Top 10 Things to Know Before Buying a Safe

Top10UncleSam Searching for the right safe can be a difficult task. For over 27 years our goal at The Safe House has been to answer your questions in an honest and clear way that cuts through all of the hype of other sources.

If you look around the industry you will find safes that are nothing more than a thin metal box. Upon further research, you will see that there is more to a safe than you originally thought. Search the Internet and you will find many companies that call themselves safe “authorities” and proclaim to be knowledgeable about safes and vaults, but many don’t even have a brick and mortar store and only sell online.  They will tell you what you are supposed to know about buying a safe and offer an opinion but have no real-world experience in the safe business. Look long enough and you’ll start to see that there is often conflicting information.

You may be thinking “why is The Safe House information better than other companies lists and opinions?” For the past 27 years we have been providing our customers with the best security products on the market, we provide service to most safe manufacturers in the U.S. and have seen the “the good, the bad and the ugly.”  Many confused customers come to us with misinformation they have been told about safes and vaults.  Some companies will say that “some protection is better than nothing at all” and sell you a cheap safe that can be easily pried open or will not protect your valuables in a fire. In our opinion this is dishonest and we don’t treat our customers this way just to make a sale. When you pause and consider the reasons to invest in a safe, it comes down to a very simple thing: the contents you wish to protect are usually some of the most important and valuable items you own.

With that being said, we feel it is our responsibility as professionals in the safe and security products industry to cut through the hype and misinformation that the internet is filled with and give you only the most important considerations as you search for a safe to satisfy your needs.

The Safe House knows its products

Unlike a lot of companies, The Safe House has actual showrooms and warehouses where we have been serving our customers for over 27 years. We have three locations in Nashville TN, Knoxville TN, and Atlanta GA.  We specialize in Home Safes, Gun Safes, Jewelry Safes, Commercial Safes, Vault Doors, and Storm shelters. We are registered Locksmiths / Safe Specialist and Security is our only business

We work with individuals and companies all over the Eastern part of the U.S. for their security and safety needs. Many of our customers include state and federal agencies, jewelry stores, large corporations, but our main focus are individuals just like you.

Read this article and let us know if you have any questions.

1. What size safe should I purchase?

The answer is simple: one that is bigger than you think you need! The most prevalent feedback we receive from the thousands of customers we have served over the years is that they did not buy a safe that was big enough. You will only add to the contents over the years. When it comes to buying a safe, bigger is better!

2. Not all Gun Safes are created equal

Both Gun Safes and Home Safes are of the most popular safes on the market today. They come in a variety of standard sizes and styles. Many are only thin metal cabinets without fire or burglary protection. So where do you begin when choosing a Gun Safe / Home Safe?

  • Construction of the safe
  • Thickness of steel body and door
  • Type of locking mechanism
  • Fire rating

Gun cabinets in the past were made of wood and glass and would showcase your weapons for everyone to see. In the world we live in now, a good quality gun or home safe is needed to protect your weapons and valuables. Don’t rely on a cheap thin metal cabinet to protect your guns and valuables. If you search the industry, most low-end gun cabinets have very thin metal bodies made from 14 to 16 or even 20 gauge steel. A standard hammer or large screwdriver can easily break into a thin metal gun cabinet. A quality gun/home safe should use a minimum of 11 gauge steel in the body of the safe and preferably 10 to 7 gauge steel.

Door construction is also very important. Look for a gun safe with at least ¼” of solid plate steel or composite equivalent in the door. More secure gun safes have a 3/8″ to 1/2″ steel plate in the door. Look for gun safes with the Underwriter Laboratory burglar ratings of an RSC (Residential Security Container). Better quality gun safes have higher B Rated, U.L. TL-15 (Tool Resistant) or U.L. TL-30 ratings. One note on this subject, there are high quality gun safes on the market that don’t have an official UL rating above an RSC rating BUT are built to TL levels of protection, contact us for more details.

So how thick are different gauges of metal ?

Metal Gauge Chart

3. What Security Rating is best to protect my valuables?

We have many customers that come to us wanting to protect a wide range of items, from Guns, Baseball Cards, Money ,Important documents and other high-value items. For these customers, we would recommend a well built composite or a BF rated safe or greater.

We have provided the following industry guidelines for content value of the various levels of security that a safe can provide. These values are generally used for businesses for insurance purposes but are a good guideline for different levels of protection.  Contact your insurance company for specific limitations

  • RSC Up to $5,000 content value- passed a 5-minute attack test,  If this safe had a TL rating it would be a TL-5 , Note, RSC ratings can be applied to low-end safes that are easily pried open up to very secure safes that could pass higher rating test but the manufacturers don’t go to the expense of testing them.
  • B-Rated Up to $10,000 content value – 1/2 inch plate door & 1/4 inch body
  • C Rated Up to $30,000 content value 1 inch protection on door & up to 1/2 inch on body
  • U.L. TL-15 Up to $200,000 content value- A TL-15 Rating means the safe door can successfully resist entry for a net assault time of 15 minutes when attacked with common hand tools, picking tools, mechanical or portable electric tools, grinders, drills or pressure devices.
  • U.L. TL-30 Up to $375,000 content value -TL-30 means the safe door can pass the same test for 30 minutes. Note that this does NOT include attacks on the sides or top.
  • U.L. TL-30X6 Up to $500,000 to $ 1,000,000 content value-  U L 30 minute attack on all 6 sides of safe
  • U.L. TRTL-30X6 $1,000,000 and up content value- U L 30 minute torch / tool attack on all 6 sides of safe

Please be aware that these ratings are subjective, some import safes that say they are TL rated are not and will not provide you with the level of protection that are indicated by the ratings listed.  How do you know? Call us for more information.

Are you doing all you can


4. When should you use a hidden safe or wall safe?

Hidden safes and Wall safes are generally not a good place to store high value items .  The best protection that a Wall safe provides is concealment.  Just by design a wall safe is attached to the studs in the wall and can be easily cut or pried out of the wall. The only fire protection that they provide is limited to the sheetrock in the wall.  As for hiding or concealing a safe, most burglars are going to look for a hidden safe or wall safe and if found don’t take long to penetrate.  If you have items to store for a brief period of time or just have items to keep out of the kids hands a wall safe is a good choice but save your high end items and put them in a good quality safe.

5. What type of Fire Rating is best?

Fire ratings are often overlooked but should be one of your top considerations. We recommend that you purchase a minimum 1 hour fire rated safe. Safes with less than a 1 hour fire rating will not provide adequate protection to survive a typical home or business fire. Why spend your hard earned money on a safe that won’t protect your guns, ammo or other valuables during a fire? If you are on a limited budget then select the safe with the longest fire protection that you can afford.

Many customers have read that a fire rated gun safe will protect their important documents. This is only partly true, our recommendation is to look for a U.L. or a U.S. made safe with a CERTIFIED  fire rating of 1 hour or greater. If you are thinking of placing any important documents or delicate items in a gun safe consider adding greater protection by investing in a small U.L. rated or U.S. made certified fire box you can place inside the gun safe for your paperwork and more delicate items.

Don’t forget the fire seal on the door,  Some cheap safes don’t even have fire seals on the door but a fire seal is an important part of a good fire rating.  Another thing the fire seal will do is seal out most moisture from entering the safe on a day to day basis, this will help keeps rust and corrosion off of your guns or other valuables.  During a fire the fire seal will expand to seal out fire and smoke and keep water from entering the safe if water is sprayed on the safe in the course of extinguishing the fire.  One of the most popular brands of fire seal is Palusol brand fire seals.  It will expand to 6 times it original size during a fire and completely seal the space between the frame and door of the safe.

palusol seal picture

6. Don’t rely on a fire resistant safe to protect against a burglary.

First, beware of any company that calls their safe “fireproof”, There are no “fireproof” consumer safes on the market today, they are all fire resistant, meaning that they resist heat and smoke (and some protect against water) over a given period of time , usually 30 to 150 minutes.

Fire resistant safes do a great job of protecting paper documents (and even small amounts of cash) from heat and smoke damage, however, fire resistant safes use very thin metal (14-18 gauge) in the construction of the safe which makes them easy to defeat for a burglar. The metal is primarily used to hold the fire retardant material and can be easily punctured, cut or sawed with simple hand tools. Some of the cheap fire safes on the market today can be opened by simply dropping them on a hard surface.

We DO NOT recommend storing high value contents such as large amounts of cash, jewelry or precious metals, in a low cost fire resistant safe. Over the past 22 years we have accessed  many cheap fire resistant safes that customers have been locked out of for various reasons , our record is 30 seconds to open the safe open with very simple tools .  We have also seen those same safes easily broken into after the owners mistakenly thought the safe would protect their valuables against a burglary attack.  The better choice is a burglar, fire safe or good quality composite fire safe that are burglar rated, or for content value above $10,000, look at a high security TL rated fire safe. These safes are engineered and designed to protect your valuables against both burglar attacks and fires.

7. Be AWARE that data,media or family photos need more protection than a standard fire resistant safe can provide.

The term fireproof is a very misleading statement and too many companies use it to describe their fire safes. So what should the fire rating say?  It should say  “resistant to fire”  for a particular period of time.  Not fire proof . Customers come into our showroom on a daily basis and ask for a fire safe to protect their Important paperwork, money, pictures and other delicate or sensitive items like , data and media (photos, CDs/DVDs and computer disks/tapes, etc)   We gladly show them the differences and options that will protect their valuables the most effective way.  Most of these items are sensitive to heat and humidity/moisture and a standard fire resistant safe is not engineered to specifically protect against these things. Fire resistant safes are engineered and designed to protect paper and keep the internal temperature of the safe below 350 degrees, which is the critical temperature where paper will start to char and burn. This method of protection creates steam (moisture) inside the safe. Any sensitive data or media will be badly damaged or destroyed between 120 to 180 degrees or 85% humidity. Think of the inside of a car on a hot summer day,

Browning Safe on Fire

If you have any special data or media that you need to protect against fire, a data/media safe is what you should consider purchasing. These safes will keep the inside temperature below 135 degrees as well as the humidity below 85%. Most data and media safes do not offer burglary protection . As an inexpensive option you can purchase a small U.L. rated fire lock box that you can place inside a larger fire safe ( Gun Safe) for your more delicate items, this is one way to protect you data / media without purchasing a more expensive data safe.

Data and media include the following materials:

  • Hard Drives , Regular & Portable
  • CDs & DVDs
  • Old Negatives & Photographs
  • Thumb Drives/Flash Drives
  • Old Cassette Tapes
  • USB Storage thumb drives
  • Micro SD cards

Note: Don’t forget to purchase a quality dehumidifier to protect against excess moisture in your safe!

8. What is the minimum fire rating to protect paper and money?

Pop quiz: What temperature does paper burn ?  Answer 451 degrees .  Fire Resistant safes and burglar fire safes should have a minimum of a 1 hour fire rating. Typically, a safe with less than a 1 hour fire rating will not provide adequate protection for paper or money in the event of a fire.  A typical house fire burns in the 800 to 1200 degree temperature range ,if your safe is close to the starting point of the fire it would be subjected to higher temperatures than if it was in a different part of the structure.  It is better to err on the side of caution and have a longer fire protection level to protect your items.  Fire Resistant safes are great for protecting paper documents against fire for a limited amount of time BUT they are NOT recommended for protecting large amounts of cash or high value items from theft.  When you want BOTH burglar and fire protection, look for a good quality composite-fire safe , burglar-fire safe or a  high security TL rated fire safe.

9. Floor Safes , great security but very little protection against fire

Floor safes offer great security if installed in the floor surrounded by concrete BUT provide very little fire protection. Floor safes offer great protection for valuables due to the body of the safe being encased in concrete on all five sides.  The reason they lack a fire rating is due to the door being exposed with no fire board to dissipate the heat.  This leads to the contents being destroyed in a short period of time.

If you need to protect money or important documents, you are much better off purchasing a free standing Composite fire safe , burglar fire safe or high security burglar fire safe that has 1-2 hour fire rating and is anchored with multiple bolts into a concrete floor.  This is a much better option than a floor safe.

Ft Knox House Fire Pic


10. What type of lock should I choose for my safe?

S & G Dial Lock               Titan D Drive Lock

We have many customers that ask us which type of lock is best to have on their safe., Is a dial lock more secure than an electronic lock? Will an EMP event render my electronic lock inoperable? What is a redundant lock ? What type of maintenance do either lock require?

  • Better quality dial and electronic locks are U.L. rated and will provide an excellent level of protection
  • Some electronic locks are EMP resistant some are not. We recommend the S & G brand of electronic locks for EMP resistant single lock installations
  • Redundant locks give you the best of both worlds , they consist of a mechanical and electronic lock in one , so if one fails the other will allow you access to the safe.
  • Most mechanical lock manufacturers recommend that you have your lock serviced at least every 5 years by a qualified safe technician.
  • Electronic locks are sealed from the factory and if opened will void the warranty from the manufacturer. about the only maintenance is replacing the battery.

S & G Mech Lock

Why stop at 10? Here are a few extra things to consider before your final decision is made.

11. Where should I place my safe?

In our experience, one of the most difficult decisions for customers is where to place their safe. If you do not have an alarm system in your home or business, then placing your safe “out of sight, out of mind” is very important.

We suggest that you place your safe where you are most likely to use it. An out of the way location will make you less likely to use your safe to store the items you purchased it for in the first place. Another consideration is the lighting available to illuminate your lock when you are inputting your combination. The hash marks on a combination dial lock are relatively small and can be hard to see in low light area’s. If you must have your safe in a low light area or be able to access the lock in the dark there are dial lights that affix to the top of the dial ring and illuminate the dial so you can see the numbers and hash marks on the dial.

12. What size safe should I buy? Bigger is better !

We know this was # 1 on the list but it is the number one thing our customers say to us after buying a safe.

One that is bigger that you think you need ! The most common feed back from the 1000’s of customers we have had through 21 years is that they did not buy a safe that was big enough. Also, think of the value of the contents you could be putting in the safe in future years? Bigger is Better when it comes to buying a safe !

13. How do you determine the size of a safe ?

As we mentioned earlier , its better to buy a safe bigger than you think you need , with that said you may ask , how do I determine the area inside a safe?  If you look at different brands of safes you will notice that some measure their safes by the exterior dimensions , some use the interior dimensions and some use the “cubic feet” or the area inside the safe.   To determine that size use the simple math formula below.

Yes, you can use a calculator !

Multiply the height, width and depth of the interior of the safe and divide that total by 1728. Height x Width x Depth / 1728 (Example: 60” x 30” x 24” = 43,200 cubic inches / 1728 = 25 cubic feet)


14. Should I Anchor my safe ?

Anchoring is an effective way to secure your safe. One of the easiest ways for a burglar to break into any safe is to move it where they have the time and tools to get into it. . Even if you think your safe is hidden you still need to anchor it in case it is discovered by a burglar. Remember that being careful and taking extra security precautions will help keep your items secure.

Most safes have anchor hole(s) and are fairly simple to anchor into concrete. If you have a wood sub floor be aware that simply putting a wood anchor in your floor will not provide adequate protection, one of the most effective ways to secure a safe to a wood sub floor is to drill holes in your floor and extend long threaded rod down below the floor joist and take a long piece of 2 x 4 or angle iron and span multiple floor joist and secure the threaded rod and bolt down the safe.  If you decide to move and want to take your safe with you, simply remove the bolts. If have questions about this process, we would be happy to assist you

15. Loose Lips get your valuables stolen !

Loose lips sink ships 2

Many burglaries occur because someone in the family or business tells someone else that they have a safe or worse , what is in the safe.  It might be fun to talk about that new safe you just purchased or the cool thngs you have in it but Loose Lips could get your valuables stolen.  Its better to not openly talk about what you are protecting in your safe to just anyone.  A conversation or cell phone call is easily over heard and could be communicated to a person that you don’t know and increase your odds of a break in.  But as you lay in bed at night you may be dreaming of the big bad wolf  huffing and puffing and stealing your stuff out of a cheap safe, but wait there is good news ( if you bought a good safe) ,when you wake in the morning the sun is shining , the birds are singing and your valuables are still there, in your safe , protected.

16. Security should be multi layered

Even though you have a high quality safe you should still be aware of other ways to protect your self and your valuables. A quality home or business alarm is a good deterrent. Always be aware of your surroundings and lock your doors and take notice of unfamiliar people in your neighborhood or close to your home. Don’t allow strange individuals in your home that can see your safe or valuables unless necessary. Motion activated exterior lighting will discourage a burglar from spending time breaking into your home or business. As a local law enforcement officer told me once, criminals are like rats, they tend to scatter when you turn a light on. Remember that being extra careful and taking extra security precautions will keep you and your important items secure.

17. The Bitterness of Poor Quality Lingers Long After a Cheap Price is Forgotten.

Don’t buy a cheap safe to store your most prized possessions in. Most of the time you are placing your most valuable and important items that you own in the safe that you purchase. Make sure that the safe you purchase is appropriate for the items you are storing in the safe.

Thank you for visiting our website , If you are looking for more specific information according to your needs, we encourage you to contact one of our safe professionals.

The content of this document was developed through years of real world experience servicing and repairing many different types and brands of safes.  Through these years assisting our customers and consultations with other security professionals we have developed this list ,it is meant to provide general guidelines for the most commonly asked questions received from our customers about safes. Every situation may be different and unique.  

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