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Top 10 tips for choosing and using a storage facility

In times of panic, you need somewhere to store your items. But it’s not always clear what you need, how to choose the right place, and whether you’re paying the right price.

Top 10 tips for choosing and using a storage facility

In an ideal world, you can move from your current property to your new home without a hitch, but sometimes moves are a little more complicated. Perhaps your move date has been pushed back, you’re going on a trip or holiday beforehand, or you’re downsizing and don’t know what to do with your stuff.

We’re pleased to welcome Matt Knights from We Remove and Store to give us some insider industry tips on how to choose the best possible storage space for you, and how to get the best deal!

 Pick the right size facility

 
"What unit size do I need?"
 

It's probably the most common question asked by potential storage customers! With storage rooms at most facilities varying in size from a locker to several hundred square feet, it's easy to feel completely overwhelmed at the choices on offer.
 
It gets more complicated, because removal companies tend to quote in cubic feet (volume) while storage companies work mainly in square feet (area)!
 
The good news is that it's really easy to convert the volume into the square feet. Typically storage rooms are 8 feet high, so if you've got 800 cubic feet of contents you'd divide it by 8, and get a 100 square foot unit.
 
That said, it's well worth asking a potential storage company how tall the rooms are before trying to compare on price. Many companies pack multiple floors into relatively short buildings and it's not uncommon for our removals teams to see storage units that are only 6.5’/7’ tall.
 
We've even been to some facilities where rooms have been built right into the roof space, creating units that are effectively large three dimensional wedge shapes. These top floor rooms have their volume cut in half by the slope of the roof from the front to the back but are still sold at full price. Even if you're getting the floor area you're paying for, you may well end up very short changed on space.
 
It’s also worth remembering that short or sloping storage units are completely useless for storing large furniture!
 
Some people are fairly minimalist and some people hoard, which is why it's difficult to say what size storage unit you will need based on the size of your property. It really depends how full that property is! We prefer to give people an idea of the vehicle that each unit compares to, since we've all seen these kinds of vehicles on the road and can quickly get a rough idea.
 
Short wheelbase transit 35 square feet
Long wheelbase high top transit 50 square feet
Luton van 75 square feet
7.5 ton lorry 125 square feet
18 ton lorry 200 square feet
Articulated lorry 300 square feet
 
The Self Storage Association say that that the average unit size is 69 sqft and in our experience it's extremely unusual to need anything more than 150 sqft or less than 35 sqft, so you're likely to be somewhere in that range.

Top tip!

We suggest that you take care when asking for advice on what size unit you need. It's not uncommon for sales people to tell you that you'll need a smaller room than you will, only to ‘upsell’ you to a bigger one later. Once you arrive at a facility with your stuff it's usually too late to do anything about it and you may end up spending much more than you planned to.

Top tip!

If you've got a lot going into storage, it may be better to have two smaller rooms. This is a great option if you want access to your items – a large, carefully packed storage area will make it much more difficult to get to items, and it always seems like the ones you want are the ones right at the back!

Beware introductory deals

Many storage facilities offer introductory deals. The most common are 'first month free' and 'half price for the first 8 weeks'. While these can be extremely tempting, they're a 'bait and switch' pricing tactic that you'd be wise to be careful about for two reasons.
 
Firstly, people usually stay in storage longer than they planned to and storage companies know this. Building projects run over. Purchases are delayed. Trips abroad get longer. Think again if you don't think this will be you!

Bear in mind that the average length of stay in storage is nine months. A cheap few weeks at the start doesn't look like such good value once you find you've been paying full price for 7 months or more.
 
Secondly, storage companies know how expensive and time consuming it will be to move all your stuff once the introductory offer has expired.
 
They know that you're unlikely to bother to move somewhere else once you realise you're a longer term storage customer and are spending more than you intended to. They know that you're more likely to suffer the extra storage fees at their facility than you are to spend time or energy moving somewhere else.
 
At We Remove and Store we don't do these 'bait and switch' kind of storage deals. We just don't think it's cool. Customers are valued and we don't ever want them to feel tricked or taken advantage of. If that's 'bad business sense' then so be it, we're prepared to live with the consequences because we know what we think is right!

Look for weekly billing

Most companies will bill for storage monthly, which can leave you spending hundreds of pounds on an empty storage unit if you only run into another month by a day or two. It might be worth trying to find a company who will charge weekly to avoid this, but it's certainly worth asking how you will be billed so you know where you stand before you sign up.

Consider the condition of the building

There are lots of mould horror stories and not just at storage facilities in farmer’s barns or shipping containers, but at large commercial sites too. High humidity can turn a storage facility into a mushroom farm and your contents could be ruined. It's worth asking what the humidity is like and if they don't know because they don't monitor it, we'd suggest you steer well clear.
 
Big buildings can leak and there's only one remedy, regular maintenance. Gutters need regular cleaning and storage facility owners need to be on top of things, keeping an eye out for problems.
 
Finally, it's worth saying that shipping containers are not buildings and are designed for relatively short journeys at sea. We've seen plenty of stuff ruined in them over the last few years through the build up of condensation.

If you must store in a shipping container because it's all you can afford, we'd strongly suggest picking a new container that hasn't been bought on the cheap and badly repainted.

We'd also recommend buying your own battery operated humidity monitor (humidistat) and making efforts to reduce the moisture with damp sticks or similar if the humidity drifts much above 50%, or moisture droplets become visible on the ceiling or walls.


Watch out for expensive insurance

A common saying in the storage industry is 'if it's worth storing, it's worth insuring'.
 
For the main part, we agree and we'd strongly suggest that you make sure your contents are covered while they're in storage. If you're not covered under your existing home insurance policy you'd be wise to consider taking out a stand alone policy for your stay.
 
While most storage facilities can point you in the direction of an insurance company with a specialist product to cover your contents in storage, some storage companies insist that you take out their own inhouse policy as a way of increasing your spend with them.
 
The 'inhouse' insurance policy is often hugely expensive, sometimes adding 50% to the quoted cost of your storage unit. As most storage facilities are safe and secure they present a very low risk and you should be looking at spending no more than a few pounds per month per £1000 of contents for an excellent level of cover.
 
Furthermore, insurance companies must be FSA (Financial Services Authority) regulated by law and it pays to check that any insurance policy you're being sold for storage is covered by an FSA regulated company.

Think about security

Theft is a risk at self storage facilities, but with good CCTV, careful management and strict control of who has access to the building, the risks are minimal.
 
The most common way for things to be stolen is for somebody to pose as a customer in order to rent a unit. Once they're in they have access to the building, all that potentially stands between them and all your possessions is a padlock which can be easily cut in many cases.
 
It's particularly worth worrying about a theft by somebody who has rented a unit at a facility where unsupervised 24/7 access is given to hundreds of customers. It's highly likely that there's at least one bad egg among that many people. If you're leaving items at this kind of facility and there is no alarm on your individual room, somebody could cut your padlock off, empty your unit and re-lock it with another padlock without anybody noticing. It could be months or even years before you know you're a victim. By then your stuff is long gone and the CCTV footage won’t be much comfort even if it's still available.
 
It's also worth thinking about who is working at the facility and what the owner or management do to make sure that staff don't steal from your unit. We personally like to keep things as tightly controlled as possible at our facility and have procedures in place to make sure there's no chance of anything going missing without us knowing about it.

Think about the route to your room

Boy, are some storage facilities massive! That's reassuring in some ways and can be a sign that the company is doing a good job, but it can also be a total pain.
 
If your unit is on the ground floor and close to a loading bay you or your removals crew will find it's extremely easy to get things in and out because the route from the vehicle to the unit is so small.
 
But let's say you're on the third floor at the back of a 40,000 square foot building and the lift is broken. You are in for a very bad day! We know, because it has happened to us on removals jobs in other company’s storage facilities. Big buildings can be very expensive to move things in and out of because of ridiculously long labyrinth-style routes to the outside world.
 
Access control panels can also slow you down enormously. Entering a long code every time you need a door to open for 30 seconds gets old very quickly. Frustrating delays caused by this kind of thing add to the cost.
 
Our advice if you are going to move into a massive facility is to ask for a room on the ground floor that's close to the door, or to ask for a significant discount if you're a long way from it. Don't be fooled into thinking that when you are given a tour of a storage facility you will get the exact room that you have been shown.

Let one company do the whole job

 We think it's a pretty good idea to have one company take ownership of your move into storage, your time in storage and your move out of storage. It's one of the main reasons we came up with our name!
 
If you pick a removals company and use them to move your stuff both into and out of their own storage facility they have ownership and responsibility for the whole process. If anything isn't as you'd expect once it's returned, there's no passing the buck and they can sort it for you.
 
Things get messy if you don't stick to the same company for the whole job and something isn't right once it's returned. "Who did what and when?" becomes an impossible question to answer and you'll probably be left out of pocket.



Buy a quality padlock and keep your key safe

 In the past, we’ve had to cut locks for customers as they’ve lost their key. It's easy to lose something as small as a key when you're moving, particularly if it's a new one you're not used to carrying, so please keep your padlock key somewhere safe while you're in storage.
 
It's illuminating seeing the difference between locks when cutting them off. Cheap locks do not do well, even versus cheap bolt croppers, while some quality padlocks are so tough we've resorted to replacing all the door hardware because it was easier than cutting the lock! We suggest that you steer clear of the 99p padlocks that are available at many storage facilities and instead opt for a brand of lock that you recognise at a proper hardware store. Label your key clearly and keep it in an obvious place!

Make the most of your space

 A good removals team will be able to pack an awful lot more into a storage unit than a typical member of the public because they've developed an expert level of 3D Tetris!
 
It's often best to store long items on end in order to preserve the precious floor space provided it's safe to do so. That's where having a tall storage unit will pay dividends. If you've something long to store (e.g. sofa or canoe) and it can't go tall because you have a short room you can end up having to pay for a much larger storage unit than you'd otherwise need to get a long enough room.
 
We also frequently tell our storage customers to invest in decent boxes and make sure that they are closed properly. Cheap boxes are usually poor quality, but it's possible to pay silly prices for poor quality boxes too!

They will crush and can't be stacked, leaving you with loads of space you just can't use in your storage unit. It's the same problem with boxes that are left open with irregular things sticking out. Cubes stack well and the right boxes will save you money on medium to long term storage stays because they allow you to make the best use of your space and therefore pay for a smaller unit.
 
So there you have it, you're now tipped off by an industry expert and are fully primed for getting great value for money from a storage facility!
 
 

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