Top 10 Things We Recommend before Buying a Safe


Searching for the right safe is sometimes a difficult task. Our goal at The Safe House is to answer your questions in an honest and clear way that cuts through all of the hype of other sources.

If you look around the industry you will find safes that are nothing more than a thin metal box. Upon further investigation you will find that there is more to a safe than you originally thought. Search the Internet and you will find many companies that proclaim to be safe “authorities” that tell you what you are supposed to know about buying a safe. Look long enough and you’ll start to see that there is often conflicting information.

In our experience, what usually happens is that the customer makes a guess as to what they need and often the decision centers on size and price. Some companies will say “that some protection is better than nothing at all” and sell you an cheap safe that can be easily pried open or will not protect your valuables in a fire. This is called security on sale. When you stop to consider the reasons to invest in a safe, it comes down to a very simple but extremely important issue: The contents you wish to protect are usually some of the most important and valuable items you own.

With that being said , we feel it is our responsibility as professionals in the security and safety products industry to cut through the hype and misinformation that the internet is filled with and give you only the most important considerations as you search for a safe to satisfy your needs. Before we continue, we would like to address with you why our information is better than what other online companies will tell you:

The Safe House knows its products

Unlike a lot of online companies, The Safe House has an actual showroom and warehouse where we have been serving our customers for over 30 years. We have three locations in Nashville & Knoxville Tennessee and Acworth GA. We specialize in Home Safes, Commercial Safes, Gun Safes and Tornado shelters. We are registered Locksmiths and Security is our only business

We work with individuals and companies all over the U.S. for their security and safety needs. Many of our customers include state and federal agencies, jewelry stores, large corporations, and individuals like you.

For our customer’s benefit, we have put together a “Top 10″ list that will breakdown the most important aspects of deciding what product will fit your specific needs. You could probably find this information by taking a considerable amount of time searching the Internet, but we’ve narrowed it down to a simple but powerful list of our ” Top 10 Things We Recommend Before Buying a Safe” Let us put our over 30 years of experience to work for you. Read this article and let us know if you have any questions.

1. What size safe should I purchase?

The answer is simple, one that is bigger that you think you need ! The most common feed back from the 1000’s of customers we have had through the years is that they did not buy a safe that was big enough. Also, think of the value of the contents you could be putting in the safe in future years? Bigger is Better when it comes to buying a safe !

2. Not all Gun Safes are created equally.

Gun safes come in many different styles and sizes. Many are only thin metal gun cabinets without fire or burglary protection. You should first consider construction, thickness of metal and type of locking mechanism, followed by fire rating when looking for a gun safe. Gun cabinets in the past were made of wood and glass and would showcase your weapons for everyone to see. Now a good quality gun safe to protect your weapons and other valuables is a necessity. Don’t rely on a cheap thin metal cabinet to protect your guns. If you look around the industry, most low end gun cabinets have very thin metal bodies made from 16 or 18 gauge steel. A standard hammer and large screwdriver can easily break into a gun cabinet. A quality gun safe should use a minimum of 12 gauge steel in the body of the safe and preferably 10 to 7 gauge steel.

Door construction is very important. Look for a gun safe with at least ¼” of solid plate steel or composite equivalent in the door. More secure gun safes have a 3/8 to 1/2″ steel plate in the door. Most gun safes have Underwriter Laboratory burglar ratings starting with RSC (Residential Security Container) The better quality gun safes have higher of B Rated, U.L. TL-15 (Tool Resistant) and U.L. TL-30.

3. Don’t buy a safe with a Security Rating that is too LOW for the content value.

We have many customers that come to us want to protect a wide range of items, from important documents to high value items. For these customers we would recommend a well built composite safe or a BF rated safe or greater.

We have provided the following industry guidelines for content value of the various levels of security that a safe can provide. These values are generally used for business situations so contact your insurance company for specific limitations

  • B-Rated Up to $5,000 content value
  • B/C Rated Up to $10,000 content value
  • U.L. RSC Up to $15,000 content value
  • C Rated Up to $30,000 content value
  • U.L. TL-15 Up to $200,000 content value
  • U.L. TL-30 Up to $375,000 content value
  • U.L. TL-30X6 Up to $500,000 to $ 1,000,000 content value
  • U.L. TRTL-30X6 $1,000,000 and up content value

4. When should you use a hidden safe or wall safe?

Hidden safes and Wall safes are generally not a good place to store large . Wall safes are great little safes that can be concealed and don’t take up a lot of room, but they have severe limitations when it comes to burglary and fire resistance.

Wall safes are typically constructed of thin gauge metal and are not the best place to keep large amounts of cash, high value jewelry or gold, silver and coins. Why? No need to break open the safe with heavy tools when all you need to do is saw the wall to extract the safe. The question always comes up, “But a wall safe can be hidden whereas the other safes are right there in plain sight.” The problem with this reasoning is that we tend to underestimate the intelligence of burglars and must consider these people already plan on looking in odd places (like closets, refrigerators, mattresses and ovens) for your hidden valuables. A great use for a wall safe is to keep prescription drugs away from employees, children or family members. High end jewelry can be stored for very short periods of time, provided your home or business has a monitored burglar alarm system.

5. What type of Fire Rating is best?

Fire ratings are often overlooked but should be one of your top considerations. We recommend that you purchase a minimum 1 hour fire rated gun safe. Safes with less than a 1 hour fire rating will not provide adequate protection to survive a typical home or business fire. Why spend your hard earned money on a gun safe that won’t protect your guns and ammo during a fire? If you are on a limited budget then select the safe with the longest fire protection that you can afford.

Many customers have read that a fire rated gun safe will protect their important documents. This is only partly true, our recommendation is to look for a U.L. or a U.S. made safe with a Certified fire rating of 1 hour or greater If you are thinking of placing any important documents or delicate items in the gun safe consider adding greater protection by investing in a small U.L. rated fire box you can place inside the gun safe for your paperwork and more delicate items.

6. Don’t rely on a fire resistant safe to protect against a burglary.

First, beware of any company that calls their safe “fireproof”, There are no “fireproof” consumer safes on the market today, they are all fire resistant, meaning that they resist heat and smoke (and some protect against water) over a given period of time , usually 30 to 60 minutes.

Fire resistant do a great job of protecting paper documents (and even small amounts of cash) from heat and smoke damage, however, fireproof safes use very thin metal (16-18 gauge) metal in the construction of the safe which makes them easy to defeat for a burglar. The metal is primarily used to hold the fire retardant material and can be easily punctured, cut or sawed with simple hand tools. Some of the cheap fire safes on the market today can be opened by simply dropping them on a hard surface.

We DO NOT recommend storing high value contents such as large amounts of cash, jewelry or precious metals, in a resistant safe. Over the past 21 years we have witnessed many cheap fire resistant safes that have been easily broken into after the owners mistakenly thought the safe would protect their valuables against a burglary attack. Instead, look at burglar fire safes ( commonly referred to as BF rated safes) that are burglar rated, or for content value above $10,000, look at our high security burglar fire safe. These safes are engineered and designed to protect your valuables against both burglar attacks and fires.

7. Be AWARE that data/media or family photos need more protect than a standard fire resistant safe.

The word fireproof means “resistant to fire” and some buyers assume that a fireproof safe will protect everything. Data and media (photos, CDs/DVDs and computer disks/tapes, etc) are very sensitive to heat and humidity/moisture and your standard fire resistant safe is not engineered to specifically protect against these things. Fire resistant safes are engineered and designed to protect paper and keep the internal temperature of the safe below 350 degrees, which is the critical temperature where paper will start to char and burn. This method of protection creates steam (moisture) inside the safe. Any sensitive data or media will be badly damaged or destroyed between 120 to 180 degrees or 85% humidity. Think of the inside of a car on a hot summer day,

If you have any special data or media that you need to protect against fire, a data/media safe is what you should consider purchasing. These safes will keep the inside temperature below 135 degrees as well as the humidity below 85%. Remember, most data and media safes do not offer burglary protection but if this is of concern, we can help you select a data/media safe that offers some burglary protection. As an option you can purchase a small U.L. rated fire lock box that you can place inside a larger fire safe ( Gun Safe) for your more delicate items, this is one way to protect you data / media without purchasing a more expensive data safe.

Data and media include the following materials:

  • Hard Drives
  • Tape Backups
  • CDs & DVDs
  • Negatives & Photographs
  • Thumb Drives/Flash Drives
  • Diskettes
  • Cassette Tapes
  • Microfiche
  • Zip & Jazz Disks
  • USB Storage ‘thumb’ drives

8. What is the minimum fire rating to protect paper and money?

Fireproof safes and burglar fire safes should have a minimum of a 1 hour fire rating. Typically, a safe with less than a 1 hour fire rating will not likely protect any paper or money in the event of a fire. The problem is, you don’t know where a fire could start – it may start right next to your safe and continue to subject the contents of your safe to high temperatures for a long period of time. Fireproof safes are great for protecting paper documents against fire. They are NOT recommended for protecting large amounts of cash or high value items from theft. When you want BOTH burglar and fire protection, look for a burglar fire safe or a high security burglar fire safe.

9. Floor Safes provide very little protection against fire

Floor safes offered burglary protection and some degree of fire protection (provided the safe was installed in the floor surrounded by concrete). Floor safes offer great protection for valuables because they are engineered to protect against burglary attacks. Most people assume floor safes will provide excellent fire protection because five sides of a floor safe are surrounded by concrete. With the door exposed and made of ONLY metal, heat from a fire rapidly enters the safe. Floor safe doors are made of plate steel that ranges from ½” to 1½” thick and unfortunately, nearly all floor safes DO NOT have fire retardant material included in the door. Therefore, most floor safes are not a good product to protect against a fire.

If you look at all of the safes brands on the market today there are none that offer a fire rating. For over 21 years we have been drilling open all kinds of safes including floor safes. When safes have a fire rating over 1 hour, in most cases, the paper documents or money have survived. If you need to protect money or important documents, you are much better off purchasing a free standing burglar fire safe or high security burglar fire safe that has 1-2 hour fire rating and is anchored 4-5” into a concrete floor instead of a floor safe.

10. What type of lock should I choose for my safe?

We have many customers that ask us which type of lock is best to have on their safe. Is a dial lock more secure than an electronic lock? Will an EMP event render my electronic lock inoperable? What is a redundant lock ? What type of maintenance do either lock require?

  • Better quality dial and electronic locks are U.L. rated and will provide an excellent level of protection
  • Some electronic locks are EMP resistant some are not. We recommend the S & G brand of electronic locks for EMP resistant single lock installations
  • Redundant locks give you the best of both worlds , they consist of a mechanical and electronic lock in one , so if one fails the other will allow you access to the safe.
  • Most mechanical lock manufacturers recommend that you have your lock serviced at least every 5 years by a qualified safe technician.
  • Electronic locks are sealed from the factory and if opened will void the warranty from the manufacturer. about the only maintenance is replacing the battery.

Why stop at 10? Here are a few extra things to consider before your final decision is made.

11. Where should I place my safe?

In our experience, one of the most difficult decisions for customers is where to place their safe. If you do not have a burglar alarm system in your home or business, then placing your safe “out of sight, out of mind” is very important. While not every situation is the same, we offer you some considerations BEFORE you invest in a safe:

We suggest that you place your safe where you are most likely to use it. An out of the way location will make you less likely to use your safe to store the items you purchased it for in the first place. Another consideration is the lighting available to illuminate your lock when you are inputting your combination. The hash marks on a combination dial lock are relatively small and can be hard to see in low light area’s. If you must have your safe in a low light area or be able to access the lock in the dark there are dial lights that affix to the top of the dial ring and illumination the dial so you can see the numbers and hash marks on the dial.

12. What size safe should I buy?

That’s a simple question, one that is bigger that you think you need ! The most common feed back from the 1000’s of customers we have had through the years is that they did not buy a safe that was big enough. Also, think of the value of the contents you could be putting in the safe in future years? Bigger is Better when it comes to buying a safe !

13. How do you calculate the interior size of the safe ?

Many customers forget to think about how big the inside of the safe needs to be in order to store all of your contents. Most safes are measured on the inside by the “cubic feet” which is calculated by using a simple math formula. To determine the inside size of the interior of the safe use the following calculation:

Multiply the height, width and depth of the interior of the safe and divide that total by 1728. Height x Width x Depth / 1728 (Example: 20” x 15” x 20” = 6000 cubic inches / 1728 = 3.47 cubic feet)

This number will give you the total cubic feet of the interior of the safe which will help you choose a safe in your size range. Always choose a size larger than what you think you will need because you will always collect and find more items to store and protect in the future. We recommend you purchase the largest safethat your budget can afford.

14. Should I anchor my safe?

Anchoring your safe is an easy way to secure your safe. One of the easiest ways for a burglar to break into any safe is to move it somewhere where they have the time and tools to get into it. . Even if you think your safe is hidden you still need to anchor it in case it is discovered by burglars. As recommendation 12 states, being extra careful and taking extra security precautions will keep your items secure.

Most safes have anchor hole(s) and are fairly simple to anchor into concrete. If you have a wood sub floor be aware that simply putting a wood anchor in your floor will not provide adequate protection, one of the most effective ways to secure a safe to a wood sub floor is to drill holes in your floor and extend long threaded rod down below the floor joist and take a long piece of 2 x 4 or angle iron and span multiple floor joist and secure the threaded rod and bolt down the safe If you decide to move and want to take your safe with you, simply remove the bolts. If have questions about this process, we would be happy to assist you

15. Loose Lips get your valuables stolen !

Many burglaries occur because someone in the family or business tells someone else that they have a safe. It might be an innocent conversation, but somewhere down the line, a person that you don’t know, or trust, may find out that you have a safe. We value the privacy of our customers and experience has shown that those who don’t talk openly about what they’re protecting with a safe are increasing their odds of avoiding becoming a target for burglaries. The good news is that if you have invested in the right safe, whether there is the threat of fire or burglary, you can peacefully go to sleep at night knowing that you are protected.

16. Security should be multi layered

Even though you have a high quality safe you should still be aware of other ways to protect your self and your valuables. A quality home or business alarm is a good deterrent. Always be aware of your surroundings and lock your doors and take notice of unfamiliar people in your neighborhood or close to your home. Don’t allow strange individuals in your home that can see your safe or valuables unless necessary. Motion activated exterior lighting will discourage a burglar from spending time breaking into your home or business. As a local law enforcement officer told me once, criminals are like rats, they tend to scatter when you turn a light on. Remember that being extra careful and taking extra security precautions will keep you and your important items secure.

17. The Bitterness of Poor Quality Lingers Long After a Cheap Price is Forgotten.

Don’t buy a cheap quality safe to store your most prized possessions in. Most of the time you are placing your most valuable and important items that you own in the safe that you purchase. Make sure that the safe you purchase is appropriate for the items you are storing in the safe.

If you are looking for more specific information according to your needs, we encourage you to contact one of our safe professionals.

The content of this document was developed through years of experience serving our customers and consultations with other security professionals .It is meant to provide general guidelines for the most commonly asked questions received from our customers about safes. Every situation may be different and unique.

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