With the rising popularity of luxury items in storage and more demand than ever for uber-secure, high quality self storage facilities, climate-controlled facilities are experiencing rapid growth. But sometimes the terms 'climate-controlled' and 'temperature-controlled' can seem synonymous. So what does climate-controlled really mean? And more importantly, what do tenants expect from climate-controlled storage units?

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What does 'climate-controlled storage' mean?

The definition of climate-controlled storage varies among storage companies and locations, but the most common difference between climate-controlled and temperature-controlled is humidity. Temperature-controlled facilities usually only manage temperature, while climate-controlled facilities may manage both temperature and humidity. Both humidity and temperature work together to control moisture levels in a storage space. As humidity in the air increases, so does the air’s ability to hold heat. When humidity decreases, it also helps keep temperatures low.

Climate-controlled facilities use high quality HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), dehumidifiers, customizable thermostats and heavy-duty insulation to manage temperature and humidity.

Climate-controlled facilities use high quality HVAC systems (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), dehumidifiers, customizable thermostats and heavy-duty insulation to manage temperature and humidity. Dehumidifiers are best at managing humidity over time, but air conditioners are better at dropping humidity levels quickly. Air conditioners can change humidity levels fast by dropping the temperature inside the AC unit below the dew point. Because of this, air conditioners that also manage humidity usually have fluctuating temperatures. This can be bad news for a storage unit with strict temperature controls. Dehumidifiers are also more energy efficient at controlling humidity than air conditioning alone.

Not all dehumidifiers can control extreme humidity.

What is the difference between 'temperature-controlled' storage and 'climate-controlled' storage?

Temperature-controlled facilities only manage temperature, while climate-controlled facilities typically manage both temperature and humidity. As such, climate-controlled facilities typically have state-of-the-art industrial dehumidifier and HVAC systems. The two main types of dehumidifiers used by storage facilities are desiccant and mechanical. Desiccant dehumidifiers use a drying chemical substance (think silica gel packets) to remove moisture from the air. Because desiccant dehumidifiers use heat as an energy source, they can be set up to run off the waste heat of other processes. This can save storage owners significant amounts of energy (and dollars) over time. Desiccant dehumidifiers are less effective at controlling extreme humidity problems than mechanical dehumidifiers.

Temperature-controlled facilities usually only manage temperature, while climate-controlled facilities may manage both temperature and humidity.

Mechanical dehumidifiers, also known as refrigerative dehumidifiers, are the most common model. Like an air conditioner, they use refrigerant to remove moisture from the air. Mechanical dehumidifiers can manage extreme humidity, but are less energy efficient than desiccant models. Track humidity levels in your region and consult a professional before choosing a dehumidifier for your storage facility.

What humidity level should items in climate-controlled storage be kept at?

Managing humidity across multiple units and not sure what to shoot for? Opt for around 55% relative humidity. Most items do well in this temperature range, so most climate-controlled facilities strive for around 55% unless otherwise specified by tenant request. To compare, the average air conditioned home is between 35 - 40% relative humidity. Above 55%, most items will begin to suffer damaging effects from high levels of moisture. If no specific guidelines for the items are available, stick to around 55% relative humidity as a general rule of thumb.

Above 55%, most items will begin to suffer damaging effects from high levels of moisture.

What items need to be stored in climate-controlled units?

Most of your tenants’ stuff is going to do just fine in temperature-controlled storage. But climate-controlled facilities are the safest bet for storing these sensitive items:

  • Art - Climate-controlled storage is best for artwork. Paintings and fine art can shrink or expand in extreme temperatures. In humid environments, mold or mildew can grow and ruin artwork. The ideal storage temperature for art is between 60 - 75 °F with around 50% relative humidity.

  • Delicate fabrics - Clothes, antique toys, or upholstered furniture can grow mold or mildew in humid environments. Temperatures between 35 - 75 °F with 55% relative humidity or less are ideal. Delicate fabrics should be clean and stored with acid-free tissue paper or cedar packets.

  • Delicate paper items - Books, magazines, comics, and photographs can turn yellow in extreme temperatures. Temperatures between 35 - 75 °F with 35% relative humidity or less are ideal for storage. Keep paper items away from light exposure to prevent fading.

  • Electronics - Computers, speakers and cameras can corrode and grow mold in humid environments. Electronic items are best stored between 50 - 80 °F and 30 - 60% relative humidity. Throw a few silica gel packets in boxes with electronic items and store them high off the ground to go the extra step.

  • Metals - Metals react to moisture in a storage environment. Iron will rust, copper turns green, silver turns black and lead will turn into a white powder. Metals are best stored between 35 - 75 °F and 35 - 55% relative humidity. Elevate metal items off the floor to protect them from liquids creeping in on the floor.

  • Optical discs - Optical discs like CDs, DVDs and video games should be stored in cool, dry environments. Temperatures between 65 - 70 °F with 45 - 50% relative humidity are ideal. Also avoid exposure to direct light, which can cause clouding on disc surfaces.

  • Vinyl records - Always store records vertically, and in their original sleeves if possible. Records are best stored between 65 - 70 °F and 45 - 60% relative humidity. High temps can cause warping, and temps too low can cause a record to break in half.

  • Wine - Wine storage is one of the most finicky types of niche storage. The ideal environment for storing wine is low light, around 55 °F, and between 50-80% relative humidity. Wine that is kept in a too humid environment will age too fast, causing a cloudy, brown appearance. If the air is too dry, wine corks will dry out and crumble. This can compromise the seal or just make the bottle almost impossible to open.

  • Wood furniture or instruments - Antique wood items and woodwind instruments don’t do well in fluctuating temperatures. Wood items will contract in colder temperatures and expand in warmer temperatures. Temperatures between 55 - 85 °F are ideal for storing wood items. Humidity levels should be between 30 - 50% to prevent the growth of mold and wood rot. Wood items should be cleaned and polished with oil before storage to prevent splitting.

Are storage owners legally responsible for items damaged in climate-controlled storage units?

In short, no. When a unit is advertised as climate-controlled, tenants may assume the facility is guaranteeing an exact temperature or humidity percentage at all times. They may also assume a “no damage” guarantee to items inside the unit. To avoid liability, storage owners should make sure the lease agreement includes definition of the phrase “climate-controlled” as well as the standard non-liability verbiage. The definition on the lease agreement may look something like this:

If your unit is climate-controlled, the term “climate-controlled” for the purposes of this lease means that the facility will use reasonable efforts to avoid temperature extremes in a unit by keeping the unit warmer than the outside temperature in cold weather, and cooler than the outside temperature in hot weather, through an HVAC or other system. As with any mechanical system, it is subject to failure or malfunction. The facility makes no representations regarding humidity control or safety of contents stored in the unit.

(From TSSA Legal Update, 2007)

Pro tip: train employees to avoid making guarantees around temperature or humidity when talking to customers about climate-controlled units. (I.e. - “Your unit should always be at X temperature.") Why? Because these oral representations could be used by an dissatisfied tenant to claim fraud or deceptive trade practices. The good news is, by having something in writing stating your facility’s definition of climate-controlled, it will make it much more difficult for a tenant to make a legal claim against you. If you have climate-controlled units, it is always a good idea to double check with your legal counsel and insurance provider to make sure that your advertising and lease agreements do not impose increased liability on your facility.

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