The Best Fireproof Safe for Your Valuables
There are many good reasons to invest in a fireproof safe. Passports, IDs, permits, contracts, financial documentation, jewelry, heirlooms — anything you can think of storing in a safe is a good reason in its own right.
With such a large array of choices and options of fireproof safes available on the market, you may find yourself hesitating about the one best for you, wondering how to recognize which products have the features you need and which you should avoid.
But with so many fireproof safes to compare, the last question that remains is often “Which features should I look for?” Find the answers here so you can choose the best fireproof safe for your valuables.
Materials and Construction
The core of any safe’s protective capabilities lies in the materials used in its construction. Safe wall materials fall into two categories: steel and non-steel.
Most safes on the market employ metal in their construction, typically in the form of steel sheets. However, the vast majority of fireproof safes do not use heavy-duty sheets, as they are intended mainly to protect the contents against exposure to fire and heat and the resulting damage.
Steel wall thickness is measured using the standard gauge unit for plate iron and steel, as defined in the U.S. Code. The lower the steel gauge number, the higher the thickness, and, in turn, the heavier the safe. A 12-gauge steel sheet has a thickness equal to 7⁄64 of an inch. In decimal form, this value corresponds to approximately 0.106 of an inch or about 2.78 mm.
Typical fireproof safes intended for home use employ 16- to 18-gauge steel sheets as walls. More rarely, they may employ thicker sheets, such as 14-gauge. However, you seldom see models with thicker walls on regular fireproof safes. 12-gauge, 11-gauge, and higher thickness ratings are the realm of larger, heavier safe types, such as gun safes.
While there’s nothing wrong with using a gun safe or another heavy-duty safe for storing documents and other small valuables, you will lose many of the benefits of smaller, purpose-built models.
Smaller fireproof safes are not only easier to transport, but, if you know how to hide a safe in plain sight, they are also much easier to conceal in your house, granting you a definite advantage over potential burglars.
Although steel is the traditional material for safes of any kind, today’s technology grants manufacturers access to many newer, more advanced materials, allowing them to experiment and create new products.
You may find safes advertised as fireproof employing lighter metals, such as aluminum alloys. Others don’t even use metals at all, using ABS plastic or polymers instead. Unfortunately, while these materials are undoubtedly lightweight, they are also much easier to defeat. Aluminum does not have the strength and impact resistance of steel, and any plastic or polymer material is vulnerable to splitting or shattering.
Steel is the traditional choice for safes because there simply isn’t any other material available offering a similar combination of strength, impact resistance, and affordability. While better metals exist (tungsten is stronger and titanium has a better strength-to-weight ratio), they are vastly more expensive than steel and are never used in personal and home safes.
Fire Protection Rating
It isn’t enough to invest in a safe with a “fire-safe” material; even if the outer shell might resist burning or intense heat, the safe may still fail to protect its contents adequately.
Although many safes on the market are marketed as fireproof safes, they must receive certification from an accredited, independent organization with stringent testing processes to verify their resistance to fire.
One such organization is Underwriters Laboratories, a global safety certification company established in 1894 responsible for developing numerous safety standards, including the world’s most widely recognized fire safety testing and certification protocol: the UL 72 Fire Test.
A quality fireproof safe should meet or exceed the UL 72 testing standards and receive a UL label. This label is not a legal requirement, but many companies will refuse to buy products that have not been UL-certified.
There are multiple UL certification levels, ranging from ½-Hour Rated to 4-Hour Rated. You should look for a safe with at least a 1-Hour Rated certification (preferably 2-Hour). Even though most house fires last no more than a few minutes, some may, under the right circumstances, last up to two hours.
Depending on what you intend to store in your fireproof safe, you may want to ensure the safe has received an appropriate certification for maximum internal temperature. For example, a UL Class 350 safe has been certified not to exceed 350°F when exposed to fire for a duration equal to its certification level.
Temperatures around 350°F are safe for paper documents but may destroy electronics and digital media (CDs, DVDs, etc.). If you wish to protect electronics, look for a UL Class 125 safe, certifying it will not exceed 125°F when exposed to a house fire.
Just as CCTV systems form the backbone of any home security system, a safe’s theft prevention capabilities start with a secure locking mechanism.
When choosing a suitable locking mechanism for your home safe, you have multiple choices available, each with its list of pros and cons.
Mechanical Key Lock
Key locks are the traditional choice, featuring a simple lock cylinder, allowing you to lock and unlock it using a good, old-fashioned key.
Not all key locks are created equal. Basic key locks usually feature the well-known pin-and-tumbler design, believed to have first been invented by the Mesopotamians in 2000 BC. This design is, of course, relatively easy to pick. A skilled lockpick can defeat one in a matter of seconds.
More expensive models may possess lock-picking prevention measures capable of slowing down even the most skilled thieves, such as anti-bump systems, specialized keys, pick-resistant designs, and more.
However, no matter how advanced your key lock is, you still need to use a key to lock and unlock it, which means your safe suffers from the same disadvantages as any other device secured with a key. Safes with key locks are only as secure as your ability to keep the key under your control and out of unauthorized reach.
If these disadvantages aren’t a problem for you, you will find safes with key locks tend to be the least expensive, making them a good option if you are on a budget.
Mechanical Combination Lock
A mechanical combination lock uses a number combination instead of a key as its primary locking mechanism. These locks take on many shapes: number keypads, rotating discs, dials, and many more. Fireproof safes typically employ the dial or number pad designs, as they are easier to integrate with a safe door.
The primary advantage of this locking system is that keys are no longer required to open and lock the safe. Instead, all you need is to enter the correct number combination, just like a password or a passcode.
Naturally, this comes with the caveat of practicing good password safety; remember it, don’t share it unless you trust the person with the safe’s contents, and avoid writing it down if possible. If you must, don’t leave the password in plain sight or within easy reach.
Electronic Keypad Lock
In theory, a thief with enough time and skill can pick a mechanical combination lock just as they can pick a pin-and-tumbler lock. Therefore, if you don’t want to leave anything up to chance, you may want to choose an electronic lock.
Rather than use a mechanical system, an electronic keypad stores the correct combination in electronic memory, leaving burglars with no method of picking it with traditional tools and techniques.
The primary disadvantage of an electronic keypad is they require electricity to operate. Typically, such locking mechanisms require batteries, usually inserted in a compartment located behind the door.
If the battery runs out of power, you need to use an override key to access the safe and change the battery. You should always ensure your override keys are safe, secure, and out of reach from any unauthorized individuals.
A biometric lock is a type of electronic lock that requires no key or keypad combination to unlock. Instead, it possesses an internal memory and a biometric reader designed to read fingerprints.
According to scientific research, the chances of two different human beings possessing the same set of fingerprints is approximately 1 in 64 trillion. As a result, a biometric locking mechanism can be used to restrict access to all but the selected authorized individuals.
Biometric locks are very secure, making them a popular choice on gun safes and other larger safe models. They eliminate the requirement to use keys or remember a code.
However, like electronic keypads, biometric locks require battery power to operate. As a result, they ship with an override key if the battery dies, allowing you to access the interior and replace the battery.
Fireproof home safes are available in a wide range of dimensions. The best safe sizes for you depend mainly on what you intend to store, keeping in mind that larger safes are often significantly more expensive and more challenging to conceal than smaller models.
If you intend to use your home safe mainly for storing jewelry, small heirloom items, your everyday carry items, or a small number of documents, you may prefer to use a smaller safe.
In contrast, if you need to store more items, such as dense documents, contracts, or paperwork, or if your objects are too large to fit in a small safe, you may need a larger home safe model or an office safe.
Regardless of what you need to store, you should assess your safe storage needs before deciding on a specific form factor.
Fire and theft are not the only threats items in a safe may face. Consider getting a waterproof model as well, protecting the contents from water damage, such as flooding or firefighters applying a large quantity of water to a house fire.
Rather than trying to pick the lock on the spot, many burglars may decide to simply take the entire safe out of your house during a home invasion, allowing them to pick it at their leisure at a later point. Specific safe models feature mounting holes to prevent this scenario from occurring, allowing you to bolt your safe down onto a wall or to the floor, giving you an extra layer of security. Make sure to choose a solid mounting surface, such as a support wall or a concrete floor.
The ideal fireproof safe for your valuables should be large enough to store everything you need, but not so excessively that it would become challenging to hide it or secure it in your house.
Your safe should also be UL-certified to withstand a house fire for at least one hour (preferably two) without letting the interior temperature become high enough to damage your valuables. Last, your safe should feature a secure, reliable locking mechanism best adapted to your needs and preferences.
At The Home Security Superstore, our priority is to give you the tools you need to protect what’s most valuable to you and your family. We are home security and self-defense specialists, offering nothing but the best since 2003. We stand behind every product we sell.
For every order totaling $25 or more, you are eligible for free shipping. If you have any questions or requests, please call us at 1-800-616-5305, or send us a message through our contact form.
Can I store firearms in a regular fireproof safe?
Most regular fireproof house safes do not possess the recommended features for secure gun storage, such as a rotary locking device or heavy steel gauge walls, so we don’t recommend it.
What’s the best location for my fireproof safe?
You should always try to conceal your safe inside a wall, as it allows you to hide it behind a piece of furniture or framed artwork or to use other disguising techniques.
All I need is a way to keep my papers locked up. Why not use a lockbox instead?
While they are a good solution for temporary safe storage or securing items inside your vehicle, they are typically not fireproof or as tamper-proof as dedicated home safes.