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Building a Multi-Story Self-Storage Project: Factors to Consider

There are various reasons to build a multi-story self-storage project, including a lack of available land or the high price of land in a particular area. When considering the development of a multi-story facility, there are pros and cons to be considered. Every project must be carefully evaluated for its individual circumstances, and the factors involved can be complex.

There are various reasons to build a multi-story self-storage project, including a lack of available land or the high price of land in a particular area. If you’re considering the development of a multi-story facility, there are pros and cons to be considered. Every project must be carefully evaluated for its individual circumstances, and the factors involved can be complex.
Examining Costs

A multi-story building may cost more per square foot to construct than a single-story. On average, 25 percent of the building’s square footage will be non-rentable space, taken up by corridors, entry ways, staging areas, elevator shafts and stairwells. It’s important to compare the construction costs and lost floor area to those of a single-story facility, which will likely not have the same issues. If a single-story facility incorporates climate control, there will be loss of floor space to corridors, but not normally on the same scale as with multi-story.

It’s generally anticipated that because a multi-story project can be located in a more desirable area, it should be able to demand higher rents. Multi-story facilities usually offer climate control as well, which also translates to a better bottom line. Though multi-story has a potentially higher investment, the higher income may provide a better return when compared to a typical drive-up, single-story project.

Many developers appreciate multi-story building because it offers a higher barrier to entry as well as the opportunity to have a larger investment in a single property. Because the amount of time and effort involved is roughly the same as for a simple single-story project, a multi-story facility seems to maximize that input.
Assessing the Location
Once you’ve determined you have a good market for self-storage, you need to evaluate site factors such as visibility, accessibility and constructability.

Visibility. First, you must evaluate how prospects will see the building. Based on this, the building orientation and presentation become more obvious. A multi-story project can serve as its own signage thanks to its height. It can sometimes be seen over other buildings, and you can consider adding signage to the building itself. Many projects have large windows showing storage-unit doors. When lit at night, this area becomes great signage and immediately helps people identify with your project.

Accessibility. The need for accessibility is no different for a multi-story project than any storage development. Once customers know the facility is there, they need to be able to get to it easily. Make sure there is no property in a more desirable location in that area or en route to your facility, as this can effectively cut you off from the customer.

Constructability. The last basic issue is constructability, which relates to several factors: where you place the building on the site, building orientation, the slope of the property, issues of access, etc. These issues will be unique for each property. 
Construction Factors

The property’s visibility, size and required square footage will help you determine how tall the building should be. Keep in mind that with each story you add, the project’s overall cost per square foot increases.

The combined weight of the structure and stored items accrues with each level and transfers to the floors beneath. The lower floors must be made stronger to support those above. There are additional factors to consider such as wind load (the force of wind acting on the building) and seismic loads for earthquake zones. In addition, it’s more expensive to work in the air than on the ground, and each ensuing level compounds this issue.

If you have a site with a large slope, it’s possible to use it to your benefit. For example, if you have enough room to create a driveway all the way around the building, you could construct a two-story, split-level building. This means you can enter the lower level of the building on one side and the upper level from the other, possibly eliminating the need and cost of elevators, elevator shafts and stairs. Though this design will require retaining walls and water proofing, it can still result in an overall cost savings.

The tallest facility you can build practically for self-storage is four stories above ground. Based on the occupancy classification for self-storage, anything higher than four stories has to be a fire-rated structure. Therefore, if you want to build a six-story building, the two first floors have to be a different type of construction, with a horizontal, fire-rated floor system separating the second floor from the ones above it. The other option is to fire rate the entire structure.

You’ll also be required to install fire sprinklers in any multi-story building of this type. The city may also have certain restrictions on height, and this must be evaluated.

A typical multi-story facility is constructed so the core of the building is self-sustained, meaning the outer walls can be built of almost any material you desire. Some exteriors are less expensive, such as metal wall sheeting; others, like stucco, are much more expensive. There are many other options for the exterior: concrete masonry unit, brick, exterior insulation finish system, glass curtain wall, or a combination of these products.

The sky is the limit when it comes to design, thanks to all of these options. In many instances, the design can help you get approval from an architectural review board, local homeowners, the city or another governing body.

The design and construction of multi-story storage has come a long way in the last few years. The creativity expressed by many projects is nothing short of spectacular. From projects that look like high-end office buildings to others that look like residential apartments, the opportunities are limited only by imagination.

Before you build, consider all of the factors involved in an important development of this nature. This is best achieved by working with a team that fully understands these issues.
Charles Plunkett is president of Artistic Builders Inc. and CEO of Capco Steel Inc. He has presented numerous construction-related seminars and been featured in several self-storage publications. His experience includes welding, fabrication, steel erection and general contracting as well as the design, development and construction of commercial projects including self-storage. To reach him, call 210.493.9992; visit

To learn about self-storage construction and development, take advantage of the comprehensive education program at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo. Click here for show details.

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Multi-Story Self-Storage on the Rise in Canada

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Self-Storage Talk: Urban vs. Rural in Self-Storage

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