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You are ready to move, you have your worldly goods in boxes around you, and it's time to fill the van. Simple, you might think. But wait! How do you get a whole house full of stuff into around 1000 cubic feet? And more importantly, how do you make sure it's all in one piece at the other end?
It is a specialist skill, but one which is not beyond the average intelligent Researcher. If Pickford's (or Rhinestone Removals, or Bodgit and Sodit) can do it, so can you.
Choosing a Van
The perfect removal van has three things: wall bars (parallel bars running along the van, like school gymnasium climbing bars), a tailboard (not a tail-lift) and a Luton body (which has that bit that extends over the cab). Of these, the wall bars are far and away the most important, and you should seriously consider rejecting any van which lacks them.
Also, you should be very sure that the vehicle has a minimum of seven feet of internal height (otherwise there won't be room for beds inside) and is rated for at least 7.5 tonnes. It is possible to move the contents of an entire three-bedroom house in a 700 cubic foot Luton Transit, but it requires considerable skill and will definitely leave the vehicle overloaded.
You will also need a stack of blankets (old army blankets are good, don't use anything which would be difficult to wash afterwards), some flattened-out boxes and, if you are feeling flush, a few portable wardrobes (a brilliant if pricey invention). A supply of flat ties (braided material about two inches across) or soft ropes is also essential.
Finally, and this is very important, do not pack the kettle. There is nothing worse than a marathon loading stint in a sun-scorched truck with no tea waiting for you at the other end.
The fundamental principle for getting your house contents to their destination in one piece is making sure nothing moves en route. Keep this in mind and you won't go far wrong. Things should be packed tight and tied in. Make sure you don't have gaps into which your prized possessions can fall if you have to brake sharply.
Don't be tempted to pack loosely and quickly and do three trips. The chances of damage are in proportion to the speed of packing. Take your time.
The classic loading technique starts with the sofa (complete with cushions) wrapped in blankets, with its back towards the front of the vehicle. On the seats of the sofa you would place the TV (screen down) and hi-fi components, being careful to ensure that they can't mark the cloth. If the sofa is covered with velour, that means putting a flattened-out box under the stereo. Having placed the delicates on the sofa you then turn the accompanying chairs upside-down and place them on top, so that the 'works' of the TV fit into the seat of one, and the stereo fits into the seat of the other.
Not all homes, of course, have a three-piece suite. The same effect can be achieved with single chairs or a pair of two-seat sofas. If you have none of the above, use your imagination!
You can safely place pictures and small-framed mirrors, again wrapped in blankets, alongside the sofa if there is enough width. And to hold the whole lot in place you pack it around with 'bags of soft' - bin-liners filled with bedding, loose clothing and soft toys.
When you have done this you should have a square face against which to pack the next 'layer'. It is good practice to tie this off.
If your van does not have a Luton you can create the desired effect by building a layer of tea chests (if you can get them), or a base of sturdy furniture (chests of drawers, but not dressers or anything with spindly legs), topped with boxes. The result should give about 3ft - 4ft clearance for the sofa and chairs.
Beds and Wardrobes
The next move is usually to place the beds and wardrobes against the sides of the van. Tie a tie or rope to the wall bars about four feet up from the floor, and hook the other end over something the other side of the van. Next, take a blanket and hang it on the wall bars so that about 18 inches of blanket trails on the floor (to put the end of the bed on). Place the mattress against the blanket, longest dimension vertical, followed by the bed base (all legs and head/foot boards removed, and if you folded it to get it out of the house, unfold it but don't put the bolts back in). Bring the tie round, looping round the wall bars about two feet up. Run it up the wall and loop again at around four or five feet. Then bring the free end round and loop over the tie where it crosses the bed, in a sort of Y-shape. Loop round once and bring the end through, as if in a one-loop bow. Leave the tie rather loose for now.
Once you have a bed in place and loosely tied in, you can pack mirrors, paintings, velour headboards and other flat delicate objects between the base and the mattress. This kind of item should always travel on end, never flat. Use cardboard to protect frameless mirrors, and between mirrors and spring type beds (divans are better for packing purposes).
If you have lots of beds, double them up (loosen the tie, place the next bed in the same way, then re-tie). To tighten the ties, work the slack round, undo the free end and loop it round once, pull tight, and feed a loop through into a one-loop bow. Then simply slide the bow along the tie until it's secure.
Wardrobes and tall furniture can go opposite the beds. The tying technique is similar. No need to put blankets behind, but use blankets and reinforce with torn-off bits of cardboard to protect the edges of polished furniture against damage from ties. Before wrapping and tying the wardrobes and cupboards, open them up and fill them with as much awkward stuff as you possibly can. Toys, footballs, bags of soft, whatever - but remember, this is furniture, so no bicycles, garden tools or heavy things. Books can take the bottom out of a wardrobe on the move.
The Middle of the Van
Here's where science and generalities fall apart. Basically you've got the big furniture items in, and the middle of the van is where the rest of it has to go.
There is probably now a narrow channel between the beds and the wardrobes. You can fill this with tea chests (place flattened cardboard boxes between tea chests and any fine furniture, even though the furniture is wrapped), solid boxes (books etc.), chests of drawers and other 'base layer' items. Fill empty drawers and cupboards with whatever comes to hand. How high you go depends on how much stuff there is left. Don't underestimate - it's hard to pile stuff on top of the front of the load when you get to the back! - but you are aiming for roughly even front-to-back weight distribution.
If you have portable wardrobes, place these against the Luton on top of the base layers. This will help keep things in place. You will always end up with a space about three inches wide and five feet high at some point. That's where the ironing-board goes.
To wrap a small piece of furniture, start by opening out a blanket. Approach the item (if it's a chair, approach from the back). Fold the top of the blanket down and over, then wrap the blanket round. Hold the wrapping in place and put the item into its designated spot.
Dining tables can sometimes be dismantled, with the polished top placed on end and the feet on top of base layers. Alternatively, put the whole structure upside-down on top of a tallish stack of base (you can't pile much on top of a table), then put the chairs inside the space.
Fine spindly-legged furniture needs to go near the top, on top of the base layers, with nothing heavier than a lampshade on top of it.
Making a Face
At some points along the van you will arrive at a situation where the 'face' of the pack is more or less flat. This is a good time to rope across between the van sides and tie the load in, to prevent fore-and-aft movement. This is especially important when you have got to the end of the stuff you can pack high, and you begin to fill the remaining space with appliances, pianos and the cat.
Pianos are the removal man's bête noire, being both polished furniture and very heavy. The technique for moving an upright piano involves a set of piano wheels. If you have a piano and no piano wheels, hire a set (your piano tuner may be able to oblige). You can do amazing tricks with them, including standing the piano on end on the wheels to get round tight corners. The four-wheeled variety is infinitely better. Grands and baby grands require a piano shoe - and about six burly men.
Pianos are heavy. Note that a piano is quite likely to exceed the rated capacity of your tail-lift (if you have one). You should try to get the piano over the back axle. Once the piano is in the van, replace any panels you removed while moving it, place one tie about two-thirds of the way up its height and another one near the bottom, wrap the back and sides, and push the piano tight into the wall bars and forward up against the rest of the load. Wrap the front of the piano, bring the top tie across over the keyboard, take it up the wall slightly, and tie off on the side of the piano. Bring the bottom tie across behind the legs and do the same. Never tie across the keyboard or legs.
Some appliances are light (a refrigerator is a one-man lift), others are heavy. The heavy ones should go in the well (that's the lowered section of floor behind the back wheels) if the van has one, and in any case the appliances should go over or behind the back wheels.
If there are a lot of appliances you can, at a pinch, put fridges and empty freezers on top of other appliances, as long as they are well tied in.
And now, the nightmare: the shed. A typical 3ft x 4ft garden shed can, through quantum tunnelling, contain up to 3000 cubic feet of scrap iron, all of which is precious to its owner and must be transported intact to its destination without being bent and without beating the crap out of the rest of the load.
Place masses of cardboard around the good stuff, and, wherever possible, tie garden equipment in to the wall bars. Mowers and things must be tied, or they wander around leaving carnage behind them - and don't even think about what would happen if the garden roller got loose.
Garden furniture needs wrapping in cardboard, especially if it's good quality, to protect it from spades and the like. Benches are good - put them facing forwards and you get a handy wooden compartment for plants, with space underneath for garden tools.
Carrying furniture is not just a matter of heaving and grunting. Neither is it light work - this Researcher has loaded trucks in sub-zero temperatures and still sweated profusely though wearing a T-shirt.
Packing a removal van is an art, but if it's done well you will get to your new house with no horrible lurching sounds along the way, and no nasty surprises when you unpack.
Oh, and take the kettle in the cab. You'll want a cup of tea before you start unloading...