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Making a Safe Decision

April 27, 2012

(Written by Daja’s husband!)

My wife’s goal for April was to make copies of all our important documents and to store them in the safe.  (The safe I purchased for the family with LAST YEAR’S tax refund, but was still empty this year.  Yeah, that one.)  It’s a worthy goal.

I thought I would share a little about the process of choosing and purchasing a safe for your home.

The first thing to do is to decide what your primary purpose is in having a safe.  Is it for burglary protection, fire protection, and/or water protection?  Many safes on the market protect against one or two, but not very many protect against all three.  Ninety-five percent of all fire safes sold provide little to no burglary protection. (source)  However, many burglary safes on the market offer no fire protection.  Be sure in your purchasing that you get what you really need!

Of course you will want to purchase as much protection as you can afford and that will protect you from all three–burglary, fire and water.   I get away with purchasing a fire resistant/waterproof safe and not a burglary safe by employing my own solutions–such as storing a fireproof safe in a place that isn’t likely to be burglarized: such as an old trash can.

After I decided on a fire/water safe, there were a couple other things to consider:

First of all, there really is no such thing as a fireproof safe, only a fire resistant safe.  And those that are resistant offer varying levels of protection.  The longer the safe is said to resist fire the higher the price tag.  Here’s a general breakdown:

  • 30 minutes of fire protection: $50 and above
  • 1 hour of fire protection: $150 – $600 depending on size and extra characteristics such as wall mounted, chest, waterproofing, etc.
  • 2 hours of fire protection: $500 and above

Although you may think that the longest protection is the best, if the price keeps you from purchasing, it may not be the best thing.  Some protection is better than none.  And keep in mind that, according to Homeland Security, 98.7% of structure fires have a fire department response time of less than 20 minutes.  And for 61%  of structure fires in 2001 and 2002, there was a response time of less than 6 minutes.  Only you can judge for your family, but if you live relatively near a fire station in an urban setting, 60 minutes of fire protection may be more than enough.  If you live in an outlying area, you may want to purchase something with a longer life.

In making this determination you may also want to take into account where you will be storing this safe.  If you store it in a garage or storage shed, be aware that the whole structure can burn to the ground with less heat, intensity and time than a house–often in less than 30 minutes.  In which case the lower level of protection and lower price may be better for your budget.

If the safe you choose is fire safe, but not necessarily noted to be waterproof you may want the added piece of mind of placing your documents in a water tight plastic bag before placing it in the safe.

Another thing to consider is how your safe is secured, i.e., does it close with a lock and key, a digital key pad or a combination locks.  Although they will all close your box securely, they do each have their downside.  If you go with a key you will have to keep that key in a safe place and not forget where that safe place is.  If you go with a digital key pad you’ll have to remember to change the batteries on a regular basis.  (Think of how often you remember to change the batteries on your smoke detectors.  If you don’t remember to do that, you will likely not remember to do this!  Although, you may find that many beep to let you know there is a low battery, you need to consider that you may not hear the beep–if it is stored in an out-of-the-way place such as your garage or a closet.)  If you go with a combination lock you’ll have to be able to remember the combination–and recall it during an emergency.  Will you be able to do that?  Might be best to write it down and store it in a secret place–such as your safe.  (just kidding!)

Here is a helpful video for understanding the rating system and procedures–in layman terms:

Overall, if you are focusing on storing only documents and electronic data devices, you will want the highest level of protection.  As finding a safe with all three is difficult, here is my advice:

1. Do your homework prior to purchasing.  Pick three safes you like.  Then go online and read reviews from various websites for each one.  This will help you weed out the emotional reasons you chose those three (it’s attractive, it’s convenient etc) and gain objectivity. I found the following websites to be somewhat helpful (although brand-loyal): Brown Safe (a lot to read, but helpful before making your decision) and Safe and Vault Store.  Visiting your local safe and security store is helpful for research, but only AFTER you have already researched online and know what you need.  This will protect you from salesmanship.

2. Purchase a burglary and fire safe at the highest level for your budget.  Compare local stores (if possible) with online prices, keeping shipping prices in mind.

3. Place your items in a water tight plastic bag prior to storage.

4. Store your safe in an accessible, yet smartly hidden place.

5. If it’s not portable, install it properly.  Hire a handyman if necessary to do it right!  Bolt it to the most secure location–preferably concrete floor or wall, keeping in mind not to leave a large enough gap for a jack to yank it off.

(Linked to Tiny Tip Tuesday)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Claudia permalink
    May 2, 2012 9:26 pm

    Thank you for the well written article Gana.It helped me to make a decision about what to buy for our house.

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