Purchasing Safes – How to Find the Right Safe For Your Valuables

Safe come in many different types and each safe can have different features and benefits. We will try to cover all the major types of safes and the best way they are used. Below is the common types of safes and the different protections that each safe offers.

1. Fire safes – used to protect contents from a standard fire for a stated period and temperature. A fire safe will protect paperwork and other items that burn or melt at a high temperature. Plastics and media such as dvds, tapes and cd’s will melt and become useless if put through a fire in a standard fire safe, a data/media safe must be used for these items. Fire safes generally provide very little burglar protection and can be opened easily with hand tools. Fire safes generally provide 1 hour of fire protection and are also available in 2 hour models. Fire safes are usually made from a thin metal or plastic shell filled with fireproofing material.

2. Burglar/security safe – Burglar/security safes are made of heavy duty steel and offer no fire protection. Items placed inside including cash will burn in a fire and will not be recovered. The steel of these safes heat up in a fire and would act as an oven cooking everything inside. Safes of this type can withstand a common burglar attack. Professional thieves or a burglar with sophisticated equipment may be able to open a burglar/security safe given enough time with the safe. If valuable of high monetary value must be secured, a High security TL-15 or TL-30 model should be used.

3. Fire/Burglar safe – Fire burglar safes offer the fire protection of a fire safe and the security of a burglar/security safe.In most cases, this is the best option for a standard home or business to keep some valuables and important paperwork safe. These safes are usually made with steel inner and outer shells filled with a composite fireproofing/security material similar to concrete, but may also utilize fire-board on the inside to provide the fire protection.

4. Data/media safe – Data/Media safe are used to protect storage media & data from fires. The melting temp. of most cds, dvds, tapes, film and other storage is as low as 125 degrees fahrenheit. These safes are made to keep the inside of the safe below 125 degrees for a period of 1 or 2 hours. Data/Media safes are available in 3 hours protection in some situations.

5. Drop/Depository Safe – Drop Depository safes are made to secure cash received during the day by businesses. Most drop/depository safes are not made to protect cash overnight. These safe have a slot, drop door or rotary hopper to deposit cash into a secured area of the safe. Drop/deposit safes are generally not fireproof, although I have seen at least one fireproof model available.

6. Gun Safes – Gun safes are used for many different purposes. The most common is to protect gun and ammo from kids, burglars and fire. Gun safes can be fire resistant, but may not be. Most gun safes that don’t offer fire protection are referred to as gun cabinets. Gun safes also are commonly converted to all shelves on the inside and used in homes and businesses for a variety purposes. Gun safe come in many different security levels, fire protection and seizes.

7. Floor Safes – Floor Safes are made specifically to be placed below floor level usually encased in concrete. Floor safe may offer some fireproofing, but are not made to be fireproof. The fireproofing the safe offers is only due to the fact that the safe is encased in concrete and the heat will have a difficult time getting to the contents of the safe. Floor safes are generally very secure and difficult to break into. Floor safes also are easily concealed under carpet. These safes are great to plan into a newly built home.

8. Wall Safes – Wall Safes can be fireproof, but most are not. These safes are placed into a cutout in the wall and usually secured to the studs. Wall safes have the advantage that they are emails hidden behind a picture and can be very difficult for a burglar to locate. A wall safe that does not have a fire label will not offer any fire protection and all burnable contents will be lost in a fire.

9. High Security Safes – These safes are generally used to protect items of high value. Most high security safes are also fireproof, however may not be. High Security safes are used in banks, jewelry stores, pawn shops and many other locations that may be susceptible to a professional burglar attack. These safes generally weigh 700 lbs. or more and are very expensive. High security safes come in many different security levels starting with the TL-15 and ending with the uncommon TRTL-60X6.

Safe locks come in many different forms and many different security levels. I group safe locks into 3 categories.

1. Electronic Safe Locks
2. Combination Safe Locks
3. Key Safe Locks

All three of these safe locks have the ability to offer the same level of protection. All the safe locks have high end models and low end models. If you want the best of any of the three locks, you must find a safe that can accommodate a lock with a standard lock footprint. Most locks with standard lock footprints are UL rated and will provide the most security. Many fire safes do not need much security so they have cheap imported key, combination and electronic locks. For a standard fire safe only used to protect items from a fire, this type of imported lock will work great for a long time. Some low end gun safes and even a few security safes come with imported locks without a standard lock footprint and although they are very economical, I do not suggest them if you are purchasing the safe for security reasons. These low end locks usually can not be opened by the kid next door or a common burglar, but if given enough time, the container will be compromised. Generally if the safe has an imported lock, then the safe offers minimal security and is not rated for burglar protection.

Electronic Locks

The Electronic lock has several advantages over combination locks and key locks. Today, electronic locks offer the same security that key locks and combination locks offer. Electronic locks usually use batteries that must be changed every 6 months to 1 year. If you purchase a safe with an electronic lock, make sure you use high end batteries such as Energizer or Duracell. I have been to hundreds of safe opening jobs that the customer uses out of date or low end batteries that can not put out the power required to operate their electronic lock. Here are a few advantages of Electronic Safe Locks

1. Electronic locks allow You to change your own combination.
2. Electronic locks are very easy to use
3. Electronic locks can be opened very quickly.

Key Locks

Key locks have a few advantages also.
1. With Key Locks you never need to remember any numbers and as long as you can find the key, you can open your safe.
2. With a electronic or combination lock, the numbers can be seen by potential burglars and cause the combination to be compromised, with a key lock, if the key is stolen, you know it is missing and can act accordingly to secure the contents of the safe.

Combination Locks

Combination locks are very traditional and most people like them because they can be trusted. Combination locks have been commonly used on safes in the U.S. for the past 100 years and provide great security. Some find combination locks too complicated to use and would prefer any other method to open their safe. Combination locks require a locksmith to change the combination which could cost you $100 + every time you need the combo changed. Combination locks should be serviced every 1-3 years depending on how often they are used. Many safes go for decades without any problems, but some only make it a few years without being serviced before problems are encountered. Most safe openings involving combination locks involve one of four things.

1. The lock was not serviced recently and a part broke or the combo slipped.
2. The combo was lost.
3. The operator of the safe “spins” the dial and does not turn the dial. Spinning of the dial causes peening of metal withing the lock and causes the locks combination to slip to new numbers. If you purchase a safe with a combination lock, be sure to turn the dial at a slow speed at all times to maximize the lifespan of your lock.
4. Burglars made an attempt to open the safe without the combination or key. This usually means the handle and dial both have been busted off the front of the safe.

Next you must decide what size safe you need. Most people come to this decision by the amount of space they have to place the safe into and/or by the weight of the safe and whether or not they have the ability to place the safe in the desired location. Most moving companies, rigging companies, locksmiths and safe companies will be happy to move a safe of almost any weight into your home or business for a fee which varies by location.

I have many people tell me that they wish they had paid the small additional amount for the next larger model of safe. Most people find many more items to place inside their safe after they begin to utilize the safe. A safe can be upgraded to the next size in most cases for a very small percentage of the safe price. Most models can be upgraded for between $20 and $100 additional depending on the safe you are looking at.

The below weights and manpower recommendations are just suggestions and may require more manpower or even professionals to handle the safe depending on many factors including movers physical ability, equipment used and obstacles that must be overcome to place the safe.

A safe of 50 lbs or less can be managed by one person with no special equipment. A safe of 50-100 lbs can be moved easily with one person and a dolly or hand cart or 2 people by hand. A safe of 100-200 lbs can be moved by 2 people and a dolly or hand cart. A safe weighing 200-400 would require a heavy duty dolly with straps and 2-3 people to move the safe safely. A safe with a weight of 400-600 lbs can be moved with 3-4 people and a heavy duty hand cart with straps, you must be careful when moving a safe with a weight of 400-600 lbs. A safe weighing more than 600 lbs should be left to professionals to move especially if steps are involved. Some safe of these weights come with casters (one way wheels) that if no steps are involved in the move, can be rolled into place without professional help.

Bolting down your safe is usually recommended, however in some cases is either not necessary or not possible. Safe of a weight less than 700 lbs. should be bolted down at all times. In some areas of the country this is not possible for several reasons.
1. Earthquake zones may have large cables running through the cement in the floor which should not be drilled into.
2. Some locations have heated tile or floors which should not be drilled into.
3. Some cement floors have rebar running through the cement that will make it very to drill through.
4. Safes above 700 lbs. are generally very hard to move and may not need bolted down. These safes may not offer a pre-drilled bolt down hole due to the weight of the safe itself.

This short guide should help you decide which safe works for you and what to do with it once you have it. Safes are a great way to protect you valuables and will give you bang for your bucks for years to come.