Does LEED Construction Make Sense for Self-Storage?

August 13, 2013 0
Does LEED Construction Make Sense for Self-Storage?

LEED certification is internationally recognized as the gold standard in green building. By building a LEED-certified self-storage facility, you can minimize your building’s impact on the environment, gain positive attention from your community and beyond, and save money over the long run on heating, cooling and electricity.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification process managed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Any commercial or residential building can be LEED-certified; different standards are in place for each. LEED certification is a voluntary process, holding builders to strict requirements to gain points on the LEED scale.

What does it take for a self-storage facility to become LEED-certified, and is it worth the cost and trouble? Here’s a look at what’s involved.

Requirements for LEED
To gain a LEED certification, commercial buildings must achieve at least 40 points on a 110-point scale. The categories cover topics such as the building’s impact on surrounding ecosystems, its water efficiency, its energy efficiency, its use of recycled materials, its indoor environmental quality and its design innovation. Points are available for a number of different factors within each category.

Building to LEED Standards
Today, more than 13,500 commercial building projects are LEED-certified. No statistics are available regarding how many of those are self-storage facilities, but numerous case studies are available.

For instance, ezStorage, a self-storage operator with more than 40 locations in Maryland and Virginia, has two LEED-certified buildings–one with the highest rating (Gold), and one the second-highest (Silver).

The facilities are fully climate-controlled, and use high-efficiency lighting and HVAC systems. The Gold-certified building achieves a 58 percent energy savings compared with an average non-LEED-certified similar structure, and 37 percent in water savings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s baseline level.

For some self-storage operators, building to LEED standards “may be too expensive and very difficult because of the nitty-gritty details, but we are a small enough company that we can make these decisions pretty quickly,” said Steve Cratin, ezStorage’s vice president of asset management. “We also have an in-house architect and make all the decisions, large and small, in-house.”

The self-storage operator has not retrofitted existing facilities to achieve LEED certification, but Cratin said the company may do so.

“Although we have updated our lighting systems and implemented many of the same energy-saving measures in our other structures, we have not yet certified an existing building per se,” Cratin said. “It is more difficult; we have to make the necessary changes then spend a period of time reporting on them.”

Along those lines, Denver-based Focus Property Group LLC is building “green” self-storage facilities from scratch. In January, the company opened Greenbox Self Storage, a 747-unit facility in downtown Denver that features 234 solar panels, energy-efficient insulation and recycled building materials. Greenbox secured LEED Silver certification for the project, with a reported price tag of more than $5 million. A second Greenbox facility is set to open in Denver in late August, with a third scheduled to debut in October.

“My vision is to have a nationwide brand of urban, sustainable self-storage facilities,” Focus Property Group founder Bahman Shafa told the Denver Post last year.

greenbox-self-storage

Michael Dunn, founder of Shift Energy LLC in Biddeford, ME, helps builders achieve LEED certification through energy-efficient measures. He said a big challenge for storage facilities seeking LEED certification is “that the building stock across the industry is largely made up of pre-engineered buildings with a strictly functional purpose.”

“When you’re dealing with buildings with nothing but roofs, walls and doors, it can be tough to find enough opportunities without doubling costs. That shifts your focus to other areas of LEED to get the majority of points you need,” Dunn said.

Green Costs and Benefits
If you’re planning to construct a new self-storage facility, building to LEED standards can be more complex than traditional construction.

First, you’ll need to pay the Green Building Certification Institute to register and certify your project. You also must religiously document your process and factor in that cost, as well as research and design fees to meet LEED criteria. LEED also requires that you pay for commissioning (verifying that all of the building’s systems meet the requirements in your proposal) and energy modeling (simulating the building’s average energy use). Finally, you’ll need to construct your building with approved materials and methods, which may lead to extra expense.

Building to LEED standards typically adds about 2 percent to the overall cost of a building project.

However, the extra upfront investment could pay off substantially. According to a report issued by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, building to LEED standards can save so much money on utilities and other resources over time that you’ll eventually recoup your additional investment ten times over.

Crain said ezStorage decided to pursue LEED certification for new construction for several reasons.

“Of course, the savings from these measures is a driving factor, but so is sustainability in equal part,” he said. “We decided as a company that building to these standards is the right move at this time.”

Photos courtesy of Yelp.com