Cornerstone Blog

Home Safes: Protecting Your Valuables


When it comes to remodeling or renovating your home, it’s often the little things you might overlook in the grand plan. Often, the little things are the most important.

One thing we often suggest to customers is the installation of a home safe. Whether you have precious jewelry, a rare coin collection or just important papers you need keep close a hand, a home safe is one part of a remodeling project that can give you peace of mind.

Here are some tips about safes:

Determine the size

Pile everything you plan to put in your safe and measure the pile. A pretty common home-safe capacity is 1.2-1.3 cubic feet, which can hold a stack of 8½- by 11-inch papers a foot high.

What type of protection do you need?

Most home safes are designed to protect their contents from fire, theft, or both. Some also offer water resistance. Here are some of the ways they evaluate them:

Fire resistance

Fire is the No. 1 concern of most buyers. The National Fire Protection Association says that during an average lifetime, there’s a one in four chance of experiencing a household fire large enough to warrant calling the fire department.

Companies UL and Intertek rate fire-resistant safes in terms of what type of material they’ll protect and how long they’ll protect it. For example, safes rated to protect paper documents shouldn’t get any hotter than 350 degrees on the inside during a fire. If you plan to store old tape recordings or 35mm slides, however, you’ll want a safe that’s rated not to exceed 150 degrees inside. Computer disks and DVDs are even more sensitive, so if that’s what you’ll be storing look for a safe whose interior won’t exceed 125 degrees. This information should be on the safe itself, and you might see it on the packaging as well.

For home safes, 30 minutes of protection is most common, although you can also find safes that offer one or more hours’ worth. Generally speaking, 30 minutes should be sufficient, as fires usually move through rooms in 20 minutes.

Burglary protection

Independent ratings for burglary resistance are less common for home safes than for ones made for commercial users, such as jewelry stores. To determine their burglary-resistance ratings, UL testers go at safes with tools, torches, and even explosives. A TL-15 rated safe, for example, can withstand an attack of at least 15 minutes using common tools.

While most home safes don’t carry a rating for burglary resistance, they do, as a practical matter, provide some protection as they slow down would-be burglars who usually grab an armful of whatever they can and get out of there.

A 1.2 or 1.3 cubic-foot safe probably weighs about 100 pounds empty, making it a less attractive target than jewelry, cameras, small electronics, and other more portable items a burglar might spot. Many safes also come with bolt-down kits, a further deterrent to thieves in a hurry. Other safes can be concealed in a wall or anchored in a concrete floor, during your remodeling or renovation.

Water resistance

Protection against water tends to be an added feature of home safes that are also fire- or theft-resistant. Intertek puts a “verified” mark on safes that meet their manufacturers’ criteria for water resistance. Some safes are submerged to simulate the effects of a flood or broken water line.

Where to put your safe

The best place for your safe will depend on the design of your house, but there are some things to think about. The master bedroom tends to be the first stop for burglars, so it might not be the ideal site for the safe. Your basement could be better from a fire-protection standpoint; there’s usually less down there to burn. But if your home is located in a flood-prone area, the safe might be at greater risk in the basement.

What else to keep in it

The table below, from Consumer Reports, lists some important documents you might want to keep in a safe. And the Insurance Information Institute points out that a home safe can be a good place to store an inventory of your possessions … just in case.

What to stash in your safe

Document How long to keep
Birth and death certificates Forever
Estate-planning documents Forever (Unless your executor knows how to get into your safe, also make sure he or she and your lawyer have copies)
Life-insurance policies Until the term of coverage ends
Savings bonds Until you cash them in at maturity (30 years in the case of Series EE bonds)
Stock certificates Until you sell the stock or have it converted to direct or street-name registration
Tax returns At least seven years

Cornerstone Builders can handle all your renovation needs: kitchen remodeling, bath remodeling or general remodeling and can also advise you where the best site for your safe is and then install it for you, with our licensed, insured and bonded workers. Just call us for an on-site consultation.