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Thirty-four items you don’t want to forget during the design process

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

By Ed Clement

"Your Self Storage Planning - Site Selection - Design-Build" by Marc Goodin

Chapter 9

Thirty-four items you don’t want to forget during the design process for a better, more profitable facility.

1. Early in the design process, determine the town’s parking requirements for self-storage. The requirements can vary from a half dozen to 30 for the same size facility. In some cases, where parking requirements are high, parking in half of the 24 aisles may be considered acceptable parking. You want at least a half dozen customer parking spaces next to the office, outside of the fenced-in security area.

2. Provide a secure drop box/window/wall slat/ for after-hour payments. It’s been our number two request from tenants. If you remember prior to construction, you can put it on the office wall. Otherwise, you can add a free-standing drop box. Or better yet a kiosk to take payments and rent units.

3. For protection, provide steel bollards at all building corners, entrance gates, and entrance/exit keypads. I recommend 6”- 8” steel bollards filled with concrete. Over the years, this will save big bucks and a lot of aggravation. Make sure these are in your original bid package. At a price of $900 each, it will kill your budget if not planned for ahead of time.

4. Determine if you should put the outside lights on two circuits with timers so you can turn half the lights off after hours or at a certain time. You may also want the front entrance driveway, sign, and parking lot lights on a third separate circuit, so you can leave them on all night. LED lights will cost a little more upfront to buy, but they will more than pay you back with reduced electric bills.

5. Make sure all utilities are designed to include future phases and are clearly included in your bid request. Make sure your electrical/camera underground conduit system for phase two is brought to the limits of phase one. That way, you do not have to tear up phase one when it is time to build out phase two. Make sure the pull cords are in.

6. Have your engineer provide the largest driveway radius permitted at the street intersection for easy site entrance. A 25 to 45-foot radius is recommended. No matter how large you make them some drivers will still drive over the curb.

7. Make sure there is room at the end of the buildings for vehicles to safely turn. Thirty feet of pavement is the recommended minimum, with 40 feet preferred, and much larger if you need large RV’s or tractor trailers to make the turn.

8. Determine what percentage of climate control units to construct. We have constructed 15 - 20 percent and that has worked well for us in the northeast, but many areas, like Florida, build significantly more. Check to see what your competition has done. Learn more about climate control/humidity systems. Also, make sure the designer has experience designing self-storage heating, air conditioning, and humidity systems. Self-storage systems are designed significantly differently from residential or typical commercial systems.

9. Your office will be a major showcase for your facility and a is a key factor in the success of your facility. It should be located outside of the gated area. Visit several other self-storage offices to help determine your office size and layout. We have found that having a large product sale area and large windows helps increase the overall acceptance of our facilities and increases our unit rentals. The offices in our self-storage facilities are about 1,100 square feet, including a single bathroom and a small utility/furnace room.

A colorful bright large retail office and showroom will increase your rentals. Remember the majority of rentals are rented by women. Believe it or not, you are in the retail and fashion business and need to wow your customers.

10. Typically an access gate has a security loop installed in the pavement that can detect a car, so the gate will not close on a car. Make sure it is clear who is responsible to provide and install the safety loop. Will it be installed under the pavement, or will the pavement be saw cut and patched? It is a much nicer job if the safety loops are under the pavement and not saw cut into the pavement. The gate should also have a safety mechanism that meets present building codes, so the gate cannot accidentally shut on a person.

11. It’s always a nice touch if all the appropriate office doors are keyed alike.

12. If you use propane, consider buying your propane tanks versus renting so when you buy the propane you can get the best price on the open market.

13. Put the fencing 30 feet or more away from the pavement to leave room for snow removal.

14. A 4-foot-person gate in the security fence near the office comes in handy for many reasons.

15. Typically, the entrance/exit gate needs a clearance past the end of the gate of at least 1.5 times the gate opening. Be sure to check with your gate manufacturer and design accordingly. If you do not have the room, you will need a lift gate.

16. In Connecticut, you are required to get a CT Department of Environmental Protection “General Permit for Storm Water Discharge Permit for Construction Activities”, if the development (all phases included) disturbs over 5 acres of land. This permit requires several best management practices be incorporated into the designs, including weekly inspections of the erosion control. Often, there are similar or other special regulations in many states. Make sure you have a complete list of all approvals required when you start your design, so you can plan accordingly.

17. In many states, disturbance of wetlands may require a Federal Army Corps of Permit in addition to your local Wetlands Commission approval. Check with your soil scientist and engineer. An Army Corps permit can add significant time and cost to your approval process.

18. Don't forget to have an electrical outlet installed at your sign and fence for holiday lights. Also, electrical outlets should be installed in the 1 or 2 units of the facility you will use. An outside water nozzle is recommended. Typically, no electricity or lights are provided in self-storage units. You may want to put an electric plug in two or three 10 x 10 units, so you can rent to pharmaceutical reps who will need a fridge in their unit.

19. If possible, place the larger units on the side of the building that do not have another building on the opposite side of the drive. This will make it easier for cars to access and be stored in these 10' x 20' or larger units. Nine-foot-wide doors are a nice touch on 10’ x 20’ units for car storage.

20. Include a bank of 5' x 5' x 4' lockers in your climate control buildings. One is stacked above the other. They typically rent out and provide the highest rent per square foot. It is a good design practice to have several different sizes typically from 5’ x 5’ to 10 ‘x 30’.

21. Slat walls in the office are a great way to hang locks and other products. Built in shelving for certain products is a good idea as well. Make sure they are included in your construction specifications. Change orders are expensive.

22. Review your landscaping plans. In addition to the various trees and bushes, it is beneficial to have a raised flowerbed or two for your clients to admire.

23. Handicap access should be reviewed early on and included in your design. Self-storage units typically have a lip at the door to keep water out. A ramp design and special doors are required for handicap access. If the handicapped units do not rent, you can rent them out as regular units. Your engineer, architect, and building manufacturer should be able to help you out with the handicap requirements. You may also want to do an online search regarding the new HC regulations.

24. Determine if there is any room for outside car storage or RV storage. Even a few spaces can help market the entire facility. Outside parking of vehicles should be clearly noted on the site plans and applications to the town. Typically, you will make more money with self-storage units than outside parking. Outside parking is provided if you have excess land.

25. Some states require two bathrooms, male and female. You may be able to request a waiver from the state for just one bathroom. I got waivers for just one bathroom in my facilities and there are no problems. Access to the bathroom should not require a user to go behind the office rental counter and they should be clearly marked.

26. Most metal building manufacturers provide insulation in the non-climate control unit ceilings. This is a must because it helps prevent condensation and possible dripping onto the customer’s stuff. Double-check to ensure your building includes insulation in the non-climate control unit ceilings.

27. Avoid sheetrock construction in storage units. Sheetrock attracts mold and is easily damaged.

28. If you have a sidewalk directly abutting your office, make sure the sidewalk elevation is coordinated with the building design. If the office is a metal building, the sidewalk may need to be an inch lower than the office concrete floor to accommodate the metal lip that hangs over the concrete floor. Even when the building is not metal, it is a good idea for the sidewalk to be lower than the office floor by an inch. Of course, the sidewalk should match the floor at the door for handicap access.

29. Many building codes have recently changed or are about to change based on what state you live in. Insulation requirements, firewalls, separation distances, climate control building design, multi-story design requirements, and handicap requirements are just some of them. Make sure you enlist the help of a self-storage building code expert early on, so you are not surprised.

30. Now is the time to determine your facility management software and gate control companies, website developer, etc. Once construction starts, you will be extremely busy. Making sure they are compatible with each other is critical.

31. Provide a driveway entrance light at the street. It’s been our number one request from tenants.

32. Make sure your camera/DVD system has enough capacity/ports for all phases. I recommend two large camera screens in your office. Safety/security is the second concern of most renters. Meet with your security expert early on and show the camera locations on your site plan.

33. There are significant differences between video camera systems. You should purchase high-definition systems. You should also purchase systems that give you the capability to view the cameras from your home computer and cell phone. There should be two cameras in the office: one on the customer and one on the manager.

34. Several things can differ between building manufacturers. When you order a building, you should be aware of your door sizes and eave heights, as both can have an impact on your facility. I recommend minimum door widths of 8’-8’wide and a minimum building eave height of 8’-4’. However, you should consider 9’ wide doors and 9’-4’ eave heights.

For a free copy of Marc's book, "Your Self Storage Planning - Site Selection - Design-Build"

What is Physically Going to be Different About Your Self Storage?

If you leave it up to your engineer and architect most likely nothing. When you hire them, you should provide them with a list of 100 to 200 plus small and large items you either want at your facility or at least want to discuss with your team. Remember even the standard self-storage design options can have a range of solutions where you should be part of the decision-making. Now is the time to start your written list!

Here are 4 great ways to make your list:

1) Ask your architect, civil engineer, and contractor for a list when you interview them

2) Reviewing the website of each of your competitions. You can take a look at the Storage Authority facilities at

3) Visit 10 -20 self-storage facilities and note both what you like and dislike. You can also check out award-winning facilities at

4) Check out other non-self-storage businesses for ideas, offline and online.

The first three are easy and will get you a lot of great ideas. The fourth one is the most important because it will provide ideas that most self-storage do not have. Think unconventional.

Designers have different experience and designs can vary greatly. For example, one designer may suggest a 4-foot concrete sidewalk along the parking spaces and another 5’ and yet another may suggest eliminating the sidewalk and put the money elsewhere in the project. It is important for you to review and consider the various options. Almost everything can be “supersized” and it’s up to you to decide, given there is always a limited budget.

Ed Clement is a franchise director at Storage Authority. One of his passions and responsibilities is helping franchisees find land by sharing how to find land both online and offline. Ed has a strong background in real estate, investment banking, and management consulting. He is available at or 727 946 0745 to answer your questions and share the Storage Authority Franchise opportunity and advantages with you.


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