Thursday, November 10, 2011

Choosing a Portable Storage Provider

As a portable storage insider, I would like to offer you a roadmap for finding the best portable storage option in your area. The steps below offer an evaluation criteria, a decision making process, and a number of must ask questions to consider prior to making your decision.

There are a number of important factors to consider in choosing a portable storage provider but in general they boil down to a handful of simple concepts:

Price and Affordability - Price is the main objective. Affordability is the combination of all the costs and all your time and effort divided by the amount of storage space you need.

Container Size - Size matters. Different providers have different size portable storage containers. Make sure you compare providers on a per square foot or per cubic foot basis. Do not rely on how many rooms a certain provider claims that their unit can hold.

Security - Your stuff is important. You need to know how secure your container is, how it will be delivered and how it will be treated while in storage.

Customer Service - Honesty and a willingness to serve are important factors. Find out whether you will be well served or treated like another number. Research and references are the only way to find out. I could tell you, but not here...
Portable storage is a growing and evolving industry. There are a lot of variations out there. Its important that you spend a little time to make sure you understand your options before choosing your provider.

Determine Your Needs - First and foremost, you need to understand your situation, how much stuff you have, how long you need storage for, whether you need help with manual labor, how far you plan to move if at all, how accessible your home or apartment is, and whether there are any restrictions on PODS type boxes in your area.

Find Local Providers - Start looking for providers in your area. Search the internet using Google or any search engine. Check Google Places. Check Ask around. Make a list of 3 to 5 possibilities.

Do Online Research - Check out each provider's webpages thoroughly and understand their system. Get on online quote if their page provides one. Search YouTube or DailyMotion for a video showing their system in action. Search for facebook accounts or other social media of the local franchise. Search review and complaint sites. Keep track of any promotions, discounts, or coupons you find.

Call Several Providers - After researching online and possibly weeding out a provider or two and possibly adding a couple more to the list, call them directly. Try to talk to someone local. If someone local can't talk to you, be aware of future poor service potential. Ask them lots of questions. Explain exactly what you are trying to do. Find out how willing they are to adapt to your specific needs. If they are rigid, be aware of future unwillingness to work through any issues.

Get Written Quotes - Provide your email address and get at least 2 or 3 WRITTEN quotes that include EXACT DETAILS of your expected services. Be careful to solicit quotes on a per container basis for future evaluation or provide the same size or quantity information to all providers so that quotes can be fairly compared later. These quotes should include EVERYTHING, initial rent, delivery, ongoing rent, future deliveries, taxes, fees, property protection and so on. If the written quote includes only an initial charge and a monthly rent, be skeptical about other charges that they may not be sharing with you yet. Most importantly, make sure you are very specific about your future delivery location as this has a potential for significant costs that are not commonly discussed up front during initial booking.

Compare Costs Per Square Foot - Once you have several quality quotes, establish a likely duration of your storage needs. Extrapolate each quote to that duration including all delivery fees. Then divide each total cost result by the square feet provided to get a total cost per square foot of storage. This is the best way to get an accurate picture of what you are paying and getting in return. You may find that the cheapest quote is not actually the most cost effective.

Final Evaluation - Now you understand the cost per square foot of each provider. After talking with them and doing online research, you understand how their system works, how secure their system is and how they stack up on a customer service perspective. Its up to you to weigh each of these factors in choosing your provider.


What is the interior size of your portable storage unit?
  • This is critical in determining how many units you will need.
  • Don't rely on estimates of how many rooms they claim to hold because their estimates are entirely subjective and unreliable.
  • You may also need to know the door size if you have some larger items.
  • Keep in mind that a single larger unit may be easier to pack than several smaller units, especially if you have large items.
  • If they can't tell you the exact interior dimensions of their units, then move on to another provider or do some research.

What is the ongoing monthly rental fee for the unit?
  • This is not always as clear as it should be. Be very specific and make sure you understand the recurring charges.
  • Get all quotes in writing and be specific about all of your intentions including your final destination location.

What are the delivery fees for the unit, including transfers and final deliveries?
  • Delivery fees can sometimes be buried in the quotes and difficult to determine.
  • Make sure you understand there are commonly 2 trips per delivery. Some providers charge per trip not per delivery.
  • Make sure you understand EXACTLY what the final delivery will be based on the location of your new home. Some providers include enormous fees if you move a certain distance or move to another franchise's territory. But they don't like to tell you this up front, only after they have your stuff and you want it back and they have your credit card number.

Are there taxes on the delivery or storage?
  • Some states allow use taxes to be paid when the storage provider purchases the storage equipment that you are effectively leasing. In turn, they do not charge you a tax when you lease the equipment. This saves you, the customer a significant amount and can vary from provider to provider in the same location. Make sure you know what the entire cost will be before you compare providers.

Are there any other fees that you haven't told me about?
  • Some portable storage providers have a number of fees and charges that they don't like to tell you about. They include such things as fees for snow removal and fees for placing a board under their unit to protect your driveway. Do you really think a customer should have to pay extra to have a company that is in the business of delivering something to your house actually charge you extra to not damage your property while doing so. I would think that a system prone to damaging property should not be considered. Be warned.

How much notice do you need to get my unit back?
  • When you want deliveries, you typically have a timeline you are working with. Your schedule is normally related to your job and getting time off to handle your transition. Or your schedule is more likely related to your real-estate transaction. Closing dates and occupancy dates mean something to you and are obviously very important. You need to make sure that your portable storage provider will be responsive to your schedule and to your needs. Some providers need a significant amount of time to arrange deliveries. Even then, some of those providers are not entirely responsive to meeting the schedules desired even after booking them with you. This can be a MAJOR inconvenience to you and effectively eliminates the value inherent in portable storage in the first place. Do some checking online for reviews and complaints about your possible providers and ask for recent references of actual customers to discuss this issue.

Do you pro-rate our final month?
  • In general, self storage is not pro-rated. If you are in storage a day past your anniversary date, you just bought another month. But it doesn't hurt to ask. But you have to ask up front, not at the last minute. My best advice is to plan your move-out a month in advance and inform your provider a month ahead of time and ask then about pro-rating. Your best result will likely be to get a 1/2 month pro-rated payment. Don't expect any better than that.
  • In addition to asking about pro-rating, be advised that some providers will bill you for the next month after your requested move-out date even if you requested to be moved-out but they couldn't deliver or pick up the container on your requested schedule. In other words, you end up paying them extra because they cannot stay on your schedule. Their delay costs you more money. Again research online reviews and check references for this problem.
  • Also you need to understand that you are not renting storage or paying for a storage service, you are leasing storage equipment. Your lease doesn't end on the day that your unit is delivered back to your home, it ends after you have emptied it and after the provider is scheduled to retrieve the empty unit. Do not assume that scheduling a delivery a day before your anniversary date, that you will not be charged the following month. If that "equipment" is in your driveway after your anniversary date, you are most likely going to pay for another month.

Is your facility heated? Air Conditioned?
  • Heated or air conditioned facilities can make a big difference to your belongings. However, don't assume that "climate controlled" means what you think it does because it probably doesn't. Climate control can mean keeping doors open to keep the space cooler in the summer. If you are looking for portable storage in Grand Rapids, Michigan, you probably care more about heat than keeping the doors open in the summer so don't be fooled into thinking that climate controlled means heated. Ask specifically what is done heat wise and ventilation wise in their facility. If you have concerns, ask to see the facility for your self.
  • Also, you should consider the storage unit container itself. There are a number of factors that can negatively affect your belongings. Air flow through your unit is advantageous because it keeps things from getting stale, musty, or moldy. Providers that offer fully enclosed steel boxes will have an issue with this. Although some claim that plywood construction allows the box to breath they can also be susceptible to mold and mildew because of the presence of moisture in the wood especially if the unit has been stored outside. Again, ask specifics about the unit construction and research online for reviews about this issue.

I hope this helps you make a good decision for your storage needs. If you have any more questions, just hunt me down, I'm always glad to help.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


After you have made a reservation for a storage unit or 2, the next step is to prepare a packing plan.  Following a clear packing plan will help you stay organized, save you time and money and help make the unpacking process easier. In addition to gathering boxes, newspapers and packing tape, several other important steps can help assure the process runs smoothly.

Get rid of what you don’t need
A large part of packing is first deciding what you do not need any more and therefore should not be packed at all.  If you have things that are still packed from the last time you moved, there is a good chance you don’t need them any more.  Packing and moving fewer things will not only save you time, it will also save you money on supplies as well as help you avoid the need for a larger, more expensive storage unit. Here's how to do so:

Reconsider moving large and heavy items
If you are considering moving large and heavy items such as refrigerators, washing machines, freezers, or exercise equipment, consider how difficult they are to move and how much room they take up before deciding to move them.  You may be better off leaving them or selling them.   
Have a yard sale

Yard sales are a great ways to get rid of the things around the house that you no longer have use for.  A yard sale will also help raise money for expenses related to the move, and give you a chance to share your relocation plans with neighbors.

Donate your items

Whatever does not sell at your yard sale can be taken to one of numerous organizations that except donations. Donate clothes, bedding, sporting equipment and even old mattresses and couches. Many of these organizations often provide a pickup service for larger items and can help you find a center close to you. Beware that many of these non-profit organizations have strict standards for the items they except. Donating is not an approach to getting rid of junk.

Toss them
If you still have a few unneeded items laying around, do not be afraid to throw them away. Be conscience of the size of the items you are dispensing of, and utilize city dumps and hauling companies when necessary.

Items that should not be stored
Keep in mind that dangerous and perishable items are prohibited from portable storage units.  Find an alternative for your propane tanks, gas cans, lighter fluids, firearms and so on.  Also remember that animals, food and plants should not be packed.  In addition to these items, it’s a good idea to keep important documents out of the storage container.  Keep items like passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates, vehicle and home titles, tax documents and other personal items out of your portable storage unit.   

Keep items together
Now that you know what will stay, you should keep like items together when packing. This will help speed up the unpacking process  - not to mention eliminate confusion.  

Go from room-to-room
Pack each room separately, marking all boxes accordingly. Be sure items heading to the same room are boxed together, and stay together. Do not mix bathroom towels with the sheets, or silverware with sporting goods. You will save yourself valuable time while unpacking by keeping like items together now. 

Label everything
While you are packing boxes, be sure to label the top and sides of boxes with contents, location (room) and any special instructions such as "fragile" or "open first." This will help assure all boxes find their way into the appropriate room and help identify delicate items.

Make a list
Consider keeping a complete list of the contents on the outside of each box. This will help you save from digging through several “kitchen” marked boxes just to find a water bottle. This process may add a bit more time to the packing process, but it will save you a lot of time when unpacking – especially if unpacking is not done right away.  You may even want to make a comprehensive checklist including all boxed items. This checklist will help identify any belongings that your moving company happens to misplace.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

U-Haul U-Box Dimensions

Today’s world of instant information and ultimate convenience has spawned a large selection of portable self storage options.  What once involved numerous visits to a potentially scary and altogether industrial self storage facility has now become as simple as a phone call to a mobile storage provider and a delivery to your driveway.  There is just no question that portable storage containers are the ultimate in efficient storage and moving convenience for the do-it-yourself folks out there.  We can all thank PODS for creating a concept that is revolutionizing the storage and moving industry this way.  It’s clear that PODS was the first and is the largest, but many interesting alternatives have come in their wake and look to improve on the service.  The difficult question is how do they all differ, what sets each service provider apart.  Since there are so many variables to consider in the evaluation of a portable storage provider, the aim of this blog is to discuss them one by one so that you can have the facts you need to make an informed decision.

Looking for PODS container dimensions instead?  Check out this post: PODS Container Size Review

Today our subject is the U-Haul U-Box storage unit.  If you are considering using a U-Box for storage or moving, you may be asking yourself, just what are the actual interior dimensions of a U-Haul U-box.  I don’t blame you.  It’s a really good piece of information to have.  After all, you need to know how many U-Boxes you would need for all your stuff.  Does U-Haul give you the internal dimensions?  Well let’s look.  Here is a graphic from their website describing the U-Box: 
U-Haul U-Box advertisement

 As you can see U-Haul claims that their boxes are: 8’ X 5’ X 7’6” (LXWXH) with a capacity of 300 cubic feet and 2,000 lbs.  They also claim that a U-Box fits about a room and a half of household items and that if you got it into your house, you can get it into a U-Box.  That’s all pretty interesting marketing.  But is any of it accurate?  Since I am a stickler for details claimed by such marketing messages, I decided to take a little trip to find a U-Box to measure.  I found a couple in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  I found 10 in fact in someone’s driveway and they were nice enough to let me scope out the boxes.

First of all, before I get into my findings, I think its interesting that anyone would use so many U-Boxes when there are larger storage units available.  My intuition tells me that there should be some economy in size.  More on that issue in another post perhaps…

U-Haul U-Box Dimensions:
I found that the overall OUTSIDE dimensions of the U-Box were generally those stated in the advertisement.  This includes about 6 inches of feet below the box.  The INTERIOR dimensions of the U-Box were as follows:

Measured Size:    Interior – 4’8” wide x 7’8” deep x 6’9” tall

This is real world – get inside with a tape measure information.  This is not just an estimate.  Now we can tell that the U-Haul advertisement is for exterior dimensions, which has relatively little value to us unless we are trying to evaluate how many will fit in our driveway, not exactly something I am worried about.  But what about the claimed capacity of 300 cubic feet?  Is that accurate?  Capacity is by definition an interior measurement, right?  Calculating the floor area results in an actual square footage of 35.8 square feet.  Multiplying that area by the interior height results in an actual interior capacity of 242 cubic feet.  This means that the 300 cubic foot claim by U-Haul is an overstatement of 24%.  Can I just say WOW!!!  To be fair, U-Haul does note that all sizes are “approximate.”  The 300 cubic foot capacity statement is clearly figured based on external dimensions and I find this to be “approximately” misleading at best.    

How Much Can You Fit In A U-Box?
We see that U-Haul claims that you can fit about a room and a half of household items in a U-Box.  I find these kinds of estimates all over the place and I find them all to be rather worthless.  The fact of the matter is that all these estimates are relative to how big your rooms are, what type of rooms you have and how full you furnish those rooms.  In addition, it depends on how you pack the U-Box which is ultimately a function of the items that are going into it along with the skill with which you pack them in.  For example, if you have floor lamps in your living room and I don’t, I have a much better probability of fitting my living room into a storage container than you do.  It’s just that simple.  Do you have a 12’ X 16’ dining room stuffed with seating for 12 and floor lamps and a bookshelf and a hutch full of expensive china that will be packed in dish barrels?  I challenge you to fit that in a U-Box.  Dining chairs are among the worst items to pack into storage – they take up an amazing amount of space. 
I kind of like the statement that if you got it into your house you can get it into a U-Box and I believe it to be generally true with very few exceptions.  However, getting a single thing into a U-Box is not generally the point.  While an oversize couch may fit in a U-Box you will be challenged to work around it in very tight quarters.  It is unquestionably easier to pack a variety of large things into a single large container than it is to pack those same items into several small containers.
U-Haul U-Box Construction Materials:
As for the construction materials, these boxes are made of and exoskeleton of 2x4 lumber and plywood walls, floors and ceilings.  Other than a few screws holding some of the structure pieces to each other, the vast majority of the fasteners are staples and adhesive.  Around this plywood box is a fairly heavy duty tarp screwed to the top and kept tight with Velcro attachments.  That’s pretty much it.  Imagine trying to build a cheap plywood box storage container and this is pretty much what you would come up with.

Economical to build? Yes. 

Water tight?  Maybe.

Secure?  Velcro… plywood… adhesive… staples… a tarp… Maybe not so much.

Here are some pictures of the U-Haul U-Box portable storage units in Grand Rapids:

Grand Rapids U-Box Dimensions

Grand Rapids U-Box Construction Materials