"But, at the end of the day, you're getting a premium, high performance project."
Abney goes on to explain that there are many statistics available to help developers compare the cost of LEED certified developments to traditionally build projects. LEED(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), is a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council. This third party certification was designed to give owners and operators immediate feedback about a building's performance in the areas of sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Abney says most of the data puts the cost of a fully certified building at two percent higher than the same conventionally built structure. However, he is quick to point out that the numbers exclude soft costs that go hand-in-hand with green building like consultants' fees, certification costs, and commissioning expenses, which can vary widely project to project.
While building a LEED certified self-storage facility may not be the right option for the majority of self-storage sites, there are smaller-scale changes and choices that can be incorporated into a building or remodel project to help green any self-storage development. One of the easiest places to begin the green quest in with a close-up look at the products used throughout a self-storage facility.
When choosing building components, it is important to consider their impact on the environment. Self-storage professionals need to know which products are categorized as environmentally friendly and why they are considered greener than other items.
“One of the main things developers need to do is avoid greenwashing,” says Paul Nutcher, president of Orlando, Fla.-based Green Apple Group, LLC. “Many companies attach an environmentally-friendly label to their product for financial gain or for better public relations.” He adds that these companies try to profit from their green image—whether or not the product or company is truly environmentally conscious. Often, these businesses spend more money on marketing their products than they spend on reducing the product’s overall impact on the environment.
Since greenwashing can be a problem, owners and operators need to devote a little time and thoroughly investigate all products that claim to be environmentally friendly before making a purchase. Look at the building component itself as well as the manufacturing process to ensure the product is truly green. “The Internet is one of the best places to go,” says Alaina Miller, owner and director of Las Vegas, Nev.-based kama Energy Efficient Building Systems, adding that the Internet should be a developer’s first step in the research process.
Online, there are a variety of Web sites full of information on environmentally conscious building products. “There are two really good online resources,” says Nutcher. “The first is a company called Greenspec that is handled by the people who run Environmental Building News, which is like Consumer Reports for green building products. The second source is being worked on by the Construction Specification Institute(CSI), called GreenFormat. Both of these have helpful databases to search for green products.”
Another good resource, available in print and online, is the Sweets Catalogs, published by McGraw-Hill. “These catalogs contain all the major products in the industry,” says James Bratton, president of MST Constructors, Inc. “The catalogs allow you to search and pick products, and tell you about the products’ green contribution. It’s a really unique resource for anyone interested in green products.”
Throughout the research and review process, many developers will ask why one product is listed as environmentally conscious or green while another is not. They might question what it takes to be classified as green. While there is no single, clear cut definition, there are many ways a product can be counted as environmentally friendly or green.
“Green products save energy, take fewer resources to produce, have lower emissions in manufacture, can be recycled, have higher recycled content, maintain or improve functionality, are durable, and are available at a reasonable cost,” says Bion D. Howard, a consultant with Building Environmental Science and Technology in Valley Center, Calif.
Before choosing a product that is labeled green, developers should ask several questions about the materials needed to produce the item. Is the source a limited or renewable resource? Self-storage professionals should also look at how the materials are harvested or extracted for use. They need to think about the manufacturing method. How energy intensive is the process? What type of waste is produced? Energy expended on shipping should also be a consideration. Once manufactured, does the product need to travel across the globe before it can find its way to the selfstorage development?
Sustainability is a good word to keep in the forefront when choosing building products for a green facility. “Sustainability, as it is applied to architecture and construction, is the concept by which a building uses Earth’s resources at a rate by which they can be replenished naturally in every aspect,” says Greg Godsey, director of design at MST Constructors, Inc. “Any product can be green if it is manufactured, transported, installed, or used in a way that specifically reduces the rate it uses Earth’s resources as compared with other products that might have been used in the name of an industry standard. This makes green a bit of a moving target. As we approach sustainability with products and building operation, industry standards begin to shift. What used to be green—like HardiPlank for instance—is now an industry standard. Now, to be green with exterior siding, we must identify and utilize a product that is better than HardiBoard at approaching sustainability.”
After researching the options, developers can create a plan for the level of sustainability they want to achieve with their selfstorage facilities. “The developer should start with some basic goals involving an effort at sustainability,” says Godsey. “These goals will begin to form design constraints and lead the project through a labyrinth of product selection and building design decisions.”
Developers who are strictly concerned with energy savings, for example, would focus on a selection of highly efficient HVAC equipment designed to meet the site’s specific regional climatic needs. Insulation would also be a focus and products with high R-values would likely be selected over insulation made from recycled materials. If a client wanted to build a facility that could be LEED certified, on the other hand, materials would be selected based on their assigned energy and water usage points to achieve the right total necessary for certification.
With differing goals, two developers looking at building similar self-storage facilities would likely make different product choices. This could be true even if the buildings were identical and oriented in the same direction on the site. “Two buildings can approach sustainability from very different perspectives,” says Godsey.
Although environmental impact goals may vary project to project, there are certain green building components that are especially well-suited for self-storage developments. With wood, there are some products that are specifically designed with an eye toward sustainability. Bamboo, for example, is considered environmentally friendly because it’s rapidly renewable with a 10-year growth cycle. On the down side, most bamboo is grown in Asia and must travel across the globe to be used in selfstorage projects in the U.S. “Selecting certified lumber and wood products is important,” says Howard. “The Forest Stewardship Council is the leading independent agent for lumber. Documenting the chain of custody for wood from forest to application is vital.”
Concrete is a staple material at most self-storage sites and can be included in a green development. An especially environmentally-friendly mix might have high levels of fly ash and a large amount of recycled aggregate, if allowed by the city or municipality. This is a double win for the green developer because it utilizes a waste product (fly ash is a byproduct of coal combustion), while fulfilling a need at the site.
Porous concrete can also be used instead of traditional pavement. “Using porous concrete that allows for water to be absorbed can reduce the amount of storm water generated and possibly reduce or eliminate some storm water requirements,” says Nutcher. “It also reduces the amount of water that runs off the property. If you have gutters, you can put in rain barrels and water plants that way.”
When selecting finish materials for the office area, the project’s environmental goals and definition of sustainability should come into play again. “Outside of a lifecycle assessment, I look at things in a hierarchy whenever I’m thinking about materials,” says Abney.
“If you can reuse a material, that’s what you should use. Next down, I feel developers should use a material that has a high recycled content. Items like engineered stone and Silestone have recycled glass. If you’re going to use a virgin material, you want to make sure it’s locally harvested and manufactured in some way. With paints, adhesives, and sealants, you should use something with low volatile organic compounds(VOC),” Abney says.
Water use and energy efficiency are two of the biggest challenges when developing a self-storage facility—and are often the driving force enticing developers to build green. Both factor into a site’s net operating income (NOI), so many developers are willing and eager to pay an upfront premium for products that will help keep these expenses low long term.
Water Conservation And Capture
For water use, less is more. Self-storage developments should focus on eliminating potable water for both irrigation and landscaping purposes. “Most selfstorage buildings have flat roofs, so capturing rainwater makes sense,” says Howard. “If there are on-site lavatories, then they should be fitted with lowflow fixtures.”
Since self-storage restrooms generally see very little use on a day-to-day basis, products like composting toilets and waterless urinals can be good choices. With these options developers can forgo sewer lines altogether, saving money upfront while ensuring the site will always have a low water bill.
Photovoltaic panels are also cropping up at self-storage facilities around the U.S. The panels help convert sunlight into energy and work especially well as covers for RV and boat storage spaces. “You can get about five hours of energy from sunlight everyday,” says Bob Hayworth, CEO of Martinez, Calif.-based Baja Construction, Inc., who adds that the solar cells work in all areas and climate zones. He adds that owners and operators can get anywhere from 0.8 kilowatts to 2.5 kilowatts per car space each day, depending on the quality of the panel used.
Since self-storage facilities are generally low energy-use developments, it is possible that all of the energy created by these panels will not be used by the site. This means the extra energy can either be stored or sold. “Right now, a number of states are talking about buying back excess power at retail rates,” says Hayworth. “When this happens, there will be an additional profit center for facilities.”
Programs And Incentives
Hayworth points out that there are currently a variety of government programs and tax incentives to help self-storage businesses pay for the addition of photovoltaic panels. Web sites like www. desireuse.org spell out most of the available incentives for every state in the U.S. “If you have a tax opportunity and a large energy need—like a climate-controlled facility—then you’re silly if you don’t do it,” says Hayworth. “The government is helping to pay for it and it will pay for itself in at least five years. Your ROI will be 100 percent.”
For developments that want to conserve energy, looking at the overall system of heating and cooling is a good starting point. First, choose insulation with the highest R-value available. Instead of installing the biggest air conditioner available, select an AC unit with a high SEER value.
Looking at the roof, consider a reflective coating for metal structures. There are good options for vinyl roofs, as well. “For vinyl, Energy Star roofs can reflect the sun away from the building and help reduce the urban heat island effect,” says Nutcher. “Dark roofs will absorb the sun and heat up the area of the city. As the heat is absorbed into the building, it takes more energy to cool. It’s a viscous cycle.”
Lower Expenses, Higher Returns
While projects that utilize green building components and techniques are environmentally friendly, they also boast reduced operating expenses compared to conventionally designed developments. The potential for long-term cost is a major motivator for an increasing number of developers to consider going green. Of course, there are many attractive benefits that go hand-in-hand with environmentallyfriendly projects.
“When cities and municipalities are looking at development plans, they always want to know what we’re doing to be more environmentally responsible,” says Bratton. “They’re going to cherry pick those who design and build responsibly over those who do not.”
He’s quick to add that lenders often follow the same course, green lighting projects that are environmentally conscious over those that are conventionally built. Institutional self-storage buyers also seem to prefer green sites. “When we’re designing to sell to a REIT, we always emphasize our green design choices. If the project has been designed to use less energy and water, then they know that means a higher net operating income (NOI) and less maintenance expenses.”
All benefits aside, there is still an issue surrounding the premium price and higher costs developers often pay when constructing green buildings. However, many are seeing an overall reduction in the price disparity between green and traditional construction.
With increased demand for environmentally-friendly products and a rise in government incentive programs, the green buildings many self-storage developers once thought were out of reach are suddenly becoming economically feasible. “I like to give the example of a 190,000-square-foot project we worked on that was bid at $7 million,” says Hayworth. “After all the incentives, the project came in at $784,000.” With numbers like these, the self-storage industry is likely to become increasingly green—with environmentally conscious projects that pay off handsomely for both the developer and Earth.
Elizabeth Ferrin is a freelance writer based in Maple Grove, Minnesota. She is also a frequent contributor to the Mini-Storage Messenger, Self-Storage Now!, and Mobile Self-Storage Magazine.