Let’s be honest and upfront and just put it out there that the self storage industry has played fast and loose with the term “Climate Control” and for decades, no association, group, or organization has put to paper a definition or requirement. ASHRAE used to have a definition, but a quick search through their current documents yields no results now.
This has caused confusion not only with customers, but also owners and developers. It has spawned lawsuits and more than one spirited discussion at conventions, in our trade show booth, during classes, and at the bar after. This has even led to legislation that holds owners criminally liable for their claims of being a climate-controlled facility when they are not and when they do not publish or maintain the climate conditions.
Many owners mistakenly in the past, and even currently, present temperature-controlled facilities as being climate controlled. More and more competitors are using this to their advantage by pointing out in their marketing efforts, that their competitors are not providing complete protection.
What is Climate Control then?
With a lack of industry consensus for climate control we will work with Merriam-Webster’s online definition of “climate-control” as “having or providing artificial control of air movement, temperature, and humidity.”
Only one installed technology below will offer year-round, efficient climate control.
It is true that a standard air conditioner will remove some humidity (Latent Load) from the air while cooling (Sensible Load), it is inefficient at best and worthless at times of the year when temperatures do not require air cooling. The addition of a dehumidifier to a space may also provide some heat in its process, but it would be a stretch to consider it a heat source. Each is designed to do a specific task well, with secondary benefits. Specialized HVAC systems with re-heat, enthalpy controllers and other complicated technology do exist to handle humidity, but they also increase initial capital expenditures, energy costs, and maintenance, not to mention becoming a single point of failure.
If the system is down, neither temperature nor humidity will be controlled.
Marrying a properly designed HVAC system with standalone dehumidification eliminates the single point of failure, can reduce total cooling tonnage required, reduce energy consumption, and maintenance requirements. All these benefits and also providing separate, distinct, and reliable temperature and humidity control regardless of the time of the year.
Another area of climate control confusion is what floorplans work best, but it goes deeper than that. It is not only the layout, but also depends on the type of building construction (walls, doors, roof, slab, elevation, insulation), code requirements for air quality, geographical location, type of customer and stored items (household goods vs boats or RVs), frequency of access and any existing equipment and mechanicals if it is an already built facility.
As a general rule though, inside hallway setups, either single or multi-floor work well with full climate control systems. Outside rollup door facilities lend themselves better to humidity control only. Even with premium door seals and insulated doors there is a lot of thermal loss due to activity and airflow, making HVAC temperature-controlled operation energy inefficient.
What should I set my equipment to?
Setpoints for temperature and humidity is probably the second most asked question, first being cost. Given the nature of self-storage buildings being unoccupied by humans much of the time, temperature is a bit less of a concern and keeping the halls above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and below 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer will keep most tenants satisfied. Humidity is more of a concern as the stored items are there all the time with mold, mildew, corrosion, and pests thriving as the humidity rises. Once the relative humidity (RH) is above 50%-55%, corrosion and mold growth grow exponentially. So, targeting 50% RH is a good, 45% is better, allowing for customer activity during the day to not push far past the danger zone.
Unfortunately, it is usually after the facility is done or is near being completed when problems with humidity have arisen. It is much less expensive and disruptive to have real climate control built and designed on paper.
So here are a few tips when working with architects and builders.
- Ask them if they have design/built a storage facility climate control system for your geographical area. There are unique requirements which change based on regional weather and local codes.
- Ask them if they have designed for “dedicated” moisture removal and not relying on HVAC alone to remove moisture.
- Ask them what their HVAC/Dehumidifier design parameters were for temperature and RH (50F-80F and <50% RH is the gold standard).
- Ask them the method and local code requirements for outside air CFM. For unoccupied spaces it should be low. Reducing energy costs and influx of moisture.
- Ask them about the building envelope seals such as vapor barriers for RH and insulation for temperature.
- Ask what testing/inspections and reporting will be done to verify the building envelope is sealed following build-out.
In summary, building a Climate Controlled Self-Storage facility is not rocket science, but it does have unique requirements that require experience to bring the project to its full potential.