Tuesday Tips: Choosing a Storage Facility

Man, we Americans have a lot of stuff. Can't even fit it in our houses. Nearly 11 million households are renting a self storage unit, according to the Self Storage Association. And that's 65 percent more homes with self storage than about 10 years ago. Soon I will be joining the throng, as my house has shrunk since bringing two kids into the world. So I talked to some experts to get some tips on how to pick a storage unit:

Tip #1: The first thing you'll need to figure out is how much space you need. Think of the space as a large cube where things can be stacked. Even consider bringing in shelving to be able to stack things more compactly. "If you think about the space in three dimensions, all of a sudden you realize you can fit a lot more than you thought possible," said Mark Bilfield, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Public Storage. "If you put things in a more cubic manner, then you can eliminate the extra space you might purchase."

Tip #2: Figure out the best storage option for your needs. Self storage usually offers a drive-up option where you drive your car or truck right up to your spot and can pretty easily transfer stuff into the space. Some self-storage units are housed in a building with several levels. Be prepared to bring stuff in and out with a trolley and a freight elevator. And then there are the portable containers that get delivered to your home. Those are typically used for temporary needs such as home renovations. But watch out for local laws that may ban having those containers parked outside your home for too long.

Tip #3: Once you figure out how much space you need and the type of storage you want, shop around. Prices for self storage vary widely even within companies and locations. For example, prices for a 5 foot by 5 foot space from Public Storage within a few miles from my house ranged from $113 a month to $191 a month.

Tip #4: Consider looking for storage a little farther out to save some money, especially if you don't have plans to visit your goods on a regular basis. The price for a 5 foot by 5 foot space dropped down between $59 a month to $116 a month just by going out to Springfield.

Tip #5: Don't pick a unit right next to the elevator. Those tend to be slightly more expensive, Bilfield says. And think about if you really need that climate-controlled facility, which can also be more expensive. If you're storing a few boxes of papers, you may not need the climate control.

Tip #6: Look for facilities that have some security features like working cameras. Also think about business hours and whether you'll have access to your storage space after hours.

Tip #7: Consider committing to a few months at a time rather than month to month. Some companies will knock a couple dollars off the monthly rate if you keep your stuff there for more than a month.

Tip #8: Ask the storage company for some discounts or deals. They often will advertise their deals but other times they don't. And always see if you can talk down the price, especially if you can tell a prospective storage company that you're talking to competitors, says Robert Krughoff, president of Washington Consumers' Checkbook magazine. "Consumers benefit from the power of competition," he says.

Tip #9: Many self storage companies offer insurance for your goods. But always check with your homeowners or renters insurance to see if they cover household goods outside of your home.

Tip #10: And always make sure you get the size you asked for. Krughoff says a study done by Checkbook found some units to be off by a foot or more.

So what do you do with your excess stuff? What have you learned from using self-storage or a portable container? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  May 27, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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I would also recommend that if you will be using some kind of truck to move your items to storage, to be sure that the truck can pull in. We were using storage for our belongings while looking for a house, and the 18 wheeler moving truck could not make the turn into the storage facility, despite them telling me when I made the reservation that it could. Shop around and visit the locations v. just looking online to better understand the set up before committing.

Posted by: Laura | May 27, 2008 9:27 AM

I just put some stuff in storage until I sell my house, and I found an internet deal of $32.50 a month for the first two months on a 5 x 5 unit. Then it reverts to double that. This is in Fairfax.

Also, different places have different size spaces. There is a place close to my house that has a 6 x 8 space, which obviously rents for much more than the 5 x 5 space, even without the benefit of the internet special. So do your homework before making a decision.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 27, 2008 10:40 AM

Has anyone done the bins that they deliver to your home? How do they work?

Posted by: roya | May 27, 2008 4:28 PM

I'm going to add two things for the long-term usage of off-site storage:

Per Tip #5, the Climate Control. You'd be surprised, even with some boxes of paper, what a difference it makes. The first time I did some storage (for about a year), I dismissed climate control.

As a result, some of my better IKEA furniture was in bad shape, and I could barely open up some of my books without them cracking like fireworks. If you are planning to store for a long time, climate controlled units are good, if only because they usually keep the temperature and humidity variances down. It's expensive, but in the long run, less expensive than replacing the items you're storing.

Also, buying shelving helps with another matter - protecting your items from leaks from adjacent units.

I was in one place where, at one point or another, there was a leak in a unit adjacent to mine. I found out because a box I stored in a far corner of the unit - which had been perfectly dry when I placed it in the storage unit - showed evidence of warping from a good soaking from the bottom-up when I finally removed my items. (Luckily, it was a box of pots, so nothing was moldy.)

There were traces of a puddle that came from the next unit over. Had I installed some basic shelving, it wouldn't have mattered - my items would have stayed dry.

So either shelving, or buy a box of painter's plastic to put under and over items that are in for the long-haul (to protect from drips from pipes or units above in a multi-storied unit).

Posted by: Chasmosaur | May 27, 2008 5:27 PM

I have found that one of the best ways to select a storage unit is to actually go and see the facility before I rent. You can tell a lot about how well a facility is run by how well it is maintained. I prefer to have resident managers at the facilites I rent from because it is like having on hand security at all times. After meeting with the site managers and walking around a bit I can usually tell if this is going to be the place were I can store my things with confidence.

Posted by: Jeb | May 28, 2008 9:44 AM

remember that 'climate controlled' is more aptly described as humidity controlled. If conditions will affect what you are storing, pay the few extra dollars so that your things are not ruined.

Posted by: alekas | May 28, 2008 11:43 AM

Why not just get rid of your excess stuff? I can see some valid uses for a self-storage unit, such as when we spent three months in a smaller apartment before moving into a house. But if it's just because you have too much stuff for your current life and residence, give it away, donate it, sell it, or throw it out! It's not going to do you any good sitting in storage so save your money. Read "It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living A Richer Life With Less Stuff" by Peter Walsh.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 28, 2008 8:07 PM

Portable Self storage comes in a lot of different sizes and most companies offer warehouse access so you can use them just like a traditional facility. I work at one that offers 7 to 7 access 7 days a week. You can find local companies at ms-sa.org.

Best of luck,

FlexBox Mobile Storage
888 GoFlexBox (888 463-5392)

Posted by: Christopher | May 28, 2008 11:48 PM

"If you're storing a few boxes of papers, you may not need the climate control."

Really bad advice. The heat and humidity of summer will permeate paper to the point of housing mold and mildew. I would never store anything (furniture, clothes, papers, books, etc.) in non-climate control.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | May 29, 2008 7:55 AM

When considering a climate controlled unit, ask the manager specifically what that means. There is no legal definition and conditions vary widely from place to place. Are they really controlling humidity? Usually it is just controlling temperature. Ask the manager for the specifics if temperature controlled only - to what temperature extremes - 80 degrees to 40 degrees. If humidity, once again what is the range?
Two more thoughts. First never place cardboard boxes directly on a concrete floor whether in standard or climate units. The surface may look dry, but concrete does allow moisture to wick up from the ground. Overtime your boxes could get moist. And finally, never cover furniture with a plastic sheet. The changing temperatures within a storage unit over the course of a day can actually produce moisture on the underside of the plastic and do damage. Use a bed sheet or towels to reduce dust build-up instead.

Posted by: MisterJim444 | May 29, 2008 10:47 AM

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