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July 21
A Complete Guide to Long-Term Storage
long term storage

You just found out your new house isn’t going to be ready for six months, but you need to move out of your current residence now.

The boss just said you have been given a year-long assignment in a foreign country.

The storage room at the office has become over-packed, with no room to add more files.

The above scenarios all have one thing in common. They create storage problems. The resolution is long term storage.  

Storage units are rented for a variety of reasons. The number of self-storage facilities in the United States was reported at 45,547 by the 2019 Self-Storage Almanac and at 60,024 by IBISWorld in 2020. Approximately 10 percent of households rent a self-storage unit. 

We are going to share everything you need to know about long term storage solutions from selecting the best unit for your needs to packing items so storage space is used most effectively.

Choosing A Long Term Storage Unit

When you need a storage unit, the first decision is whether you need space for under 90 days or over 90 days. That is the typical cut-off for determining short-term storage v. long-term storage.

Businesses, homeowners, and renters all use storage units for various reasons. Whether you need short term storage when moving or remodeling or long term storage due to downsizing, an out-of-state job assignment, or military deployment, there is a storage option to meet your needs.

What you need to store will determine what size storage container you need.  A few small pieces of furniture will have different size requirements than a collectible car or an entire household full of appliances, memorabilia, and sports equipment.

Determining Unit Size

Consider all the items you want to put in your storage unit. If you need help a reputable storage facility should be able to assist in estimating what size will fit your needs.

Select a unit that is large enough to hold all items comfortably. You don’t want them packed so tightly inside you cannot access something if needed. You also don’t want the unit so big you are paying for unused space.

Items stored in units are unique to each user. A business may store old office furniture and archived files. A family may have furniture, clothing, family heirlooms, and seasonal items like ATVs, motorcycles, and hunting or fishing gear.

Both businesses and families may have electronics, photographs, and other items that are sensitive to extreme temperatures. That brings you to the next decision – do you need a climate-controlled unit? 

Climate Control Advantages

Even in an enclosed, sealed container, items are exposed to humidity and temperature fluctuations. Those changes can create dampness that causes rotting, swelling, rusting, warping, mold, and discoloration. Items may dry out and become brittle and crack or break.

Dust gets into even the most tightly sealed units. It can work its way into paperwork, memorabilia, and fabrics. Insects and rodents can also be a problem.

A climate-controlled unit comes at a higher price but is worth the extra cost for the protection it provides. Climate control systems keep the temperature consistent and reduce humidity while providing good air circulation.  Regular air movement reduces dust build-up and rodents and pests are less likely to invade a climate-controlled unit.

Proper Storage Boxes

Make sure your items are not damaged while in storage by using quality storage containers. Packing containers for long-term storage are a critical part of preparation.

People often re-use old shipping boxes or pick up boxes from department and grocery stores. Those may work for short-term storage, but when packing for long-term storage you need to use containers that will last years without deterioration.

Old shipping boxes or boxes from grocery stores are not made of heavy-duty cardboard and can deteriorate over time. They are not of uniform consistency and when stacked may collapse or fall apart.

Boxes from a grocery store may have tiny bits of food debris that can attract insects and rodents.  There may also be stains or hidden moisture that can discolor items inside or cause mold.

New heavy-duty cardboard shipping boxes are an excellent choice. These are usually offered for sale by moving and storage companies.  They are sturdy, clean, and of uniform size that makes stacking in the storage unit easy and allows optimal use of space.

Another good choice is clear plastic bins. They are sturdy, extremely resilient, and do not rip or crush.

You can stack plastic totes several containers high without the risk of collapse. If you purchase containers that are transparent it is easy to see what is stored inside. They are also waterproof, reducing the risk of damage from damp or wet floors.

When packing a storage unit, you can add an additional layer of protection by placing a tarp on the floor. You can also place pallets down to sit appliances and boxes on for additional protection from floor moisture. 

Preparing Your Items for Storage

Before putting items in storage, they should be clean and dry. Taking furniture apart will reduce the risk of damage and save space in the storage unit. If storing appliances like refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, and dishwashers, make sure all water has been drained from the hoses and the machine.

Clean small appliances such as portable microwaves, toasters, blenders, and mixers to make sure they are free of food residue. Tie-down and secure all cables, hoses, and electrical cords on items so they do not tangle and break. 

Make sure fabric on furniture has been vacuumed and clean leather to preserve the fabric before putting in storage. Make sure the furniture is completely dry before storing it. Use furniture polish to clean and seal wood items.

Use white 100% cotton sheets to cover large pieces of furniture and appliances. White is preferable because colored fabric could bleed if there is any moisture in the storage unit. Drop cloths can be kept in place with plastic wrap or packaging tape.

Organize and Pack

It doesn’t matter if you are moving or using long-term storage, proper packing can make life easy when you later try to locate an item packed in one of those boxes.  Before you start packing, make sure you have a pad of paper and pen handy, as well as a permanent marker. If using plastic totes you will also need large labels.

You may want to consider using a mover’s a packing checklist to help you keep track of items. You will also need packing paper, bubble wrap, and possibly towels or old clothes to use as cushioning material in containers. 

Pro Packing Tips

As each box is packed make a list of what is inside. Keep one copy in a master inventory file and put another copy inside the top of the box.  Some people like to keep a third copy available to review inside the storage unit. This makes it easy to find your items and serves as a record in case of theft or damage.

Use a black permanent marker to clearly label the outside of each box. This should be done on at least two sides, not the top. This allows you to clearly read labels when the boxes are stacked in the unit.

Seal cardboard boxes with clear packaging tape. Make sure tops are locked securely in place when using plastic totes.

In addition to a general reference to the contents, the label should list what room in the house the contents belong in or the person whose belongings are inside. Further labeling can include “fragile” or “this side up” if contents are breakable.

Pack similar items together, such as books, toys, kitchen items, and tools. Heavier items go in the bottom of each box, with lighter items on top. Fill each box to the top to prevent them from caving in when stacked.

Wrap fragile items in your packing paper or bubble wrap. Use packing material to fill empty air space in a box to prevent items from shifting.

Boxes should be filled, but not overstuffed. If they are filled beyond capacity they are likely to separate at seams or not close properly. Properly filled shipping boxes will stack neatly in the storage unit without tipping.

Do Not Place in Storage

While storage units are great for keeping your items safe, there are certain items that should not be placed in a storage unit. Avoid storing important documents such as birth certificates, titles for motor vehicles or homes, insurance policies, and marriage licenses in a storage container.  It is also recommended items such as fine jewelry and irreplaceable heirlooms are not placed in storage.  

Hazardous items that are corrosive, explosive, or flammable are prohibited. You will also want to avoid perishable items such as food that can attract rodents or items that produce odors.

Safe, Convenient Storage

When your items are packed and ready to store, you want to make sure the building or storage unit you use is clean and well maintained. Make sure your items are protected by a strong fence and modern surveillance equipment.

If you are moving, need short term storage or long term storage, feel free to call (703) 378-1616 for more information. You can also get a free online moving quote. Whatever your need, we can help – contact us today!