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Top 10 Things You Must Know Before Buying A Safe

Top 10 Things You Must Know Before Buying A Safe

You have come to Safe & Vault Store in search of a product that seems simple enough because a safe is a metal box, right? Upon further investigation, you find that there’s more to a safe than you initially thought. Search the Internet, and you will find many self-proclaimed experts that tell you what you are supposed to know about buying a safe. Look long enough, and you start to see that there is often conflicting information.

In our experience, what usually happens is that the customer guesses as to what they need, and often the decision centers on size and price. Our thoughts are that some protection is better than nothing at all. When we stop to consider the reasons to invest in a safe, it comes down to a straightforward but critical issue: The contents we wish to protect are often some of the most important and valuable things we own. Our philosophy is “if it’s important – it’s important to do it well.”

With this being the case, we feel it is our responsibility as experts in the security and safety products industry to cut through the endless bits of information and misinformation and give you only the most important considerations when seeking the best solution to your challenge.

Before we go on, we need to address with you why our information is better than what other online experts will tell you:

  1. Our company has been in business for over 70 years. Security is our ONLY business.
  2. We have manufactured safes for over 40 years and understand what makes one safe better than another.
  3. We work with individuals and companies all over the world for their security and safety needs. Many of our customers are Fortune 100 companies that trust our products and experience.
  4. We hire employees that are passionate about security and safety products. Our mission is not to sell products but to provide solutions that help customers sleep well at night. We call this “peace of mind.”
  • We invest a lot of time and money in training our employees. Call or chat with us, and you will find that we know what we’re talking about. No fancy sales talk or fumbling through a manual to find information – just straight-to-the-point information you need to make the best decision.
  • Our recommendations to you are based on what we call the “Grandma Test.” What we mean is, if our sweet grandma that we dearly care for came to us for advice on what to purchase in a safe, what would we recommend to her? Our recommendations to you are based on the fact that we treat our customers like family.

For your benefit, we have compiled a Top 10 summary for those that want to get to the heart of what is essential in deciding what product best meets their specific needs. You could probably find this information by taking hours and hours of your time searching the Internet, but we’ve boiled it down to a simple but powerful list of the most important things you need to know before investing in a safe. Let us put our 60 years of experience to work for you. Read this article. You will be glad you did!

Click one of the links below to skip to any section.

  1. Not all gun safes are created equal. Don't buy one until you read this.
  2. Don’t rely on a fireproof safe to protect against burglary and here’s why.
  3. Don’t buy a burglar fire safe that is rated too LOW for the content value.
  4. Don’t use a floor safe to protect against fire.
  5. When should you use a wall safe?
  6. Do not store data/media or family photos in a fireproof safe...and here's why.
  7. What is the minimum fire rating to protect paper and money?
  8. How do I calculate the internal size of the safe according to what I plan on placing in the safe?
  9. Out of sight, out of mind. Where should I place my safe?
  10. Why you should always anchor your safe!
  11. BONUS - We threw this in because, when you deal with SafeandVaultStore, you always get more value than what you asked for.


1. Not all gun safes are created equal. Don’t buy one until you read this.

Hollon BHS-16E Gun Safe 

Gun safes come in many different styles and sizes. Many are merely gun cabinets without fire or burglary protection. Construction (thickness of metal, type of locking mechanism) should be your first concern, followed by fire rating. Gun cabinets have very thin metal similar to 16 or 18 gauge steel. A standard household hammer and large screwdriver can easily break into a gun cabinet. Gun safes use heavier and thicker 12 gauge steel in the body of the safe, and some use steel as thick as ten gauge or more.

Door construction is critical. Look for a gun safe with at least ¼” solid plate steel in the door. Better gun safes have ½” or thicker steel. The best gun safes have Underwriter Laboratory burglar ratings such as RSC (Residential Security Container), U.L. TL-15 (Tool Resistant), and U.L. TL-30.

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. Why? Safes with less than a 1-hour fire rating rarely survive a home or business fire. Why spend nearly $1,000 or more for a gun safe that won’t protect your guns and ammo during a fire? If your budget won’t support a 1-hour fire-rated gun safe, go for the longest fire protection you can afford.

Many customers are misled into thinking that a fire-rated gun safe is adequate to protect your most important documents. Our recommendation is to look for a U.L. rated fire protection of 1 hour or an independent laboratory fire test of at least 90 minutes if you are thinking of placing any important documents in the gun safe. Even better is to purchase a small U.L-rated fire lock box that you can place inside the gun safe.

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2. Don’t rely on a fireproof safe to protect against burglary, and here’s why.

First, let’s define what we mean by fireproof. We use this term because many customers come looking for a fireproof safe. These safes are really fire resistant meaning that they resist heat and smoke (and some protect against water) over a given time period.

AMSEC FS914ELP Fireproof Safe

Fireproof safes 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 (16-18 gauge) metal to construct the safe making them easier to attack 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. If you need a safe to protect important paperwork such as wills, passports, marriage certificates, a small amount of cash, and valuables from a fire, then a fireproof safe will work great.

Do not store high-value contents, such as large amounts of cash, jewelry, or precious metals, in a fireproof safe. Over the past 60 years, we have seen too many fireproof safes that were easily broken into. The owners mistakenly thought the safe would be protected against a burglary attack. Instead, look at burglar fire safes that are burglar rated or for content value above $30,000; look at our high-security burglar fire safes. These safes are engineered and designed to protect your valuables against both burglar attacks and fires.

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3. Don’t buy a burglar fire safe that is rated too LOW for the content value.

AMSEC CSC1414 Burglar & Fire SafeModern safes, called composite safes or burglar fire safes, have a combination of burglar and fire ratings. With these safes, you get the best of both worlds: fire and burglary protection. We find that many customers want to protect both important documents as well as high-value items. For these customers, a composite safe is a perfect solution.

When you’re considering purchasing a safe, think about the maximum value and type of the contents you will EVER store inside the safe over the next 10+ years. Why? As your content value grows over some time, the safe you originally purchased some time ago may not be adequate to protect those contents.

Burglar ratings are a mix of manufacturer standards and Underwriters Laboratory burglar ratings. A general guideline for the safe versus content value is as follows (you should always ask your Insurance Broker to contact Underwriters Laboratory for additional recommendations on content value storage):

These ratings and content values are guidelines only:

 Burglar Rating With Burglar Alarm              NO Burglar Alarm      
B-Rate UP TO $10,000    UP TO $5,000
B/C Rate UP TO $20,000    UP TO $10,000
UL RSC UP TO $30,000    UP TO $15,000
C-Rate UP TO $50,000    UP TO $25,000
UL TL-15 UP TO $200,000    UP TO $100,000
UL TL-30 UP TO $375,000    UP TO $195,000
UL TL-30X6 UP TO $500,000    UP TO $275,000
UL TRTL-30X6 UP TO $1,000,000+    UP TO $500,000+

While we’re talking about what you might be putting into your safe over a long period of time, consider the size of the safe as you may find more items to store inside. Many of our customers have outgrown their safes and wish they had invested in something a bit larger. Often, customers are surprised to find that they can purchase a substantially larger safe for just a bit more money.

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4. Don’t use a floor safe to protect against fire.

Hayman FS4000 Floor SafeIt used to be that floor safes offered burglary protection and some degree of fire protection (provided the safe was installed in the floor surrounded by concrete). Floor safes are great for gold, silver, coins, jewelry, and other 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 can enter the safe. Floor safe doors are made of plate steel that ranges from ½” to 1-½” thick, and unfortunately, nearly all floor safes do NOT have fire retardant material included in the door. Therefore, most floor safes will offer some degree of fire protection but are not a good product to protect against the ravages of fire.

There are no floor safe manufacturers we are aware of that list a fire rating or fire test. For over 70 years, we have been drilling open all kinds of safes, including floor safes. When safes have a fire rating of 1-2 hours, the paper documents or money have survived in nearly every case. If you need to protect cash or important documents, you are much better off purchasing a free-standing burglar fire safe or high security burglar fire safe that has a 1-2 hour fire rating and is anchored 4-5” into a concrete floor instead of a floor safe.

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5. When should you use a wall safe?

SnapSafe 75410 In-Wall Safe

Wall safes are popular in James Bond movies and spy flicks. You see large amounts of money stored in a wall safe in Hollywood movies. Doing this is not a good idea! Wall safes are wonderful little safes that can be concealed and don’t take up a lot of room, but they have severe limitations in 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? There is no need to break open the safe with heavy tools when all you need to do is cut the wall safe out with a saw 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.

An excellent use for a wall safe is to keep prescription drugs away from employees, children, or family members. Or you could also keep items in there that you use often. High-end jewelry can be stored for short periods, provided your home or business has a monitored burglar alarm system that is used. Burglar fire safes are more appropriate for long-term storage of high-value jewelry, precious metals, or cash.


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6. DO NOT store data/media or family photos in a fireproof safe…and here’s why.

Phoenix 1222 One Hour Fireproof Safe

The word fireproof means resistant to fire and some buyers assume that a fireproof safe will protect everything. Data and media (photos, CD’s/DVD’s and computer disks/tapes, etc.) are susceptible to heat and humidity/moisture. Your standard fireproof safe is not explicitly engineered to protect against these things. Fireproof safes are engineered and designed to protect paper and keep the safe's internal temperature below 350 degrees F, which is the critical temperature where the paper will start to char and burn. Their method of protection is to create steam (moisture) inside the safe. Any sensitive data or media will be badly damaged or destroyed at or above 135 degrees F or 85% humidity.

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 125 degrees F and the humidity below 85%. Remember, most data and media safes do not offer burglary protection. Still, if this is of concern, we can help you select a data/media safe that offers some burglary protection.

Data and media include the following materials:

  • Hard Drives
  • Tape Backups
  • CDs & DVDs
  • Negatives & Photographs
  • Thumb Drives/Flash Drives
  • Diskettes
  • Cassette Tapes
  • Microfiche
  • Zip and Jazz Disks

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7. 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 begin right next to your safe and continue to subject the contents of your safe to high temperatures.

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.

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8. How do I calculate the internal size of the safe according to what I plan on placing in the safe?

Height, Width, Depth

Many customers forget to think about how big the inside of the safe needs to house all the contents. Most safes are measured on the inside by what is called cubic feet which is calculated 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 safe's interior 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 safe's interior, which will help you better choose which safe is 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 plan for at least 5-10 years into the future.

Many safe companies mistakenly calculate the cubic feet by using the interior dimensions. Make sure to use the formula above to calculate the actual interior cubic feet accurately.

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9. Out of sight, out of mind. Where should I place my safe?

AMSEC CSC3018 Hidden

In our experience, one of the most challenging decisions for customers is where to place their safe. If you do not have a burglar alarm system in your home or business, 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:

  1. Will the placement of the safe encourage you to use it? If your safe is hard to reach or in an area you usually do not like to go (dark, dusky part of the basement), will you be committed to using it?
  2. Is there adequate light to see inside the safe as well as how to operate the lock? A dark corner of a closet might be great for hiding the safe, but if you cannot see the hash marks on the combination dial, you will be frustrated.
  3. Is the location adequate to hold your safe? A heavy safe needs strong flooring.
  4. We always recommend bolting your safe to the ground. Concrete is better than wood.
  5. We find that it may be challenging for customers with eyesight problems to use the standard mechanical combination lock. The small hash marks on the dial may be hard to see. Instead, an electronic lock is a perfect solution that is easy to use and is just as secure as standard locks. (Underwriters Laboratory typically rates both locks.)

Burglars will go to the master bedroom or walk-in closet first to find small, high value items. New safe buyers often favor convenience over security and place their safe in the master bedroom. First, consider anchoring your safe into concrete vs. a wood floor. Concrete floors with a good concrete expansion anchor fight back against the burglars.

Here are some ideas on places to put your new safe:

  • Under an enclosed stairway with an access door.
  • In a guest bedroom closet.
  • In a utility room.

Remember, if you do not have a burglar alarm, the burglars have plenty of time to look around your home or business. Without a siren going off or the police on the way, the burglars have nothing to fear. If you are storing cash, gold, silver, or jewelry in a safe, we recommend installing a monitored burglar alarm system. National statistics show that with a burglar alarm siren going off, a burglar will usually stay less than 10 minutes in your home or business. How will they get into your safe or remove a properly anchored safe from your home or business in 10 minutes?

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10. Why you should always anchor your safe!


Anchoring your safe is extremely important, and we highly recommend it. Why? The easiest and most convenient way for a burglar to break into any safe is to move it somewhere else where they have the time and tools to get into it. It's best if you anchor heavy safes because, believe it or not, even those get carried out of homes and businesses by a few strong burglars and a utility dolly. Even if you think your safe is hidden, you still want to anchor it if burglars find it. Being extra careful and taking extra security precautions will keep your items secure.

Almost all safes have anchor hole(s), and it is pretty simple to anchor a safe into either wood or concrete. If you decide to move and want to take your safe with you, remove the anchor bolts. If you need help with this process or do not have the right tools, we can recommend someone in your local area to assist with the installation.

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11. BONUS - We threw this in because, when you deal with SafeandVaultStore, you always get more value than you asked.

Safe Conversation

Last but certainly not least, 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 you don’t know or trust may find out that you have a safe. We value the privacy of our customers. Experience has shown that those who don’t talk openly about what they're protecting with a safe increase their odds of avoiding becoming a target. The good news is that if you have invested in the right safe, whether it is the threat of fire or burglary, you can peacefully go to sleep at night knowing that you are protected.

If you are looking for more specific information according to your particular needs, we encourage you to talk to one of our safe professionals. We carry the most comprehensive line of safe equipment on the Internet that can fulfill virtually any safe-related need you may have.

Thanks for your interest and best wishes for a safe and secure future.

Your friends at SafeandVaultStore.com

The content of this document is meant to provide general guidelines for the most commonly asked questions about safes. Every situation may be different and unique. Please refer to our Terms of Use policy for more information about limitations.

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