Climate Controlled Self-Storage Metal Buildings = Increased Revenue

Published August 30, 2017 by Whirlwind Team

climate controlled steel self-storage

The addition of climate controlled metal self-storage units has opened a new revenue stream for self-storage facility owners. Tenants requested storage for more delicate items that needed protection primarily from humidity, but also extreme temperatures and they are willing to pay a premium for it. The answer to their need is climate controlled units, which can be rented for about 30% more than a non-climate controlled space.

In fact, many owners are building 100% climate controlled self-storage facilities while others have a mix of both climate-controlled and non-climate controlled.

Building climate controlled steel self-storage is more complex than simple steel units of varying sizes. Let’s take a look at what you need to consider if you intend to offer these types of units.

Layout and size

Tenants typically access their climate-controlled unit from an inner corridor rather than from the exterior of the building as is the case with non-climate controlled units. For facilities with a mix of units, the non-climate controlled units are placed around the perimeter with the climate controlled units lying in the center to be accessed from an outer doorway. Since the roll-up doors common to non-climate controlled units are difficult to insulate adequately, placing those units around the outside makes sense, allowing the back wall to be insulated and shared with a climate controlled unit.

The corridors are kept short, less than 150 feet, and at least 4 feet wide to minimize the distance tenants must move their belongings. Most units are 10 X 15 feet or smaller; those can be placed farther from the entryway. Larger units, 10 X 20 or larger, should be placed nearer the entrance. Tenants requiring this size unit typically have more to store and appreciate the shorter distances when moving large or awkward loads.

Rising land costs have made climate controlled units a more attractive option with the higher rents making up for the increased costs. Also, since climate controlled units fare better as interior spaces, it is not uncommon for the facility to rise to 12 stories or more and look like an office building. Incidentally, this type of appearance can make it easier to get code approvals.

Insulation for metal storage buildings

Insulation is your ticket to optimal temperatures and humidity within your climate controlled units. Work with an architect, an electrical engineer,  and a mechanical engineer to determine how much insulation you will require. The calculation includes a wide range of variables:

  • Insulation R-values
  • Ceiling heights
  • Cubic area
  • Amount of lighting
  • Number and type of exterior doors
  • Volume of outside air filtration

The industry standard temperature range is 40 to 90 degrees F and 55% to 60% humidity or lower. The goal is to keep the unit temperatures above 40 degrees in the cold months and less than 90 degrees in hotter weather; as you can see the temperature is of lesser concern than humidity. High humidity can cause untold damage due to mold and mildew whereas high or low temperatures do not typically bother most property.

In July 2013, the International Energy Conservation Council (IECC) increased the insulation requirement from six inches of R-19 for the roof and four inches of R-13 for the walls to higher R values and thicknesses in the geographic regions of the US with the most extreme weather. In general, the IECC requires six inches of insulation in walls and roof.

Be sure to consult with an expert in insulating metal buildings to determine if you need thicker insulation or a higher R-value than recommended for general use. With the appropriate amount of insulation, you will save on energy bills and obtain a rapid return on the additional investment.

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Temperature, humidity, and air flow

To reiterate, the standard temperature range for climate controlled self-storage is 40 degrees to 90 degrees F with 60% or lower humidity. To meet these standards, you will need to consider not just insulation but your HVAC system requirements.

First off, if your location is in an area of extreme heat, you will want to place your HVAC equipment inside the building where is it protected from the heat. To counteract the condensation, you will need to pipe out the condensate or install dryers for evaporation.

As far as the size of the units you require, self-storage facilities take about 1250 to 1600 square feet per ton of air conditioning. (Compare this to residential standards of 450 to 600 square feet per ton.) There are a couple of ways to save money.

  • Purchase lower priced units, which come with higher operational costs and less efficiency, or
  • Purchase high-efficiency units that cost less to operate and save money in the long term

Running the blowers continuously instead of in short cycles also saves on energy costs. If you can get most of your units rented and full of property, you will have fewer cubic feet to heat or cool, another cost savings and motivation for filling up your units quickly and keeping them full.

In coastal communities where humidity is consistently high, you need extra equipment for dehumidification.

  • A humidistat as well as a thermostat
  • Additional dehumidification equipment over and above what comes with the AC unit
  • A high efficiency circulating fan to circulate air throughout the building and maintain constant humidity in all areas

Use hat channel bars and 16 to 24-inch partitions at the roof line to increase circulation. Also, as you install the ductwork, install registers to control air flow more precisely by opening and closing the movable vanes.

Use a double-door system or an air curtain to manage heat exchange at the entrances and to keep down the amount of dust, dirt, and insects that get into the building and infiltrate the HVAC filters.

Above all, literally, consider installing a “cool roof” with high reflectivity and emissivity to reduce heat from the sun.

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Multilevel climate controlled steel self-storage

Increasing land costs are driving self-storage upwards. If you are offering climate controlled units in a multi-story facility, you will need to make sure the air conditioning load is evenly divided between the first and second levels. The heat from the first level rises and, coupled with heat generated through the roof means the second level requires more cooling than the first.

If you have three or more stories, the middle floors will need up to 25% less air conditioning because the cooled air spreads throughout several floors.


Providing climate controlled units in your self-storage facility makes good business sense. There is a growing demand for climate controlled self-storage; many facilities offer 100% climate controlled units. You can more than make up for the increased investment in insulation, heating and air conditioning with higher rent for the units.

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