What to Know When Buying a Home Safe

Tom Lange
Written by Tom Lange
Updated April 15, 2015
installing a home safe
Just because a safe has a dial doesn't mean it's secure. (©Thinkstock)

Here's what you need to know before buying a safe.

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Locking up your jewelry, social security card and birth certificate doesn’t always guarantee the items are safe from fires or thieves.

Safes are a popular way to protect valuables, but not all safes are created equal. Just because a container has a lock, dial or keypad doesn’t mean it won’t melt in a fire, or resist a burglar’s pry bar, say Mary and Jim Tinder, owners of Tinder Locksmith and Security Solutions in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Buying the right safe means finding one that’s rated to withstand fire, theft or both. And that could cost you hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars.

“You really need to think about what you want to protect, and try to save up enough money to get something that’s good quality,” says Steve Caswell, owner of Advanced Safe & Lock in Brighton, Michigan.

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How are safes rated?

Some safes are tested by Underwriters Laboratories, a nationally recognized safety testing company, and given a UL rating, which specifies how much protection they offer. The UL ratings gauge a safe’s fire protection, theft protection or both.

A safe’s UL fire rating measures how long the safe can protect its contents from fires at different temperatures. Choose a fire rating based on what you plan to store in the safe. Paper documents can typically withstand heat under 300 degrees, but media, such as disks and hard drives, can sustain damage once temperatures reach 125 degrees, the Tinders say.

UL burglary ratings measure how long safes can resist entry using ordinary tools or advanced equipment, such as a torches or explosives, the Tinders and Caswell say. TL-15 is the lowest UL burglary rating, and means it would take someone using basic tools at least 15 minutes to enter the safe; TXTL-60 is the highest UL burglary rating, and means a safe can successfully resist forced entry using a variety of methods (including explosions from nitroglycerin) for at least 60 minutes.

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If your goal is to simply keep people out of your stuff, safes with burglary ratings between 15 and 30 minutes are popular options.

“In a residential situation, unless they have special knowledge, they’re not going to be spending all that time,” Mary Tinder says. “They’re going to get in and get out.”

You also want to ensure the safe has gel packs that absorb moisture and can prevent rust or other damage to what’s inside, Caswell says.

The Tinders also recommend buying a safe that can be bolted to the floor. This adds another layer of protection because it stops thieves from walking away with your stuff and your safe.

How much do safes cost?

Cost depends on the UL rating and where you put your safe. You can buy a safe from a retail store for under $100, but it’s unlikely to keep out fires or thieves. Basic models typically cost several hundred dollars, while more highly rated safes, some of which also have nice paint jobs or can be hidden out of sight, often cost several thousand dollars, the Tinders and Caswell say.

Don’t forget the combination

A locksmith can help you crack your safe if you ever forget the combination, but expect to pay at least $150, the Tinders and Caswell say. Costs could increase depending on how long the job takes, but you may not have a choice if need to quickly retrieve items form your safe.

“You might not get into that safe but once per year. But if you can’t get into it, that’s an emergency right then and there,” Jim Tinder says.

FOR MORE: Check out the Angie's List Guide to Locksmiths

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