What to Know About Using Storage Containers When You Move

Here's how to decide if you should use portable storage units like PODS, U-Box or U-Pack for your next move.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Use Storage Containers to Move

a portable storage unit is being loaded to a residenceBuilding and Construction

Moving and storage containers are portable storage units that can be placed at a home for loading and unloading and picked up by a truck after use.(Getty Images)

If you’re getting ready for a move but want more flexibility than a traditional moving truck with movers, you may want to consider a moving and storage container.

What Are Moving and Storage Containers?

Moving and storage containers are portable storage units that can be placed at a home for loading and unloading and picked up by a truck after use. Widespread references to moving and storage containers as “pods” is due to brand recognition of the company that specializes in such products, PODS, which stands for Portable On Demand Storage.

Moving and storage containers are considered an alternative to a traditional moving truck and have become a popular option in recent years since users can load and unload them on their own. In many cases, moving and storage containers are left at a home for a few days, allowing the packing process to be done at the pace and convenience of the person moving.

Why the Rise in Moving Container Popularity?

In a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has people trying to avoid unnecessary contact with strangers, moving containers allow you to eliminate that contact, explains Trent Brock, community development marketing specialist for PODS Enterprises.

“There is no need to meet a driver or be present when your PODS moving and storage container is delivered or picked up. Using PODS can help prevent people outside your ‘social bubble’ from being in your home and packing your belongings,” Brock wrote in an email.

Portable storage also provides a secure storage option that you can keep at your home during renovations if you don't want it stored at a facility. You can move furniture, appliances and even building materials into a container in your driveway without losing immediate access to your belongings while construction work is being done.

Companies That Offer Storage Containers for Moving

Here are some of the companies that offer portable containers for moving and storage:

  • 1-800-Pack-Rat.
  • COWs – Container on Wheels.
  • Go Mini’s.
  • Moving Place.
  • PODS.
  • Smartbox.
  • U-Haul U-Box containers.
  • U-Pack ReloCube.
  • United Mayflower containers.
  • Zippy Shell.

Expected Costs for Using Storage Containers for Moving

The average cost of using a shipping container to move is about $3,000, according to Move.org, although prices vary widely based on the size and number of containers used, distance traveled, time stored, start and end locations, and the amount of time between departure and arrival. Some companies determine the cost based on weight, while others do not.

Cross-country shipment will be the most expensive aspect of your move with a storage container, but local moves can be fairly inexpensive. PODS estimates a 16-foot container can be moved from one house to another within the same ZIP code in Alabama for less than $300, assuming the container will be emptied and picked up in under a month. U-Box estimates two containers (holding roughly three to four rooms) can cost as little as $100 for a local move in Alabama if you tow the containers yourself, or an additional $69 for U-Haul to move the containers for you. For a long-distance move, both U-Box and U-Pack estimate $2,952 and $1,929, respectively, to move a two-bedroom home from Alabama to the District of Columbia. These rates vary by city, state and distance between homes, however.

“U-Box containers have a monthly rental rate that varies by city. This rate does not change whether the container is stored on your property or at one of our neighborhood U-Haul locations,” wrote Sam Shoen, U-Box program manager at U-Haul, in an email.

If you’re using a storage container to move to a new home, there will be additional fees for the transport to the new location. “If you are planning a regional, long-distance, or international relocation, we like to connect by phone so we can better understand your upcoming move and then put together a personalized quote based on your needs,” Brock says.

How to Decide If Moving and Storage Containers Are Right for You

As you try to determine whether moving and storage containers are worth the cost for your needs, here are a few common scenarios you may find yourself in. Consider these details and how using moving and storage containers could be optimal or a hassle:

  • Your move is local.
  • You’re moving a long distance.
  • You need professional movers.
  • You live in an apartment.
  • You don’t know where you’re moving yet.
  • You’re moving irreplaceable items.
  • You need to store items over a long term.

Your Move Is Local

The short distance means you won’t have to pay much in terms of mileage regardless of the type of move you do, and a portable storage unit may allow you more time for DIY packing and unpacking.

You’re Moving a Long Distance

With a long-distance move, portable containers are likely to be less expensive than paying a full-service moving company to load, ship and unload your belongings from start to finish. HomeAdvisor reports the cost to move cross-country ranges between $4,000 and $10,000 or more, but it varies depending on total weight of your belongings, starting point and destination, the moving company you hire and whether you have movers pack and unpack your belongings as well.

Most moving containers can be delivered without you having to be present upon arrival. If you’re worried about not arriving at your destination before a moving truck, a container may be a better option for you.

You Need Professional Movers

If you know you need professional movers to help load and unload a truck or container, you may want to get quotes for a full-service move as well as a combination of moving containers and separately hired movers.

Sites like HomeAdvisor and HireAHelper can connect you with local professionals to load your separately rented truck or container for a few hours.

You Live in an Apartment

Having a moving and storage container delivered to your driveway or the street in front of your house is one thing, but what if you live in an apartment building?

You may be able to get permission from your landlord or property manager to have a moving container placed on the property for a couple days. Brock recommends verifying where it can be placed if this is the case.

Depending on the company and size of container, you may be able to fit the unit in a parking space (get a permit or pay for street parking if required). U-Box, for example, is designed to fit in a standard parking space for this purpose, Shoen says.

When all else fails, you can load or unload a container at most storage company facilities. However, this means you’ll have to add the cost of a rented truck to get your belongings to or from the facility.

You Don’t Know Where You’re Moving Yet

Professional movers need to know exactly where they’re going before they pack up your belongings. But if you plan to find a place when you arrive, that’s not an option. Brock says PODS only requires a destination ZIP code to book your container, and it can simply be stored near your future home until you have an exact address to schedule delivery.

You’re Moving Irreplaceable Items

There are some things that are irreplaceable or hazardous, and as a result you shouldn’t move or store them in a portable container. “These items include deeds and documents, medications, currency, photographs, electronic data, jewelry, artwork, furs and firearms,” Shoen says. “Hazardous and dangerous items are also prohibited from being loaded inside a U-Box container, such as fireworks, cylinders designed to contain butane or propane, containers for grills, torches, animals, food or plants.”

However, it’s important to know that many full-service moving companies won’t recommend or allow these items on their trucks either – and it may be illegal to move hazardous items on a truck across state lines. You may need to have special items shipped separately or consider including them in your car when you road-trip to your new home.

You Need to Store Items Over a Long Term

Compared to traditional storage, the pick-up and drop-off features of portable storage containers can make it far easier to load up and store items for long periods of time.

If you want to be able to easily access your belongings, however, a traditional storage unit may be a better option. The alternative is to keep the container located on your property for easy access. (With many companies, there’s no additional cost to keep your container at home.) Shoen explains that while U-Box’s monthly rental rate varies by city, there’s no change in cost whether the unit is stored at home or a facility.

Corrected on Oct. 1, 2020: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to moving and storage containers as pods, which is a trademarked term.

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