RV And Boat Storage Facility Design

Posted by Poppy Behrens on May 11, 2021 12:00:00 AM

In a booming economy, expendable income fuels ancillary purchases. RV sales in the past decade have resulted in a growing need to store these vehicles in a safe, secure environment. As new developments continue to paint the landscape, homeowners associations are putting the pinch on residences when it comes to storing their RVs outside on their property.

The Big Picture For Big RVs
According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, there were 275,000 new boats sold through November of 2019, up six percent over the same three month (rolling three-month year-over-year) stretch in 2018. Increased sales and limited storage availability in new housing developments are just a few reasons why you should consider an RV storage facility or an element of RV storage in your new project to produce an attractive secondary revenue source.

Identifying a site for your RV storage facility first starts with a target market. Whether en route to popular vacation destinations (desert, lake, river) or in close proximity to large housing developments, the location of a subject site is a product of land availability and local zoning ordinances. Due to the flexibility of the product type, odd land shapes and encumbered properties can be attractive and affordable options thanks to their inability to accommodate other uses. Good access to major thoroughfares, easy ingress/egress to the site, and main highway frontage are all considerations when selecting a site.

Following the identification of a subject site, the developer must consult with the local jurisdiction to determine the constraints applicable to the property in order to layout the site. Once the due diligence with the city has been completed, the layout process can begin. It is highly advisable that you connect and consult with a design professional who is familiar with the use and functionality of RVs. While seemingly a straightforward product type, there are some applications and approaches that can be the difference between a frustrating facility and a successful one.

Boats and RVs can equal countless hours of fun, however anyone who has enjoyed the use of these vehicles can also reveal horror stories in dealing with their storage and maintenance. Designing a user-friendly, functional, and easy-to-navigate project is paramount when contemplating the layout of an RV storage facility. One need not go farther than their own market area to see that well-designed facilities will command more from a rental rate perspective and traditionally enjoy higher occupancy levels. There are many factors to consider when designing an RV storage facility; access, drive aisle width, and turning radii are key elements, while amenities like wash bays and dump stations should be considered as well.

Layout Considerations
When first approaching the layout of the facility, it’s important to consider prevailing traffic directions, daily traffic counts, and exposure to adjacent thoroughfares and commercial centers. With RV facilities, traffic will be a major concern with jurisdictions as well as the visibility of the stored RVs. Careful placement of the office and gate can help alleviate some of the concerns of the jurisdiction while maintaining a marketable presence to the project’s surroundings.

When designing an RV storage facility, it is important to leave sufficient stacking distance (space allotted for cars/RVs to line up) from the entry gate to avoid a situation that could lead to cars waiting in the right-of-way for the vehicle ahead to enter their code at the gate. A good rule of thumb is to have a minimum of 100 feet from the entry gate to the street; if you have a large acreage facility (say over five acres), it’s best to increase that distance if possible. It’s also important, if space permits, to have at least one “turn out” space outside the gate for inquiring customers to park their RV without blocking the entry gate. There should also be a minimum of five to six regular parking spaces for cars and small trucks adjacent to the office to accommodate potential customers, management, and the like.

Dedicated entry and exit lanes with their own gates allow entering and exiting vehicles to avoid maneuvering and cross-traffic conflicts. The entry and exit lanes and gates should be a minimum of 14 feet wide, which allows ample room for large RVs with mirrors to clear the gates. A key feature at the entry is an elevated keypad for RV users so they do not have to exit the vehicle to input their code. An alternate to the elevated keypad is a newer Bluetooth enabled entry system that utilizes a smartphone to gain facility access. Keep in mind that local jurisdictions may or may not allow for a divided entry system; in which case, alternate access solutions will need to be presented.

Frequently, jurisdictions will want the boats and RVs screened from public view. By establishing perimeter buildings, one can provide enclosed RV and boat spaces while also providing the visual screening cities and neighbors desire. These buildings produce revenue and security, whereas fences or site walls can be quite costly with no revenue production. Another added bonus of the perimeter buildings is they allow for security without the added cost of fences and site walls. Defining these perimeter buildings sets the boundaries for the critical aspect of circulation.

Whenever possible, RV storage facilities should be designed for left-hand turns, which allow the driver to see the left side of the RV, trailer, or boat when making turns while circulating the facility. Furthermore, equipping the facility with angled stalls simplifies driver turning negotiations as one can see the entire side of the vehicle while they maneuver. Main drive aisles should be a minimum of 32 feet wide (depending on the depth of the stalls), as this width works well for 60-degree angled spaces. RV storage spaces should be 12 feet wide minimum (14 feet is preferred if space allows), allowing extra width for mirrors on an 8-foot-6-inch-wide vehicle. While 32-feet-wide drive aisles may work for 30-degree or even 60-degree parking, 90-degree spaces will require much more negotiating room with the length of the RV also contributing to the required minimum width. End aisles (running perpendicular to the access aisles) need to be about five feet to eight feet wider than longitudinal aisles to facilitate the turning movement around the end of an aisle for long wheel-based vehicles.

Product Types
Uncovered RV Storage
Uncovered RV storage is the cheapest to construct but also commands the least in rental rates. This product type also happens to house the widest disparity in quality as some facilities contain dirt lots with no management and some have concrete drive aisles and clubhouses. Uncovered RV storage is the most readily available of the product types as it is typically used as an auxiliary use to self-storage when excess land is available or squeezed into underutilized drive aisles.

One of the added benefits of uncovered RV storage is it allows for future phasing for self-storage if need be. In these instances, foundations for future buildings can be built during the construction process and house RV parking until the future building is needed. By and large, uncovered RV storage allows the most amount of freedom for future use while capitalizing on a site’s current conditions.

Canopy Storage
Canopy storage can be a desirable option for boat or RV owners as it is the mid-pricing tier between uncovered storage and enclosed storage. A customer with a Class-A motorhome is often willing to pay for the increased protection afforded by the canopies and keep the sun damage to a minimum. A canopy structure should have a minimum structural clearance of 14 feet high to accommodate all RVs and their associated racks. Typically, carport “T” structures are used for canopy storage as the center column support is less susceptible to damage while parking the RV since it’s inset several feet from the exterior canopy edge. Canopies costs approximately 25 percent of an enclosed storage building to construct and command about 30 percent to 40 percent more in rent than uncovered spaces. Depending upon your geographic location and associated power company, solar panels mounted on the canopies can be a worthwhile investment that can pay dividends down the road and offset the cost of the canopies.

Internal Storage
Internal RV and boat storage is the highest priced unit type, however it is also the most expensive to construct. This type of RV storage traditionally falls into one of three types: internally demised spaces of approximately 14 feet wide by 30 to 50 feet deep with their own roll-up door, open warehouse space with communal parking with marked spaces, and valet storage.

Internal RV storage with demising walls should have 12-foot-wide roll-up doors and be 14 feet high to accommodate tall RVs with roof top equipment and air conditioners. Motorized openers are often used for internally demised spaces as the large 12-foot-wide-by-14-foot-high doors can be heavy to operate. This feature also becomes an added selling point for clientele along with electrical outlets (optional and a higher price point) for trickle chargers. One of the perks of building internal RV storage is it can be utilized for traditional self-storage as well, whereas canopy and open RV storage can only be used for parking vehicles. A twist we have seen lately on internal spaces are “man caves” that provide a higher internal clearance height with an included mezzanine. The mezzanine can then used for a lounge, workshop, and the like.

The second type of internal storage is open warehouse storage. In these facilities, painted lines with unit numbers represent the rentable space. While typically cheaper than the demising wall option, this unit type presents a less secure product with only semi-controlled access as other patrons located within the same building have immediate access to all vehicles.

The third option is for “valet storage,” where an attendant parks and retrieves (typically with 24-hour notice and an appointment) your RV or boat in a large warehouse space. In this scenario, the vehicles are parked end to end and retrieved by the valet attendant while the customer has no access to the RV. However, some facilities offer extra services where the valet will have the RV prepared with ice, air, and water waiting for the client to jump in and go. This type of storage is a different business model and has more risk for the operator as the operator takes control of the customers’ vehicles. Due to these varying ancillary services, the nuances of this business can vary greatly as employees, maintenance equipment, and insurance requirements increase.

The Wash Rack And Dump Station Option
Dedicated RV storage facilities can contain a wide array of amenities that can vary based on geographic location. Perhaps the most common amenity we see in the industry is a wash rack and dump station. These facilities allow owners to bypass additional stops and/or fees during those last few precious vacation moments. In addition, the wash rack and dump station can be made available to non-clients for a fee, thus making it a potential revenue source. In planning an RV storage facility over an acre or so, the wash rack and dump station should certainly be considered as a baseline amenity.

The placement of these facilities should be central to the site and screened from surrounding residences (if applicable) and rights-of-way. This will hide the internal workings of the facility and keep it streamlined and presentable from the exterior. A well-designed wash rack includes elevated walkways on two sides so the customer can wash the top of the RV easily. Most states have laws governing the control of storm water runoff, which triggers the need to have a roof structure on most wash racks and the ability to be completely self-contained (recycling the water used). Many of times, ice, vending, and air will be made available in the direct vicinity of the wash rack and dump station, acting as a “one-stop shop” for patrons when leaving for or arriving home from an excursion.

RV and boat storage can be a stand-alone operation or successfully tied to a self-storage facility. As illustrated in this section, it can also serve as a valuable phasing tool to incur additional revenue from otherwise empty, taxable property. Both governmental entities and HOAs alike have encouraged the growth of RV storage facilities with a robust RV industry adding to the demand. Despite the illustrated need for this product type, careful analysis of individual market conditions is paramount in determining its viability. After identifying the market and property, the layout process can begin.

Seasonal travelers and weekend warriors alike can share in the numerous benefits set forth by a well-designed facility. The variations and spin-offs (some of which have been described above) to the standard facility can also prove successful given the right market and geographic location. Part of the design challenge is overcoming what hurdles are presented on each property whether they be governmental, geographical, and/or environmental hurdles, or site-specific challenges (easements, access, topography, etc.). Fortunately, RV storage offers the flexibility in product types to overcome these issues—something that most other types of development cannot offer. This can present some exciting opportunities on challenging properties with great locations at affordable prices.