From a street’s-eye view passing by on Highway 4A, Parksville’s Island Self-Storage looks like just another of the seemingly ubiquitous such U-store complexes fronting the stretch from Parksville to Coombs.
But a closer examination of the large office building and the ranks of low-slung, cinder-block storage structures reveals something very different behind the scenes.
The south-facing roof of the main office structure — the one facing away from the highway — is completely covered by an array of solar panels. Additional solar “tracker” panels that tilt and swivel to follow the sun, will be installed at four of the storage buildings, and a rank of 10 power-generating windmills will stand in front of the property when ongoing construction is complete.
“I think you’re going to see this as the way of the future, whether you’re talking about cars, houses, or whatever you’re building,” said Randy Marston, who owns the business with his wife, Teresa. “Our goal here is to run it entirely on solar and wind power.”
Marston has been a builder for 23 years. He said the new Island Self Storage, which is replacing an existing storage business on the same property, is his third such business. He and his wife recently sold the most recent one, the Oceanside Storage complex which happens to reside next door to the new business.
Oceanside boasts eye-catching landscaping with rows of palm trees and a pond with fountains, but the Marstons are taking a somewhat different approach with Island Self Storage.
“We thought about another pond, but opted to go with some simple landscaping instead,” Randy said. “The pond looks nice, but it’s not very sustainable. They use a lot of water and it takes energy to run the fountains.”
What water Island Self Storage uses for irrigation, Marston said, will come from a catchment system with multiple underground tanks. Runoff from the roofs and paved areas will be directed through an oil filter and deposited into the tanks for use in irrigating the property.
Inside, the office is something of a showroom for some of Marston’s other work, in cabinetry and marble. Displays include a giant TV screen mounted above an electric fireplace, and several antique drink and snack vending machines.
The office also features wall-mounted, high-efficiency ductless heating units, but much of the energy efficiencies are out of sight.
“We had to figure everything out before we even started building,” said Marston, who consulted with a local solar and wind-energy specialist. “This building has one-foot (thick) walls, 16 inches of styrofoam under the floor, triple-pane windows and R70 insulation in the ceiling. “We want to use this building as a model.”
The mini storage units have undergone a similar green energy overhaul, starting with thicker sytrofoam under the floor and thicker doors, with weather stripping, to replace the thin metal roll-up doors common to self-storage sites, Marston said. Heat to the units will be provided by heat pumps that could slash the business’s heating costs to 25 per cent of their current level, he added.
When the business’s solar and wind turbine arrays are all installed and operational, the Marstons expect not only to provide for all their own energy needs with renewable energy, but to have enough left over to sell back to BC Hydro.
Why both solar and wind?
“The wind blows better here in the winter, but solar works better in the summer,” Marston said with a laugh. “We’re trying to cover both.”
They have so much faith in the new system, Marston said, that the couple sold their 10,000-square foot home at River’s Edge and have moved into the residence they built atop the Island Self Storage office.
“We’re looking forward to not having a Hydro bill,” he said.
But, he was quick to add, it’s not about the energy savings as much as it is about establishing a working model of sustainable building while continuing to beautify the industrial area as they started with their previous storage business next door.
“We’ve tried hard to support local businesses with this construction,” Marston said. “And part of our business model is to improve the neighbourhood, wherever we go.”