It is quite hard to choose a safe as there are so many to choose from. A safe is not something easy to change: you’ve got to be right the first time. It is easy to resell a computer or a phone if it doesn’t correspond to your needs. But a safe is heavy, bolted and secured. I want to help avoid the hassle to change a safe if you have bought the wrong one. The following advice reflects many years of experience in buying and then advising how to buy a safe for home and professional purpose.
How to choose a home safe? 1) Choose between electronic and mechanical lock, but bear in mind you have to remember a code or hide a key. 2) Choose between a small and a big safe: always buy a bigger safe than you think. 3) Decide whether it is fireproof or not: my advice is to always choose a fire-resistant home safe. 4) Budget: go for a trusted brand. 5) Portable? There is no such thing as a portable good safe.
Be careful because advertised spec-sheets don’t always give the best advice. Only experience can play a role in the buying decision.
1 – What lock for my safe : electronic, mechanical or finger-print?
You won’t be surprised if I say that there are advantages to each type of lock.
a) Mechanical lock
Advantages: The principal advantage is its resistance to humidity. You can put a mechanical safe almost everywhere even in a wet room. You won’t have to change any battery. You can leave a mechanical safe alone for a long time even in a cold and humid environment.
Disadvantages: If you are many users to use the safe, you will have to have many copies of the key. If you don’t want someone to access the safe anymore, it will be difficult to get the key back. Furthermore, for your home safe, the main inconvenience is that you will have to hide the key, preferably not in your home.
b) Electronic lock
Advantages: You don’t have to hide a key or to buy spare keys. You can have several codes and give different codes to each user.
Disadvantages: An electronic lock is sometimes difficult to use; you will have a learning curve and learn how to use it. Keep in mind you don’t usually use your safe every day: each time you have to remember how to use it. Avoid installing an electronic safe in a wet room at all costs as electronics and humidity don’t play well together. Lastly, always chose a safe on which you can change batteries from outside. Emergency spare wires are always lost when you need them and are difficult to buy as a spare part.
c) Finger-print lock
Advantages: Like electronic locks, you don’t have to hide a key or to buy spare keys. You can have several codes and give different codes to each user. Furthermore, with a fingerprint reader, you won’t have to remember a code: it is that easy. You scan your finger and open the safe at the same time in a natural manner. You can even have several people using the safe with their finger-prints allowing an easy simple “access control”.
Disadvantages: Refer to electronic locks disadvantages, then add the following ones. A fingerprint reader has to be a quality one. Otherwise, you won’t be able to open it, you won’t be able to open it reliably or even someone else will be able to open it, which is not what you want. A quality finger reader usually scans your fingerprint and feels the blood pressure to prevent manipulation or tamper. That is why older people sometimes find it difficult to open their safe because of their blood pressure. It’s not always the case, fortunately, but you have to keep that in mind if you consider a fingerprint lock. In case of a malfunctioning finger-print lock, a safe usually falls back to code.
2 – Small or big safe?
When you decide to buy a safe, it is first quite intimidating. Safes are big, heavy, and expensive, aren’t they? So, usually, people choose a small safe just to be reassured. And regret it. This is a common mistake. Not because you necessarily need the biggest safe there is.
Tip #1 You will find your safe so useful and practical that you will end up putting a lot of stuff inside and you will soon want a bigger one.
Small safes are usually just to protect a couple of things: some cash, some jewelry and that is it. Maybe a checkbook. It will be full immediately. Only buy that kind of safe in a work environment where you know what you have to protect on a daily basis.
Medium safes are trickier. This is where you should consider buying a bigger safe than you first intended to. Definitely. Especially if you have chosen a fire-resistant safe, which you should. Fireproof safes have to be bigger because of the thickness that holds the fire-retardant material, so don’t be afraid of buying a big fire-resistant safe.
Tip #2 Always measure the opening of the safe to make sure your hard (non-folding) stuff can get inside.
Knowing the size of the inside of a safe is not enough. If you plan to store jewelry in a box, a security box with cash, a hard document binder, etc. you need an opening large enough. Keep in mind the door is so thick it will eat up a significant amount of the opening. That is why foldable stuff is not a problem but for hard stuff, you need to plan ahead.
A medium to large safe is usually the way to go.
Bigger safes This is a choice that has to be well thought out. Due to its size and weight, a big safe is here to stay. Imagine the hassle if you need to move, repair or service a big safe. If your house is big enough, if you have a spare room that you can dedicate to a big safe, why not. It might be useful to store guns and weapons of big size. Or to store a lot of important papers (certificates, stocks, etc.) put in hard binders. In a big safe you will have the comfort of shelves to store your valuables in a more tidy way. It can be compared to a cabinet. Unless you have specific needs, a medium sized + safe should be enough.
Pile up everything you need to put in your safe and measure. And then add some. And measure again. 1,2 to 1,5 cubic feet is a common safe capacity.
3 – Should I choose a portable safe?
A portable safe can be useful for specific occasions where you need to store tickets, cash or coins in different places each time. But it is not safe. There is not such a thing as a portable safe. Whether it is called a security box, a portable safe, it is not a recommended buy.
A safe, big or small, has to be secured to something. Usually, a safe has to be bolted to the cemented floor or hard wall, this is the only way to protect it. Any burglar can run away with a portable safe and open it elsewhere.
A portable safe is only useful to protect a content in a work environment from theft: if it is there, you know the content (nothing is stolen) if it is gone, you call the police.
Don’t buy a portable safe unless you know what you are doing.
4 – What budget should I allocate to a home safe?
This is something I like to say over and over again. A cheap safe is always more expensive than you think.
1) A safe has to be heavy. A cheap safe is lightweight. Steel is not thick enough. Hinges can fail. A cheap light safe is easy to take away, to tear off of its bolts. A thin steel is easy to the drill. You will regret buying a safe which is too lightweight.
2) A safe is a box made not to be opened. And a cheap safe comes with a cheap lock. Either electronic or mechanical, there is no bottom when it comes with cheap locks. From a beautiful engineering work of art made of brass and steel with hardened plates, a lock can only be made of aluminum, plastic, and regular steel. With a complexity akin to that of a drawer lock. And, is a drawer lock difficult to open? The answer is no. A paper clip, a screwdriver, a hammer, a simple drill, etc. can open such a lock. Don’t go for a cheap safe with a cheap lock.
3) A safe has to work properly for a long time When a car needs a service, you drive to your dealership. When a car breaks down, comes a tow truck. But when your safe is out of order? Your valuables are inaccessible, you can’t take your safe to be repaired or serviced. A locksmith has to come and then again a safe is made not to be opened. It will be hard for him to open the door, and he will have to change the door of the safe. I might be expensive. And if a cheap safe is sealed in a wall, you will have to pay a high ticket price to have it serviced. You won’t find spare parts. The safe will have to be taken out of the wall and you will be left with an invoice from the locksmith, one from the builder, a hole in the wall of the wrong size for the next safe…
Don’t buy a cheap safe. Buy a safe from a trusted brand, with spare parts available. It will last longer. You will save money (and time and hassle) in the long run.
How much is a good safe, then? Around $250 – $300 for a small safe. Around $500 – $600 for a medium fire-resistant safe, and starting from $1200 for a big one. This is excluding installation and maintenance. But can you give a price to your peace of mind?
5 – Should I buy a fireproof home safe?
A safe is not only designed to protect against theft but also against fire.
There are not many cases for a non-fireproof safe. Unless you want a smaller safe for many reasons, I do not recommend buying a non-fireproof one. A fire-resistant safe is the way to go.
Putting important papers in a safe place is one of the reasons you decided to buy a home safe in the first place:
- birth certificates,
- life insurance policies,
- estate documents,
- important invoices,
- USB keys, other electronic back-ups
You understand how important a fire-resistant safe is. Then how long does it has to resist? If in doubt, 30 minutes should be enough as fire moves quickly. One hour is best of course and sometimes not much more expensive. Its protection will be better for small fires as well. Thicker fire-retardant material and thicker seals for the door will give better results and your papers will less suffer from heat.
6 – Which Safe to Buy?
Best safe in the world? It is difficult to advise a single safe. But if you sum up, a safe has to protect from theft and fire, or both. It shouldn’t be too small either. So the all-around safe for better value is, according to me, a medium + safe with electronic lock and fire-resistant material. It should be expensive enough to be of good quality, of a known brand to have access to spare parts. It should be heavy enough to stay in place and bolted properly to the ground or wall not to be portable.
I recommend a safe that have those qualities:
|Electronic lock||No key to duplicate or hide|
|Medium to big safe||Plenty of room for future needs|
|No portable safe||Properly bolted and secured|
|No cheap safe||Chose a trusted brand for peace of mind|
|Fire-resistant||Many papers to secure or cash|
I think we have narrowed down our need in term of a home safe. Feel free to change in that table your choice in each line according to your own needs. You will then choose a different safe but it will be a well-informed choice.