With over 2,000,000 home burglaries occuring every year in the United States, keeping your valuables safely should be always considered. A safe or vault might play an important role in your planning.
There are many considerations and major differences among vendors and models. The market is oversaturated with low quality products which can be very easily opened by an inexperienced criminal using just a crow bar. Using such safe is worse than having nothing, because you actually group and offer all your valuables in a single “storage box”:
A break-in with a crow bar under 2 minutes
You should realize that NO safe is impossible to break-in if there is enough time and the right tools available. However it is possible to make it VERY HARD.
You need to know the requirements and spend some time to research prior to purchase.
Make a list of what you intend to keep in a safe. Consider the following:
- Firearms (long rifles or short guns)
- Important documents (contracts, birth and marriages certificates)
- Stock and bond certificates
- Albums with photos
- Cards (Social security, credit)
- Computer (laptop)
Gun capacityIf you are buying a gun safe, then think about an expansion of your current collection. You might own only handguns now – consider the possibility of getting a rifle in the future.
Size and Location
The size is usually determined by the previous point (contents) and the space available in your home. Do not forget to consider how often you need to access the safe – might be incovenient to go downstairs to the basement several times per day. Usual locations (types) are wall, floor or free standing.
Havier safes (above 1.000 lbs.) should stay in the ground floor. In case of a lighter one it is necessary to bolt it down to the floor, otherwise a burglar can simply steal the whole safe.
Sometimes a design is actually elegant and attractive, so you can make it part of your home furniture. But in general it is much better to just hide your safe from plain sight and keep its existence a secret if possible.
This is obviously one of the most important features – to protect your valuables from thieves. Even if they do not have an expertise, they will just try brute force methods like using crowbars or even shotgun blasts. A wiggle room between a safe and bolts is very popular, so it should be limited (some manufacturers offer “anti-pry tab” to ensure a proper integrity). Also the lock needs to be protected from tampering – for example by several layers of steel hard plates.
In general you should look for ratings like UL RSC (Residential Security Container) or Department of Justice Standards. Some product descriptions explicitly specify the amount of time expected to resist a break-in.
Fire protectionDuring a fire you will not have time to collect valuables. Instead you need to get yourself and family out of the house. Let the safe protect its contents.
A fire protection is provided during exposure to high temperatures. This class of rating also contains standards for exposure to impact and explosive conditions. You need to make sure the product is ETL verified. ETL is the industry standard that allows consumers to confirm a seller’s claim. The value is provided in minutes of fire resistance (1200 °F) – usually between 30 – 90 minutes (ETL 30, 60 or 90).
In addition to fire, also smoke is able to damage the contents. For that some manufacturers offer solutions like a cold smoke expandable seal (e.g. triple fin intumescent).
- Bolting locks – to strenghten the bolts during a pry-attack
- Active locking bolts – provide extra security
- Electronic lock – for a quick and comfortable access (possibly with biometrics like fingerprint scanner)
- Re-lockers – spring loaded re-locker for tamper protection
- Power supply outlet – located inside, allows you to use electric dehumidifier and other accessories (110 V, RJ45, USB)
- Interior – adjustable shelves or trays, padded floors, LED lights
AccessoriesSome safes provide a variety of accessories already built-in. For example door and shelf organizers, electricity outlets, USB chargers, lights or alarms.
The manufacturers provide different types of warranty, some of them offer even a lifetime. It usually covers repairs required because of material or workmanship defects, or natural disasters like fire or floods. It is common to get warranty for an attempted or actual break-in too.
In order to apply it, keep a proof of purchase and photos of the damage. A police report and warranty registration at the manufacturer might be required as well. Make sure your safe was installed by an authorized person and do not try to modify the safe using unofficial parts – it voids the warranty.
Conclusion on how to choose a safe
No safe is impossible to break-in if there is enough time and the right tools available. However it is possible to make it very hard by having clear requirements and knowing how to choose a safe able to meet them.