Using a Storage Unit as Workshop or Workspace
Self storage units have been around since the late 1800s when the need for a safe place to store personal belongings first started to arise. The concept has since been modernized over time from small "mom and pop" run storage spaces into state of the art facilities that we know today.
Self storage has become not only a lucrative market, but an extremely competitive one, as well.
A new concept that's been gaining in popularity among hobbyists and professionals alike is to use these self-storage units as workshops, work space, or for other business reasons.
Depending on your niche, they offer a safe, reliable place to store tools, documents, goods, and products, and can be cheaper than renting office space or independent workshops.
This article will go over everything you need to know about using a storage unit as a workshop or workspace, and if it's right for you.
Types of Storage Units
Generally there are three main types of self-storage which include indoor storage, outdoor storage, and drive-up storage units.
Drive-up units offer the most convenient type of storage unit workshop if you need to move large pieces of furniture, equipment, or tools on a daily basis since you can drive right to the unit and won't need to meander around stairs or hallways.
If you don't have a lot of heavy items, then indoor storage units can act more like an office. These spaces are generally connected by halls and would be accessed through a main door.
You can arrange your desk or workspace as you like, and walk to the unit just like you would in an office building.
Outdoor storage units can be rented for anyone who has large machinery, or needs to store a vehicle. While this won't be as popular for use in colder climates, depending on what type of work you are doing, an outdoor unit may be great for more trades-oriented activities, or to safely store company vehicles.
Limitations will depend on what kind of unit you are interested in, and the rules of each individual storage facility, but most places will not let you store anything flammable in an indoor unit like gasoline, propane, or any other fuel source. Likewise, there are certain rules against storing guns and ammunition for safety reasons.
Most indoor units will not allow the use of heavy machinery, generators, or power tools. While a motorbike may be allowed, doing any kind of mechanical work on vehicles may be restricted because of the mess and potential for oil and fuel stains, not to mention the disposal of other hazardous waste.
For these uses, an outdoor unit may be a better option, but you still need to check the rules and limitations.
As a workspace, you can design the unit as you like, but facilities will not allow you to manipulate or permanently change the space. You may need to clarify exactly what a "permanent change" is, but you won't be able to drill holes or attach anything to the walls that would alter the structure, including painting or other finishes.
You can't use storage units as a living space for yourself or anyone else. There are rules about who can be in them or access the unit when you aren't there, unless you secure the contract as a partnership and list the personnel who are allowed access.
This ends up being for your own safety, as units are monitored for any potential theft or injury.
Modern day storage units come with a lot more options and upgrades than ever before. Indoor units can be climate-controlled or not, so if you live in a cold or very hot region, you have options to make the workspace more comfortable for yourself and to keep items from freezing or getting too hot.
An important factor to note is that not all self storage facilities will offer electrical plugs or ways to power anything inside the unit, in fact most will not offer this service.
For anyone wanting to power a laptop or other small tools there are a growing number of storage facilities that are offering "hobby units" that will have electrical outlets to use.
WIFI, high-speed internet, and phone lines are another amenity being offered by newer storage facilities looking to bring in a more diverse clientele.
All units will come with some kind of security features, but make sure they offer this 24-7. Facilities usually have security fences, electronic gates, or round-the-clock surveillance and alarm systems in place to keep yourself and your belongings safe.
Not all units allow 24-7 access, so if you need to be able to go to the unit during odd hours, make sure to find a place that offers this.
On top of these amenities, most newer storage facilities are also using smart technology as an extra safety feature. This means you can see your storage unit with your smartphone, and will be notified of any problems through alerts.
Another amenity that all storage units are obliged to provide is pest control for both indoor and outdoor units.
Why Use a Storage Unit?
The most popular use of a storage unit is for storing personal belongings, but for businesses and hobbyists, this may also include storing tools, equipment, furniture, extra office supplies, or bulk products that you are selling.
While there are rules against using the storage unit as a place of business in and of itself, it can certainly be used to assist your business needs.
While having extra space to store items is one way to utilize self storage for business needs, it can also simply be a safe place to get some work done in a private, climate-controlled space.
If you work from home, having a storage unit to place phone calls and work from a laptop for a few hours can be a great way to get away from noise and other distractions.
It can also provide a much cheaper alternative to leasing or renting office or workspace, while offering more privacy than a shared, public workspace in an office or coffee shop for example. You won't be bothered by visitors, shoppers, coworkers, or family members, and can design the space to fit your specific needs.
When you're done you can also simply walk away knowing that any documents, projects, tools, or goods have been left in a secure space. This can be especially important if you are storing expensive collectibles or antiques, as well as any potential lucrative ideas, patents, or intellectual property.
Pros of Storage Unit Workshops
A workshop, work, or office space generally won't offer the same kind of security features that self-storage units do, especially if you have to share these spaces with coworkers or other personnel. A storage unit also provides space immediately—you won't need to shop around as much to find a storage unit available to meet your needs.
They also come in a number of different sizes to suit the type of work you're doing, and budget ranging from 5 x 5 foot units to 10 x 30 feet, with different options in between.
Building a workspace or workshop takes time and money to set up. While the ongoing costs may be small once it's been built, there are building restrictions and permits for workshops in a residential lot, and often the initial investment is quite high.
If you don't live alone on the property, working in a different space that's close to your house can potentially still bring distractions from the other members of the household. As the saying goes: out of sight, out of mind!
Storage units are also a great option for short-term projects and needs—no long-term commitment needed. You can also change units to fit your needs as you go, including the size of the unit, as well as upgrading or downgrading different amenities like climate control, electrical availability, and drive-to options.
Cons of Storage Unit Workshops
The main downside to using a self storage unit as a workshop is the limitations on activities and lack of available electrical amenities, as well as WIFI and phone lines. While there are many sizes to choose from, anyone working with large machinery may need something bigger than what a storage unit can provide.
Location is another factor to consider. Most storage facilities are located away from downtown or residential areas, so a commute may be necessary. Having a workshop in your own home or in a shared workspace more centrally located may suit your lifestyle better.
Aesthetics may be another factor in your decision to use a storage unit as a workshop. If you don't mind the basic look of steel and concrete, then it won't be a problem, but some people like to have an interesting work "vibe," whether that's from the character of the building or the ways in which you can decorate—no plants will stay alive in a room that has no windows!!
Ways to Use an Indoor Storage Unit
Storage units could be easily used as a design workshop. Whether you're starting out or have lots on the go, it's easy enough to set up a drafting table and chair to work in peace. You may not even need a unit with electricity, depending on the tools or supplies you work with.
Similarly, artists who work in mediums that don't need ventilation could set up an easel or an area to draw, but keep in mind there likely won't be any natural light which can be important for painting. If you're a writer who doesn't need a room with a view, but does need some privacy, a storage unit could offer a quiet writer's getaway.
For any of these endeavors, your tools and supplies could be at your fingertips in a place that allows freedom from any interruption.
Home Staging is another business that could use a storage unit to its advantage - especially a drive-to. Being able to secure furniture in a safe, climate-controlled space will keep furniture and decor items in their best shape, and can also provide a place to do any repair work or light cleaning.
Using a "hobby unit" as a home office or production studio would also be a great idea for anyone who wants to take their home office out of the home. If you're creating social media content or 3D printing, then having electricity will likely be important.
Photographers could set up different background screens in a storage unit without manipulating the walls at all. Lighting would be important, so again, a unit with electricity would likely be necessary.
Ways to Use an Outdoor Storage Unit
Outdoor storage units provide different options for businesses or hobbyists that have large machines, vehicles, and tools that wouldn't fit in an indoor unit.
You could run a small bike or motorcycle repair shop, or possibly even fix cars - you'd have to check the limitations and rules of the facility, as even outdoor units may have specifications about what kind of materials like fuel and oil are brought in.
Outdoor units will have overhead coverage, and a few walls, so while your items will be out in the elements, there will be a level of protection. Even if you aren't working on vehicles at the storage unit itself, it can be a great place to store them until you can bring them into your shop or business if you don't have the space for them.
Certain carpentry work may be allowed in an outdoor unit, as well. If there aren't any rules against noise or using power tools, then you may be able to do some woodworking, including staining and fixing old furniture, which has become a trendy way to make money on the side.
Even just using the outdoor unit to store large pieces of lumber that you don't want to keep on a jobsite or don't have space for anywhere else can be an excellent way to use these kinds of storage options.
The best part is, when you need to take a break or want to leave the project until the next day, you can leave knowing your items are stored safely, and will be there when you return.
A basic 5 x 5 unit can be rented for as low as $50 /month, however, that's essentially the size of a walk-in closet, so anyone using self storage as a workshop or work space would probably need at least 10 x 10 or 100 square feet of space. For this size, prices are still low, starting around $75 /month for a basic indoor unit.
The price goes up as you add amenities. Stair access will be cheaper than elevator access, and drive-to units are more expensive than the other two because of the convenience they allow.
Climate-controlled unit prices will depend on your region, as heating or cooling units will vary in cost.
Hobby units that have electrical outlets are the most expensive upgrade, but worth it in the end when you compare what an office space would cost to rent monthly.
Keep in mind that the cost of any kind of unit used for business purposes could be a write-off on your taxes, so any upgrades may be worth the extra amount if it can be deducted as a business expense.
While self storage units won't work for everyone, they do offer a unique opportunity for creative minded folks to use rented space for various business and hobby-related ventures.
As more people opt into the gig-economy, using a storage unit as a workshop or workspace could help you get your business started, or provide you ample opportunities for expansion.