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Storage: Everything You Need to Know
Sometimes we all need some extra space. Perhaps your garage, basement or closet is bursting at the seams with valuable items you simply can’t do without. Perhaps you’re undertaking a move into a new home and need a place to keep a few things for a few weeks. Maybe you’re renovating or remodeling a room in your home and can’t fit your furniture elsewhere. Or maybe you’ve decided to downsize into a smaller apartment to save money on rent or live in a more desirable part of town. Or perhaps you’re struck with some unfortunate circumstance—a flooded basement, a damage attic—and need to move everything into a new space immediately. Whichever it is, there’s no solution more flexible, more affordable or more convenient than storage.
What is Storage?
Storage (in terms of self-storage) is an industry where businesses allow customers to rent space at a certain location. Typically, this means a unit at a dedicated storage facility, though there are some variations on this basic concept that we’ll get to later. You may also hear people refer to storage as ‘public storage’ or ‘mini storage’, though in recent years ‘self-storage’ or more simple ‘storage’ have become the preferred terms.
Storage units usually come in one of several standard sizes and are accessible on one side via a large, garage-like rolling door. Units are secured either by a built-in locking mechanism or by a separate lock or both. The property will be managed by a dedicated staff, which also works to keep your stored items safe. Onsite video cameras and security systems are used to monitor many storage facilities. Some facilities keep staff at the facility 24/7, allowing them to keep an eye on the valuables there and even provide 24/7 access to their customers.
Storage rental rates are typically charged on a monthly basis, though different kinds of contracts usually can be negotiated. The price of storage will depend on its location, the quality of the facility, the size of the unit, any extra amenities like climate control, the time of year, the facility’s level of occupancy, and special deals or promo rates. Because of these myriad factors, storage prices see a large amount of variance.
There are two principal types of storage facility: outdoor, drive-up access facilities and interior storage facilities.
Drive-up units are housed in a single-story building and are accessible from the outside, allowing you to pull your vehicle right up to the unit to unload. These are great for their easy access and lower prices than interior units, but they often lack such amenities as climate control, which can be crucial depending on the climate where you live.
Interior facilities house all units in a single building, meaning you’ll have to go inside a building and sometimes even up an elevator to get to your unit. Though this makes moving in and out with large furniture more difficult, it offers an unbeatable layer of protection from theft and pests and almost always features climate control.
Interior facilities, with their more compact footprint, are more prevalent in urban and suburban areas, while drive-up access storage facilities are more common in rural areas. It’s also not uncommon to see both building types on a single facility’s grounds.
Typical Uses for Storage
The storage industry has become so successful due to the simple fact that there are a large number of uses for storage and a large number of situations for which storage is the solution. Here are some of the most common:
Moving: Perhaps the most common reason people need storage is as part of a move into a new home. The process of moving is never fun and the logistics can be difficult and tedious, which is why storage offers a stable, safe solution to some of the trickier moves. For example, it’s not uncommon for your new home to not be ready by the time you move out of your old home. But what can you do with your stuff while you wait for your new place to be finished? Put it in storage. Another common situation is not being able to move everything with one trip. If you can’t leave your things at your old home, where will you put them? Once again, storage offers an easy solution.
Renovating or remodeling: Remodeling or renovating your home or a room in your home can go a long way toward improving your quality of life. In the short term, however, it can be a major source of pain. When remodeling a room, you’re often forced to move the furniture elsewhere in your home, which can be quite inconvenient. If you’re remodeling your entire home, you won’t even have that option available. A storage unit can solve all of that by absorbing the furniture from the room or home being remodeled.
Downsizing: Moving into a smaller home or apartment has become a trend in recent years, as people either attempt to save on rent or live in a more desirable, expensive location. But this presents some downsizers with a problem: How do they fit all of those things that once filled their older, larger home into the new, smaller one? Though the best way to deal with this is to get rid of the things you don’t need, there are some things that would be far more expensive to buy again down the road than to keep in a storage unit, and so many of those who are downsizing have turned to that solution.
Cutting down on clutter: Are you stuck with congested closets? Is your basement buried in clutter? Is your attic awash with stuff? If you’re in need of extra space, storage is your solution.
College summers: While most college students relish their summer break, they often take a much more ambivalent attitude toward moving home—not because they’re trading roommates for parents, of course, but due to the fact that they’ll need to move everything out of their dorm, load up their car and lug it all back home. Storage can take the headache out of this entire process, allowing students to keep their things near campus for those three months.
Home staging: Try this scenario: Your Realtor tells you that in order to best show your home, you need to remove half of everything inside it. What do you do? Storage, once again, comes to the rescue. The cost of a month or two of storage can easily pay for itself when you sell your home for more than you would otherwise, due to the great impressions you’ve left on the buyers.
Emergencies: Finally, there are those times where life throws a curveball at us and an unexpected event suddenly disrupts life. Whether a natural disaster or a death in the family, these situations call for quick and reliable solutions, and for many of us storage is exactly that.
Other Services Commonly Confused With Storage
Though the term ‘storage’ has in recent years come to denote self-storage both in the industry and in common parlance, it is still sometimes mixed up with a few similar and related services. These include:
Storage Lockers: Think of these as a storage unit’s little brother. You’ll often find storage lockers offered at storage facilities, often with similar benefits like interior access and climate control, but for a fraction of the price of a normal unit. You might be tempted to rent such a unit, and if you only have a few things to keep that’s fine, but otherwise beware: storage lockers are closer to the hallway locker you kept your books in during high school than the 5x10 storage unit you might have been envisioning. Storage lockers usually come in 3x3, but keep in mind that they also have a much lower ceiling than a typical storage unit, with a height of only 3-5 feet versus the 8 to 10 feet you see in most units.
Storage sheds: Storage units are not the same as storage sheds, which are often installed on a person’s own property and can be purchased in easy-to-assemble kits from your local home improvement store. While sheds are an alternative to storage units and can surely help solve your need for more space, there are certainly some downsides.
The first is cost: If you’re only planning on renting storage for a few months, your rental fees won’t be nearly as high as the cost of a shed, many of which cost well over $1,000 (that being said, those who are in need of a long term storage solution might opt for a shed’s one-time cost and its permanent location in your backyard).
Additionally, outdoor sheds require assembly that will require your time, effort, and tools.
On top of that, sheds will lack the climate control and security of a modern storage facility, meaning that there are a large number of items (like furniture, clothing, and electronics) that you won’t be able to keep in your shed for fear of damage from the elements or theft. Finally, storage sheds’ most important trait—the fact that you can keep your things on your property—also rules them out of one of the most important uses of a storage unit: as a place to keep your things while undertaking a move.
Choosing Between Storage Options: Storage Sizes and Amenities
Finding a storage unit near you is only one step in the process: You’ll also need to figure out the type and size of storage that best suits your needs. Special amenities you can opt for include climate controlled storage, storage with electricity and 24-hour access.
Climate controlled units keep your belongings cool and dry, protecting against extreme hot and cold as well as humidity, which is of particular danger to organic materials found in furniture and clothing due to the possibility of mold and mildew.
Units with electrical access will allow you to plug into the facility’s power source—some facilities allow customers to set up offices or workstations in their units, and there are even cases of bands holding practice in storage.
Finally, some facilities allow 24/7 access to their units, meaning you’ll be able to access your things whenever you need. As you might expect, such storage amenities will come at a higher price than basic units, but depending on your needs they may well be worth it.
An equally important decision you’ll need to make is choosing the size of your unit. Storage typically comes in the following standard sizes: 5’ x 5’ (25 sq ft.), 5’ x 10’ (50 sq ft.), 10’ x 10’ (100 sq ft.), 10’ x 15’ (150 sq ft.), 10’ x 20’ (200 sq ft.) and 10’ x 30’ (300 sq. ft). Here’s a brief description of each:
5 x 5: A 5 x 5 storage unit can handle the contents of a small closet. They’re great for a few boxes and a piece or two of furniture, like a desk and a chair. These are popular among college students.
5 x 10: Storage of this particular size is popular among those who live in one bedroom or studio apartments, as it will typically handle the content of such a living space. Unlike a 5 x 5, you should be able to fit a couch or bed set into a 5 x 10, provided your couch or bed set are not extra large.
10 x 10: This middlemost standard size of storage is also the most common and popular. These units are about the size of a large bedroom and can handle the contents of a typical two-bedroom apartment.
10 x 15: This is where we get into heavy-duty storage needs. A 10 x 15 should be able to handle the contents of an entire one-bedroom house, and can even be used to store small cars and boats.
10 x 20: Likely to be used by families who need to store the entire contents of their home, 10 x 20 storage units are capable of storing the contents of a four bedroom house. You should even be able to fit some midsize to large vehicles in here, like trucks, trailers and boats.
10 x 30: Though this may not exactly be common enough to call a standard size, we’ll still mention this behemoth, which should be able to handle the storage needs of any family or business.
Items You Can Keep in Storage—And Others You Can’t
Some items can be placed in storage with minimal preparation and be fine, while others need careful consideration and attention. Still others should never be kept inside a storage unit or are explicitly against most facilities’ policies.
Easily one of the most commonly stored category of items, storage almost seems to have been invented for the purpose of keeping furniture. With the right size unit, almost any piece of furniture can go into storage. There are, however, some important considerations that go along with furniture storage.
The first is humidity: Unless you live in the desert, you should seriously consider keeping your furniture in climate-controlled storage. That’s because almost every piece of furniture has sort of organic material on it, like wood or cloth. When there’s humidity within a contained area like a storage unit, mold and mildew can easily begin to flourish and spread. At the least damaging this will leave your furniture with an unfortunate smell, at the most it will eat through the organic materials are ruin your furniture.
In addition to climate control, it’s a good idea to keep your furniture up off the ground while in storage, which increase airflow and ventilation. Furniture can also be vulnerable to pests, which are best avoided inside interior storage facilities. Other good ideas for storing furniture include removing the legs from tables so that you can make more efficient use of space and covering furniture with a tarp to prevent scratching.
Similar to furniture, electronics are mostly vulnerable to the elements: Extreme hot and cold can damage their materials, while humidity can destroy their internal components. Dust is an additional concern, particularly to electronics with screens, which can be scratched by dust. Dust will also clog vents and can cause problems later on once you remove the units from storage. Climate controlled storage is also the best solution for keeping your electronics safe.
Another common category of items found in storage is clothing. Clothing should be stored in a box, a bin or in the shelves of a dresser. Items that can’t be folded or rolled up like suits, dresses and gowns can be kept safe under a plastic cover or in a bag. Pests and humidity are the biggest threats to clothing in storage, so if you have apparel that you greatly value, then you should look for interior, climate-controlled storage.
If you’re planning on keeping some books in storage, the top precaution you can take is making sure those books stay dry. Like clothes and furniture, books are made of organic material and so are susceptible to damage from mold and mildew. If you live in an area where the humidity is liable to climb to 55 RH or above (and that would include almost everywhere in the U.S.) you should probably rent storage with climate control.
This one should seem obvious. Not only will food go bad and bring a wonderful odor to your unit, but it will also attract the vermin, which will have no problem having their way with the rest of your items. A vermin-infested unit will quickly get you evicted by facility managers.
Canned Food Storage
There are a few exceptions to the rule. Food that has been properly canned and, therefore, is nonperishable. Second, drinks like water, wine and beer can also be kept in storage, and some facilities even keep specially designed wine storage units.
This one’s less of a never and more of an always check with the facility management first. Some storage facilities are absolutely fine with you keeping your registered firearms in your unit, but many have some very strict guidelines on storing guns. If the facility does grant your request to keep guns in the unit, always remember to keep your firearms unloaded.
Hazardous, flammable or explosive material storage
If this material is dangerous when spilled or is combustible, DO NOT KEEP IT IN STORAGE. If you’re storing any chemicals whatsoever, make sure to do your research and make sure that they are not in any way dangerous.
It's both illegal and inhumane to keep animals in a storage unit, and you won't be able to hide them from the facility managers. Keep your furry friends at home where they belong, or find a kennel or shelter where they can stay.
Since they require water and sunlight for survival, plants won’t survive long in storage. What they certainly will do is attract vermin and insects.
It stinks and you won’t be able to hide the smell, particularly from pests. They’ll make a feast of any degrading biodegradable material in your unit, and won't spare your non-trash items either.
Drugs or Stolen Property
Simply put, these are illegal to own and so are illegal to keep in storage. Your grow-room or lab won't go unnoticed by managers and other customers and you will get busted.
Self-storage isn’t to be taken too literally. Some facilities will allow you to move your office into a storage unit, to keep a workshop there, even to hold band practice or start a “man cave” in one of their units. All of this is fine—until you start living out of a unit. That’s illegal, and the facility managers will be able to catch on quickly.
A Few Extra Things to Consider
- Always read your contract carefully. It will include stipulations about what you can keep in your unit, what the rules about access and usage are like and perhaps most importantly, what happens when you’re late or delinquent on your payments. In an industry that’s spawned a popular television show about people abandoning their items in storage, you should be clear on what happens when things go wrong.
- Keep careful inventory of your items. Though the vast majority of storage facilities are safe and secure, theft can never be totally prevented. The best way to mitigate any potential issues is to keep a list of what you’ve kept in your unit.
- Consider insurance. Your homeowner’s insurance will likely cover most of the items you place inside storage, but there are limits and stipulations that come with moving items out of your home. The facility’s insurance policy will not cover your belongings. Most facilities will, however, allow you to buy a tenant insurance policy through them. You can also visit an independent insurance provider.
- Get the lowest price on storage. There are quite a few ways to save money on storage besides just shopping around. If you know you’re staying for a longer period of time, some facilities allow you to negotiate lower than the monthly rate to ensure your longer tenancy, allowing you to lock in a better deal and them to lock in a customer. Some facilities offer discounts for referrals, meaning if you can get a friend to also rent storage with them, they’ll cut you a deal. Another way to get a discount is going in with several friends and asking the storage facility for a group rate. Finally, some facilities might not budge on the price, but may still be willing to throw in a few perks for free. See what you can do to negotiate for free boxes, storage locks and moving trucks.
How Can I Find Storage Near Me?
In the past, the best way to find a storage facility was to either look in the phone book or simply drive around till you found one. Today, the best way to find storage is through an online storage marketplace like SpareFoot.
SpareFoot works much like other shopping comparison websites: Type in your city and ZIP, and we’ll show you the nearest storage facilities, complete with details like price, available unit sizes and amenities, and reviews from other storage renters. SpareFoot is the largest storage marketplace, with more facilities listed than anyone else, meaning you’re more likely to find local storage facilities with us than elsewhere. If you’d like to be more detailed with your storage search, you can sort and filter by unit sizes, amenities, price and distance. Finally, SpareFoot will allow you to book storage with your chosen facility right then and there. Finding storage has never been easier.