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Self Storage - A Unique Suburban Infill Product

By Chris Elam (Architect)

The self-storage industry has changed dramatically in the last 10-20 years: from a typically rural, single-story, drive, unconditioned, and mostly unsophisticated building type it has become an industry that is typically suburban, contextually sensitive, multi-story, air-conditioned, and quite complex.

It is increasingly an attractive development option for valuable commercial properties in developed suburban and urban areas. But the design and construction of self-storage buildings differ in many ways from the other commercial development types, such as retail, restaurants, and offices that self-storage now competes with. The differences can be traced back to the fact that the self-storage industry developed for many years as a rural building type and, over the last 15 to 20 years, has been adapting to a newfound urban/suburban demand.

For many years the entire design and construction process of a self-storage building was typically provided by a single source “pre-engineered metal building manufacturer”. The companies that developed to produce and erect the specialized self-storage buildings are still involved in every storage building that is built today, from multi-story, climate-controlled, urban projects to single-story drive-through facilities, but now, due to the increased complexity of projects, a host of other design & construction professionals are required to complete a typical self-storage project. The increased complexity of the development process is due to the requirements imposed by municipal agencies, code requirements, brand sophistication, and user-demanded amenities packages.

If a design/ development team can adapt the pre-engineered framing systems to meet the demands of urban/suburban development, self-storage offers several advantages over alternative commercial developments:

- Low user occupancy allows for substantially reduced parking area requirements.

- “Warehouse” use allows for less stringent air conditioning requirements.

- Pre-engineered building systems (if property coordinated) can provide significant reductions in the cost and construction time associated with the building frame.

- Low user occupancy means very little traffic impact added to the surrounding area.

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