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Designing a Self Storage Facility – How to Select your Design Team

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Designing and developing a profitable self storage facility requires much more than picking the perfect location and unit mix. The vendors you select and the team you work with can impact decision making and impact the bottom line.

In the early years of self-storage, many facilities simply consisted of single-story, garage-style structures built from a flat slab with concrete block walls and simple wood-truss roofs. Today, with a scarcity of available land, many self-storage owners and investors are building multi-story units that are climate controlled and energy efficient. Materials being used are very different as are the requirements for new construction and building codes, especially those mandated by new standards of energy efficiency.

However, before you build or start down the design planning road, it is imperative that you engage a company to do a market feasibility study. This is a critical first step since most investors and developers want to know if the property will be profitable before going into the design phase.

Once your market feasibility study is complete, the Forge team will provide a complimentary site layout in this preliminary phase of the project. This site layout can then be turned into AutoCAD drawings so the architectural team can make any necessary updates and incorporate these into the architectural set of drawings (see below).

The Design Team

So, who are the key players you will need in your design team? Below we outline the major vendors and how they will contribute to the development of the most aesthetically pleasing, profitable, and cost-effective self-storage facility.

  • The first key player on the design team is the architect. They will take a concept and move it into detailed and actionable plans. The architectural drawings provide information to other trades on exactly how the building should be built. The architect may also create elevations, and/or renderings that may be required for the initial design approval by the municipality.Beyond creating the architectural drawings, the architect can take the lead when working through the entitlement process. They will work directly with the municipality to get the approval needed to move forward with the project, as well as, knowing exactly what will be required and be permitted for the project. Although not all jurisdictions require an architectural set of plans, there are some drawings that may be required, such as life safety plans for climate-controlled buildings. The architect is also the individual that would provide any energy analysis that may be required.
  • The next key team member is the structural engineer. They are imperative to ensure that the building and the foundation are structurally designed and will meet all code requirements that jurisdictions have adopted.Additionally, a structural engineer will also work on all components of the building individually to determine all the possible forces that could be acting upon your structure – vertical loads; lateral loads; stresses; seismic; snow load; wind load. Knowing this will ensure that all materials used and the way they are constructed together are going to be strong enough to withstand all forces (external and internal) applied to the building, as well as their ability to withstand their own weight.
  • Finally, the civil engineer is the team member that works with the Earth itself. They can provide soil reports and topo maps that allows for good analysis of the property’s “current state.” They will design water drainage systems, determine where retainage ponds need to be put, and work the utility locations that may be needed. The civil engineer will also identify if imports/exports of soil will be required for the grades to be acceptable for the development.

Choosing the Players

Now that you know who the players are, the next question is how do you choose the right companies to provide these services? Just like with many service-oriented businesses you’ll want to choose a business that has a solid reputation, comes from a referral, or meets your expectations with initial interactions. Beyond the basics of choosing a “good” company to work with there are some key attributes specifically for the architect, structural engineer, and civil engineer that you want to take into consideration.

First, it is absolutely critical to select an architect and structural engineer that have experience specifically with self storage. There are aspects to self storage that are very different from building a multi-family or commercial development. The architect and structural engineer don’t have to be local to the area that you are building in, however, they need to be able to effectively obtain information required in order to communicate with you about your project. It's a little bit of a different situation with the civil engineer.

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It's a good idea to select a civil engineer that is familiar with the region in which the project is being built. The reason for this is you want the civil engineer to have experience and knowledge specifically with the conditions of the soil within a particular area. Different parts of the county have different types of earth that needs specific considerations. For example, building in the wetlands of Florida is going to vary greatly from building in the dry dessert of Arizona.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these companies should be working collaboratively together. If buildings need to move because of where the retention pond is, then the architect will need to make changes to the layout. If this causes a building size to change, then the structural engineer is going to have to adjust their drawings. So, with these things in mind, make sure that every player has the bandwidth to take on another project. To keep progress moving along, you don’t want anyone held up because one of the team members doesn’t have time.

As you are making selections on your design team, it is a good idea to make your selection on a steel building contractor. Many of these contractors, like Forge Building Company, offer structural engineering as part of their services. The benefit of bringing a steel contractor into the design phase is that it allows them to provide insight on best practices that they have seen over the years, as well as allow them to show where there may be areas to value engineer the project, ultimately saving you money.

Keys in Selecting a Commercial Steel Building Contractor

When selecting a steel frame building contractor, it is key to work with one that has created custom steel buildings of every shape and size. Here are some questions to ask when making your decision on who to work with:

  • How long has your company been building self-storage facilities?
  • Have you completed any self-storage projects in my area? Can I go see them?
  • Can you provide a list of references for your self-storage projects?
  • Do you offer site design and engineering services?
  • How large is your project management team?
  • Is your labor subcontracted out to others? If so, who are your subcontractors?

The right steel building contractor should also be able to provide:

  • Site Plan Assistance
  • In-House Design & Custom Engineering
  • Complete site development plans
  • Structural engineered drawings for permitting and inspections
  • Review unit layout and efficiency of the use of space
  • Installation

For more considerations, also see our blog “Commercial Steel Building Developers.”

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The Forge Difference

For the last 15 years, Forge Building Company has partnered with investors and developers on over 500 self storage projects. With our experience in this space, Forge can provide all the necessary vendors and information needed for your project to be a success – from start to finish.

Here is how we can help. Forge offers:

  • Site Layout Design
  • Design-Build Services
  • Custom Structural Engineering
  • Steel Building Contractor Services
  • Construction Management

Whether you are considering your first or your fiftieth self storage project, we are ready to partner with you. Forge knows self storage and has built over 60 million square feet of it.

To hear more about what our customers are saying about working with Forge as a one-stop shop, see

Let’s begin the discussion on your next project. Click here to connect!


Contributing Editor: Melissa Anderson, Forge Building Company

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