Weight vs. Cubic Feet Moving Estimates

Weight moving estimates are based on the total weight of the items you need to move. Cubic feet moving estimates are based on the total volume of your possessions — or how much space they take up.So, which type of estimate should you trust? Weight or cubic feet based? In reality, it doesn’t matter which type of estimate you get.

For interstate moves, a scammy moving company will find ways to overcharge you, regardless of whether your estimate is weight or volume based. A good mover will make sure the move is properly quoted and make you aware of any scenarios where your moving estimate could increase.

Like we always say, your focus should be on hiring a reputable moving company!

Good movers usually provide a binding estimate after inventorying your home — and in that case, the weight vs volume issue doesn’t matter.

Instead, you’ll want to pay closer attention to the items list (“Table of Measurements” or “Cube Sheet”). Your binding estimate’s final price is based on the actual number of household goods you have, not on the total cubic feet or weight.

So, if you have 250 items listed on your “Cube Sheet” and end up having 300 items on moving day, your price will likely increase regardless of weight or volume. On the other hand, if the weight is more than expected but all 250 items were already accounted for, your costs wouldn’t increase.

A good long distance mover will set the estimate up correctly so that moving day doesn’t have any hidden surprises.

You should still understand the difference between these two types of cost estimates, so let’s take a look at both.

Weight-based estimates

packed moving truck
Quoting moves in terms of weight is the moving industry standard. Most major van lines will by default offer quotes based on the weight of your shipment.

While moving company weight estimates can vary, the major benefit to weight based estimates is they can be verified by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

This is a very important distinction between weight and volume based estimates. The DOT can weigh your shipment and verify the actual weight vs the estimate.

The method for weighing all your stuff is surprisingly straightforward. The truck is weighed prior to loading. After everything is loaded, they reweigh the truck. The difference between the two is the weight of your move.

Since the DOT is involved, you have a trustworthy third party verifying the weights. This is especially nice because if you do have a dispute with your mover, you can request the USDOT certified weight tickets to verify everything.

Despite this, shady movers can still take advantage of the weighing system. Loading other moves before weighing the vehicle, filling up the gas tank after loading your items, and forging weight tickets are common scams if you hire a shady mover.

Cubic footage estimates

Not sure what a cubic foot is? A cubic foot is determined by length x width x height. Let’s say you have a piece of furniture that is 3 feet long, 1 foot wide, and 3 feet tall. To determine its volume in cubic feet, you’d do 3 x 1 x 3 = 9 cubic feet.

Cubic footage estimates are perfectly legal but are often viewed as a less accurate way to determine the cost of your move because they can’t be verified by the DOT. The idea is that your move’s cost is determined by the total volume of your items — how much physical space they take up inside the moving truck.

Unfortunately, scam movers often give cubic feet moving estimates because they can be easier to game. For example, packing the truck poorly or using generous measurements can quickly add to the total cubic footage of a move.

However, some of the best professional movers we work with provide quotes in terms of cubic footage with no problems. Cubic feet measurements are also helpful when using a portable moving container or renting a moving truck that you’ll be packing yourself. Cubic footage measurements can give you an idea of how much space is available inside your container or truck. By taking measurements of the items that you need to pack, you can get a rough estimate of how much space you’ll need so that you get the right number of containers or the right size moving truck.

As a general rule of thumb, if you haven’t worked with the mover before or weren’t referred by a trusted party then it’s best to avoid cubic footage estimates. When possible, it’s best to meet in-person with a moving company representative to ensure you’re getting an accurate estimate. After all, it’s a lot easier to get cubic feet measurements if they can see your stuff in-person!

Basic industry standards for weight vs cubic feet moving estimates

Here are some basic rough measurements to consider:

  • Studio apartment: 1,800 pounds, 250 cubic feet
  • 1-bedroom home or apartment: 2,200-3,200 pounds, 300-400 cubic feet
  • 2-3 bedroom home: 5,000-9,000 pounds, 400-900 cubic feet
  • 4-5 bedroom home: 10,000-13,000+ pounds, 1,000-1,300+ cubic feet

As a good rule of thumb, you can estimate that each full-size room in your house contains 1,000-1,500 pounds of items that need to be moved. This accounts for smaller spaces like closets and bathrooms that wouldn’t typically be considered a “full room.”

It’s worth noting that most moving truck and shipping container companies list their truck and container capacities in terms of both maximum weight and cubic feet. This is important information for moving companies and the people who are moving because you don’t want to risk overloading a moving truck or moving container!

Fortunately, most trucks and containers have a much higher weight capacity than you are likely to reach with your household goods.

So how do your movers actually provide that initial estimate? It’s more art than science. For both types of estimates, movers estimate how many boxes will be needed to pack your items. They use an industry standard weights and measurement spreadsheet to help calculate the size of different items.

By taking an accurate inventory, professional movers can generally provide a good estimate for how many boxes you’ll need, as well as the total weight or volume of your move.

In other words, the inventory list is what matters most, regardless of whether you’re getting a weight or cubic feet estimate.

How much do weight vs cubic feet moving estimates matter?

If you have a binding estimate and an accurate inventory list, then the actual weight or cubic footage of your move shouldn’t matter. The final price will be based on the inventory list.

But what if the inventory list isn’t accurate?

At this point, you will need to have a discussion with your mover. Let’s say a moving company shows up on the move date and an entire garage worth of stuff was missing from the estimate.

Yes, this happens.

The moving company isn’t going to move this stuff for free. Assuming they can fit it all on the moving truck, they’ll likely give you two options.

Option 1: Rewrite the quote and calculate a new binding price for the move.

Option 2: Change the estimate from binding to non-binding (i.e. weight or volume based).

The first option is pretty straightforward. You just rewrite the binding estimate and you’ll pay whatever flat rate both parties agree on based on the updated inventory.

The second option is where the weight comes into play. A non-binding estimate means the the final cost will be either the total weight multiplied by the cost-per-pound, or total volume multiplied by cost per cubic foot.

So, if your garage full of stuff that was missing on the original estimate weighs 1,000 pounds, and the mover’s rate is $1 per pound, you’ll owe an extra $1,000 to cover the cost of the additional items.

The big risk with non-binding estimates is that it’s hard to estimate how much those extra garage items will weigh. And you won’t know until after they’ve picked everything up and gone to the scales.

In most cases, it makes sense to just rewrite the binding estimate and agree on a final price.

Of course, if you hire a shady mover none of this matters. They’ll do whatever they want to ensure you end up paying extra charges regardless of what their “free moving quote” said.

Making the Right Choice in Weight vs Cubic Feet Moving Estimates

Bottom line: hire reputable movers and you won’t need to worry about weight vs cubic feet moving estimates. Your moving costs will be determined from an inventory list — and as long as that list is accurate, you won’t be responsible for extra charges if your items weigh a bit more than expected.

Get quotes from multiple movers, and make sure you are working with reliable moving companies with a strong reputation. Ask questions to ensure you are getting a binding estimate based on an inventory list, and you can move forward with confidence.

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