What Are the Different Types of Storage Units?
It can be confusing and overwhelming to choose from the various self-storage options available, so we put together a handy guide to help you out.
Self-storage units range in size from small lockers to XL units, and there are often also parking spaces available to rent for your camper, RV or winter car.
These can be as small as 3’ x 4’ and as large as 5’ x 5’. That might sound tiny, but even a 3' x 4' locker provides up to 12 square feet of storage space. With a bit of organizing, you can fit quite a bit in a locker.
Lockers are located inside the storage facility, and are often stacked on top of each other in rows of two or three.
If you're on the shorter side, lifting items in and out of the top locker can be challenging. Likewise, lifting heavy items from the ground can be bad for people with back injuries. So, be sure to choose a storage locker that's located at an ideal height for you.
A small 3' x 4' storage locker can hold a surprising amount of items, including:
- A set of suitcases or duffle bags.
- Out-of-season clothes. (Store them in the suitcases to maximize space. Suitcases are also great for linens, towels, pillows or blankets.)
- Boxes of photos, books or documents. (Consider climate-controlled storage to protect them from the elements.)
- A couple of medium or large storage bins. Either use ones you can see through, or label them clearly. (Be sure to check the measurements beforehand, though.)
- Kitchenware you only use occasionally, such as serving platters, fancy dishes or the turkey roasting pan. Climate-controlled is a good option if you are storing delicate glassware or china.
The average small self-storage unit is 5’ x 5’, which gives you 25 square feet of total storage space, or the equivalent of a large closet.
You can fit quite a bit in 25 square feet, including:
- A twin or full size mattress set.
- Side tables, nightstands, lamps and stools.
- A kid’s bike, helmet, bike carrier or wagon.
- Garden tools, hoses, planters and shovels. (If you’re storing garden items, make sure they are squeaky clean before you store them to ensure no critters hitch a ride in the dirt.)
- A small chest of drawers (remember to use its drawers for storing smaller items or clothing).
- A large bookcase, card table and chairs or coffee table.
- Electronics and appliances such as a TV, fan, microwave or window air conditioner.
- Sports equipment like golf clubs. You might be able to fit an adult-sized mountain bike, but it could require some next-level finagling.
- Boxes, clothes and dishes.
The average medium self-storage unit is 5’ x 10’, provides 50 square feet of storage space and is larger than a closet but smaller than a single garage. If the unit is 5’ tall, you’ll have about 250 cubic feet to work with. That’s about the equivalent of a full cargo van, depending on whether you are a meticulous packer (you know, the kind that can go on a two-week vacation with carry-on) or more of a “cram, slam and hope for the best” type.
If you need to clear a room for a house guest or a kitchen reno, this is the storage option that should best meet your needs.
If you need to store a queen or king-sized mattress set, you will need at least a medium self-storage unit. You can also store:
- The average contents of a dorm room, studio apartment or small one-bedroom apartment.
- A motorcycle.
- Kitchen table and chairs, dressers and bookcases
- A small couch or large set of chairs.
- Bicycles, wagon, lawnmower or snowblower, garden tools and shovels.
- Boxes, clothing and books.
A large 10’ x 10’ self-storage unit will hold the contents of a two bedroom apartment. You will probably want to use shelving to maximize your vertical space (and ensure you don’t have to unpack the whole thing just to reach the box of bedding).
It can also be the ideal solution for business or commercial purposes, as it can hold plenty of inventory, equipment and other business supplies.
A large self-storage unit can hold:
- Large appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and dryers.
- A grand piano (you should definitely consider climate-controlled self-storage if you are storing something like furniture or a piano, unless you want it to become expensive kindling).
- Couches, end or coffee tables and just about any type of home decor.
- Bicycles, garden equipment, a motorcycle and seasonal home décor.
- Two queen size beds, including their frames and mattress sets.
- Office furniture, filing cabinets and business supplies.
XL units measure 10’ x 20’ and can hold a bunch of things, including vehicles, a boat and particularly unwieldy items such as kayaks and canoes.
Keep in mind that if you are planning on keeping a car in your unit, you are going to want to ensure that it is a ground-floor, drive up unit. It could also hold a typical pop-up tent trailer, but it would probably be easier to rent a parking space for it, unless you have ninja-like backup skills.
An XL unit can hold:
- An average family home’s contents.
- Large furniture or appliances of almost any size.
- Business or commercial supplies, stock, office furniture and equipment.
- Awkwardly-sized items such as bulky sporting equipment.
This might seem a bit odd at first, because why wouldn’t you just park in the driveway at your house? Well, what if you don’t have a driveway and your apartment building frowns on RVs? What if your homeowner's association has strict rules about what you can and can't park on your own driveway, or your driveway only has room for one car?
In scenarios like those, a rented parking spot can be just what you need.
Renting an outdoor parking space makes sense for vehicles, campers and RVs that can survive outside in the elements. For those that require more TLC, some self-storage facilities have covered parking options. You can even park a boat on a trailer, or a pop-up camper.
Renting a parking space at a self-storage facility also provides an extra level of security in the form of 24/7/365 security cameras. Plus, many facilities are fenced and gated and access is always strictly controlled with digital access codes.
Storing your car, trailer, boat or RV at a self-storage facility can give you added protection, free up your driveway, and avoid pesky HOA fines. .
Size matters, but it’s not the only factor to consider. There are a few other things to keep in mind when you are choosing both the size of the self-storage unit and the facility you are entrusting your belongings to.
You are entrusting your personal possessions to the facility for safekeeping. So, some of the first questions to ask are:
- What kinds of security measures are in place?
- Have there been break-ins before?
- How will you be notified if there is an issue?
The facility’s answer to those questions will give you a good idea of how they will treat your possessions.
If you work shifts or are a night owl or morning person, you will also want to make sure you'll be safe if you are accessing your self-storage unit at an odd hour.
Weather happens. Depending on what part of the country you live in, several seasons’ worth of weather can happen simultaneously, or even within a few hours. Temperature fluctuations are never fun, and they are especially harmful for fragile possessions such as books, paper, photographs, furniture or clothing.
To solve that issue, climate-controlled self-storage units are kept between 55° and 78°F year round—not too hot, and not too cold.
Here’s more information about the benefits for climate-controlled self-storage.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both interior and exterior units.
Interior units offer an extra layer of protection against the elements, and an extra couple of walls that critters and creepy crawlies have to breach to get to your stuff. On the other hand, they require you to unload completely, push, pull, drag or wheel your stuff to your storage unit and wait for the elevator. Repeat this a few times, such as every time you need to dig out the seasonal decorations or switch hot and cold clothing, and you're liable to break a sweat.
Exterior units often offer easier access, because you can often drive right up to them, load and unload straight into and out of your vehicle and be on your way. The disadvantage is more exposure to the elements and more opportunities for critters to get in.
Consider the contents you plan to store, and you can look into self-storage insurance to add an extra layer of protection.
We aren’t talking only about the public washrooms, although those can give a pretty good indication of the attitude to cleanliness. Ask about pest or rodent control measures, how often the facility is checked for pests, what do you do if you notice something and if pest damage is covered by self-storage insurance policies.
What is the state of the security lighting? Are there missing light bulbs or broken doors and windows? Are the units in good shape, or are there gaps and breaks that could let the weather or other things in? Take a look around the fence, too—is it well-maintained or are there gaps?
The answers to these questions will tell you if the facility prioritizes cleanliness.
It can seem daunting to choose a storage unit that's right for you, but with a little research, self-storage can be a perfect solution to even the most challenging space issues.