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Beginners Guide to Choosing a Safe

Beginners Guide to Choosing a Safe

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When it comes to home security, your choice of safe is critically important.

Regardless of home alarms, dogs, keypads and other security measures, the safe is always the last line of defence. This is where the most valuable items you own are stored, so choosing the right safe is important. The right safe is the one which is secure, trustworthy, the right size and has the right features for your needs.

Table of Contents

  • Are all safes secure?
  • Are all safes fire resistant?
  • What are my options for locking my safe?
  • How are safes rated?
  • How should a Safe be installed?
  • Will the safe be big enough for my needs?
  • How should I store cash in a safe?
  • What are safes made of?
  • Are Burton Safes any good?
  • Are Chubb Safes any good?
  • Are Churchill Safes any good?
  • Are FireKing Safes any good?
  • Are Dudley Safes any good?
  • Are De Raat Safes any good?
  • Are Sentry Safes any good?
  • Are Burg Wachter Safes any good?
  • What security codes should I not have?


Are all safes secure?

The degree of security a safe can offer does vary. Of course, a basic safe will offer security against the average thief, but thieves have been working out ways to get around safes as long as people have been making them. That’s why it’s important to get a model from a reputable manufacturer, which has been made with all the latest tricks and security measures in mind – and most importantly, a safe which has been tried and tested. Homeowners should look at safes which are marketed as ‘home safes’, as opposed to those used by shops and offices, as these will be far easier to install. A safe must be positioned in a carefully chosen point in the house.

The market for these domestic safes has risen dramatically in the last decade. More homeowners than ever have personal wealth which requires safeguarding against crime and potential disaster, such as fire. Meanwhile, advances in manufacturing mean that small, lightweight safes which are perfect for home installation are becoming more readily available and affordable. Together, these factors have resulted in better safe standards overall, with manufacturers communicating to improve their methods and keep designs as compact as possible, for residential installation. On the downside, the increase in demand has also created a market of cheap safes, designed to undercut the professionals.

For this reason, not all safes are the created equal. Homeowners need to exercise caution, because investing in an inadequate safe is a waste of money, as well as a loss of whatever’s kept inside. The most obvious counter to this is to choose well-known brands like Chubb, Burton and Churchill safes. These brands adhere to industry standards and their safes undergo rigorous testing, something which can be checked with a little research. Naturally, a branded safe will be more expensive, too. The key is balance; finding a reputable brand at a good price point, with the features you need.

Taking the Aver safe from Burton Safes as an example, this model features a three-year warranty and is only available through elite dealers. This kind of safe is professional grade and offers double protection, because not only is it high spec, but it can be well insured in the rare case that something goes wrong. All UK insurers accept safes such as this having cash ratings between £6,000 to £150,000, which offer the highest standards in security and are AIS (Association of Insurance Surveyors) approved. Always look at a safe’s rating before making a purchase.

Are all safes fire resistant?

Many homeowners choose to install a safe not just as a security measure, but as insurance against fire damage. Important documents, antiques and personal belongings cannot be replaced by a cash value in the case of theft or fire damage. This is a perfectly sensible use of a safe, but just as not all safes are equally thief-proof, not all are equally fireproof. Most safes will offer a degree of fire protection, but cheaper models may not withstand a real inferno.

The level of fire defence offered by a safe largely depends on its construction. However, plate safes provide hardly any resistance and a typical double-walled domestic safe will only give 10 to 15 minutes’ protection at relatively low temperatures. Buying a properly certified model is the best shot at true fire resistance, but new owners need to be aware that even then, there is variance between models. Some will only provide the minimum level of protection needed to claim fire resistance. Salesmen will attempt to talk this up, so it’s important to be aware of the standards and ideally see some evidence of fire resistance testing.

Fire resistance is rated in much the same way that safes are rated against burglary. There are three certificates for fire resistance in safe manufacture. These are LFS (a new European standard for safes), SP (a highly reputable Swedish laboratory) and UL (an American laboratory). Look for these initials in the description or model number of a safe to know that it has been officially tested in real-life, practical conditions. In addition to the letters, there should be numbers; 30, 60, 90 or 120 which represents how many minutes the safe can survive in a fire.

There’s a little more to be aware of. The items being protected may be a factor. For example, computer media like DVDs and USB sticks can surprisingly be more vulnerable than paper documents; according to Safelincs, paper degrades at 350 degrees Fahrenheit while digital data starts to degrade at 125 degrees. Data tapes and film are also very vulnerable. Specific, specialist safes can be purchased for these needs. The insurance rating of a safe takes the fire safety rating into account, so this is an important aspect to consider.

What are my options for locking my safe?

In addition to choosing a security safe which is tough and fireproof, it’s worth considering the options for locking. This may be secondary to the defence the safe offers, but it’s still important. Different locking methods suit different users and can affect price, security and convenience. The most basic locking mechanism is, of course, a simple key, but there are also mechanical combinations, electronic interfaces and even biometric locks. Key safes are often either budget models or incorporate a key alongside other methods. While there’s no doubt that key safes are simple and effective, lost keys can undo the entire investment or require expensive replacements.

Mechanical combination locks may conjure images of the safes seen in movies, with a numbered dial to spin. These safes have been in use for centuries and while they do provide protection, the system is very fiddly to use. Opening and closing a safe like this several times a day is a chore and professional thieves know them well. Electronic locks are the obvious alternative, using much more up-to-date methods and relying on less moving parts. A number code can be entered in seconds and is often easier to remember. However, as with many things in life, this is rarely black and white. A cheap electronic safe, costing under £100, is likely to operate via a solenoid that can be ‘bounced’ open using essential tools.

Electronic locks come into their own when looking at higher price points and reputable brands. Some allow multiple user codes, meaning that each family member who needs the safe can have their own code (making it easier to remember) and the last known user can be logged. In fact, some models will save an audit trail with a history of the lock’s usage. This is mostly a feature for commercial users, but could be useful as evidence in the case of a burglary. Advanced electronic locks can also feature time delays, time locks and remote controls! Locks by Kaba & Insys are available that can be controlled and programmed remotely by a network. This kind of system can even alert the owner when the safe is opened.

The cutting edge of safe locking, seen in spy movies, is biometric security. This is an electronic system which uses some aspect of the owner’s body, such as a thumbprint or retinal scan, to verify that the correct person is opening the safe. Biometric locks were originally very dubious, with patchy reliability, but modern technology is developing in this field and making it accessible to everyday owners. The benefits of a biometric safe are that only the correct user can open the door and there’s no code to remember or key that can be lost.

Additionally, this system leaves an irrefutable audit trail that a certain individual was present at the safe. Fingerprint locks on the recent Burton Magnum Range and from Insys (available on various Eurograde safes) are easy to use, reliable and very robust, so the future is looking bright for biometric technology.

How are safes rated?

Weighing up locking mechanisms, shape, size and security, there can be too much to consider. Thankfully, the existence of safe ratings helps a lot when making these choices. As previously mentioned, safes produced by reputable brands are given a rating or ‘cash rating’ to provide a comparable scale of how strong their protection is.
To understand how these work, it is important to know the primary purpose of a modern safe; to buy time against attack, either from fire or theft. No safe is completely thief-proof if the criminal has enough time and the appropriate tools. A safe therefore is not a guarantee of protection, but a security measure that makes it as hard and time-consuming as possible for a thief to get inside (or for a fire to damage the contents). This time allows for police intervention or for thieves to flee.

This means that insurers cannot assume that the contents of a safe are entirely protected and cannot ever be reached. The nature and value of the contents still needs to be taken into account for insurance purposes. Cash Ratings are the monetary amount an insurance underwriter would usually insure the contents of the safe for. For some valuables and most jewellery this figure would be multiplied by a factor of ten. For example, a £10,000 cash rated safe would be okay for storing that amount of currency or jewellery to the value of £100,000. Burton Safes have a great guide to this on their FAQ page.

Safes are given these ratings through testing. A safe with a recognised cash rating has been subjected to attacks in accordance with European attack test standards. This means that, in laboratory conditions, the safe has been attacked with a set list of tools by a professional who knows how to use them, replicating the amount of time a thief would need to get inside. To meet the standards, safes have to be submitted to national testing laboratories where they are attacked with a set list of tools and time taken to gain entry is recorded. A score will be awarded based on the tools used and the time that was taken.

Listed below are the different grades and their associated cash ratings:



Grade 0


Grade 1


Grade 2


Grade 3


Grade 4


Grade 5


Grade 6


Grade 7


Grade 8


Grade 9


Grade 10


Grade 11


Grade 12


Grade 12


How should a Safe be installed?

Before choosing a safe, a potential buyer must consider the practicalities of installation:

·         Would a floor safe be better than a wall safe, considering the house layout?

·         Is there a suitable part of the home’s structure that can take the weight?

These questions are important for two reasons; firstly, they affect your purchasing decision and secondly, the correct installation of a safe relies on following certain standards. Should you be in any doubt, these questions are best answered by consulting the company from which the safe is purchased.

Failing to properly adhere to official standards when installing a safe in the home can create serious problems, starting with vulnerabilities. A safe is only as safe as it’s fixings, after all. Some budget safes can be affected by tipping and impact, a process known as ‘safe bouncing’. Small safes can be removed from their fittings and stolen in their entirety, to be cracked later at the thieves’ leisure. The other main problem with poor installation is that fault for a theft can be placed at the feet of the homeowner, invalidating insurance claims.

In order to comply with official test procedures, any products which are ECB.S certified (EN14450 and EN1143) and weighing less than 1 tonne should be base fixed to a solid concrete floor. Sometimes these safes also have rear fixing, but this is only to be used for extra security, not as the only method of fixing. Only using rear fixing could contravene the safe’s insurance, so this must be verified beforehand if there’s no other choice. Safe Options will only fix an ECB.S tested safe to a wooden floor at the customer’s own risk; it is the customer’s responsibility to speak with their insurance company and find out if this will affect the rating they are given.

Tested safes from reputable manufactures will come with specific fixing bolts, supplied by the manufacturer. It is very important to only use these bolts, which are tested along with the rest of the safe, so they are proven to work. Furthermore, safes should be installed by a professional. Investing in an expensive safe only to have it cracked or damaged by fire because it came loose from its fixings would be awful. Good safe suppliers will arrange this for you or at least provide a third-party installer. Even putting security aside, safes tend to be heavy, so getting a wall safe in place (for example) can be a potentially dangerous job.

Even a freestanding safe requires caution. In this case, placement is vital. Good practice suggests situating a freestanding safe in a place with limited access, such as under the stairs or in a cupboard, or even in a cellar. This makes the safe harder to access and find; remember that a safe is technically a mechanism for buying time, making life harder for thieves. This is one of the key reasons for the purchase of underfloor safes, which are by their nature easy to hide from prying eyes.

Safe Options provides a guide to the best practices in installing a home safe, or can offer trained safe engineers to carry out the work. When it comes to floor and wall fitted safes, it’s important to pick a place which his fee from electric wires and plumbing. The area must also be able to take the weight, especially if you opt for a heavy safe, so it’s wise to consult building plans. Placing a safe against two walls is a good way to prevent it being rocked from its fixings. You can even purchase safes with internal lighting, such as certain models from Burton Safes; a useful extra if your safe is located somewhere dark, like a cellar.

Will the safe be big enough for my needs?

When you choose a safe, you should take careful note of the measurements and internal layout. This may seem like it goes without saying, but safes are often smaller than they appear due to the thickness of the walls, or they may not be a suitable shape for the items you need to store. Furthermore, it’s worth planning ahead.

Many safe models are designed with a certain task in mind, such as a laptop safe, which will typically be a little shorter than other safes, since laptops are mostly flat. This may make it unsuitable for taller items. Reputable safe dealers will list all the internal dimensions, so if you do need to store stacks of documents, other media or precious items, you can take reasonable measurements. Importantly, note that many safes have shelves, which cut the effective room in half if they are not removable. Lastly, it’s sensible to plan ahead for your likely needs over the next 20 years, especially if you’re installing a safe under the floor or in the wall.

For larger items, a strongroom may be a better option. These are constructe

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