A good safe lives up to its name by keeping your important documents and belongings protected. A quality model can guard its contents from theft, fire and water alike, making it a recommended item for many homes. But do you need a safe, and if so, how should you go about choosing and buying one? Read on for a guide on selecting a safe. 

Before shopping for a safe, you should stop to consider whether a safe is even the right solution for your needs. While less convenient, a safe deposit box at a bank (about $15-500/year depending on size) is often more secure than a home safe. For documents where original copies aren’t necessary, keeping digital copies backed up online or stored in an online “cloud” document service like Google Drive or Dropbox can be both cheap and secure. A home safe is the best solution for storing physical items and original documents that you need to access regularly.


Safes range in size from small containers suitable for storing a stack of documents to large boxes that can hold firearms or other large items. Capacities are typically measured in cubic feet. Pile up everything you plan to store and multiply the length, width and height to find out how much cubic storage space you need.

Fire protection

One in four people will experience a major home fire in their lifetimes, making fire protection an important feature in a safe. Fire resistant safes are generally rated for how long they can safely withstand a fire as well as the maximum temperature the interior will reach. Although it may seem short, a safe that offers 30 minutes of fire protection can endure most fast-moving house fires. Depending on what you plan to store in the safe, you’ll want to select a safe with the appropriate max interior temperature.

  • 350 °F max: protects paper documents
  • 150 °F max: protects tape recordings and 35mm slides
  • 125 °F max: protects memory cards, CDs and DVDs

Burglary protection

While no safe is absolutely theft proof, most offer varying levels of protection. Although burglary-resistance ratings exist for safes, such as ratings for how long a product can withstand safe-breaking tools, they’re uncommon to find on consumer safes. Thankfully, most thieves won’t bother with anything that can’t be easily carried off, making safes that are heavy or can be bolted to the floor more secure. Some safes can be concealed in walls or mimic furniture to make them harder for thieves to notice.

Water protection

Protection from water is another important feature to consider. A safe that’s rated to survive multiple days underwater might be necessary if there’s a chance you may be unable to access your immediately following a flood.


Safes vary in price based on size, protection and other features. A small “fire chest” with space for some small items and documents can be had for about $25. Medium sized safes range from around $150 to $300. Heavy duty safes such as those large enough for long guns range into the high hundreds and over a thousand dollars.


Safes can be purchased from home improvement stores, big box retailers and hunting outfitters as well as online retailers such as Amazon.com. Due to the substantial weight of larger models, be sure to factor in shipping charges when shopping online.


Consider storing your safe where it will be hard for burglars to find (master bedrooms are a common target) and where it will be least exposed to flood waters (lower levels) or fire heat (near flammable materials). See this list for suggested items to keep in your safe. Limit who you tell about your safe’s existence and location, and keep it concealed from third parties such as housekeepers and repair workers who may have access to your home.

Peace of mind doesn’t always come cheap, but by choosing the right safe, you can make a wise investment in protecting your important possessions.