Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Emergency Preparation, Part 16: Storage, shelves and strength

I've learned another lesson in the 'buy cheap, pay dear' category recently.

As I've mentioned before, I've been building up our reserve supplies of food and related items - not in the expectation of TEOTWAWKI, but to have a fall-back supply if inflation takes off and we can't afford to buy food too regularly, or if disruptions to the supply chain make it difficult to get certain items now and again.  To store our reserves, I'd bought a few low-cost shelving units from suppliers such as Lowes, Walmart, etc. over the past year or so.  Some are plastic snap-together units, others are wire units fitted with castors.

I've learned a few important lessons along the way.

  • The individual shelves may have a particular rating (e.g. '150 pounds per shelf, evenly distributed'), but that doesn't mean the overall structure will stand up to every shelf being loaded at or near to capacity.
  • The castors on which the shelves are supposed to move around don't work very well when the unit's heavily loaded - they pull out of the uprights, depositing the contents of the shelves in all directions (very loudly - almost as loud as my language when that happens).
  • The shelf unit may look nice and compact in the store, but when your supplies expand to need several of them, they take up more and more floor space.

I've accordingly decided to replace a couple of small shelf units (36"x18"x72") with one larger, heavier-duty unit (48"x24"x72").  The five shelves on the bigger unit will offer almost as much space as the ten shelves of the smaller ones, but use less floor space in doing so;  and they're rated for much heavier weights than the smaller units, so I should be able to put more on them without worrying about whether they'll collapse.  The bigger unit doesn't come with castors, but I've learned the hard way those are more trouble than they're worth!

However, I recall a lesson learned by a friend of mine some years ago.  He had a very nice steel outbuilding serving as a home workshop and storage unit, with several similar heavy-duty shelving units lining two walls.  Each had five shelves made of particle board, and each shelf was heavily loaded.  They worked fine . . . until, one evening, the sprinkler system malfunctioned.  It rapidly demonstrated that when particle board shelves get wet, they have all the strength and rigidity of soaked cardboard!  He came in the next morning to find all his goods on the floor, having fallen through their shelves.  He had to invest in plywood shelves to replace the particle board units, and replace a large number of damaged items as well.  There's no sprinkler system in our basement, but even so, if water ever penetrates it in significant amounts, particle board will be a liability rather than an asset.  I'm going to replace the manufacturers' particle board shelves with cut-to-size pieces of ¾"- or 1"-thick plywood.  I'll feel safer that way!

He also learned the hard way that items stored in cardboard boxes don't fare very well when the boxes become soaked.  He invested in plastic storage containers to hold smaller items, and used plastic garbage bags or sheets to protect larger items.  It made it a bit of a pain to find things in a hurry, but he reckoned the greater protection was worth it.  It also offered better security against insects and rodents.  I think I'm going to follow his example.


EDITED TO ADD:  I've posted a follow-up article about how replacing particle board shelves with plywood has improved my storage.  See it for more information.


Robohobo said...

Get this one. Really does hold what it says.

edsal 72-in H x 72-in W x 24-in D 3-Tier Steel Freestanding Shelving Unit

ScottH said...

Look for some used commercial-grade shelving like these systems:




Also keep an eye on Craigslist - shelving installers often list used equipment they don't need (we do).

For mobile shelving you need to go with carriages on track for long term trouble-free operation. They aren't cheap (especially the carriages) but you could build your own from 1x3 steel tube and industrial roller bearings if you have access to a machine shop.

Old NFO said...

I like the open steel shelf version... 800-1000 lb limit...

Anonymous said...

If you have the space for it, go for more shelves rather than fewer so you can group time-similar purchases by shelf. You'll want to use oldest food first, and invariably the oldest can of beans will be at the very back of the shelf, hard to reach and sometimes forgotten.

If, instead, a shelf is all Q1 2012 purchases, any can of beans (or hash, or whatever) from that shelf will have about the same age. This also saves one the trouble of writing the purchase month and year on each individual can. It also allows very quick review of foodstuff quantity by projected usage: Is the Q1 2012 shelf roughly equal to what I will consume in a 90 day period when I start using it? Am I using stored food by date fast enough to consume most of it within a reasonable period to avoid losing any to spoilage?

Check restaurant supply companies for used shelving; they frequently take in used equipment purchased from restaurants going out of business, and the heavy duty wire rack shelving found in commercial kitchens and walk-in freezers is really sturdy stuff, and available in a wide range of shelf sizes, plus you can put on as many shelves as you want, with adjustments usually in one inch or 1.5 inch height increments. I've got several and one that's 72" high, 18" deep and 48" long has easily 800-900 pounds of canned goods on it.

(Pro tip: the shelves are held in place on the vertical supports by means of tapered two-piece plastic sleeves that snap onto the vertical support and held in place by a matching taper in the metal sleeve at each corner of the shelf that forces ridges inside the two pieces into matching grooves in the vertical support. New shelving usually comes with an extra pair or two of the plastic retainers - if you buy used shelving count the retainers you get - 8 halves are required for each shelf - and ask for a few extra. As an added plus, the shelving can be easily assembled inside a space where the doorway would not allow for moving a fully assembled shelving unit into the space. My pantry has two such shelves that barely fit between the walls - less than 3/8" clearance at each end of the shelves - and would not have gone into that space if they had not been assembled inside it.

Will said...

Keep an eye out for auctions of machine shops and other manufacturing facilities. The typically use industrial quality shelving, they can't afford to take chances on substandard junk. A lot of the auctions I have attended had the adjustable wire racks, most with castors. The brand I've run into here in CA is "Metro", I believe. Don't pass them up. They are the best quality. Although I only needed a few, one company had more than fifty of them. I think they were 6ft tall, 6 ft wide, and 2 ft deep. They were selling for $20-25 each.

Anonymous said...

I know this is a late comment but...
5/8" ply wil be plenty for shelves in a steel rack and will save you some money. Put a coat or two of common shellac and a coat or two of water-based polyurathane varnish on them, paying particular attention to the edges. You are not going for a furniture-grade finishe here, just water-tight. It will keep the shelves stable and from splitting and de-laminating. I would have prevented the particle board disaster too. Use a bit of coarse sandpaper to knock down the grain between coats.

Russ III (rcnixon(at)mindspring(dot)com

Anonymous said...

If you get the commercial grade wire racks, ie Metro, they will hold a lot, are adjustable and come with quality casters. Store goods in plastic bins with solid tops.