Utility shelves are a time-tested, effective way to increase storage space. And if you group several units, you can not only store a lot of things, but also keep them in one convenient place (the basement, the garage, the attic).

Need to know: What type of things you’ll be storing, so you can decide which type of utility shelving is best. Is your stuff lightweight or heavy? Long? Should it be stored standing upright or lying flat?

Size (and strength) matters: When you shop, check the label for the shelving unit’s specifications and components: dimensions, weight capacity, number of shelves, decking, vertical-post construction, horizontal-beam construction. Shelves should be strong enough to hold whatever you’re storing without sagging. Also consider the space you have for the shelves and the location you have in mind for them. In a garage, a tall, narrow unit may be what you want. In a basement, especially in areas with low ceilings, shorter and wider may be best.

Open or shut case: Typically, open units are more reasonably priced, in addition to letting you see what you have and easily retrieve it. Closed units – a metal storage cabinet with shelves, for instance – offer more privacy and protection, and are usually more stable than an open rack of shelves.

Terms of the trade: A starter is a single-section unit that can stand alone. An add-on (or adder) has just two vertical posts because it is designed to connect to a starter. You can use a starter by itself, but don’t buy an add-on unless you have a starter of the same model.

Deck mates: Storage units have different kinds of shelves, also known as decking. Most common is solid decking, which provides the greatest amount of support. Alternatives include wire decking, which reduces accumulation of dust and dirt, provides better ventilation and makes things on higher shelves easier to see. Ribbed decking allows for space to grab packages easily and prevent pinched fingers. Particleboard decking is much like solid decking, replacing metal with sturdy wooden boards.

Post notes: Angled vertical posts are typically found in the back of a shelving unit but can be in front as well, and they offer a unit maximum stability. Generally, angled posts are used on a unit that stands as a single section. Beaded vertical posts, usually in the front of a shelving unit, provide more usable shelf width and let you move items you’ve stored, such as cartons, in and out. T-post verticals are typically used as uprights shared by two shelving sections.

No tipping: Items frequently used should be stored so that they are easily accessible to everyone when needed – unless, of course, you want to keep them out of little hands. But always remember to keep heavier items at the bottom of the shelving unit and lighter ones at the top. If you’re concerned about children pulling the shelves over, secure the unit to a wall.

What will it cost? Price depends on what a unit is made of and how many shelves it includes. An Internet and in-store search shows that prices for utility shelves start at $21.95 for a basic unit to $200 for high-end units. Mid-range, heavy-duty plastic units with four or five shelves run about $50.

Want Alan J. Heavens’ advice on a home-improvement project or purchase? E-mail him at aheavensphillynews.com or write to him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia PA 19101.

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