Very few places in the country are fortunate enough to avoid the frigid temperatures of winter every year. If you think it's cold outside, just imagine what it would be like in a storage unit. The freezing temperatures throughout the northern portion of the United States are cold enough to damage many belongings that are typically placed in storage. However, you can avoid damage caused by the freezing temperatures by renting a climate-controlled storage unit, especially if you live in a region that experiences harsh winters.
Cold temperatures can be just as damaging to your belongings as they would be to your body. Prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can severely damage a variety of belongings commonly stored in a storage unit. Items to be especially cautious with include:
Fluctuating temperatures can create condensation inside electronics, causing irreparable damage. Likewise, anything that has liquid in it already can crack due to expansion from freezing. This is especially true of battery cells, including those for cars, mowers, and other small engines, which can crack when frozen.
A temperature-controlled self-storage facility is one that’s both heated and cooled. Its purpose is to provide an environment suitable for preserving stored goods, so the temperature range will typically be higher or lower than what you would find in a home or office—usually heated to 55 degrees and cooled to 85.
While it’s commonly referred to as “climate-controlled” storage, the term “temperature-controlled” should be used unless the building is also equipped with a system to regulate humidity. Claiming to be climate-controlled while failing to address humidity might leave you open to legal trouble if a customer’s items are damaged by the dampness. With today’s more efficient building insulation, it’s more important than ever to work with a reputable storage unit contractor to install a system that not only heats and cools, but also monitors and removes humidity.
Let’s look at common uses and the benefits of temperature or climate control for self-storage facility owners and tenants as well as some of the more important design considerations.
The typical customer who wants to rent climate-controlled storage has rented traditional storage in the past with bad results and now wants to better protect his or her belongings.
Many people store items that go unused during the colder months of the year. Just as people store cold-weather items during the summer, you’ll often see people putting away summer belongings when the temperature drops. Storing seasonal items is an easy way to save on space in your home. Here are a few seasonal belongings commonly stored during the winter.
Another reason many people use storage during the winter is if they’re moving to a new home or apartment. While spring and summer are busier months for real estate, people move year-round for all sorts of reasons. When moving, a storage unit can give you a place to store belongings between homes and make the entire process a lot easier.
Climate-controlled buildings offer a number of benefits for storage unit owners. First, you get increased land coverage. Compared to drive-up buildings, which are typically 30 to 40 feet wide, climate-controlled buildings can be up to 200 feet or wider. This width reduces the amount of pavement necessary on the property and increases the amount of rentable space. The interior hallways are usually 5 feet wide and occupy only 15 percent to 20 percent of the space. This increased coverage can make it possible to develop on more expensive land in a better location than could be justified with traditional storage only.
Climate control can also serve as a market differentiator. Self-storage has penetrated just about every community in the country. Working with a quality self-storage contractor to incorporate climate control can set your site apart from your competition. So, while the cost to build and operate climate-controlled storage is higher, the increased rental rates are also significantly higher in most markets. These units usually rent for a 15 percent to 35 percent premium compared to standard units.
When it comes to the design of your temperature- or climate-controlled self-storage buildings, here are some common items to consider.
Costs. It’s common for commercial steel building developers to phase a project, but when planning a site with climate control, consider how the design will impact construction costs. The most cost-effective building is a large, wide structure.
Full vs. partial control. Some buildings are designed with both exterior-access ambient-temperature units and interior-access temperature-controlled units. While these projects allow for a variety of unit types in a single structure, they’re declining in popularity. One reason is that when you build in a northern climate, the weather can create challenges. Snow and ice will melt faster over the heated portions of a building, and if the runoff travels over a non-heated portion, ice dams may result.
Another reason is stricter energy codes specify there must be an insulated barrier between the foundations of climate-controlled and non-climate-controlled portions of a building. With the cost and complexity this adds to a project, it’s more cost-effective to design buildings that are completely climate-controlled.
Unit access. Climate-controlled buildings are usually built with interior unit access via hallways, but more commercial steel building developers are building climate-controlled units with exterior access. These units should be equipped with insulated sectional doors (typically R-19 insulating value) rather than traditional roll-up doors. They should also be priced at a premium, as customers are willing to pay for the convenience of direct access.
Unit size. Interior-access buildings won’t contain units as large as those used for drive-up storage. The largest unit size in these buildings is typically 10-by-20.
Insulation. How much insulation you need and what kind will vary based on local building codes, weather conditions and owner preferences. Projects can be built with spray-in foam, fiberglass bats, insulated panels or some sort of combination. While building a project with a higher R-value will cost more, it pays benefits in two ways – your operating costs be lower contributing to a higher property value when it’s time to sell.
Roof pitch. You can choose from a variety of roof pitches for climate-controlled buildings. Roofs can be designed to allow room for the desired insulation thickness (R-value) directly under the panels. Or, on higher-pitched buildings, the insulation may be placed directly over the ceiling of the heated/cooled space as you would find in a home, with insulation on the attic floor rather than under the rooftop.
Condenser location. Climate-control buildings commonly have recessed entries, which provide a staging area out of the weather and a place for the condenser unit. However, there are some options for putting the condenser unit outdoors. If there’s a place where it won't be vulnerable to client vehicles, this may be the best option. Rooftop placement isn’t preferred, due to the potential for creating leaks when penetrating the roof, as well as possible damage from installers walking on the roof.
HVAC equipment. Your HVAC installer will guide you in choosing the equipment you need, however, HVAC equipment should be undersized for the space. It’ll run more often but consume less energy. In the summer, the result will be that the smaller HVAC system will circulate more air and do a better job at removing humidity compared to a more powerful system that runs for shorter intervals.
The large majority of self-storage industry units across the U.S. are still the standard drive-up building, however, more sites are starting to include climate control in the mix. In some markets, many storage sites consist entirely of climate-controlled units. In the right market, they can be an excellent addition to your storage development. Through the use of insulation and central heating, a climate-controlled unit will protect your customer’s belongings in even the harshest of winters.