An Unbias Look at Mobile Self Storage

Mobile/Portable Storage in Toronto

Most of us have heard of or used “conventional” self-storage. This is where you pack your belongings, take them to a storage facility, unpack, and load them in a storage unit. But did you know that there is a more convenient option that exists in the self-storage world? It is commonly referred to as “mobile storage” or “portable storage,” and it reduces your time and effort. It is commonly referred to as “mobile storage” or “portable storage,” and over the past few years it has been gaining in popularity in Canada, the GTA, and Toronto.
Like conventional self-storage, mobile storage is used for a variety of reasons. This includes storage for temporary purposes, moving, home staging, de-cluttering, conducting business inventory, rotating seasonal goods, among others. Mobile storage companies usually deliver a container (or containers) to your business or residence, you pack the container with your goods (although some companies offer packing and loading labour), and then container is taken back to a facility or compound for storage. When you want your container returned, the company will return it to you. Regardless of your reason for storage, you need to know that the storage company you are dealing with will treat you as a valued customer and treat your goods with care. Due to the growing popularity of the industry, new mobile storage companies are emerging all over the GTA. Because there are so many variables involved with mobile storage, users should ask many questions and select their provider carefully.
Here are some important questions and concerns to ask a potential mobile storage provider:
How are containers handled and lifted onto the truck?
What is the container design and container construction material?
What kind of access will you have to your container?
Are containers stored inside or outside?
Do they provide pest control?
What are the rental rates and fees?
What is the payment cycle? Do they provide packing and loading labour?
Do they have a call centre?

There are two basic methods of loading a storage container onto a truck. The first method involves lifting the container and placing it on a truck. This “lifting” can be accomplished in two different ways. One way involves a frame type lifting device attached to the truck that picks up the container, then the truck backs under the container, and it is loaded onto the truck bed. These trucks are designed with an “air-ride” suspension system that provides a softer ride than “heavy duty” trucks that use a spring suspension system. With experienced operators, this system provides a gentle, no shake or jolt operation. The large design of this equipment limits placement and pickup of containers. The truck and lifting device are not designed for use on smaller streets, such as those found in the core of the city and The Beach, for example. The containers used with this equipment are larger and are typically a good value and fit for people that live in the suburbs; the residences, streets and driveways are larger. The second way of loading uses a forklift that is transported on the rear of the delivery truck to the place of pickup (all Home Depot stores in Canada use this equipment for building-supply deliveries). The manoeuvrability of the all-terrain forklift provides the most flexibility of placement on the customer’s property (the storage containers can be placed in your front yard, backyard, or driveway). The forklift is fitted with large inflatable all-terrain tires that allow units to be lifted and moved with minimal bouncing and jolting.
The second method of unloading and loading utilizes tilt bed trucks, the same system used to haul, load, and off-load steel containers used for trash and scrap metal. On delivery, the truck bed tilts upward and the container slides off the truck bed as the deck tilts. When the unit is loaded, the process is reversed: a steel cable is attached to the container and is pulled onto the truck deck (now in the lifted position) then the deck is lowered to a level position. These trucks are designed for heavy-duty loads; the results are a rough ride for any load they transport. This creates the worst of conditions for your household (or other) belongings as the tilting and cable pull-on and slide-off will likely result in shifting, bumping, and a rough ride. The pickup at your location, the off load at facility location, the reload, and return to your location will result in four operations in which a loaded container will be tilted and slid on and off the truck bed.
There are three materials used in Canada and the U.S. for most, if not all, container construction:
Fibreglass; The units are usually custom-designed for this use. The fibreglass design creates a secure, waterproof container. Most are vented to prevent condensation. The companies using these units typically offer two to three sizes, W x …L x …..H,..W x …..L x …..H, ..W x …..L x …..H. [add measurements] The smallest size can accommodate the contents of a small apartment or condominium, and the largest will provide space needed for a small house. These units are designed with a large roll-up door (self-storage type). Care should be taken in the loading of these units, if the load shifts against the door it may cause difficulty in opening the door and damage to your belongings. The major disadvantage of these containers is the limitation of placement on your property, because of the unit size and the equipment needed to handle it. These containers offer a good value for users needing a medium to large storage space.

Wood construction. This is the most common building material used for container construction in Canada and the U.S. Condensation will not occur within these units. They are usually 5’W x 8’L x 7’H. Because of the size and handling equipment (forklifts) they offer the most flexibility in placement on your property, driveway, front yard, backyard, within a few feet of your door. Another major advantage is that wood absorbs the shock and jarring encountered in loading and truck transportation. They are typically designed with a 4’W x 7’L [height?], with a swing door that allows for easy loading of larger items. When delivered to your property the containers are covered with an 18oz. waterproof transport truck-type vinyl tarp.

Steel. These containers are the most susceptible to condensation. In fact, if stored outside, as many are, there will be condensation. These units are designed for goods being shipped across oceans on exposed ship decks, so they must be water/air tight. Due to the size and off/on load methods, there are severe limitations related to the placement of these containers on a customer’s property. Most of these containers are a minimum of 20’ in length, the largest being 40’. They most certainly do not lend themselves to users in or near city “core” locations. Their large size is not practical for a small apartment/condo resident who typically needs half or less of the 20’ size. …..W x …..L x …..H.[add measurements]

Limited access can be problematic. Users should confirm the days, hours, and cost of accessibility. Ask the following questions: Is there a cost? Can you have access on weekends or holidays? What advance time notice is needed? It is also important to inquire about the access area where the unit is placed. You do not want to access outside in weather such as rain or snow. One company in the Toronto area offers drive in access, which accommodates cars, vans, U-Haul trucks and large moving trailers.
Ask the following questions about container storage: Are your goods stored in a building or outside? Is the building heated? Does the building have a 24-hour monitored fire alarm and security system? Does the building have a back-up power generator?
A self-storage facility may be designed to have pest proof walls, doors, and windows; air tight, with no cracks, or openings. The problem is that some users bring in moths and mice in their packed belongings. This is, of course, unknown to the storage company. Ask about their pest control contract. There are some companies that offer moth and mice traps for the storage containers. Ask for proof of pest control.

This survey did not address rental rates and fees, as there are many discounts subject to the number of units rented, length of use, time of month and year, and other discounts offered at any given time. As in any lease/purchase agreement, ask for the details. You should clarify if there is a fee for accessibility of the unit(s) while in storage and the lead time needed to accommodate access.

Many companies do not prorate the prepaid rent of unused days on move out. Some will, but only if they are informed in advance as per the terms of the contract. Ask if move-in and rental rates are prorated to the day. Most companies prorate the first month, and then charge on the first of the month rent cycle. Some charge rent on an anniversary cycle (move in on the 10th and pay on the 10th of each month). Both of the above reflect a 12-payment-a-year amount. There are companies that charge rent on a 28-day cycle. This is confusing because every month the rent is due on a different date. Few, if any, mobile self-storage companies provide a mail out invoice. This means the user must be aware of the due date each month. Some users view this as a strategy to achieve greater rental income and give the impression of a lesser rent amount. A potential user should always clarify these terms of the lease.
Most portable self-storage companies offer a month to month rental contract, ask to be sure.

Because mobile/portable storage is an extension of self-storage, few companies provide labour. The survey identified one company that offered in house-labour, and a small, if any, discount was offered if the user did not need the service. Most companies offer referrals of other reputable companies that provide these services, and most offer good service rates. DO THEY HAVE A CALL CENTRE?
Are customer inquiries handled through third-party call centres or directly with on-site personnel? Some companies in Toronto use a call centre in the U.S. to handle calls and product information. This can be a problem if one requires a quick answer to problems related to scheduling, deliveries, pick-ups, and after hour calls.
Photograph or video the loading of your goods, this will be helpful if you need to retrieve items
If you store legal papers place them at or near the front of the container
Do not place heavy goods in one area of the container as this may cause difficulty in handling
Does the company offer conventional self-storage? This may be important in that, if the container(s) are full, and you have a few more things to store, you do not need to rent another container
Are your goods insured and for what amount? Can you purchase additional coverage?
Go online, look for and read Google reviews!

The above list of concerns, questions, and tips may appear long and detailed. This is because moving and storage is not an easy task. Hopefully this information will help you to make a wise choice as to the company and people who will advise, handle, store, and care for your valuable belongings.

Post your moving/storage experiences and information that may help others. Thank you for visiting this site and providing your input.


published: 2 January 2013