Self-storage Facilities: Part 1 - Lightweight Metal Storage Buildings

Joseph T. Berry discusses how firefighters operating at self-storage facilities can be at great risk of being exposed to dangerous objects and hazardous materials.


Self-storage facilities are a booming business nationwide. Consumer demand for storage units can be found everywhere, from cities and suburbs to rural areas. In April 2006, The New York Times reported that there are 45,365 self-storage facilities in the U.S. They cater to the storage needs of...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

Self-storage facilities are a booming business nationwide. Consumer demand for storage units can be found everywhere, from cities and suburbs to rural areas. In April 2006, The New York Times reported that there are 45,365 self-storage facilities in the U.S. They cater to the storage needs of individuals, families and businesses.

The variety of items being stored in self-storage units is limitless – personal items, furniture, mattresses, appliances, boxes, files, cars,boats, commercial and contractor inventories, tools and equipment – and the unknown factor. Self-storage units occupy three principal types of structures:

Existing commercial buildings that become vacant and are converted to self-storage facilities. These could be multi-story buildings that at one time were factories or mercantile occupancies. Pre-fabricated self-storage units made of lightweight metal partition walls or wire cage-type partitions are installed within existing floor areas. Firefighters should be aware of the possible presence of large, commercial service elevators for moving contents, existing sprinklers modified for individual storage units and automatic alarms. Some structures may contain dry sprinklered systems due to non-heated storage areas. These types of facilities usually are operated during business hours and on weekends. Security is present on the premises during business hours, but there is no 24-hour access for tenants.

New multi-story storage buildings constructed of lightweight steel skeletons. These feature block walls or “panel walls†(large pre-cast concrete walls that are assembled with the assistance of a crane). Storage partitions are assembled in place throughout each floor area. The individual units are made of lightweight metal partition walls or wire cage-type partitions. Such structures usually are sprinklered and have automatic alarms. Although most of them are heated, some floors may not be climate controlled; those sections may contain dry sprinkler systems with no water in the piping. In such systems, air is pressurized in the piping grid. When the sprinkler head is activated from a heat source, the loss of air pressure causes a clapper valve to open, letting water into the piping grid (these usually are found in loading-dock areas). These facilities are open only during daytime business hours and on weekends. There is no 24-hour access, and security is present during business hours.

New lightweight, one-story metal storage buildings. These long, rectangular buildings are laid out in rows with access roadways between them. Buildings are clustered in close proximity because of available space. Usually, these are non-sprinklered buildings with no automatic alarm present. Tenants have 24-hour access availability. To gain access to the storage compound, tenants enter their personal codes, activating the opening of the security gate. During daytime hours, the proprietor or clerk will be on duty. This article focuses on this type of self-storage facility. The other two types of self-storage buildings will be covered in future articles.

Lightweight Metal Storage Buildings

Lightweight metal storage buildings are constructed of a skeleton frame of light-gauge steel covered by light-gauge metal walls and roofing. An overhead garage-type retractable door, secured by the renter’s padlock, provides access to each storage unit. Usually built on cement slabs, the sizes of these building can vary, but a typical size would be about 30 feet deep by 250 feet long, subdivided into small individual storage units.

Units can vary in size – five by five feet, 10 by 15 feet, 10 by 20 feet, 10 by 25 feet, 10 by 30 feet, etc. These compartments can hold contents from the floor to the ceiling; a larger one can store a motor vehicle. A narrow access driveway separates each row of storage buildings, providing vehicle access to individual units.

This content continues onto the next page...