Top Tips for How to Build a Mini-Storage Facility

April 5, 2021

Not so long ago, mini-storage facilities were mostly used by individuals who needed a place to temporarily store excess household items. The mini-storage answered the need for inexpensive storage while the individual was in the midst of a move, went off to college, or served in the armed forces. Today, the mini-storage facility serves practically every segment of our society:

  • STUDENTS: Mini-storage serves the college population by offering storage of bicycles, furniture, and many other items that would be impractical to store in a dorm room or apartment.
  • RENTERS: Because of high rental costs, many people are renting smaller apartments. The mini-storage provides a secure place to store extra furniture, appliances, and household goods.
  • HOMEOWNERS: Oftentimes, homeowners must make the most of every square foot of their home. Attics are often converted into extra bedrooms while basements and garages are used to make family rooms. Mini-storage answers the needs of the homeowner by providing storage space at a fraction of the cost of a room addition. Typically, homeowners and renters comprise 60% of a mini-storage's business.
  • RECREATIONAL VEHICLE OWNERS: Many communities ban recreational vehicle parking in driveways or on the street. In other communities, owners are hesitant to leave their trailers, boats, and motor homes exposed to the elements and to vandalism. Mini-storage provides these people with a safe storage alternative at a lower cost.
  • COLLECTORS AND HOBBYISTS: Many times, people who collect antique or classic cars use mini-storage to house their collections. Hobbyists often store supplies in the facilities.
  • BUSINESS OWNERS: More and more, business owners e are turning to mini-storage to ease their overcrowded work areas. Retail establishments are using mini-storage to allow areas once used as stock rooms to be converted to sales floor. Light industry uses mini-storage to store excess inventory until it can be shipped. Office managers are turning to mini-storage to store business equipment, files, and business forms. Businesses typically account for 40% of mini-storage rental.

How to Determine the Quantity and Size of Units

The single most important factor in determining the size of the individual storage units is what will be stored in them. As an investor in your mini-storage business, it is helpful to be aware of the storage needs of your community, such as:

  • THE POPULATION OF THE COMMUNITY: Whether you build your facility in a small rural community or a large urban area, the population will be an important determining factor of the size of your facility. In smaller communities with no other storage facilities, the basic rule of thumb is one unit per every 100 residents. A community of 10,000, for instance, would usually require a mini-storage facility with around 100 units.
  • SIZE UP YOUR COMPETITION: Other storage facilities in the area will be competing for your customers. If the storage market in a particular community is saturated, consider building in a nearby area, where the competition is not as formidable. If, however, you find that there is still demand in a particular community, visit your competitor's facilities. Find out what unit sizes are always rented out and which sizes are usually empty. Check out the rental fees and the hours. All of this information will give you a real competitive edge over other mini-storage facilities in the area.
  • KNOW THE STORAGE NEEDS OF YOUR COMMUNITY: Is the community located near a recreation area? A university? An industrial park? I Anyone of these would likely have an impact on the particular storage needs of your community. Recreational areas would probably require storage of boats, trailers, and motor homes. All of these would call for higher sidewalls and larger units than the typical mini-storage building. University students would most often use smaller storage areas to store items over summer break. Larger units in this type of setting would often go unused. If you design your building around business storage, you would need to think about installing extra security features to protect the renters' inventory.

An example of how we’ve seen our customers distribute the unit mix includes:

  • 5’ x 5’ = 10%
  • 5’ x 10’ = 25%
  • 10' x 10' = 25%
  • 10’ x 15' = 20%
  • 10' x 20' = 15%
  • 10' x 30' = 5%

Remember to plan a sufficient number of 20' and 30' wide buildings since the 5' x 5' through 10' x 15' units comprise 80% of the total space.

It's important to note that in some instances mini-storage investors are inclined to divide the building into a large number of small units. The disadvantage of this way of thinking is that the doors will likely be the most expensive item on the building. The more doors you install, the higher your construction costs.

These Factors Determine a Good Location for a Mini-Storage Facility

The two main factors in choosing a building site are visibility and security. Visibility is more important than location. If the public can see your building, they can find a way to get to it. Visibility serves to bring in new business as well as to reassure your existing clients that their stored goods are safe. If your facility is located near a major highway, for instance, you can expect to cash in on some "drive-by" business. People see your facility and remember it when they have a need for storage. A good visible location also allows those already using your facility to conveniently drive by occasionally to reassure themselves that everything is okay.

Security is the other main factor. You would not want to open the business in a high crime area or in a location that is so isolated that your clients do not feel safe when they go there. The more traffic that goes by your facility, the better.

Get as much building coverage on the property as possible. If you can build close to the property line, think about a perimeter building with doors on one side only. If a setback must be maintained, use this area as a driveway. Allow for 15' wide drives and a minimum of 35' at the ends of the building for a turning area. If the drives are 25' wide, the turning area at the ends of the buildings can be reduced to 30'. However, it is recommended to design the drives no wider than 15'. This prevents the customers from backing up to the building and possibly damaging it. Avoid dead-ends in site layout. Customers should come in one end of the drive and out the other, unless a large turn-a-round area is provided for vehicles with trailers. This site layout is purely by trial and error depending on local zoning, lot size and driveway location.

You should also consider drainage in choosing a site for your facility. A well-drained property will have a great advantage over an area where there is occasionally standing water. A poorly drained site will make for a constant battle with mud, wet feet and, worst of all, wet contents. Be sure to crown the center of the floor so that any water that gets in the building doesn't pool and can run out under the doors. Consider which type of driveway, blacktop or gravel, would best suit your needs, keeping in mind the drainage and grade of your building site.

Whether you decide to go for a smaller premium location, or a larger, more remote site will depend on your evaluation of the community's needs. In a large community with several competitors, location can be the most important key to your success. Small communities will give you more options for location.

Some things to consider when selecting a site:

  • General economic characteristics
  • Population Characteristics
  • Land use characteristics
  • Zoning classes
  • Building cedes, standards & fire codes
  • Real estate taxes
  • Existing self-storage competition

How to Provide Security for the Facility

The single best investment you can make in security is good lighting. 24/7 lighting of the driveways is essential for security. Fencing that completely surrounds the facility also gives prospective clients the feeling of security. In some areas, the fencing is more important than others. This depends, not only on the population, but also on what is being stored in the buildings. When installing a fence, locate the gate NO LESS than 40' from the nearest street so that a truck, or car and trailer stopped at the gate can be clear of traffic.

Another security measure is to situate your buildings so that they run perpendicular to the street. In this way, anyone driving by the facility can see who is there and what they are doing.

The employment of someone to watch over the facility at all times depends, once again, on its location. In a small community with a low crime rate, the extra security would not be worth the added expense. But, in an urban area, it might be something to consider.

To Insulate or Not Insulate

The decision to insulate a building will depend on what will be stored there. Many items put into mini-storage are not affected by extremes in heat or cold. But, if you are building in a particularly cold climate, you might want to consider the advantages of insulating your facility, especially if you are going after the commercial storage market. In the south, more and more mini-storage facilities are opting for air conditioning to protect the stored items from extreme heat and humidity.

Tips for Selecting a Roof

There are several things to think about when deciding on the type of roof to be installed. First, should you specify a metal roof or one with asphalt shingles? Second, should the roof have overhangs? And finally, what sort of ventilation should be provided?

  • METAL VS. SHINGLES: After a snowfall, a metal roof is heated by the sun and allows the snow to slide off the roof to land in front of the storage units. Gutters and downspouts would normally carry the runoff to the ends of the buildings, out of the way. But, in the case of a particularly heavy snow, the sudden weight of the runoff could damage the gutters. When using a metal roof, the building should be situated to run north/south. This allows for more even melting of the snow off the roof. It will also allow each drive to get sunlight to help melt the snow and ice from the drives.
  • OVERHANGS: The decision to have overhangs depends on several factors: the climate, the height of the sidewall, and the insulation/ ventilation needs of the building. In areas that receive significant precipitation, overhangs keep the runoff away from the buildings and doors. A high sidewall lessens the chances of the overhang being damaged by a tenet backing in to the building. In addition, the overhang allows for the installation of vented soffits to provide for proper ventilation of an attic area, if applicable. Mini-storage facilities typically have either no overhang, a 6" overhang or a 1' overhang.
  • VENTILATION: Ventilation is a necessity to control condensation in the walls and attic area. Morton Buildings offers a complete vent-a-ridge option at the ridge cap, as well as vented soffits and overhangs to allow proper ventilation.

For more information on mini-storage facilities, browse past mini-storage projects or contact your local construction center!

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