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Can You Transform Existing Buildings into Storage Facilities?

Yes, you can transform existing buildings into storage facilities in the United States. There are two options for constructing new storage facilities: ground up or conversion.

Both have pros and cons and require substantial time, planning, and money. If you intend to build from the ground up, then it is crucial to know that the permitting process may have hurdles, construction can take longer than expected and hard costs tend to be higher.

Conversely, transforming an existing building into a storage facility can have its own setbacks, including unfavorable and unknown existing building conditions and access limitations. The key to a lucrative transformation requires extensive research.

And once you locate an existing building that is easily accessible, has little damage, and major curb appeal; you are on the right path. Have it in mind that most buyers are looking to transform a vacant warehouse, grocery store, or other large indoor facilities that can be converted in a short amount of time because of its existing structure.

Additionally, transforming a building can also bring down the overall cost of a facility structure since HVAC systems or other equipment may already exist on the site. All of these factors can influence the success of your facility. Also, note that building transformation can be costly if the building has infrastructure flaws; roof and HVAC systems are often issues.

Note that if the existing building points of access are blocked or it has multiple internal stairwells, it can be quite hard to change the layout of space without incurring steep costs. Are there environmental issues such as asbestos? If so, this could be costly remediation.

In addition, if the facility you are considering transforming is in a poor location, you may need to invest additional funds marketing the property or consider paving a larger parking lot for easier access. Transforming an existing building into a storage facility has drastically changed over the past two decades.

Today, if you find a building that has enough interior height clearance, you can put in a mezzanine and double the potential rentable square feet. Once your transformed building has enough parking space, you can add an exterior free standing building or extra parking as an additional phase.

What Permit/License is Required to Transform Existing Buildings into Storage Facilities?

Transforming an existing building into a storage facility doesn’t require a specific permit or license other than zoning. However, there are some general local, state, and federal business registrations that may be needed such as an Employer Identification Number and Occupancy Permit among others.

Zoning has continued to become an issue for new and expanding facilities in the United States. And since zoning boards started lumping mobile storage facilities in with self-storage, it has become increasingly challenging to get approval.

Part of the issues is when the industry started, it gravitated toward high-visibility areas such as expressway exits or large intersections.

Note that this normally wouldn’t be an issue, but unfortunately, there are some unattractive or poorly maintained facilities out there, and public perception is hard to change. However, the very first step in being prepared for approval is having complete plans that meet the zoning regulations. Revisions during the process cause delays and are often expensive.

Don’t forget that in addition to industry-specific guidelines there are many other general regulations that are expected to be met by all commercial developments. Most new developers get in trouble by making many wrong assumptions because they were not aware of all the parameters.

Zoning Regulations That Will Have A Major Impact On Your Facility’s Design Or Approval

Here are just a few zoning regulations that will have a major impact on your facility’s design or approval. Have it in mind that any of these (and many others) can require substantially more land or money than originally expected, so be prepared.

  1. No self-storage can be located within three miles of another storage facility.
  2. The maximum property coverage of the storage buildings and pavement is 50 percent.
  3. Self-storage can only be located in the industrial park zone.
  4. Only one building is permitted on a single parcel.
  5. No development or restricted development is permitted within 150 feet of the wetlands.
  6. One parking space is required per 1,000 square feet of the building.
  7. Onsite drainage detention is required, which takes large areas of land to build.
  8. Similarly, new developers often don’t conduct a review of the building codes and other self-storage standards before they start their design plans. This can lead to poor design or even significant redesigns. For example, here are three non-zoning codes that are often initially overlooked:
  9. Some fire codes or building codes can overrule zoning codes for driveway widths, requiring 30 feet between buildings.
  10. Building-code firewall requirements should also be reviewed prior to completing your site plan. Sometimes you can save money by eliminating expensive firewalls and limiting individual building sizes.
  11. Building widths of 10 feet increments are more cost-efficient because there is less waste


Transforming an existing building into a storage facility will save you a lot of money and time. Going back and forth with planning permission and building from scratch can be very daunting. The existing building, especially if empty for many years, will be devaluing the neighborhood.

Transforming the building will brighten the area and turn a run-down, derelict building into a cool, urban storage facility.

Some existing properties that were once booming stores probably have existing parking lots. Even if you don’t require all that space for parking, then there is room for extending the building for more storage. And not that it is far easier to get planning permission on an existing building than a brand-new one.