Behind many Public Storage orange doors is green construction that helps preserve the environment and reuse historic buildings in communities around the country.
By repurposing existing structures whenever it can, the company is reducing the impact of building by limiting the construction, materials and transport needed to open a new storage location, and it is eliminating millions of pounds of waste.
Over the years, Public Storage has repurposed and recycled several large buildings, some with interesting past lives. There’s an early Ford Motor Company regional assembly plant, shown above, the first movie studio where Charlie Chaplain worked and the largest cold storage facility from the last century—a Jersey City hub for eggs, cheese and poultry distribution by rail to markets in greater New York City. Public Storage sometimes also buys and reuses existing self-storage structures instead of building from scratch.
“Repurposing existing buildings is definitely a play in the playbook that we will continue to do more of, using repurposed buildings that might otherwise be destroyed,” said Tim Stanley, a Public Storage senior vice president.
Reducing the Impact of Construction
In projects around the country, Public Storage developers reuse the foundation and outside walls of existing structures and convert the interiors into rows of shiny new storage units. The company also acquires mini storage facilities for local customers in lieu of building from scratch, another boon to the environment.
Repurposing the shell of a structure eliminates between 50 and 80 percent of greenhouse gases that would be produced building from scratch, said Larry Stain, of the eco-friendly Siegel & Strain Architects, which has focused on green building projects since the 1990s.
“The buildings that take the most carbon to build are big, industrial commercial buildings because they’re framed in steel or concrete,”said.
And these are typically what the company transforms, like one of the largest Public Storage locations at 16700 Red Hill Ave, Irvine, CA 92606, pictured below, that was once an industrial space.
When companies avoid demolishing and rebuilding from scratch, fewer greenhouse gases are produced, said Strain. The energy – from materials to construction – required for an average 50,000 square foot building is equal to 640,000 gallons of gasoline, according to a 2011 study by the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
That’s a whole lot of energy saved by Public Storage, which reuses buildings that can exceed 230,000 square feet.
And while newer buildings may be constructed with more eco-friendly bells and whistles, preserving old structures may be more beneficial. It would take 10 to 80 years for a new structure that is 30 percent more green to come overcome the impact of new construction, according to scientists in a 2011 study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Reducing Demolition Diverts Tons of Landfill Waste
Cutting back on demolition during construction reduces the amount of rubble that would otherwise have to be transported offsite and often end up in landfills. Taking down walls inside but leaving the outside intact also contains the dust and debris particles during a major remodel.
“It’s less disruptive,” Stanley said.
The average building demolition, for example, produces 155 pounds of waste per square foot. Turning around and rebuilding at that same location creates another 3.9 pounds of waste, according to the Washington State study.
So by repurposing buildings, Public Storage has eliminated millions of pounds of landfill waste, and counting. In addition, the structures used are sometimes so large, with four-feet-thick walls in one case, they would be difficult to reuse for retail, office or residential projects.
“If a developer bought many of these buildings, the structures would have been demolished,” said Frank Caccuro, a Public Storage vice president of East Coast construction.
He directed the redevelopments of two of Public Storage’s largest properties: Public Storage at 385 Gerard Ave., Bronx, NY 10451 (pictured below) and Public Storage at 133 2nd St., Jersey City, NJ 07302.
Repurposing warehouses like these also reduces the need for new materials, which would have an environmental impact to create and require fuel to transport.
“When retrofitting an existing structure, there’s less need to fabricate and ship additional raw materials,” said Caccuro, noting a reduced need for wood, concrete, brick and metal with remodels versus new construction. “The bones of these buildings are rock solid.”
Interiors Rebuilt with Green Features
Public Storage is incorporating greener practices indoors. It is adding energy-efficient air systems, LED lights and energy-efficient building “skins” like the one pictured above that can insulate from the elements.
Redevelopments aren’t easy and can even take longer, but somebody’s got to do it. Construction teams can find more unidentified roadblocks during retrofitting that could set a project back.
“As we start to peel back a structure, we find a lot of unknowns,” Caccuro said, remembering the 100-year-old sewer pipe they found and dealt with during the Jersey City retrofit.
The gains have not only been good for the environment, but also for business. Since fewer materials are needed to repurpose a building, reusing can often cuts costs.
These locations also have a tendency to be in the thick of high-density cities where vacant land comes at a high price, if it can even be found.
“We’re always looking at repurposing projects. Especially in inner-city areas where the need for storage is the greatest,” Caccuro said.
You can expect some beautiful orange buildings rolling out soon.
“There’s a lot of hurdles, but there’s a lot of rewards when retrofitting,” said Strain. “You can make a beautiful building out of something old, and we should be focusing on that more.”