A fire or break-in can quickly go from terrible to disastrous if essential documents like birth certificates, Social Security cards, and passports are stolen or destroyed. The best fireproof safes offer at least 30 minutes of fire protection and the durability to keep thieves out. They’re also a good way to organize and keep track of the most sensitive information in your home.
Fireproof safes can include a number of useful features like biometric locks, backup locks, alarms, fire ratings, and water resistance. Your budget, capacity needs, and available space will help you determine which safe will best keep your valuables secure.
- BEST OVERALL: SentrySafe SFW123GDC Fireproof and Waterproof Safe
- RUNNER-UP: TIGERKING Security Home Safe
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Honeywell Safes & Door Locks 30 Minute Fire Safe
- BEST WITH ALARM: SentrySafe SFW205UPC Fire Chests
- BEST SAFE BOX: Honeywell Safes & Door Locks 6104 Fire Resistant Box
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Fireproof Safe
Fire and theft are at the top of most people’s home security concerns. Some safes protect better from one than the other. And then there are those safes that protect from both. Water damage is another issue at the top of many people’s minds, and there are safes that offer some water resistance in addition to their other protective capabilities. What you want to protect and what or who you want to protect it from can help you determine the right capacity, locking mechanism, and fire rating for your safe.
- Key lock: Plain and simple describes these locking mechanisms. However, you need to keep track of the key. If it’s kept in the room with the safe, it could get destroyed in a fire or be found by burglars.
- Mechanical combination lock: There’s no key management involved with a mechanical lock combination, nor do you have to worry about a dead battery or electronic malfunction. Some mechanical locks also have a key lock to use in an emergency. However, you’re more limited in the choice of combinations with a mechanical combination lock.
- Electronic combination lock: These locks have more password options, and you don’t have to worry about losing the key. However, some models need periodic battery changes. Like mechanical locks, some electronic combination locks come with a security key in case you forget the code.
- Biometric lock: Biometric locks use a fingerprint or retina scan to open the safe. You don’t have to remember a code or keep track of a key. Some may have a key as a backup security measure.
Most safes are made of thick steel sheets. The sheets, which can be several centimeters thick, give the safe its heavy weight. However, these aren’t just any sheets of steel. Safes contain plates made from both hard steel and mild steel. Heat can cause hard plates to crack, exposing the contents to hot temperatures. Mild steel warps rather than cracks, protecting the contents even as temperatures rise.
Fire safes are also constructed with a layer made of a nonconductive composite material that prevents the interior temperature from rising for 30 to 120 minutes. Fire-resistant insulation is also often used to help keep those interior temperatures down.
However, steel isn’t the only material used to make fireproof safes. ABS plastic and various resins are used as well. These two materials are lighter weight and are typically used to make smaller, more portable safes.
Size and Capacity
Start your search for a fireproof safe by making a list of what you want to put in the safe. If you have valuable jewelry or other irreplaceable items, a bank lockbox offers the best protection. Passports, birth certificates, Social Security cards, insurance policies, and tax returns are also valuable documents that could pose a problem if lost to theft or fire.
Take a look at your list and make sure the safe will hold everything on it. For example, firearms take up more space than documents or DVDs.
Size also plays a role in where you can put the safe. Obviously, larger safes are harder to hide and easier to spot. If you want to keep the safe hidden, consider a small model that more easily fits in a closet, crawl space, or under floorboards. Keep in mind that small safes are vulnerable to theft if they’re not hidden.
UL and Fire Ratings
In truth, no safe is 100 percent fireproof. Safes are fire resistant only up to a certain temperature and for a certain amount of time.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) evaluates safes and gives them a fire rating. These ratings indicate two things—the maximum temperature at which the safe can maintain a safe interior temperature and the length of time the safe can hold that temperature.
The interior temperature determines the kinds of materials the safe can protect. For example, the interior of a paper document safe shouldn’t get hotter than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above that, and the paper will burn. However, electronics may not be able to withstand temperatures of more than 125 to 150 degrees.
The UL rating also indicates how long the safe can hold that interior temperature. Most home fireproof safes offer at least 30 minutes of protection. That may not sound long, but most fires move through a room in less than 20 minutes. For additional peace of mind, however, some safes offer up to 120 minutes of fire protection.
Waterproof safes indicate how long they can protect their contents from water as well as the depth at which they can maintain that protection. Most resist water for approximately 24 hours, but some may offer up to 72 hours of water protection in water that’s 8 to 40 inches deep. However, if you live in a flood-prone area, it’s a good idea to put the contents of the safe in waterproof bags, whether the safe is rated for water protection or not.
Some safes also offer humidity resistance, which can protect items or documents that are sensitive to subtle environmental changes.
Usability features include display visibility, weight, and the safe’s overall portability. LED displays are much easier to see in dim conditions. Considering that safes are often stored in dark, secure areas, a display that’s easy to see will make the safe more functional.
Some safes are portable with a top or side handle for easy carrying. These small safes may weigh 25 to 30 pounds. Others weigh over 100 pounds and would take two people to move.
Tips for Buying and Using a Fireproof Safe
The items you want to protect, your available space, and the threats from which you want to protect your items will help you determine the right safe for you. Here are a few more tips to help you find the perfect safe and use it to its best advantage.
- Install the safe above ground level (not in a basement) to reduce the chances of water damage during a flood.
- The first level of a multistory home offers the best protection from fire.
- Safes that come with a bolting system are designed to be attached to the floor or exterior wall for added security.
- Do not keep the safe in plain sight. As part of a comprehensive plan to keep your home and its contents secure, store your safe in a place that’s inconspicuous or hidden.
- Look for a safe that’s “UL listed” or “ETL verified.” These labels indicate that they’ve been tested by and passed third-party scrutiny.
Our Top Picks
The safes on this list offer a wide range of features and perform well under UL or ETL testing. Some models have extra features like alarms, while others offer biometric entry. Safes of different sizes are included to accommodate the wide range of circumstances under which you might need to secure documents or personal items.
The SentrySafe SFW123GDC ticks all of the boxes for the safekeeping of sensitive information. Its UL rating indicates that it can keep the 1.23 cubic feet of interior space at a safe temperature for paper documents, DVDs, and USB drives for up to 60 minutes in temperatures up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Burglars will have a hard time cracking this egg since it can also withstand a 15-foot drop without breaking. And the SFW123GDC resists water for 24 hours in depths up to 8 inches.
You can set your own digital combination but also have the assurance of access with a backup locking key. On the interior, you’re looking at a locked drawer and shelves to organize your documents and valuables. Interior lights illuminate the contents in the dark. The safe also comes with bolt-down hardware to secure it from thieves. At 87 pounds, it’s not lightweight. It also requires four AA batteries to run the lock mechanism and interior light.
The TIGERKING Security Home Safe not only lets you choose your digital combination, but it also has a multilevel safety system. There’s an emergency override key in case you forget your code. However, you can also set a secondary lock that requires a master key. Even if someone were to get the code and the override key, they could not enter the safe if the secondary lock is in place.
If someone tries to input the wrong code three times in a row, a dual-level alarm system goes off using vibration and an audible alarm. The ample interior size and removable shelves let you adjust the configuration to fit your needs. It also includes an interior lockbox for one more level of security. Weighing in at 60 pounds, it’s lighter than safes of similar size, but you still get 2.05 cubic feet of space to store your valuables. One thing this safe lacks, however, is water resistance.
This small 0.15-cubic-foot safe offers excellent fire and water protection at a reasonable price. The UL fire-protection rating indicates that it can withstand temperatures up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. When locked, it creates a waterproof seal that keeps the interior dry in 39 inches of water for up to 24 hours.
The key lock is simple to use and fast to open, while a carrying handle lets you tote the 19 pounds of safe plus contents wherever you need to go. The design also allows it to hold documents, CDs, DVDs, and flash drives full of your irreplaceable memories and information.
The SFW205UPC offers an audible alarm for a wide array of tampering situations, such as when:
- The safe is picked up or moved.
- The door is pried open.
- Five consecutive unsuccessful code attempts are entered.
Many safes sound an alarm only with unsuccessful code entries, but this model covers a wide range of potential scenarios that could otherwise end with stolen valuables or information.
The SFW205UPC also offers impressive protection from other disasters. Steel-encased fire insulation withstands temperatures up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 minutes. The list of features goes on, with 24 hours of water protection in up to 8 inches of water and a dual key that lets you disable the primary lock even if someone knows the code. Fire, water, thieves—this safe protects from all of them. With 2 cubic feet of space, you’ve got room for plenty of valuables.
The Honeywell 6104’s double steel walls with fire-resistant insulation create a protective chamber for cash, documents, or a few small valuables. It comes with two keys so you can keep them in separate locations and always maintain easy access.
A hidden hinge resists tampering, while a carrying handle lets you take the light 5-pound box with you to trade shows, on trips, or between work and home. This box’s padded bottom cushions the contents to protect them from falls and scrapes. The durability and fire resistance enable this box to provide extra security while on the go.
FAQs About Fireproof Safes
Fireproof safes aren’t particularly complicated. But if you’re new to them, you probably have a few questions. We’ve got the answers to common questions along with tips to help you better protect your sensitive information and belongings.
Q. Where should I put my safe?
The size of the safe will narrow down your options. Look for a low-traffic area that’s not easily seen or noticed. Someplace outside of the master bedroom is a good choice since that’s usually where thieves start their search. A guest bedroom or hall closet are good options. However, avoid the garage or basement. Garages tend to be left unsecured and make an easy target for thieves to carry away a safe. Water easily floods basements, making them a less-than-ideal choice.
Q. Do thieves steal safes?
Thieves do steal safes. Determined thieves may even be able to open one despite complex locking mechanisms. A poorly made safe may open when dropped only a few feet, for example. The more deterrents the safe offers, the more likely thieves are to leave it alone. An audible alarm may be enough to scare off a jittery burglar.
Q. Are all safes fireproof?
Not all safes are fireproof. Some safes are designed specifically to deter theft, while others may protect from water damage rather than fire or theft. Some protect from all three. If you want a safe that protects from fire, you need to specifically look for one designed for that purpose.
Q. What is a UL fire rating?
A UL fire rating comes from the Underwriters Laboratories and is a rating of temperature and time. This organization tests safes to determine both the maximum exterior temperature at which the safe can hold a safe interior temperature and for how long it can maintain that temperature. Be sure to buy a safe that’s “UL listed,” not “tested to UL standards.” The former means the safe has passed the UL tests, while the latter means the safe has been submitted but has not yet passed the safety tests.
Q. What does “ETL verified” mean?
Intertek inspects and tests products for safety and gives an ETL verification for those that pass. Much like the UL, they test safes for fire and water safety. An ETL verification is also a good indicator of a safe’s quality and safety.