One of real estate’s perhaps least talked about real estate sectors but nevertheless an important one is the self-storage market.  Nearly 9% of all Americans currently lease a storage unit – nearly half of which involve life transitions such as moving, downsizing, divorcing or other reasons. Perlo has been involved in the self-storage market for many years now, and the construction of these buildings are, indeed, unique. Today we will explore more about self-storage construction and why these facilities aren’t your everyday build.


Where Self-Storage Projects are Located

Self-storage buildings most often follow density of population, which means they’re regularly placed in urban or suburban infill sites. Self-storage renters prefer their units to be near their place of residence, so operators of storage facilities aim to be within a 3 – 5 mile radius of high density areas, and some closer than that. 

The timeline between land purchase and development can be quite long, as developers often need to work with the local jurisdictions to modify the zoning in order to place their buildings in desired locations. That said, developers work hard to create exterior facades that follow the design requirements of the area while still maintaining their brand identities. 

For example, the City of Portland will not approve exterior facades if there are ‘waves’ in the sheet metal, so any metal panels must be made with very thick steel to avoid this occurring. The City of Happy Valley wants new construction to look similar to the neighboring retail buildings, so the self-storage facilities in that area have more traditional roof lines, stone, corbels, and timber than is typical.

Another challenge of the location of these infill properties is that the sites are very tight. The buildings often encompass almost the entire site, and the soils may be less than ideal due to bad soils, contamination or other factors. This makes the logistics of completing the work one of the hardest parts of the buildings process. Urban construction sites are challenging for a variety of reasons, so the use of an experienced general contractor for completing these buildings is a must. 

In more recent years, some developers are constructing these types of buildings in areas where new residential buildings are planned to land in the near future, hoping to take advantage of better building sites with the anticipation of users following soon after.  

Typical Building Components in Self-Storage

Steel structures with metal framing and finishes are the most common elements of self-storage facilities, with concrete foundations and floors, and TPO roofs.  As mentioned previously, they have to match local codes, so masonry, wood or other facades may be included to meet those requirements. The use of steel and other metals is critical for these buildings because it is non-combustible.  With the unpredictability of what individuals may store inside these units, it’s necessary to reduce hazardous materials.

Structurally, multi-story self-storage buildings are relatively complex. After all, each floor is designed to hold 120 pounds per square foot (psf).  In contrast, an average parking garage is rated for 55 psf, making self-storage buildings able to withstand nearly 3 times as much weight as is designed for vehicle parking. The added structural requirements mean that the steel structure must be extremely robust, and the foundations amplified beyond normal construction.

The combination of high weight bearing requirements as well as infill sights that may not have the best ground means that complex foundation systems like driven piles, aggregate piers or helical piers, as well as deep foundations and large footings are involved. 

In addition, many of these structures include basements or daylight basements and may require underpinning the adjacent lot-line buildings, providing significant shoring or the use of cell-crete to provide support for the existing and new structures.

Types of Self-Storage Projects

There are a variety of project types in the self-storage market.  Of late, there have been numerous ground-up projects, but they can also be remodels, conversions from previous uses or expansions of existing facilities. Regardless of the type of project, they tend to involve similar finishes and upgrades to the structures to achieve the load ratings that self-storage buildings require. These often involve a refresh of the finishes to make them more attractive to potential customers.   

Construction Sequencing and Logistics

We have established that self-storage buildings are complex in terms of building sites and structures. These factors contribute to a need to run the sites efficiently and effectively in terms of materials deliveries and site logistics. Some of the factors that must be considered include:

  • Proximity to neighboring structures
  • Traffic control and/or congestion
  • Street or sidewalk closures
  • Location of utility tie-ins and their effect on neighbors and streets
  • Delivery staging and loading onto site
  • Crew parking
  • Crane location(s)
  • Sequencing of work for man-loading

The self-storage market is also largely dependent on the specialty subcontractors that complete the metal framing, walls and doors that are standard for this building type.  There are only a few subcontractors that perform this work, and once they engage on a project, they want to complete their work without interruption. The project management and superintendent teams must think critically about the scheduling of work crews and ensure these specialty subcontractors can move quickly and efficiently through their work.

Self-Perform Construction Items

Perlo self-performs several scopes on these building types, including the following:

  • Concrete scopes, including footings and slabs
  • Installation of anchorage systems
  • Epoxy
  • Hollow metal doors, frames and hardware
  • Miscellaneous installations
  • Cleaning & temporary protection

In addition to these items, Perlo provides all site supervision and enforces safety protocols. Our ability to perform all structural concrete helps us to better control the schedule and quality of our final product.

The Future of Self-Storage

The future of the self-storage market appears optimistic.  According to Mordor Intelligence, the market is projected to continue with positive growth through 2026. As households downsize and the population increases, the need for these spaces is only growing. In addition, investors have been moving funds into this market at increasing rates. According to Forbes, even investors like Bill Gates have invested in self-storage. It’s been said that this market is recession proof and provides great returns.

We project that this is a market that will continue to grow along the West Coast and have several projects in the pipeline for completion over the next couple of years.

Final Thoughts

Self-storage work is a unique building type that requires extensive expertise to complete correctly.  Our teams are well versed in self-storage construction of all kinds and are available to discuss any building opportunities you may have.

If you’d like to get in touch with our teams, please give us a call at 503.624.2090 or fill out an inquiry form on our contact us page.