What’s a Moving Container? A Guide for Everything You Need to Know

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If you’re planning a move and have done the slightest bit of research, you might be wondering, “What’s a moving container?” Most of us can understand rental trucks, which we often see passing by us on the highway.

Well if you’re still confused, think of moving containers as the younger, hipper cousins to rental trucks.

Moving containers (commonly, but incorrectly called moving pods given “PODS” is a specific brand) are basically just portable storage units. They are metal or wood containers in which you can store your stuff.

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Because they are portable, they can be loaded onto a truck for transport down the block (or across the country!). Moving containers make it ultra-convenient for people to load, pack and transport their stuff.

They can be delivered to your home or office, where it remains on the grounds while someone loads it up with your stuff. When you’re ready to move, you can call the company to have a professional driver pick it up and deliver it to the next location. There, you unload the goods and move in! You might have seen them on the grounds of your neighbor’s home or local businesses.

Once you know what they are, you’ll start spotting them everywhere.

What Do They Look Like?

It varies, but by and large, moving containers just look like big boxes. Container sizes vary. Some are as big as 16 feet long, while others are as small as 7 feet long. Their heights differ, too. Some are skinny and taller to take advantage of the height to pack in more stuff. Others are shorter, which is really convenient for loading but, of course, might not allow you to fit as many things.

Where Do I Go to Get a Moving Container?

PODS claims to be the founder of this niche in the industry, and it is arguably the best known of the container companies. But there are other big names, including 1-800-PACK-RAT, Smartbox, and Go Mini’s, to name a few. Even U-Haul has gotten in on the act with U-Box.

What Are the Differences Between Companies?

PODS offer customers the chance to rent up to three different sized containers based on their needs. Others, such as Smartbox, rent out just one size container. (In their case, it’s 8 feet wide and 7 feet tall.) Containers are also made of different materials, depending on which company you choose. PODS are steel-framed. U-Pack’s containers are made of “weatherproof metal.” Some others are made of wood and usually include some weatherproof type of covering instead.

People frequently debate the merits of each type of container. Some say the metal containers – the likes of which can be found at PODS and 1-800-PACK-RAT – are best because of their sturdy construction and ability to stand up to any kind of weather. Others argue they lack air circulation, which can potentially cause mold, mildew, or at the very least, musty smells. The wooden containers, such as the pressure treated plywood ones that U-Haul/U-Box rents, might allow for more ventilation, but they are not necessarily as weather resistant.

If you really want to dig into all the pros and cons of each company, including average prices, reviews, pictures and more, check out the moving container page at Moving101.

How Much Do Moving Containers Cost?

Moving containers can be pretty affordable relative to other moving services. They are especially good for those moving to and from smaller homes and apartments. 

Prices can range between around $500 (to move stuff to and from a small home or apartment in a local move) to $5,000 (for multiple containers making a long-distance move with many items from a large home). The cost really depends on the amount of stuff you plan on transporting and the distance the driver will be traveling.

How do you figure out exactly how much your containers would cost? These are the questions to ask:

How Big Is My Place I’m Moving Out From?

When you have a bigger home, you generally need to rent more containers, which of course elevates the price.

In addition, you have to be able to park these containers somewhere without violating local ordinances; with multiple large containers, you might have trouble—especially in a city where parking can be challenging. Sometimes, more containers also require more drivers or trucks. This all matters when gathering estimates.

Where Am I Moving To and From?

As you might imagine, the cost also depends on which company you choose, based on which container is better for your stuff and if they’re available in your area.

For example, PODS typically charges a little more than $600 for a local move and more than $3,000 for a long-distance move. On the other hand, Door to Door charges about $1,700 for local moves and more than $2,300 for a longer move. (UPDATE: Door to Door has been purchased by U-Haul and absorbed into their U-Box service.)

Moving101 Container Price Comparison

Clearly, all the prices are more than you would spend on a rental truck that you would drive yourself. That makes sense if you think about it. Companies are baking in the costs of the professional driver, their moving trucks, maintenance and fuel. (The cost will also rise the longer you keep the container for storage, as well as the more stuff you have to pack.)

Generally, moving containers remain economical for many of those planning a move and looking for a little more convenience and storage. It will cost more than a full-fledged DIY Move that includes renting a moving truck, but it won’t break the bank in the way a Full-Service Move would cost.

When Would I Use a Moving Container?

Moving containers are a good fit for people who want to conveniently load and unload their stuff in a specific location, on their own schedules. (There’s also no question it’s a better fit for those going a shorter distance and moving less stuff.) But there are plenty of times a portable storage is your best option.

Let’s say you can’t get the key to your place until the 25th of the month, but your lease ends on the 14th. What do you do? You call a moving container company.

How Does Booking a Moving Container Work?

Then typically, you go online or get on the phone, pick out a container, then schedule a date to drop it off wherever your stuff is. A sales representative will help you schedule based on how long you plan to keep the container for loading. You might ask about keeping it longer for storage purposes, in which case you can keep it on the grounds of the old place, or have it transported to the new place if you can get permission from owners or those moving out. Or you could even keep the container in one of the company’s storage facilities if they offer one.

You might need the container a few days to load it up. This is one of the differentiating factors between moving containers and trucks (and sales reps love to point this out). After all, rental trucks usually lock you into a schedule with little to no wiggle room.  

But there’s a catch with that flexible schedule. Sure, you can keep the container for long periods of time. However, if you keep containers longer than one month, you will pay much more than the original estimate because moving container companies generally charge by the month.

That means you have one month to load your stuff, schedule a pickup and delivery at the next destination, unload, and finally plan for the final container pick up.

About that pickup: usually, the container company sends out a driver to load up your container onto a big truck and drive it to where it needs to go. Another reason people might find containers appealing is the fact they don’t have to drive a van or big rig themselves. You leave the driving to professionals. Anyone hesitant to maneuver one of those big trucks on a highway or a long distance could see this as a major selling point.

Can My Movers Help Me with Moving Containers Too?

Yes! Professionals can load and unload containers just as they would a rental truck. You just have to ask!

Moving containers can be a smart choice for people who are looking to make a Full-Service Move at a fraction of the cost, or especially to pull off a Hybrid Move. It’s also a great option for those who need storage. Getting professional help moving can make the move actually not stressful. If you want to save your back and your relationships (by not having to ask family and friends for help), then they’re worth consideration.  

What If I’m Moving Long Distance?

Most container companies are actually excellent alternatives to traditional moving companies, since you can save a lot more money and transport is still included in your cost.

The best way to do a stress free, long distance move while still saving money is by hiring local moving labor on both ends of your move. This is called “Hybrid Long Distance”, and HireAHelper employs people who are trained professionals in getting you the best possible price point – sometimes as much as 40% cheaper than those big vans you see on the highway.

Click here to learn more about how to cut down the price for a long distance container quote.

Where Should I Start?

  • The first step is learning about the different companies and types of containers they have. Check out Moving101 for all the info you’d ever possibly need. Since every moving container company’s reviews and prices are gathered there in one spot, you can easily find your best option for you, based on your budget, availability and type of container.
  • The second step is to call up the sales representatives to get the low down on their availability, find the best fit for you, and book it!
  • The last step is to decide if you’re going to hire professionals to help you complete tasks like loading and unloading the container. Remember, don’t feel boxed in. You have the power to choose how long they work for and what items they move for you.

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With a little planning, moving containers fit nicely into any Full-Service Moving hack or Hybrid Move. You can keep your stuff somewhere while you’re moving, or have someone drive your stuff to wherever you need it. If you’re moving, you’d be a little silly to not compare prices and see if a container could save you a lot of money, or if using one would just be way more convenient.

Questions About Portable Moving Container Companies (That You Didn’t Know to Ask)

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It’s probably not hard to guess that the portable self-storage business is booming. Those boxes are everywhere. What might not be so well-known is how differently the many players out there operate.

In this spirit, here are some answers to questions you may or may not know to ask, but a lot of “movees” everywhere ask us all the time.

If a meteor pulverizes my container, who is liable for the damage? Will I be reimbursed?

Obviously, damage is more likely to occur in some other, less dramatic way while the container is parked somewhere. But regardless of how it gets damaged, it still depends!

If you didn’t purchase coverage (sometimes incorrectly called “insurance”), you may not be covered for anything – and that includes damages to the container. You might be thinking that, say, a meteor qualifies as an Act of God and is one of those things you’ll be covered for no matter what, but tell that to the couple from Houston who found out a little too late that the portable storage company they used didn’t offer flood insurance.

It is critical that you ask your portable storage provider about coverage against loss and damage. Not just for your stuff, but for the container itself, as some companies require you purchase coverage for both their stuff and for the container itself. Make sure to ask if you don’t want things left to the whim of floods. Or meteors.

Can I arrange to keep my storage container on my property until I am able to load it up?

PODS, like many companies, will tell you that you can keep it there on the driveway as long as you want, as long as you pay. The municipal authorities, however, might not be so accommodating. Make sure you double-check. 

Are portable storage containers weatherproof?

PODS containers aren’t, though they will say their containers are weather-resistant. Barring a headline flood, however, they might hold up. On the other hand, Packrat and ABF (with their ReloCube) claim their containers are weatherproof. (Anyone who has owned both water-resistant and waterproof boots will understand that the distinction is important to make.)

Whether containers are fireproof or fire-resistant is another point you might wanna ask about, especially if you live in fire country. Many containers are made of galvanized steel, though some can be aluminum or even plastic. As for SmartBox, they incorporate wood into the interior. If you’re keeping these things anywhere near woods, far crazier things have happened.

Can my portable storage container be locked?

Of course. It sounds like a silly question, but you may not know that you often have to provide your own padlock. So checking beforehand is anything but silly.

Are portable storage container facilities climate controlled?

It depends. PODS says “many” of their storage facilities are climate controlled. U-Haul says climate-controlled storage “is available”. Some companies may store their containers outdoors, so call and make sure!

American Portable Mini Storage is one company that offers climate-controlled portable storage containers as a mainstay feature.

Can I access my container if the company is keeping it in storage?

Once again, it depends. PODS says yes, but an appointment is necessary. U-Haul offers 24-hour access to their storage facilities.

Anything else I should I ask?

Sure: size of container to get, delivery window questions, and what a good price is are the most obvious. Luckily, you don’t have to be a moving expert. We’ve charted all of that info for you over on Moving101, so you can see all that stuff at a glance.

Plus, you can read what real people who’ve collectively used all the different companies have to say about their moving container experiences.

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