traditional storage building. He intended to offer something distinctive to his patrons—wine storage.

Highlands Self Storage in Franklin, N.J.

Expanding the Plan

“There are a lot of wineries and approximately nine different wine clubs here,” Jonathan explains. “The next town over has the third-largest wine cellar in the country. The residents here love their wine. They have all this wine and no place to put it.”

Thus, the decision was made to build a state-of-the art, climate-controlled wine-storage area into the new building. The choice appeared insightful, as a waiting list developed for space before construction even began. “In this area, it’s truly a unique facility,” Jonathan says. “There’s no storage facility in this area that has it.”

The entrance to the wine-storage areaPower costs for running the building looked to be potentially expensive. The Bretts had installed solar panels on the first two buildings, so Jonathan felt confident that adding solar to the new wine-storage building would be the right call. He called on Kautz Construction Co. in Lancaster, Pa., and its subsidiary, KC Green Energy LLC, to construct the building and offer solutions to meet its energy needs.

This time, they decided to go a step further, aiming for the solar to provide the all of the building’s power. “Everything in it is run on electric generated by the solar. It’s a net-zero facility,” Jonathan says.

The solar panels that create “net-zero” energy consumptionAnother bonus: The net-zero building manufactures more energy than it uses. It’s self-sustaining and has a back-up generator in case of power loss during an emergency. Such buildings are being hailed by experts as the next step in environmentally responsible construction.

The benefit of such a facility was readily apparent after its completion and the required month of operation on the local power grid. “We had to turn the electric on for a month before we could hook the system up,” explains Gordy Kautz, general manager of Kautz Construction. “They had to see actual consumption in a month before they would let us commission the system so they knew we were sized correctly and they would let us fire it up.” The bill for one month’s operation was more than $3,000.

Brett’s dream of financial independence was solidified by the pillar of energy independence, allowing him to look to further expansion. The sleepless nights of apprehension are a distant memory, and the future appears brighter through innovative construction. “Life is good,” Brett says. “I’m sleeping fine now.”

Derek M. Smith is a freelance journalist with more than 18 years of photojournalism and broadcast-journalism experience with the U.S. Army Reserves. A veteran with numerous deployments, he has been published in numerous military and civilian publications and is a regional Emmy awardee. To reach him, call 717.687.0703; e-mail [email protected].

Kautz Construction Co. is a general contractor specializing in energy-efficient building practices. The company also has a green-roofing division and a wholly owned company, KC Green Energy LLC, which specializes in solar-photovoltaic installations and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems including geothermal. For more information, e-mail [email protected]; visit

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