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Warehouse Conversions: 7 Money-saving Tips

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Explore challenges, design tips and strategic planning to stay ahead of construction delays

As the aerospace, science and technology industries continue to grow, so does the demand for office and manufacturing space. Finding suitable spaces can be challenging, especially in high-demand cities like Denver. One option is to convert existing warehouses into new offices and manufacturing floors. While this can be cost-effective, it’s essential to consider several challenges before signing a lease or purchasing a building. Understanding these potential issues early can help you plan and budget for them, minimizing expensive surprises during design and construction.

Large Open Spaces

One of the benefits of converting warehouse spaces is starting with a large open floor plan with tall ceilings. Chances are you’ll want to separate some of this space, especially if you’re building a hybrid office and manufacturing area. Full-height walls that span 30 feet or more can be challenging to build; usually, the larger the wall, the larger the studs required to support it. Studs meeting the height and deflection criteria can be expensive and hard to procure, making it challenging to meet aggressive project schedules.

Design Tip

It’s essential to account for proper deflection in these walls, which can be three inches or more. Your architect and engineers must pay close attention to the deflection track, its connections, and its location within the wall. Also remember to provide a three-inch offset around all wall penetrations like pipes, ducts, and conduits.

The drawing above details a typical scenario in warehouse conversions where a large stud meets the roof deck. In general, the larger the wall, the larger – and more expensive – the studs required to support it. If you plan to have full-height walls in your manufacturing and office spaces, anticipate their actual cost in your project’s budget.

Structural Loads

The roof joists of a warehouse are generally not designed to hold heavy rooftop equipment. The heating, cooling, and humidification demand of manufacturing spaces requires large and heavy air handling units. Since it’s usually cost-prohibitive to reinforce the roof joists, the next best option is to place these units behind the building, usually near the loading dock. When considering a building, verify adequate space on your site to place these units without infringing on local codes or zoning restrictions and ensure you can still use the area behind the building.

Design Tip

Generally, the roof joists will be designed to carry a heavier load over the office area, as indicated on the existing plans. Work with your structural engineer to locate smaller rooftop units (RTUs) in these areas but be aware that additional steel to reinforce the joists may still be required.

Electrical Service

Before signing a lease, it’s important to verify the electrical capacity allotted to your suite. You’ll likely need to upgrade your electrical service and add a transformer to the site. This could result in long lead times and delays to your project completion date. We’ve seen lead times as high as a year or more. To minimize the potential for delays, it’s best to identify the need for electrical upgrades early so that your architectural team can coordinate with your local utility service as one of the first steps in the design process.

Manufacturing spaces require special power needs for each piece of equipment. On a wide-open floor, getting power to designated areas can be difficult while maintaining flexibility within the space. Here are a few options for delivering electricity throughout your building:

These solutions come with varying degrees of complexity in construction and cost. Work with your architect to discuss the pros and cons of each system and what will work best for your team.

Design Tip

Confirm with your architect and contractors that the building’s lighting will be installed below the mechanical zone so that HVAC equipment doesn't prevent light from reaching the floor.


Depending on your type of manufacturing and the size of your office space, you may need to upgrade the water line to the building. Water tap fees are rarely included in the initial building budget but can cost $100,000 or more. Before signing a building lease, identify whether you’ll need to budget for this added expense. Generally, if you expect to have more than two toilet room banks, you’ll need to review the possibility of increasing your tap service.

Design Tip

Specifying flush-tank toilet fixtures instead of flush-valve toilet fixtures can decrease the water demand in a building. Work with your plumbing engineer to compare these two options and see if you can eliminate the need to increase your water tap size.

Openings in Precast Buildings

Many contemporary warehouse spaces are made of precast concrete panels. While these are efficient and relatively easy to construct, it can be costly and time-consuming to create new openings in them after they’re assembled. Large openings for overhead doors always require structural reinforcement. Even small windows can be tricky to add; these usually cannot exceed two by two feet and must be placed in the middle of a panel without additional structural design.

Design Tip

Studies continually prove the benefits of daylit work environments on employees’ health and productivity. In your search for a new office, find a building with as many existing openings as possible to minimize the number of new ones you’ll have to make.

Coordinating Trades

When it comes time to start construction, there’s a lot to juggle – from setting up extensive HVAC systems, installing a ton of power receptacles, laying out complex pipework, and installing sufficient lighting. One way to organize the construction process is to split the building into different zones for each trade. This method keeps contractors focused on select project areas, directs the sequencing and timing of system installations, and helps prevent costly mistakes from tradespeople trying to work over each other.

Design Tip

Construction disruptions will inevitably arise even with a solid plan. Stay in touch with your contractors, so you can iron out any wrinkles as they appear. Remember, your architectural partners are experts in construction administration – lean on them for help navigating challenges in the field.

Drawings like the one above can help coordinate the heights of mechanical, electrical, and plumping (MEP) systems. Work with your architect to organize these disciplines and avoid expensive errors caused by MEP system clashes.

Elevating Your Brand

Generally, warehouse spaces are a blank slate, allowing you to showcase your company’s brand. Consider adding interior finishes and furniture that reflect your office culture. Are you an industry disruptor? Think of bold colors and shapes to reflect your team’s energy. Looking to keep your space sleek and futuristic? Look towards a monochromatic palette of neutral colors and elegant interior fixtures.

Client-facing spaces like the lobby are ideal for adding a visual and experiential punch to your building. But employee-driven rooms are also important. Create comfortable and inviting break rooms that encourage gathering. Work with your architect and interior designer to strategically use paint and carpet to add pop to your office. These are economical ways to create vibrant spaces. And, of course, remember to verify that you have enough parking for your employees!

Design Tip

Experiential graphic design installations are another way to showcase your company’s achievements and people. These installations can be more than just your logo behind the reception desk – from large murals depicting a visual history of your company to interactive displays, they can help connect your employees, clients and investors to your brand.

Careful Planning Pays Off

Recently, I had a client who wanted to renovate a warehouse into an office and manufacturing space. After securing a building, their estimated renovation cost returned 60% higher than their initial budget. They eventually raised the extra money, but the process added six months to the design schedule.

This example illustrates the importance of knowing your building before starting a construction project. By flagging potential structural, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical issues early, you can budget for them and have a realistic idea of how much of the construction budget you’ll need to dedicate to improving those systems.

In an industry where every day counts, careful planning will help your company stay ahead of construction delays and at the helm of innovation.

EUA has decades of experience helping aerospace, science and technology companies convert existing warehouse buildings into new offices and manufacturing spaces. Read more about how we can help you with your next project.

Ashley Fruhwirth, AIA
Senior Project Architect

Ashley Fruhwirth is a senior project architect in EUA's Denver office. She specializes in the science + technology, aerospace and learning markets.