Storage Facility Know-How

What to ask and confirm before storing your possessions.

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Total self-storage space in the U.S. is approximately 2.3 billion square feet, representing more than 78 square miles of space—or three times the size of Manhattan. That’s according to the Self Storage Association (SSA), the official trade organization of the self-storage industry.

At some point in your life, you will likely need a short-term or long-term storage facility. The SSA says there’s so much space—with 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation—that it would be physically possible for every American to stand at the same time under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.

Now that you know the scope of storage space options, here are a few things to consider if you plan to use one of these facilities. Of course, security should be top of mind. The SSA has a set of safety guidelines for its members, but not every storage facility is created equal. A storage facility should protect your valuables against theft or damage. Facility operators should also share with you their plan for securing your items and their contingency plans for emergency situations. Also consult with your insurance advisor to make sure that you have adequate coverage between your personal insurance plan and the policies many storage facilities cover.

Here are the most critical security questions to ask before signing a contract at your new storage facility:

  • Does the facility have managers that live on-site or close enough to provide additional security during off hours?
  • Are there plenty of surveillance cameras on the property, and are they high enough resolution to see pertinent details, like facial features or license plates? Make sure video systems are digital—which typically has higher resolutions and also is more likely to carry archives.
  • How are the storage units actually secured? Clearly, only you should have the keys or code to your storage unit, but check to see what kinds of locks they use. Disk locks are generally considered more secure than padlocks or combination locks. And determine whether individual units are alarmed, or if there’s only a single alarm system (less secure).
  • How safe is the neighborhood? You can check the local crime rate and research with the local police precinct about crimes committed in the area—or at the storage facility. Even if the facility itself is a secure as Fort Knox, you may not feel comfortable accessing it if it is in an unsafe neighborhood.

And though security is a priority, mini-storage users should keep fire protection at the location, plus exposure to general flooding and the facility’s evacuation plans top of mind. Since a facility’s contents are subject to the exclusions and limitations of a homeowners policy, customers should seek out a climate-controlled unit to protect against mold. Flood damage would likely not be covered by your policy.

The SSA provides its membership—which comprises most facility owners—guidelines for developing safety procedures. And you’re within your rights to ask about their security and safety features. Managers should be able to tell you how they are equipped against fire and water damage, about their pest control program, and even about their strategies for biological and chemical attacks.

Of course, you’ll want to check to see how your homeowners insurance covers your items in a self-storage facility, or if the storage facility provides additional insurance—and what that covers. Chubb’s Worldwide Appraisal Manager Scott Spencer advises those who intend to store more delicate items, such as classic cars or fine art, find a specialized storage facility that offers state-of-the-art climate control, expertise and added security.