3 common design challenges in self-storage and how to overcome them

There are many challenges you might face when designing a self-storage facility, but no matter what hurdle you can usually overcome with a little planning. In fact, when faced strategically and with a little imagination, obstacles can often be used to your advantage. Let’s take a look at three common design hurdles and how to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Steep slopes

I like steeply sloping sites because you can use the hill to design a multi-story building with car access. It maximizes profit and even saves money because you don’t need elevators.

For example, at a two-story facility in Auburn, CA, we used the slope to allow car access to both floors. Tenants can reach the upper level from the front of the building or descend a ramp to the lower level on the other side. The advantage is that there is no need for an elevator or stairs, which increases the net rental area. In addition, the lower level is somewhat isolated by the earth, which makes air conditioning much more affordable.

Challenge 2: small lots

Small sites can be very useful for self-storage. In urban and suburban areas, there are usually no longer large lots for large sprawling facilities. Smaller plots provide development options, although you may have to scale up or down to get the acreage you need.

In Whittier, Calif., A developer built a three-story facility comprising 59,000 net rentable square feet on less than an acre, despite several city restrictions. Even with competitors in the area, the property was rented out in just a few months.

Another facility in Newark, California includes over 100,000 square feet of rental space on just 1.96 acres. The three-story, 135,884-square-foot building includes a 2,000-square-foot office to showcase services and amenities, including a workspace where guests can sit with laptops, access the internet and print documents. There is also a conference room. This site even rents offices with attached storage space, similar to executive suites. These have proven to be very popular and are almost always full.

Challenge 3: conversions

Large buildings initially designed for a different use (grocery stores, warehouses, big box stores, etc.) can be converted into very nice self-storage facilities. One of the main advantages is that the cost of conversion is usually much lower than that of new construction.

In Pasadena, California, a developer converted a warehouse to self-storage. The original structure, a small office, was built in 1945; but over time, seven one-story buildings were added. Fortunately, there was enough clearance inside the buildings to create a second story, which significantly increased the square footage. The finished product measures 134,000 gross square feet with 100,000 square feet of net rental space, including 5,000 square feet of high security art storage and 10,000 square feet of wine storage.

Elsewhere in Pasadena, a four-story building with a basement and parking lot has been converted to 123,000 square feet of rental space. Since the commercial building already had an HVAC system, the designer arranged for the entire installation to be air conditioned.

Another option with conversions, especially where there is a large existing parking lot, is to add new storage buildings against the current structure to provide road access in addition to the indoor units. This was done on a project in Hawaii, where an existing metal building was converted to self-storage. The designer simply added doors to the existing exterior at a very low cost, then added two buildings, one with a covered loading / unloading area. The result was 48,000 rentable square feet. The approach has reduced the number of cutouts in the walls, which can be costly.

Overcoming design challenges means thinking outside the box. While there are always sites you just can’t build on, with careful planning, smart strategy, and a little imagination, even tough properties can produce exceptional self-storage facilities.

Kenneth Carrell is the Principal Architect at ARE Associates in Lake Forest, Calif., An award-winning architectural firm specializing in the self-storage industry. For more information, call 949.305.4752; visit www.areassociates.com.

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