Buyers Guide to Home Safes

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 home 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!

Table of Contents

What is a Safe Made of?

Typically, a home 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, you want something TOUGH! you want something to keep your valuables safe in”

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 in a secure place and literally ‘safe as houses’.

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.

Different Types of Home Safe

There are a few different types of home safe and they all have different security features 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 safe.

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, valuables safe and, if we’re being irritatingly pedantic about it, lockable filing cabinets.

Are all Safes Fire Resistant?

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

The melting point of steel usually sits between 1400°C and 1500°C. However, the inside of your 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 your safe. Typically, a safe might offer around 30 minutes of fire protection, while more 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 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 resistant properties are limited, they do represent an extra level of home security features 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 resistant to fire, 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 floor safe 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 sensitive documents and important paperwork inside. 

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.

How to Install a Safe

When choosing a home 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 your 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 wall safes and a floor safe 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 your 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 about How to Install a Home Safe and The Best Place to Put Your Safe.

How is a Safe 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 combination lock itself and the overall build quality of the safe, is taken into account by any insurance company

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

The insurance rating of the safe directly relates 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 insurance rating (NOTE: we are using European EN ratings here, although other ratings systems do exist).

European standard best home safe
  • 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 home 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 the home safes rating suits your needs before making a purchase.

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 home 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 home 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 or key lock needs replacing, unless you have a backup key, spare key or an override key.

safe keypad

With an Digital keypad, a code is imputed in order to open the safe. This is a reliable system, provided you don’t forget the code, also a digital keypad won’t snap a key or fail because you’ve pressed your finger down too hard.


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 home safe. There are no codes to forget and no keys to lose.

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

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

A back-up key that can open your home 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 homes safes. If you have any questions or comments, you might let us know.