What can I store outside when it might get to 50 below?
May 24, 2015 3:50 PM   Subscribe

I need to pack up a bunch of possessions to store for a year. What can I safely store outside in an unheated shed, given that it might get down to -50°F?

We're going away on sabbatical and renting out our house. Some stuff can stay in the house, but a bunch of it will need to go in our new shed. What's safe to store outside, given that (a) it may get warm in there this summer, and (b) it will definitely get cold and snowy this winter? Are clothes ok? Books? Fabric? Papers? My husband thinks probably not CDs, since plastic has issues when it's really cold...

The shed is brand new and presumably waterproof. Fairbanks is very dry in general, so humidity isn't likely to be too much of a problem. The shed is a couple of inches off the ground and not in a low part of the yard, so I'm not too worried about puddles caused by snowmelt in the spring, but we're likely to get a couple of feet of snow accumulation by the end of the winter.
posted by leahwrenn to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are mice and other small animals likely to be an issue? If so, I'd think twice before storing books, clothes, and other chewable items that can be turned into comfy nests.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:33 PM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've stored stuff for way too long in Scotland, but fortunately no experience with 50 below. If I store fabrics I use mothballs; when time I didn't woolens disintegrated. I'd expect storing clothes and books would be fine, with Dip Flash's caveat: mice are pretty good at exploiting tiny holes, and making them in wood.
posted by anadem at 5:27 PM on May 24, 2015

Are clothes ok? Books? Fabric? Papers? Unfortunately, no, no, no and especially no. (Please really no on photo albums.) We all have things that we can't get rid of yet and would feel bad just jettisoning. Store those things in the shed in the largest lock n lock containers you can find. When you retrieve the materials/items, if they are in good shape, great; if not, you tried and can get rid of them without guilt.
posted by Morrigan at 5:53 PM on May 24, 2015

Go to Home Depot or similar and get some large plastic storage totes with sealable lids. Throw in some inorganic desiccant, like silica gel, to absorb moisture, and it'll be fairly bulletproof.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:14 PM on May 24, 2015

I can't imagine the cold itself will have any detrimental effect on paper or fabric so long as it's bone dry and very clean. (I think temperature fluctuations are what cause damage.) But I'd be very hesitant to store stuff in plastic tubs. I've had mice chew through pretty heavy duty Rubbermaid type tubs. Can you get hold of metal containers? Maybe steel trash cans with lids?
posted by Beti at 10:03 PM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've had a bunch of CDs in an unheated, uninsulated room (in Canada) for a few years and they're always fine when I go to play them.

Most of this is "yes if you can live without it, no if it means the world to you."

The idea to use steel trash cans is a good one. I would do a lot of careful packing -- can you borrow a vacuum sealer, get a bulk roll of the bags for it cheap on-line, seal up (with silica, ideally) the special stuff, put it in metal bins? In my experience, wildlife (moths, mice, raccoons) are harder on stuff than cold. Many books have lived in my car for years at a time without noticeable decay. The other thing to be wary of is water -- "presumably" waterproof -- take precautions like it isn't waterproof. If there is any humidity in the spring and something is metal, worry about rust.

I have stored more personal effects in an unheated, not very waterproof outbuilding (that sees mice and raccoons and cats and so on) than I want to admit, for longer than I want to admit, and unless it got wet, it's been fine. Amazingly. (The only wool was in a well-sealed trash bag and moths did not, even over years, get to it. But if it was wool I liked I would've mothballed it.)
posted by kmennie at 7:15 AM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Having stored all kinds of things in my garage (which routinely gets down to the -20 to -40 C range) I have had very few problems. The biggest problem I have had is having cheap plastic containers become brittle and crack when moved. They seem to be fine undisturbed, but prone to cracking if you move them around in deep winter. The genuine 'Rubbermaid' ones (the heavy duty ones) seem less prone to this. I do also tape them shut to keep critters out, which seems to work with well sealing lids. I will bag things I am leery of moisture getting into before putting into Rubbermaids. If you have to bring stuff in to sort or use when its been cold, let it warm up slowly before banging it around. I don't store anything precious outside, just in case.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 8:16 AM on May 25, 2015

We recently unpacked the contents of our lakehouse, which were stored in an un-temperature controlled storage unit in Northern Wisconsin for 18 months. We did use cheap plastic totes, which as Northbysomewhatcrazy says, will crack if handled roughly while frozen. We did tape the tops of the totes with the linens across the top, but not all the way around the lid, which in retrospect would have been a better idea. Aside from a couple of totes with linens that the mice did get into, everything came through just fine, after a good scrubbing/washing.

We did find that the fridge, even while stored without it's doors was really moldy, but scrubbing it down with bleach solved that. Some of the wood furniture got a little mildew on it, but we were able to clean that off. We did store some books in cardboard boxes and those are a little musty smelling, and we haven't closely inspected them yet, but I think a bit of time in the sunshine will air them out. We did not store any upholstered furniture nor mattresses in the unit, but aside from that, as everyone upthread says, as long as you don't store the precious things out there, you should be just fine.
posted by sarajane at 9:07 AM on May 26, 2015

Temperature can be rough on glues. Cheaper books, in particular, tend to be glue bound these days, and I've had books completely fall apart after being left in a hot car for too many days. Other glues may become runny and get all over other things around them, like the adhesive in photo albums. Also any kind of packing tape that you're using to secure things.

I would look for as many completely inorganic things as possible. Pots and pans. Laundry rack. Um... There's got to be something else.
posted by anaelith at 5:58 AM on May 28, 2015

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