Many of the warehouse buildings raised in the 1980s and 1990s had a maximum functional height of approximately 20 feet (6 meters). Practically speaking, they were a bit taller than this, but what mattered was their clear height, which could actually be used for storage purposes and could not include beams, lighting, or fans.
If you were an organization that had a lot of merchandise to store, the clear height would dictate how far you could go upwards. In the past couple of decades, though, warehouse heights have consistently increased, as companies have tried to enable their operations to handle more inventory with roughly the same costs.
A Growing Trend
Modern warehouse constructors have consistently built higher buildings apart from using Stack racks (considered most flexible industry storage solutions to increase storage capacity), from 24 feet to 28, 32, and even 36 feet (10 meters) as of more recently. There are several noteworthy reasons why height is such an important aspect of organizations with large inventories:
More Clear Height Equals More Goods. Perhaps the first and most important reasons why companies want taller warehouses is because they can, theoretically, store more merchandise.
Storage capacity is an immense feature in the retail industry, particularly when you’re working with tens of thousands of goods, hundreds of suppliers, and millions of customers.
If a 32 ft. clear building can accommodate, at most, 6 vertical pallet positions, a 36 ft. clear storehouse will allow at least one position higher than is currently available. This may not seem like much at a first glance, but these four feet of height have the potential to deliver up to 20% more capacity to their owners.
Better Air Circulation. The higher the ceiling, the less likely it will be for the place to get hot due to the sheer size of interior air volume. Basically, a taller warehouse makes it possible for managers to save money on the electricity that they would otherwise use on air conditioning systems.
Easier to Navigate. Taller ceilings make for an easier orientation on the part of the people working at the ground level. Distinctive location markers can be placed high up so that they can be seen from almost anywhere in the facility.
What It Takes to Go Up
It’s not just additional steel and tilt panels that will have to be modified, though, so don’t expect a vertical expansion to be an easy, quick job. On the other hand, you’ll maintain virtually the same footprint while increasing the amount of usable cubic space, which, if you consider expendables, actually lowers your rent and maintenance costs for each unit sold.
The most essential modifications that come with additional height are floor thickness and the sprinkler system. While the latter is pretty obvious, since there’s more space to cover, improved floor thickness is necessary so that the warehouse can safely accommodate the additional weight of higher, heavier racks, as well as a bigger total capacity.
For a 36 ft. clear building or above, constructors usually recommend eight inches of concrete slab, which is 2 inches more than what you’d normally see in a usable 32 ft. warehouse. The spacing between rack columns will also have to be modified to accommodate improved forklifts that can reach that height.
The Price of More Cubic Space
The overall costs tend to vary from one industry to another, as well as from one building to another. Generally speaking, though, for storage spaces that exceed 300,000 square ft., the extension will cost in the range of $1.25 per square foot. Although this is still better than what you’d normally have to pay to horizontally extend your warehouse by 20%, you’ll need a strong cost-benefit analysis to push the change through.
A warehouse that plans on automatizing a lot of its systems by means of drones, robots, and cranes might be worth the expansion. Ideally, you’ll want to look at those storehouses that distribute merchandise over tremendous geographic spaces and that also have enough turnover to warrant the boost in inventory. You don’t want to make room for additional goods and then be stuck with them in storage, especially if they are perishable.
More importantly, you want to make sure that you have a way to carry out this height increase without taking considerable losses from the time it takes to complete the transformation. Less business during a high-investment phase usually makes stakeholders feel uneasy.