Home Safe

A safe is “a secure lockable box used for securing valuable objects against theft and/or damage from fire”.

However, to anybody who actually owns or uses a safe, this is only half the story. What a safe really is, the thing that it best embodies and offers us, is peace of mind.

In this handy little guide, we’ll give you all the information you need to purchase and use a safe, so that you can stop worrying and start living!

1. What is a Safe Made of?

Typically, a safe will be made of metal and feature around three layers of protective material.

The outermost layer is usually fashioned from mild steel. There is also a hard plate barrier (also metal) that protects the lock and a mild steel layer that the lock is, in turn, attached to.

You might be surprised by the use of the term ‘mild steel’. You might even be thinking, “I don’t want ‘mild’ steel, I want something TOUGH! I want whatever Optimus Prime uses for birth control!”

Whoa, calm down there! There is a reason for the mild steel. Hard and strong materials can usually be cracked by repetitive force. Think of a brick wall. It’s sturdy, yes? You store something behind one of those bad boys and (assuming the thief can’t just walk behind the wall and pick the thing up there), that object is literally ‘safe as houses’, right?

Now imagine someone taking a sledgehammer to your wall and smashing it to pieces. Not so safe now, is it?

Mild steel, on the other hand, doesn’t crack. It can be dented and deformed, but it WILL NOT CRACK, no matter how many times you hit it. This makes it highly resistant to shock and therefore impossible to access by brute force alone.

2. Different Types of Safe

There are a few different types of safe. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

Fire safes are mainly used to protect documents against fire. They are extremely resistant to high temperatures, though are sometimes more vulnerable to forced entry than traditional safes.

A mercantile safe is equipped to withstand both fire and theft; both the box and the door are made from steel (with a minimum box thickness of just over a centimetre (or half-inch) and a door thickness of at least two and a half centimetres (or one inch).

Night deposit safes are used by businesses and banks after opening hours have ceased. This type of safe contains a deposit door, such as can be used to ‘post’ money or other valuables through. There is usually a shaft leading to the safe box itself, as well as a standalone safe or vault, which stores the valuables until they can be retrieved in the morning.

Gun safes are safes used specifically for the storage of firearms. If you live in a country that allows firearms to be kept by civilians, it is definitely advisable to keep a gun safe in your home. This makes it much harder for children to gain access to the weapons or for other, potentially fatal accidents to occur. Variations on such safes are also used by the military.

A safety deposit box, such as the type commonly used by banks, is kept in a secure area and only accessible by both the customer and the banker, as entry requires two keys to be used in tandem. The door bolt will not slide open unless both levers are accessed simultaneously. This type of safe is also watched over by CCTV and security personnel at all times.

In addition to being a favourite of Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza, vaults are an extremely reliable form of secure storage. A layer of dense metal is sandwiched between two layers of mild steel, making forcible entry almost impossible. Some even contain glass panels that automatically trigger a relocking mechanism when cracked. Vault doors typically consist of multiple layers of steel and barrier materials. The locking mechanisms are intricate and complex. The two main types of vault are known as ‘grouted’ (meaning that it has been cemented into place) or ‘non-grouted’ (which makes it freestanding).

Other types of safes include data safes (for storing CDs, data discs, hard drives and other storage devices), hotel safes (which are accessible by both the guest and the hotel staff), key cabinets, laptop safes and, if we’re being irritatingly pedantic about it, lockable filing cabinets.

3. Are all Safes Fire Resistant?

To a certain degree, all safes are fire resistant. They are made of metal, after all. The level of fire resistance you’ll get depends, of course, on how hot the safe gets.

The melting point of steel usually sits between 1400°C and 1500°C. However, the inside of the safe, lined as it is with heat conducting materials, will get very hot indeed BEFORE that point.

The Best Fireproof Document Safe for 2020 | Reviews by WirecutterThink about how hot a saucepan or skillet gets on your stove – then imagine putting all your most important objects and documents inside it. Not too appealing, is it?

As a general rule, the internal temperature of a safe used to protect documents should not exceed 176°C. A safe’s storage box reaching 65°C will be enough to ruin tape recordings, video, 35mm slides and photograph negatives. 51°C is enough to damage DVDs, CDs and pretty much any other type of data storing disc.

The type of fire resistance you get should be directly linked to the objects you’re going to keep in the safe. Typically, a household safe might offer around 30 minutes of fire protection, while more fire resistant models can push this up to an hour. The good news is that the average amount of time it takes a fire to burn per room is roughly 20 minutes, so half an hour’s protection should be more than sufficient for a basic home safe.

The manufacture of a fireproof safe involves placing flame retardant material in-between the walls of the safe. When this material is heated, it releases water vapour, which helps to cool the safe as a whole. The shape and structure of a fireproof safe are also likely to be different to a regular model. The three main types of fireproof safe are:

  • Fireboard safes, which are an affordable option for homes and families. In this design, fire resistant boards are placed between the steel walls of the safe. Although their fire resistant properties are limited, they do represent an extra level of security and value for money.
  • Reinforced fireboard safes are similar to fireboard safes, but with the inclusion of a thicker outer layer of steel. These safes strive for increased protection against theft as well as fire. Accordingly, they are slightly less fire resistant, as the extra steel tends to conduct more heat.
  • Composite safes feature thinner steel walls, but the gaps between those walls are packed with a cement-like composite (sometimes made with gypsum or other flame resistant compounds). These types of safes can be rather heavy, for obvious reasons (they are essentially a lump of steel filled with cement, just in case you needed that spelled out).
  • Fire data and Fire paper safes are also available to buy. These are specially designed to store the objects their names suggest.

It has been estimated that the average lifetime comes with a 1 in 4 risk of experiencing a home fire serious enough to warrant calling the fire brigade. Sadly, fire is far more likely than you might think – and should be prepared for accordingly.

4. How to Install a Safe

When choosing a safe, it is important to know what you’ll be putting into it. For example, you don’t want to buy a small safe designed for jewellery and then find that it’s the wrong size to house your important documents. That would pretty much suck.

You’ll also want to have a decent idea of where you’ll be putting your new safe. A good suggestion for storing valuables in a small safe is the attic, as intruders will almost never go there. Wherever you put the safe, be sure that you can always get to it easily and that there is space to open the door. You’d be amazed by how many people install safes that they can’t actually open. You want your valuables to be secure, of course…But not THAT secure!

Once you’ve chosen your safe and you know where you’re going to put it, you can then choose between two methods of installation. The first of these is professional installation, whereby a trades person is called out to install it for you for a nominal fee. The charge for this can be added to the original order for the safe. The second method is DIY, i.e. setting it up by yourself.

D.I.Y installation isn’t overly difficult, but it does require the proper tools, as well as a lot of care, attention and forethought. After all, if there’s a job worth doing…Well, you know the rest.

The tools you’ll need will probably include: a hammer, a screwdriver, a good quality drill (equipped with large and small masonry bits), a tape measure, a pencil, a pair of scissors or sharp knife, a saw and the necessary expansion/anchor bolts (these are often included with the safe itself).

The safe can either be attached to the wall or bolted to the floor (although bolting it to wooden floorboards is not a good idea). The method for both is pretty similar.

First, look carefully at the space you’ve chosen. If the safe is to be attached to a section of floor or wall with a skirting board, measure the safe, then mark the area taken up by the safe and remove that section of skirting board. If the safe is going to be sitting on carpet, you will also have to remove a section of carpet the size of the safe. Don’t screw this part up, or your house will look silly.

Also, avoid bolting the safe to the floor if you have under-floor heating – that could get messy.

Once everything is in place, simply mark the areas where the bolts need to go and start drilling. Be careful not to drill too deep. Once this is done, just pop the anchor bolts into place and attach them with a hammer or a screwdriver.

If you’re unsure on any of these instructions, don’t try anything until you’ve checked out the information HERE, HERE and in this useful video HERE.

5. How are Safes Rated?

All safes are given an insurance rating, which is determined by how hard they are to move, the thickness of the walls and door, the complexity of the lock itself and the overall build quality of the safe.

All ratings are contingent upon the safe being properly installed, of course.

The rating you should choose relates directly to the insurance value of the items you will be placing inside the safe. For example, a safe rated as EN-1143-1 will hold about £6,000 worth of valuables. If you choose to store £20,000 worth of valuables in it, you will probably not receive full compensation (or perhaps none at all) in the event that you lose the safe or its contents.

Here’s a quick look at the ratings (NOTE: we are using European EN ratings here, although other ratings systems do exist).

European standard
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 0 (£6,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 1 (£10,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 2 (£17,500 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 3 (£35,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 4 (£60,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 5 (£100,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 6 (£150,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 7 (£250,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 8 (£400,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 9 (£650,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 10 (£100,000,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 11 (£1,500,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 12 (£2,250,000 cash rating)
  • EN-1143-1 Grade 13 (£3,500,000 cash rating)

EN14450-S1 and EN14450-S2 are the European standards for how burglar resistant the safes are. They carry a £2,000 and £4,000 cash value respectively.

It is advisable to aim slightly higher than your insurance needs, just in case you wish to store more valuables in your safe in future.

Fireproof safes are also given ratings, but these take a slightly different form. Fireproof safe models are subjected to various tests, including an explosion hazard test, a fire endurance test and a fire drop test (where the safe is dropped through a burning building). Here are some fire ratings (based on European NordTest standards).

A rating of NT Fire 017-60 Paper, means that the safe can be heated to 945°c for 1 hour, without seriously damaging any paper documents inside.

A rating of NT Fire 017-90 Paper, means that the safe can be heated to 1050°c for 90 minutes without seriously damaging any paper documents inside.

A rating of NT Fire 017-120 Dis means that the safe can be heated to 1090°c for 2 hours, without causing damage to any discs or digitally stored material inside the safe.

In all cases, the maximum temperature inside the cabinet will not exceed 175°c.

There are various other certifications and ratings, but these are the ones you’re most likely to encounter. It is important to always check that a safe’s rating suits your needs before making a purchase.

6. Types of Locks

They began to discuss how they could get a car to try to find the secretary, and the guy was getting more and more embarrassed because he had all these people waiting and he was such a jackass he didn’t know how to open his own safe. Everybody was all tense and getting mad at him, when CLICK! – the safe opened. In 10 minutes I had opened the safe that contained all the secret documents about the plant. They were astonished. The safe was apparently not very safe. It was a terrible shock: All this ‘eyes only’ stuff, top secret, locked in this wonderful secret safe, and this guy opens it in 10 minutes!”

That excerpt was from Nobel Prize-winning physicist, bongo wizard and sometime safecracker Richard P. Feynman, who developed a very clever and reliable method of opening his colleagues’ safes while helping to develop the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico during World War 2.

As you will no doubt agree, the weakest point in any safe has to be the lock. After all, it is a door that’s designed to be opened (albeit only by certain people).

Well, things have changed a lot since Feynman’s day and today’s consumers are spoilt for choice with the amount of locks available to them. In this final section, we’re going to take a look at some of them:

safe key in lock

A Key lock is ideal for the absent-minded safe owner who might forget the combination code to open the safe. Of course, if they are that absent minded, they may also lose the key! A drawback here is that, in the event of lost keys, sometimes the entire safe needs replacing.

safe keypad

With an Electronic keypad, a code is imputed in order to open the safe. This is a reliable system, provided you don’t forget the code.

fingerprint

Fingerprint locks are biometric and very clever indeed. This lock can usually store around 130 fingerprints, so that only those chosen people may access the safe. There are no codes to forget and no keys to lose

twin lock safe
  • Dual locks only open when two keys are turned simultaneously.
  • A changeable lock can be replaced without causing damage to the safe. This is cost effective in the case of damage to the safe itself.
safe dial

Dial combination is, of course, the old classic, although today’s dial locks are not as vulnerable as once they were, so you’re now far less likely to be burgled by bongo-drumming American physicists!

Keep in mind that electronic safes will usually require batteries. Don’t worry though, if the batteries die, the safe can still be accessed. Even with regular usage, safe batteries can last a good 4 – 5 years.

It is also helpful and useful to have back-up ways of getting into your safe, especially if you have important things stored there.

A back-up key that can open the safe in case of emergencies, dead batteries or forgotten codes can be very useful, as can a back-up battery pack. Remember to store the back-up key somewhere discreet and secure (no, not in the safe!) so that you can access it whenever you need to, but also so that potential intruders will not be able to locate it.

So that’s our overview of safes. If you have any questions or comments, you might let us know.

the reviews

Master Lock Fireproof Safe

A heavy, hardwearing and reliable safe, the Master Lock Fireprrof safe is a pretty good model to have in your home.

Fashioned from tough, durable steel, this fire and water resistant safe has a number of great features going for it. For starters, it will resist fires of up to 927°c for up to 1 hour. It will also resist immersion in up to 12CM of water for 24 hours.

The safe may be accessed via an attractive keypad located on the door itself, and stays shut with the aid of 3 large, live locking bolts that measure 2.5CM each and are guaranteed to keep your valuables secure. There’s even a pry resistant hinge bar to keep things extra safe.

Other desirable features include a non-resettable master code, a secondary user function (both primary and secondary user codes are resettable) and a spacious interior, with an internal light so you can see what you’re doing in there. This safe is able to store up to £1000 in cash or £10,000 in valuables.

The FTC is an extra heavy safe (the design includes concrete), weighing in at over 30kg, which makes it particularly hard to steal.

So this safe has a lot of good points. However, it does have some bad points as well. For example, the battery life (it takes 4 AAA batteries) is particularly weak, providing only 35 hours of continuous usage. This could lead users to change the batteries far more regularly than is strictly necessary.

It is possible to remove the batteries and replace them only when needed, but this can be a headache in and of itself.

Possibly the FTC’s biggest let down is the method required to bolt it to the floor. With no wall mounting option, users are required to drill 4 holes into the safe at specific points, although this securely fastens the safe to the floor, it immediately voids any water resistance.

There is no key override offered by this model, either.

  • Capacity – 22.8 Ltr
  • Weight – 33.2kg
  • Fire resistance – fire endurance (1 hour at 927°c) 
  • Water resistance – water protection up to 12cm for 24 hours
  • Batteries required – yes (4 AAA batteries required.)
  • Material – Steel 
  • Keypad lock – yes
  • Lock – 3 large, live locking bolts of 2,5cm diameter and pry resistant hinge bar for a higher level of resistance.
  • Protect up to – £10000
  • Key backup – Master Code/ 2nd User Function –  2 resettable combinations + 1 Master combination (non programmable)

PROS

  • Resistant to fires of up to 927°c for up to 1 hour
  • 3 large locking bolts
  • Interior security light

CONS

  • Battery life isn’t great (35.7 hours of constant usage)
  • To bolt down to floor this requires drilling holes through the safe, the fire resistance it removes the ETL verified water resistance

Yale Fire Resistance Safe

Yale are a world renowned and trusted brand – and products like this are part of the reason why.

The Yale Fire Resistance Safe  is a smart, professional looking safe. Its mere presence might actually be enough to discourage would-be thieves from attempting to open it.

The FG2 has a somewhat disappointing 25-litre capacity. However, despite this, the safe can store up to £1000 in cash or £10,000 in valuables.

The FG2 is also quite heavy, weighing around 36kg at any given time. This, along with its large size, makes this safe very difficult to carry – and therefore to steal.

The plus points for this safe are numerous. It features 1 hour of more or less total fire protection. It also offers the option of enabling a second user with their own unique code, as well as having a non-resettable master-code for use in emergencies. It even has a programmable ‘time lock’ mode.

Speaking of emergencies, the FG2 also provides a function for powering the safe even if the batteries run out.

The safe employs 2 18mm solid steel locking bolts, as well as hardened hinges designed to safeguard against attack.

As good as this safe is, there are still one or two little drawbacks. For example, there is no internal light. Also, this safe does not have any kind of key backup.

The keypad lights up when touched (a cool feature). However, the keypad’s life is limited to between 3 to 5 years, depending on the frequency of use. The keypad must also be pressed and held for several seconds in order to properly activate it, which can be something of a pain.

As fun little plus, there is even a key hanger on the inside of the door.

  • Capacity – 25 Ltr
  • Weight – 36 kg
  • Key backup – no
  • Fire resistance – 1 hour fire protection
  • Water resistance – unknown
  • Batteries required – yes (4 AAA batteries required.)
  • Material – Steel 
  • Keypad lock – yes
  • Lock – High security electronic lock
  • 18mm Secure Locking Bolts

PROS

  • Can be shut down and cannot be activated for a 1 to 48 hours
  • Temporary code numbers can be issued for quick access

CONS

  • Touch panel on the front has a lifetime of 3-5 years
  • Doesn’t have key back-up

Phoenix Titan Fire Security Safe

The durable and fire resistant Phoenix Titan Security Safe boasts an attractive, modern design, as well as a number of other welcome features, making it one of the best safes around.

The Titan is fire resistant and will protect digital media (such as USB devices, DVDs, CDs and other discs) as well as paper documents for up to 60 minutes of intense heat. This safe can store up to £2000 in cash or £20,000 in valuables.

With a whopping 36-litre capacity, there’s space enough to store many valuable items. Also, with a weight exceeding 50kg, this safe is particularly difficult to lift (and therefore make off with). These specifications, it should be noted, pertain to the largest version of the Titan. It is also available in ‘medium’ and ‘small’ sizes.

The keypad lock features options for dual control, hidden code and scrambled code, so it offers the user a lot of options. The Titan also comes with two back-up keys, which is a handy and considerate feature.

The Titan is a very user-friendly safe. It doesn’t necessarily require batteries or keypad locking, although these are optional. It comes in three different sizes and the interior even features removable shelves, which can greatly increase the amount of storage space offered.

The Titan has also been fully ‘drop tested’ (a controlled test where a fall through a burning building is simulated) to a height of 9.1 metres.

Probably the only negative point in evidence here is the twin lock system. Whilst a twin lock is pretty secure, it is not the best locking system on the market right now. Sadly, this means that for all its great features, the Titan isn’t quite as secure as many other safes available to the consumer. Still, that’s just one knock on an otherwise fine product.

  • Capacity – 36 Ltr
  • Weight – 53 kg
  • Fire resistance – 60 minutes fire protection for paper documents.digital media
  • Batteries required – yes (4 AAA batteries required.)
  • Material – Steel 
  • Keypad lock – features dual control, hidden code and scrambled code.
  • Lock – Twin Lock
  • Protect up to – £20,000.00
  • Key backup – Two keys Supplied

PROS

  • Large Capacity
  • Drop tested from 9.1 metres
  • Shelves are removable to make more space

CONS

  • Twin lock isn’t as secure as other safes

Rottner Sydney 40 Fire Safe

With well over a million keypad code possibilities and a tough, no nonsense design, the Rottner Sydney 40 clearly means business.

This safe is especially good against fire, as it can withstand extreme temperatures for over an hour. It is filled with fire resistant concrete, which helps the Sydney to reliably protect up to £20,000 worth of valuables or £2000 in cash.

There are a lot of other plus points that work in the Sydney’s favour. To name one, the Sydney is available in 7 different sizes, which really gives the consumer a lot of options to choose from.

Also, the safe itself is fashioned from dense, double walled steel. Not only does this help to guard against attack, it also means that the Sydney is generally quite heavy, making it a difficult object to steal.

The Sydney benefits from an LCD digital lock, as well as a second user function. It can also be opened in an emergency via a master code. This shows a degree of forward planning on the part of the manufacturer, which is always a good sign. Nobody wants to be locked out of their safe, but everybody knows it can happen. Best to be prepared, as The Scouts say.

However good it may be, the Sydney falls short of perfection in a number of areas. For starters, the storage capacity of 21 litres, whilst fine for a safe of this size, is slightly less than other leading models. Frankly, it could be a little bigger. Additionally, this safe only has a twin lock, which is not the most secure form of lock available.

Sadly, the Sydney also lacks a key backup, which is mildly irritating, although the presence of a built-in master code does alleviate this concern somewhat.

Overall, Rottner have built a solid, reliable safe. It isn’t the best on the market, but it is a great distance away from being the worst.

  • Capacity – 21 Ltr
  • Weight – 37.5 kg
  • Fire resistance – 60 minutes fire protection for paper documents.digital media
  • Keypad lock – yes with over 100,000,000 code possibilities 
  • Lock – TWIN METAL BOLTS double-locking bolt mechanism
  • Protect up to – £20,000 VALUABLES
  • Fire Rating – capable of withstanding extreme fires for up to 1 hour
  • Key backup – no

PROS

  • Thick double-walled steel and filled with fire resistance concrete
  • LCD DIGITAL LOCK
  • Available in 7 different sizes

CONS

  • Only has a twin lock
  • No key backup

Amazon Basics Fire Resistant Safe

Amazon might not be the first brand name you think of when it comes to safe manufacture (or security equipment of any kind, for that matter). Nevertheless, the online shopping giants do actually make all kinds of household items, including this little number.

With a locking mechanism consisting of four thick metal bolts (a lot of leading models only use two), each measuring at least a couple of centimetres, the door to Amazon’s safe seems sturdy enough.

The safe itself weighs a not inconsiderable 15.1 kg, which is hefty enough to discourage theft, but not as heavy as the average fireproof safe. The storage capacity is a modest 30 litres, which is acceptable, albeit not overly impressive. Due to the dimensions of the safe itself, it is hard to store documents inside without bending the edges.

This safe can be bolted to the floor, but only via a single bolt, which is attached through a hole in the bottom of the safe. 

The Amazon Basics safe does have some useful functions, however. These include an emergency master code, a back-up key and a second user function. It also sports a smart, compact design that won’t look out of place anywhere you choose to put it.

Of course, the line Amazon uses to market this safe is ‘Basics’, which essentially denotes a low-range, budget model. Here, the consumer is looking for value for money, as opposed to superior quality. However, some commitment to quality on the part of the manufacturer would be nice.

The safe is fire resistant, yes, but only up to about 20 minutes. This should probably be OK (the average time a fire spends in a room is 20 minutes), but offers nowhere near the protection of other, better models.

There is no amount of money or valuables that the safe can be trusted to store, as it appears to be unrated in this regard. Perhaps most egregiously, the front plastic combination is very flimsy and can be easily pulled away from the main safe. This, quite frankly, is considerably less than one might reasonably expect.

Overall, this is a budget model that will probably contribute more meaningfully to the user’s peace of mind than it will to their functional home security.

  • Capacity – 30 litres
  • Weight – 15.1 kg
  • Fire Rating – Fire Resistance of Record Protection Equipment for 20 minutes at 650 degrees Celcius
  • Key backup – yes
  • Keypad lock – yes
  • Lock – 4 large 0.75-inch bolts

PROS

  • Best Value for Money
  • Locking mechanism has four thick metal bolts

CONS

  • Front plastic combination case is very flimsy and can be easily pulled off with your fingers
  • Fire protection isn’t as good as the others

Summary of the Home Safes