Construction • Self-Storage Construction

The Process and the Players in Self Storage Construction

Metal Building Systems are the most visible part of a self storage project. The quality and usefulness of buildings is determined by the planning and materials selection that takes place long before construction begins.

Any building is the culmination of the desires, thoughts and talents of those involved in its construction. As such, there are an infinite number of ways in which the task can be accomplished. Owners often consider whether or not they need an architect, can act as their own general contractor, or should rely primarily on a metal building provider for construction of their self storage facility.  In order to make an informed decision one has to have a general understanding of what services each construction discipline provides.


In large construction projects, and most smaller ones as well, an architect is in charge of and responsible for the drawings and specifications of the project. These construction documents are the plans and written instructions that describe the work and duties required to complete the project.  In addition, individual trades hired to perform sections of the work provide their own detailed construction or shop drawings.  Since there are often many ways to accomplish the same goal, shop drawings will detail for workmen how they are to install or construct exactly what is required in the construction documents.

The architect also often represents the owner during construction to assure that work is being performed in accordance with contract documents. This may include approval by the architect prior to payment to contractors for work accomplished, usually referred to as progress payments or “draws”.

All construction drawings begin with a survey of existing land dimensions and contour. The site plan is a drawing of the overall project designed to fit within boundaries established by the survey.   All other plans are designed within the site plan. Depending on the scope of the project the architect may create most of the construction documents, or coordinate with specialty professionals to produce a complete set of plans and specifications.

Typically plans include:

  1. Site Plan
  2. Civils
  3. Architecturals
  4. Structure’s
  5. MEP’s
  6. Landscape (if required)

Design professionals work together contributing their area of expertise toward the overall completion of the project. Typically they include the following.

Architect: The architect usually has ultimate responsibility to the owner for the project. They serve as project coordinator and typically produce the following plan documents, commonly referred to as Architecturals:

  1. Plot Plan: Indicates the location of the building in relationship to the land.
  2. Floor Plans: Show the walls and partitions for each floor or level.
  3. Elevations (what the building will look like): Of all exterior faces of the building.
  4. Cross sections: A number of vertical cross sections to clearly indicate floor levels and details of footings, foundation, walls, floors, ceilings and roof construction.
  5. Details: Large-scale detail drawings showing construction details as necessary.

Civil Engineer: Responsible for everything with regard to the land, but not the buildings. The civil engineer is usually hired locally, either by the owner or the architect, because they are familiar with local governing authorities and restrictions placed on land use. They are responsible for location of utilities, building set backs, zoning, easements, ingress and egress, land elevations, watershed, etc. Civil Engineers drawings are commonly referred to as “Civils”.

The following specialty consulting engineers are usually hired by the architect:

Structural Engineer: Details the proper material allowances to accommodate vertical loads and lateral stresses.
A “load” is any force that is exerted upon a structure or one of its members. For example, snow load is the weight of snow as it rests on a building, wind load is the force imposed by wind blowing in any direction, and seismic loads are the potential forces exerted by earthquakes. Additional loads are the weight of the building itself, referred to as the dead load, and live loads, which are produced by people, furnishings, equipment and materials (movable objects).

Stresses are the internal forces of a material set up to resist external forces. Tension, the stress to pull something apart;compression, the stress to push something together; and shear, the stress that tends to keep two adjoining planes of material from sliding against each other under opposing parallel forces.

In other words, the structural engineer makes sure that the materials used and the way they are put together, are strong enough to withstand their own weight, the weight of any use they may be put to, and all internal and external forces that may be applied to the building.

MEP’s, this is a common reference for Mechanical (air conditioning), Electrical and Plumbing drawings. They are often drawn for the architect by one engineer. In smaller projects, not under the supervision of an architect, construction or shop drawings that are provided by individual trades may serve instead.
Mechanical drawings cover the installation of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems within a building and on the premises. They cover the complete design and layout of these systems and show floor plan layouts, cross sections and detailed drawings.


Electrical drawings generally cover the complete design of the electrical system for lighting, power, alarm and communication systems, and related equipment. They should show connections to existing power, and floor plans indicating the location of outlets, lighting fixtures, power panels, etc.


Plumbing drawings show water connection and distribution lines, and the location of plumbing fixtures.
Landscaping Contractor drawings are typically required and used when compliance to local landscaping regulations is mandatory. They specify ground coverage and plant materials. Tree ordinances often dictate the location and type of trees that may be used. Landscaping requirements vary greatly from location to location.

Design professionals can be hired directly by the owner, or a General Contractor may provide design professionals as part of their service.   


General Contractor is responsible to the owner and/or architect for construction of the project in accordance with the design. They may provide labor and materials themselves, use sub-contractors and vendors, or a combination of the above. The most two important functions that general contractors provide are construction coordination and quality control.

General contractors oversee each of the disciplines that work together to achieve the completed project. Beginning with the survey, civil engineer and design team, they evaluate plans and drawings, often offering suggestions to improve the project. They then use completed plans to gather bids to establish cost.

Materials are either manufactured or purchased from a vendor.  Labor is performed either by the general contractor’s employees or it is subcontracted. Subcontractors can also provide both materials and labor.

Virtually all projects are some combination of the above. It is the general contractor that weaves these many threads into the completed project. Some of the services involved are:

Architecture & Engineering   – Paving –   Mechanical
Permits, Fees, Testing  –  Concrete-Horizontal & Ventricle  – Electrical
Supervision, Office Trailer   – Masonry  – Plumbing
Excavation & Grading  – Steel Building Systems –  Fire Protection
Erosion Control  – Door & Hallway Systems  – Fencing
Detention/Retention Ponds – Thermal/Moisture Protection –  Security Systems
Retaining Walls  –  Roofing  –  Office Finish Out
Utilities  –  Painting  – Signage

In construction, time is money.  Even in a project of modest size, if the owner does not have the expertise to coordinate trades and maintain control quality, any money that they may have hoped to save by omitting a general contractor will soon be lost in time delays and mistakes.

In “turn-key” operations all aspects of construction are handled by the company signing the contract with the owner. Metal building providers sometimes offer “turn key” buildings. It is wise for the owner to investigate exactly what “turn key” means to the provider, and the expertise and quality of each of the disciplines involved before committing to a contract.

If it is not a turn key operation, or an architect and general contractor are not used, it is imperative that the owner makes sure that all trade drawings compliment each other. For instance, the electrical drawings must be coordinated with the mechanical drawings to assure that power sources for HVAC equipment are appropriately located, or that the Structural drawings allow appropriate space for the style of HVAC equipment being used etc.


A self storage metal building system is that portion of the building above the slab that is constructed of metal, excluding doors and hallways. Some companies that provide metal building systems also provide door and hallway systems.  Some subcontract with others to provide door and hallway systems, and some exclude them so that they are contracted for separately. Owners and general contractors must evaluate quality and cost in determining whether or not to contract separately for doors and hallways.

There are three components to the construction of a metal building system, construction (shop) drawings and specifications, materials, and erection labor. Some metal building companies offer these services separately as well as in conjunction with each other.

When an architect is not used, experienced competent self storage metal building providers can work from a survey and the owner’s instructions to design a building layout and provide structural (stamped by an engineer if required) and construction drawings. These drawings detail the design of the slab but it is the owner/general contractor’s responsibility to prepare the land and slab to receive the building. Although some metal building companies offer to provide a unit mix as well, owners must realize that the only “product” their facility will have to offer is the space between the walls. If the space sizes don’t correspond to the needs of the local community, they will not rent. Research and experience are absolutely required to achieve the best unit mix for any given area.

Materials have come a long way in the last few years. A wide variety of styles, finishes and costs are available. They each have unique properties with regard to appearance, strength, ease of installation, compatibility with other materials, moisture & thermal control, durability and flexibility for future changes.  Whether you purchase from a metal building company that produces their own product, or contract for a building based on your personal design, all of these things should be taken into consideration in making the selections for your facility.  Always request warranty information and documents for materials used.

Some erection labor is provided by a company’s employees, but most labor is through subcontractors. Subcontractors usually establish long term relationships with quality metal building providers. They become familiar with their product and do an excellent job. The key is to be certain that the metal building provider adequately supervises construction and that quality control is maintained. An advantage of having a local subcontractor is that often you can see examples of their work before construction begins. It is always wise to check references and see completed projects before making a commitment. Do not assume that just because it is a metal building of relatively simple construction that nothing can go wrong. Demand quality, and research to be sure you will get it.

Sometimes people rush to self storage because of its image of simplicity, and relatively speaking, it is a simple business. But it isa business, just like any other. The success of the business and the success of construction depend on understanding exactly what is involved and in choosing the right professionals to help you achieve your personal goal.

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