A Guide to Climate-Controlled Storage Units

Climate-controlled storage offers a safe environment for items sensitive to extreme temperatures, temperature fluctuations and moisture. Unlike standard storage units with exterior access, these units are typically located inside a building to maximize protection from the elements and provide stable temperature and humidity levels. When comparing facilities that claim they offer climate control in their units, remember the definition varies by facility. It's important to learn exactly what you're paying for to ensure your valuables or sentimental belongings will be better protected during long-term storage.

Key Point Module

  • 1 There’s a big difference between temperature-controlled and climate-controlled. Understand the difference to ensure you’re getting exactly what you need.
  • 2 The longer you’re storing your items, the greater the risk of damage from heat, cold or humidity.
  • 3 Look for facilities that guarantee consistent temperatures and humidity levels year-round, no matter the weather, and offer climate monitoring to ensure constant accuracy.
  • 4 Always tour a facility before signing a contract to evaluate the security, cleanliness and maintenance of the facility, and examine the unit you’ll be renting.

What Climate-Controlled Storage Offers and Why You Need It

Standard self storage units are sufficient for a variety of household or business goods, outdoor equipment and most things you’d feel comfortable storing in your garage, attic or basement. However, when you’re storing temperature sensitive or irreplaceable items, climate-controlled storage offers the added protection you need. Some common items that benefit from climate-controlled storage include antiques, wood furniture, musical instruments, fine art, electronics, all types of media, important papers, photographs and certain wines.

Long-term exposure to extreme heat or cold, drastic temperature changes and humidity can negatively impact many of your belongings. Extreme heat can melt or warp DVDs, CDs, VHS tapes and vinyl records as well as cause wooden furniture and stringed instruments to expand and crack and turn wine brown or cloudy. Extreme cold can cause wood to shrink and crack and damage sensitive electronics, including computers, cameras, tablets and other devices. Exposure to humidity encourages mold, mildew and bacteria, which can render books, photographs, fabrics and electronics useless. The longer you store your items, the greater the risk of damage from heat, cold and humidity typically found in units without climate control.

Because climate-controlled units are located inside a storage facility without outdoor accessibility, you and your stored items also benefit from another layer of privacy, protection and safety. With sealed and insulated floors, walls and roofs, interior units are less susceptible to flooding, dirt, rodents and insects. When you’re storing irreplaceable mementos, heirlooms, old photographs or other precious items, climate-controlled storage helps ensure they stay damage-free better than standard units.

What You Should Look for in Climate-Controlled Storage

Although many of your sensitive items don’t require a specific temperature range, they do need consistent temperatures that you should be able to set. Climate-controlled storage units are generally kept between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit with a base humidity of 55 percent. These standards generally suffice for most items, but some require an even narrower range of temperature fluctuations.

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between temperature-controlled and climate-controlled. Some facilities use these terms interchangeably, but they are different. Temperature-controlled only means the temperature is regulated, but that’s not going to impact humidity, which sometimes causes more damage than temperature. Look for facilities that offer true climate control with both temperature and humidity regulation and are able to maintain consistent temperatures and humidity year-round, regardless of the weather.

Facilities that simply cool their units with air conditioning probably don’t bring moisture levels low enough to protect all types of items. Search for facilities that actively dehumidify the air in their units, which is especially important for antique furniture and other items you don’t want to warp or rot. Just like too much humidity, too little humidity can also be damaging. Facilities that heat their units without humidity control in the winter often suffer from low humidity, which can cause wooden items to dry out and split, paper to become brittle and paint on artwork to crack.

You should also look for facilities that offer climate monitoring. This means they continually monitor both temperature and humidity to verify your items are being stored at appropriate and consistent settings. The facility should also continuously circulate the air so it remains fresh and dust-free. Finally, ask if they have a generator back up system should high winds or severe weather conditions cause a long-term power outage.

What to Watch Out for in Climate-Controlled Storage

There aren’t any official industry standards or regulations for climate-controlled storage. Thus, a storage facility could advertise their units as climate-controlled, but their control methods may be limited to running an attic fan or window air conditioners. Always ask storage facility operators for their specific temperature and climate standards and what they do to meet their standards. Get this information in writing to confirm the legitimacy of their claims.

Besides falsely advertised climate-controlled indoor storage, be wary of exterior-access units touted as being climate-controlled. It’s rare to find climate control in a drive-up outdoor unit. While it’s not completely impossible, it’s more likely the unit is simply heated and/or cooled to some degree, but not truly climate-controlled.

Legal liability is a big issue to watch for, so always read your rental agreement carefully. You’re probably going to find a statement that says something about the storage facility making reasonable efforts to avoid temperature extremes, but they’re not responsible for any damages. Storage facilities usually aren’t responsible for the content you store in their facility, so get it in writing if a facility operator says they “guarantee” the safety of your items.

Since it’s unlikely you’re going to get a guarantee that truly covers your belongings, it’s a good idea to insure your stored items. Call your own insurance agent to see if your possessions are covered under an existing policy. If you have a standard renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy, it likely includes off-premises property protection at no extra cost. The extent of your coverage depends on your insurance company, but they commonly include theft and damage from fire and other disasters. However, your policy may only cover the cash value of your items at the time of the loss, which may not be enough to replace them. If you don’t have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, you can opt to purchase coverage from the storage facility or an outside vendor.

When purchasing insurance from a storage facility, watch out for storage facility operators who neglect to mention they require proof of insurance until you’re signing your rental agreement. Facilities that collect premiums from you directly usually have a financial interest in doing so, namely an additional revenue stream. Although storage facilities can’t require you to purchase their own insurance, they can make it a requirement in your rental agreement to have some type of coverage. If you’re unprepared with proof of insurance, you could find yourself being pressured to buy theirs on the spot. Many of these policies limit what’s covered and often exclude numerous items and conditions from coverage.

How to Shop for a Climate-Controlled Storage Facility

Besides confirming climate control methods and consistency, shopping for a climate-controlled storage facility requires much of the same research you’d do for any other type of self-storage unit. Ask standard questions about the facility’s security measures and occupancy rates and take note of the overall cleanliness and maintenance of the facility during in-person tours to determine whether the business seems trustworthy and safe.

What kind of security features does the facility have?

Climate-controlled facilities protect your belongings from temperature fluctuations and humidity, but you still want to know your stuff will be safe from theft, fire and other dangers. Ask what type of security measures the facility offers to help guarantee the safety of your possessions and put your mind at ease. Some important security questions to ask include:

  • Do renters need a personalized code to enter the parking lot and/or building?
  • Is there a security system in place?
  • Do they have 24-hour video surveillance?
  • Do they offer individually alarmed storage units?
  • Have they experienced any recent break-ins?
  • Are the inside and outside of the facility well lit?
  • Do they have fire detection and prevention systems?

Facilities with an on-site manager who stays overnight provides an additional layer of security. Great security not only keeps your stuff safe; it also helps keep you safe while visiting your unit.

What is the occupancy rate?

Facilities with a good occupancy rate is a positive sign, especially if there are abundant storage facility choices in your area. Ask about their occupancy rate and whether there’s a waiting list to form an opinion about their popularity. It also may give you some insight into their honesty and sales tactics. A property manager may tell you they have a limited number of vacancies to pressure you into signing on the dotted line right away. Consider calling the facility prior to visiting to ask about vacancies, then compare this number to what you’re told during your tour. It also doesn’t hurt to read online reviews and check for any complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

What level of access does the facility offer?

Not all facilities are accessible 24/7. Since you never know when you might want something from your climate-controlled storage unit, find out the operating hours. Facilities with limited access may have different hours for the gate and the office. Gate hours determine when you’re allowed to visit your storage unit, while office hours are essential if you need to speak to a manager or pay your bill in person. Decide whether access limitations work with your schedule or unlimited access works best for you.

Does the facility seem clean and well-maintained?

Never solely trust pictures posted on websites, because they only post the best shots of well-kept areas. Instead, begin your research online, but take personal tours of each facility that fits your needs. If the facilities and individual units aren’t in excellent condition, your possessions won’t be safe from pests and the elements. Any signs of neglect during your tour should give you pause, so ask yourself:

  • Is there a lot of trash in the parking lot, around the facilities or overflowing from garbage receptacles?
  • Do the building(s) and grounds appear well taken care of, or do they seem dirty and rundown?
  • If applicable, is the vegetation well-groomed or overgrown?
  • Are there any signs of structural damage or holes that might be signs of leakage or pest issues?
  • Do they have reliable rodent and pest control measures in place, or do you see signs of pest damage?

Make the most of your facility tour by asking lots of questions. The level of service you receive during your visit should also be a deciding factor. If the staff doesn’t seem knowledgeable or interested in answering your questions, consider another facility. In the end, the biggest question you should ask yourself is whether or not you feel comfortable leaving your prized possessions in this facility. Climate-controlled facilities cost a bit more than standard facilities. When you go to the added expense to store your items in these units, it’s usually because they’re important to you. Always do plenty of research to ensure your possessions are going to be kept safe and secure for as long as you need to store them.