Tips for Buying a Safe
Do you need a safe?
The internet is loaded with articles on how to buy a safe, some from independent writers, some from manufactures, and some from security companies. Many have valuable tips, but some provide misleading information. The purpose of this article is to summarize some of the things you should consider when buying a safe and some of the things you should watch out for.
1. WHY A SAFE?
The very first thing to consider is WHY you are buying a safe. What is it you want to ‘secure’? Are you trying to secure valuables or provide fire protection to documents- or both?
First time safe buyers often purchase a safe for a specific reason. They may want to protect key documents from fire, or they may want to secure medicines, or lock up their firearms, secure jewelry, and the list goes on. But before you can decide on what type of safe you’d like to buy, think about additional reasons to have a safe- often many of the above examples apply. A great question to ask yourself is, “If I were to lose everything at this very moment, whether to fire or burglary, what would be my biggest loss?”
If you’re unsure, focus on the things that are irreplaceable or difficult to replace. Consider various types of paperwork: birth certificates, passports, will, deeds, and insurance policies. Do you have valuable jewelry, currency, or valuable collections such as coins, or medications to keep out of children’s reach, and/or firearms? These are all items often stored in a safe. BEWARE when considering: computer media (disks, CD’s, thumb drives,), old picture negatives, external hard drives and such. These types of items require special protection not provided with standard fire protection safes. As you consider these options, remember the ‘right’ solution might be more than one safe.
2. WHAT TYPE OF SAFE?
Based on the answer to Question 1, the next question is which type of safe(s) do you need?
There are many ‘types’ of safes and the types often change with different manufacturers. There are residential safes, gun safes, depository/cash management safes, U.L. Listed/High security safes, gun safes, commercial safes, and more. Essentially, at 20,000 feet, most safes fall into 3 categories: Wall Safes, Floor Safes, and Stand-alone Safes.
Wall Safes are designed to provide hidden protection for documents and miscellaneous valuables: most wall safes are not a good place to store high value items as the safe is attached to studs which can be easily cut or pried out of the wall.
Floor Safes offer the same “hidden protection” as wall safes with the added benefit of excellent fire and burglary protection if properly installed in concrete. The primary (and significant) disadvantage is the location and interior configuration. Getting into a safe located in the floor is inconvenient. Floor safes can also make organization of the contents difficult.
Stand-alone Safes are the primary type used by both businesses and consumers. They offer various levels of protection and some flexibility on where they can be located.
3. FIRE, BURGLAR, OR BOTH?
Fire ratings vary dramatically but are primarily based on how long the interior of the safe will stay at or below 350 degrees based on the exterior temperature.
While there are fire rated “safes” of 30 minutes, most professionals recommend a minimum 1 hour fire rating. “Safes” with less than an hour rating do not provide adequate protection in most fires.
Safe ratings, both fire and burglar can be very suspect. Look for U.L. rated safes which ensure the safe is made to specific standards.
A fire rated box is NOT a safe. A fire rated box, often marketed as a safe, simply provides fire protection. They often use very thin metal covering fire rated sheet rock or other fire retardant material. If your purpose is protecting paper documents, and the documents are not valuable, this is a fine choice and the most economical. But beware; placing anything in a locked box paints a bull’s eye on the box in the event of a robbery. And if the box, often sold as a safe, does not have a burglar rating, odds are the box will be stolen or penetrated, even by simply dropping the ‘safe’ on a hard surface.
Also be warry of any manufacturer or dealer selling fireproof safes. There are no fireproof consumer safes on the market today; the fire safes are fire resistant. Fire resistant safes protect the contents from heat and smoke based on the above criteria. Good fire safes offer the addition of water protection – IN THE EVENT of a fire with a heat activated seal.
COMPUTER MEDIA, NEGATIVES, PHOTOS, SD CARDS, THUMB DRIVES, FLASH DRIVES, ECT… — The one constant is fire rating is the internal temperature of the safe does not exceed 350 degrees within other variables. This standard was established long before computer media was available (maybe even before computers were invented.) The magic of 350 degrees is paper burns at 451 degrees unfortunately computer media and such damage at a significant lower temperature. This type of media requires addition protection to maintain a lower internal temperature. Data/Media specific boxed are available and when stored inside burglar safes, offer both fire and burglar protection. The ideal internal heat protection should be 125 degrees.
Another item to note with the above type of media, these items are often sensitive to humidity and moisture. One of the effects of fire protection and keeping the interior below 350 degrees is steam. High humidity will ruin certain types of storage devices the same as high temperatures. If this is a concern, consider purchasing a dehumidifier.
Burglary ratings are used to indicate the level of protection provided. UL established burglary (and fire) ratings are regarded as the gold standard in the safe industry. In addition to setting standards of performance, many of UL’s burglary ratings specify construction requirements.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing standards for safety for more than a century. UL evaluates more than 19,000 types of products, components, materials and systems annually with 20 billion UL Marks appearing on 66,000 manufacturers’ products each year. Once a product is certified, it carries the U.L. label which should give consumers confidence that the product will provide a certain degree of security and/or safety.
High level ratings have been in place for years. The various rating levels indicate the difficulty of penetrating the safe. The ratings are: B-Rate, C-Rate, E-Rate, ER-Rate, F-Rate, G-Rate, and on up.
One of the problems with B and C rated safes is the rating is a non-standardized industry rating. This means that the rating is not verified and there are not formal written standards to which manufactures must adhere. For example, a C-Rate safe specifies the walls must be at least 1/2 inch thick steel. However the steel thickness is a combined total. So, a safe may have material sandwiched in between 2 pieces of ¼” steel and claim the safe has met the C-Rate. Neither B-Rate nor C-Rate safes are required to have, relockers, hardplates or other security devices. This provides for a very broad basis of application allowing the safe to be a minimum security box with little more than a lock and a hinge, to a more high security safe with hardplate, dead-bolts, floating bolts, relockers, and other security devices.
However, an RSC rating, Registered Security Container, indicates a specific level of security. The RSC rating is based on a net working time of 5 minutes using a wide variety of tools against the door. The RSC rating also states the minimum rating required for any lock used on the safe as a U.L. Group 2 lock.
Obviously there is significant information needed when looking at the various burglar ratings and what exactly they mean for security. Consumers should not take any burglar rating (unless it is U.L. Rated (including RSC)) at ‘face value’. We recommend working with security professionals trained on various safes construction or research how the safe you are interested in is constructed.
4. HOW BIG?
One question to always consider – how big a safe do you need? If you are buying your first safe the safe answer is a minimum of 3 times what you think you need. If this is your second safe purchase, you have probably already figured that out…
Most home safes (excluding gun safes) will list their internal cubic feet. To decide what you need, gather together everything you want to put in the safe and multiply the height, width, and depth then divide by 1728. This equals the cubic inches. Divide this by 12 for cubic feet. If the safe you’re interested in does not list its cubic feet, multiple the height, width and depth of the internal dimensions, divide by 1728 then divide by 12.
Once you know what size safe you need, make sure it fits in the space you want it in! While it may seem self-explanatory, take the proper measurements before buying. Make sure you account for the height, width, and depth and be sure the door of the safe will swing fully open (180 degrees)- otherwise, you limit the width of what you can put inside the safe. Also measure any doorways, hallways, stairwells, etc. to be sure your safe will not only fit in the final location, but you can actually get it to that spot.
5. WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO PUT THE SAFE?
As the saying goes, location, location, location! There are a number of factors to consider: flooring type (concrete or wood), stairs, difficulty in getting safe to the location, lighting, the weight of the safe (once fully loaded) and the support of the flooring below the safe.
There are tradeoffs, of course, all of which should be considered. The first place burglars tend to go is the master bedroom- and the first place they will most likely try to penetrate is the safe. The best place to anchor a safe is concrete for both security and fire protection and that normally is the basement. What about lighting? If you can’t easily see the dial or keypad, you can’t easily open the safe. At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of your personality. Will you use the safe if it’s not convenient? Are you willing to ‘go to the safe’ to avoid common target area’s?
6. SHOULD YOU ANCHOR THE SAFE?
One word, YES. Period.
Anchoring is the most effective way to secure your safe. If a burglar can remove your safe from the premises, it really won’t matter to you if the burglar ever penetrates the safe – your valuables are gone.
Most safes have anchor holes and are fairly simple to anchor into wood or concrete. Remember- wood does not provide the same level of protection as concrete.
7. WHICH TYPE OF LOCK DO YOU WANT?
With safe locks, there are two basic options: dial or digital. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Dial locks are just that- a dial you rotate clockwise and counterclockwise. Dial locks used to be more difficult to penetrate than keypad locks, but depending on the keypad lock this may no longer be true. If you want to change the combination on your dial lock, you will need to hire a professional. However, many people are more comfortable with a dial lock.
Digital locks are keypad locks. You punch in a pin number and the lock disengages the bolts. This type of lock often provides quicker access and many brands are easy to program giving you the flexibility of changing your own combination. Additionally, many brands available today offer security equal to dial locks. The disadvantage? Digital locks require batteries. Most of the new models offer you the ability to access the batteries from the outside of the lock while still providing security.
Some locks (both dial and digital) offer a key override (the ability to open the safe with a key). This is a great backup ONLY if you remember to keep the key secure.
8. HOW MUCH CAN YOU SPEND?
Keep in mind there are additional costs to consider besides the cost of the safe. How much will it cost to get the safe to your location and anchor the safe (Pop quiz – do you need to anchor your safe? Yes. Yes you do!)
When considering cost, see if the manufacturer has any guarantees or warranties.
Should you buy the safe on-line to save money? Consider that if you buy the safe on-line and something goes wrong, how easy will it be to get the warrantied work? Will you pay shipping? Where will the safe be delivered (often it will be the sidewalk!) Remember, if the safe is damaged in delivery and you sign the bill of lading, you often have little to no recourse, even though the damage may not have been obvious. Proceed with care when making major purchases on line!
Will you be eligible for insurance discounts if you keep certain items in the safe?
At the end of the day, a budget is a budget. You may have the perfect safe for your needs but if you can’t afford it, it doesn’t matter. Yet keep in mind that good safes are lifetime security investments. It is rarely a good idea to compromise on the security of the safe to save money. Make sure that the safe you purchase is appropriate for the items you are storing in the safe.
9. IS A SAFE ENOUGH SECURITY?
While a good safe provides an excellent additional layer of security, remember that it is just that – an additional layer. See an upcoming article on protecting your home but in the meantime follow basic home security protocol:
- Lock your doors and windows – use high quality locks
- Use motion activated exterior lighting
- Always be aware of your surroundings
- Take notice of unfamiliar people in your neighborhood
- Keep dense shrubs, bushes, and trees away from your home’s exterior
- Never let newspapers, flyers, or mail stack up
- Don’t allow strange individuals in your home that can see your safe or valuables
On a final tip: Once you get your purchase home and installed, make sure to actually use it.
“Thinking beyond the horizon is your business. Getting you there safely is ours.”
Buffalo Security, a division of Buffalo Lock & Key, Inc. offers security systems, access control, automotive, doors, keys, locksmith, safes, vaults, security and surveillance solutions to commercial, government, and residential customers in Boulder, Longmont, Louisville, Broomfield, CO and all of Boulder County.
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