How To's & Quick Tips

Buyer's Guide: Home Safes

Some people have piles of cash, rare jewels, and irreplaceable collectibles stashed in bank safe-deposit boxes. The average homeowners who need to store smaller amounts of money, jewelry, and documents (including birth certificates, passports, marriage licenses, and deeds) don't need to rent a box at a bank to keep them secure. That's where a solid home safe comes in: These locked boxes guard your valuables against theft, fire, and water damage.

If you're looking to keep your precious possessions locked up, it pays to understand the pros and cons of different types of safes. We've detailed how they differ below and offered a selection of the best home safes in each category so you can find a top-rated model fit for your needs.

  1. BEST COMPOSITE SAFE: SentrySafe FireProof and Waterproof Safe with Digital Keypad
  2. BEST BURGLARY SAFE: Viking Security Biometric Safe
  3. MOST TRAVEL-FRIENDLY SAFE: SentrySafe Fire-Resistant Chest

For a coin collection, cash, collectibles, or similar items likely to be targeted in a burglary, get a safe designed to keep the bad guys out. Burglary safes may be rated based on construction and ability to thwart attempts to get inside with hammers, chisels, or drills. Sometimes ratings are given by the global safety consulting and certification company Underwriters Laboratories (UL), but not all safes on the market are rated. Generally, the higher the rating, the heavier and thicker the safe's walls and door-and the higher the rating, the higher the cost.

Ratings you are likely to see include:

  • B-rated: Recommended for storing $5,000 or less in valuables.
  • B/C-rated: For up to $10,000 in content value.
  • RSC: For $15,000 in content value.
  • C-rated: For up to $30,000 in content value.
  • TL-15: The safe can withstand a 15-minute attack with common tools and devices. Recommended if you are storing up to $100,000 in valuables.

A large, heavy safe can deter burglars just by the difficulty of moving it, but most safes also have bolt-down kits to secure them in place-especially important for a small safe. Your safe should be made of heavy steel, with a door at least ½-inch thick and ¼-inch-thick walls. Choose a safe a little larger than you think you need, and keep it in a location that is easy to access and has sufficient light for finding contents.

Many manufacturers offer two versions of the same safe: one with a keypad lock and one with a mechanical lock, so you can choose the option you prefer. An electronic lock or keypad is typically easier to use than a traditional mechanical lock-you can change its combination yourself, plus avoid the difficulties of rotating a mechanical lock or trying to see the numbers.

Fire safes are heavily insulated to protect contents from heat, smoke, and sometimes water (but they're not designed to deter burglars). They are often small and portable, and many open with a simple key. Fire safes are rated by UL and other agencies based on the length of time the interior of the safe remains below a certain temperature. For best performance, place a fire safe on a concrete floor, such as in the garage or basement.

A typical fire resistant safe will stay below 350 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes when exposed to a home fire, sufficient for most papers and documents. A safe rated for one hour of fire resistance is an even better choice, but you'll pay quite a bit more. If you plan to store pictures, cassettes, DVDs, or CDs, you'll need a safe rated to keep the interior below 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Though you can find fire resistant safes rated for two hours or longer, these are more expensive and probably unnecessary for the average homeowner.

A composite safe constructed with very thick, insulated walls, heavy doors, and other safety features provides both burglary protection and fire resistance. These models are tough enough to keep thieves out while maintaining a sufficiently low interior temperature. Composite safes are a popular choice for home use, but they tend to be expensive and have less interior room for contents compared to safes designed solely for burglary or fire protection.

Gun owners need a safe that keeps weapons safely secured from children and prevents would-be thieves from stealing your firearms. Though many people use a burglary safe to hold a pistol or handgun, larger guns, such as hunting rifles or shotguns, require a taller safe with racks to hold weapons securely, as well as enough space for ammunition.

Some gun safes use a simple key lock, which is adequate if you are only concerned about keeping children away from weapons. A combination or electronic lock is a higher security choice against burglars. Many gun safes also are fire resistant.

Below, these three examples of the best home safes have all earned impressive ratings from consumers. Play it safe and start your search here.

BEST COMPOSITE SAFE: SentrySafe FireProof and Waterproof Safe with Digital Keypad

Deter theft and enjoy protection from both fire and water with this highly rated, reasonably priced composite safe. The SentrySafe Fireproof and Waterproof Safe with Digital Keypad is made of sturdy steel and has four live-locking bolts, a pry-resistant hinge bar, and bolt-down hardware. Contents including USB drives, CDs, and DVDs remain safe from fire, heat, and smoke damage for up to one hour, and dry and protected for up to 24 hours in eight inches of water. The digital keypad has a backup key for extra security, and other worthwhile features include an interior light and a locking drawer. Though available in three sizes, the 1.23 cubic foot model is sufficient for most homeowners; its exterior measures 16.3 in. W x 19.3 in. D x 17.8 in. H. Buy now.

BEST BURGLARY SAFE: Viking Security Biometric Safe

Secure money, jewelry, and other small valuables in the compact (14 in. W x 10 in. D x 10 in. H) Viking Security Biometric Safe. Along with a 20 mm deadbolt locking system with two pry-resistant steel locking bars, the safe also uses biometrics to “read” your unique fingerprint to unlock the door. You can program up to 32 fingerprints or use the backup PIN code. Inside, the safe has an adjustable shelf, an interior LED light, and carpet to protect contents from scratches or damage. There's even a warning beep should you forget to lock the door. Keep in mind, however, this safe is not fire- or water-resistant. Buy now.

MOST TRAVEL-FRIENDLY SAFE: SentrySafe Fire-Resistant Chest

Keep important papers and digital media safe from fire in the budget-friendly SentrySafe Fire Resistant Chest. This small (6.1 in. H x 14.3 in. W x 11.2 in. D) safe is rated for fire endurance up to half an hour. It locks with a key and has a handle for a quick grab in case you need to vacate the premises in a hurry. It's an excellent choice for fire safety, but it's not burglarproof, so it's not the best spot to stash cash or valuables. Buy now.