How to Choose a Storage Unit Lock

Wed Feb 24 2021

Many storage facilities sell cheap locks to keep your unit secure, but we thought we could do better - find out why we chose the Abus 20/70 to keep our things safe!

How to Choose a Storage Unit Lock
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It's estimated that over 10% of US households rent a storage unit, in an industry worth almost $40B [1] in 2021. As full-time RVers, a storage unit gives us a place to store things that we don't want to carry around with us on the road.

Following the recent discovery of mold in our RV roof, we had to move quickly to not only get out of the RV ourselves, but also remove all our possessions. We needed a storage unit.

Abandoning our RV

In the blink of an eye, everything changed as we've been forced to abandon our RV in the middle of winter.

Abandoning our RV

Fortunately, we were able to find a climate-controlled 10x5ft storage unit nearby in Burlington, VT where we can store everything from the RV while we make the journey from Vermont to Oregon to get the RV repaired. Not only will this protect our possessions in case there are any mold spores in the living space of the trailer, but it'll also make the trailer lighter for the journey, hence slightly improving fuel economy.

The storage unit is well protected. Being climate-controlled, it's an indoor unit, accessible only via a code-locked vehicular entrance gate and door. The facility itself has video monitoring and security patrols.

RVer Storage Unit
We're storing most of our possessions in this climate-controlled storage unit while we make the trip to Oregon and back to have our RV roof replaced.

We've also rented a second, unheated storage unit that we'll keep longer term and use to store things we don't need in the RV all the time - the rooftop solar panels once the roof is replaced, our skis, etc. Although it's outside, it's still secured with video surveillance, etc.

But even with all that, having a good lock is important. There is no perfect lock for everyone, but this blog post is the result of my research to find the right lock for us - hopefully it can help you too!

Budget

Like many storage facility, ours sells locks for about $10. These are simple, 70mm discus locks, but how good are they likely to be for $10?

Storage Unit Padlock
Most storage facilities sell locks for $6-10, but I felt we could do better.

When buying a bike lock, popular advice is often to spend about 10% of the value of the bike on the lock. Obviously a storage unit is a little different - the contents of a storage unit is unknown without opening it, and the lock is only one of a myriad of security measures. But there is some sense in the mantra that if the contents of your storage unit is more valuable then you may wish to consider a more expensive lock.

I'm no lock expert, so instead I turned to reviews from people I trust - like the Lock Picking Lawyer on YouTube. One of his videos takes a look at the top 10 biggest and baddest padlocks.

Watching his videos, I took away a few important details:

  1. Locks can cost anything from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars;
  2. Generally speaking (although not always), the more you spend on a lock, the more secure it will be;
  3. There's a point at which locks don't get meaningfully more secure.

The last point is important. You can pay more money for a better lock, but it may not keep your storage unit more secure. It'll either be impervious to all reasonable attacks, or if someone really wants to get in, the lock will no longer be the weak point - they could break the hasp, for example.

Lock Type

Some storage units may have specific lock requirements, for example cylinder locks. In this case, it's worth considering the locks sold by the storage facility as they may be specially designed for their units.

However, our storage unit uses a hasp designed for a padlock, so I focused my search on three main types of padlock:

  1. Regular, U-shaped shackle lock
  2. Closed shackle lock
  3. Discus lock

The U-shaped shackle locks are likely what you imagine when thinking of the stereotypical padlock. There is a huge selection of these, from the simple and easily broken to the expensive and much more secure. These are versatile locks suitable for a range of uses, including locking a storage unit.

If you want to go down this route, the Abus 37/55 is a very good option, albeit significantly more expensive than a basic lock. With its solid steel construction, it is very strong and resistant to bolt cutters, saws and drilling. It's keyed with Abus Plus which adds to its security credentials.

But in a sense these locks are almost too versatile. The exposed shackle is a potential vulnerability, and oftentimes isn't required to fit the hasp. A closed shackle lock uses hardened guards to protect the shackle, and if one of these fits your storage unit hasp then you may want to look at options like the Abus 37RK/80. This lock is an absolute beast, weighing in at a hefty 2.4lbs!

However, I chose to go with a discus lock, because of how it looks.

Wait, what? I'm choosing a lock based on aesthetics?!

Yes! If an opportunistic thief is wandering around the storage facility, a big, expensive padlock that's different to all the others is going to stand out. And it's going to make the would-be thief wonder what could be inside that's so valuable it's worth having this fancy lock!

That's why I decided to go with the Abus 20/70 Diskus lock. At a glance it's almost identical to the ones being sold in the storage facility - i.e. the ones that most people will choose by default. This means I know it's going to fit the latch, and it's not going to stand out!

Abus Diskus 20/70
The Abus 20/70 Diskus lock looks almost identical to the $10 lock but is much more secure.

But, unlike the $10 lock, this one should be much more secure. The general design of discus locks is fairly strong and they're generally considered hard to remove by force. By way of example, the owner of one storage facility told me that if we lose a key for a regular padlock on our storage unit, he'll cut it off for free, but he charges $30 to remove a discus lock with an angle grinder.

The biggest difference with the Abus 20/70 Diskus lock vs the cheaper ones is that it comes with the Abus Plus cylinder, like the Abus 37/55 and Abus 37RK/80. The keyhole has a protective rubber cover to help keep it clean.

Abus 20/70 Rubber Protection
The Abus 20/70 Diskus lock comes with a protective rubber door to keep the keyhole clean.

For now, we'll be using this lock on the climate-controlled storage unit we have rented for the next month or so, but after that we'll move it to our outdoor unit. We have this same core on some other locks and while some reviews suggested it could be brittle in cold weather, I've always found that just taking your time and wiggling it gently works fine.

In the meantime, we have a cheap, $10 lock on our outdoor unit as there's nothing particularly valuable in there so it wasn't worth buying two Abus locks just for the next month or so.

Secure the Door

We have our lock, but there are still a few things to bear in mind when securing your storage unit.

First, and maybe obviously, make sure the door is closed properly! Depending on the design of your storage unit door, you may be able to slide the latch over when the door isn't fully closed. While you'll think the door is locked, it's actually locked open, not closed! I always like to rattle the door after sliding the latch over to make sure it won't open.

Storage Unit Hasp
This style of last is common on storage units, and offers the choice of two holes to lock it with - which one to choose?

Like many others, the hasp on our storage unit door has two holes through which you can insert the lock - so which one to use?

My research recommended using the one closest to the outside of the door. There is typically a wall, pillar or some other obstacle at the side of the door, so you want the lock as close to that as possible to give a potential thief as little space as possible to try and defat the lock. For the same reason, orient it with the key facing towards the wall too - it's much harder to pick if there's not enough space to get a pick in!

Securing Storage Unit Door
By using the hole closest to the edge of the door, it's harder for a potential thief to break or pick the lock.

For an outdoor unit, try to orient the lock to shield it from the elements - if possible, aim the keyhole down to protect it from rain.

If there are two holes to insert a lock into, what about inserting two locks? I certainly wouldn't - nothing will make your storage unit look more conspicuous and tempting to a potential thief! In fact, walking around our new storage facility the other day I saw a unit with two locks on, and my first thought was "I wonder what they have inside that's so valuable they need two locks"...

Conclusion

Your needs may be different to ours - you may wish to spend more or less than us, need a different style to fit your storage unit, or have a preference for a different key type.

Regardless, I hope this has given you some ideas to consider when shopping for a storage unit lock.

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