Canada’s first net-zero-certified self-storage building is the first step toward a more sustainable self-storage portfolio for owner and operator Nicola Wealth Management, according to senior development manager Nathan Ma.
Nicola, headquartered in Vancouver, owns and operates eight self-storage properties across British Columbia under the Advantage Self Storage brand.
Founded in 1994 by John Nicola, the firm owns over 300 North American properties across the multifamily, office, industrial and self-storage sectors. It has over $14.4 billion in assets under management.
The new facility, for which construction began in 2023, will be the fourth building at its Maple Meadows self-storage complex in Maple Ridge, B.C. It will be a three-storey, 80,000-square-foot building with 638 lockers upon completion.
It earned net-zero certification for design from the Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC) in December 2023 for eliminating the use of fossil fuels, integrating solar panels and optimizing energy efficiency.
“Pursuing the certification comes down to, as a company, we want to build sustainable buildings. What we always want to consider is, what are the regulatory targets in terms of sustainability in the coming years?” Ma said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.
Planning sustainability for Maple Meadows
Maple Meadows was purchased in 2004 by Nicola, according to Ma. It was acquired with two buildings in place, then a third was added in 2019. In 2023, Nicola decided to add a fourth-and-final building and set it up as a net-zero project. Construction began in July and completion is anticipated by the summer of 2024.
Nicola’s advantage in designing the fourth phase of Maple Meadows was the vertically integrated nature of the project. Nicola not only owns Maple Meadows, it is also designing, constructing and operating the self-storage project, granting it a window into its operations that would not be available if it was planned as a leased building, Ma said.
“We’re able to really understand how the building operates, how it lives, how it breathes. What does the temperature need to be like, what does the lighting need to be like.” Having the metrics on hand made it “relatively straightforward” to design a net-zero building, provided Nicola engaged with experts and did its research, he said.
Armed with the knowledge gained from the site's three existing buildings, Nicola assembled a team of engineers, sustainability consultants and architects to develop an energy model to forecast the kind of lighting, mechanical systems and wall thicknesses required to accomplish a net-zero design.
Saving emissions and money
The designers of the fourth phase of Maple Meadows settled on the most energy and cost-efficient features such as all-electric systems, air-source heat pumps for efficient heating and cooling, LED lighting, and solar panels on the roof to provide 100 per cent of the building's operational energy.
Operational greenhouse gas emissions are almost eliminated at 99 per cent, with the remainder attributed to BC Hydro.
The net-zero path also makes financial sense, with Ma noting the net-zero components are expected to save approximately $55,000 in annual costs. The upgrades cost approximately $550,000, which increased building valuation by just over $1 million.
“We thought those savings were recognized almost immediately,” he said.
Ma said the CAGBC’s Zero Carbon Building – Design Standard certification recognizes it as a zero-carbon building only in design, so aligning construction with design is equally as important.
The building will be considered for the Zero Carbon Building – Design Standard certification a year after construction is complete and the facility is in operation. Meters will calculate energy consumption, which will help inform the CAGBC if it is eligible for the certification. Nicola anticipates being able to achieve the Zero Carbon Building – Design Standard, Ma said.
Maple Meadows is the future of Advanced Self Storage’s portfolio, Ma added. The other three buildings in the project are not net-zero certified, but Nicola plans “to maintain this level of certification or equivalent on our projects moving forward.”
The company has plans for two additional net-zero self-storage projects which are in the design phase: a 200,000-square-foot facility on Vancouver Island and a 250,000-square-foot project in the Fraser Valley.