For storing home documents, photos and backup media that wouldn't interest a burglar, the simplest solution is a small home safe that resists fire (and the water firefighters use), even when left unlocked. By leaving the safe closed but unlocked, you can also minimize the risk that a burglar will carry off the whole safe, not realizing that there's nothing with resale value inside.
One example is the SentrySafe Waterproof Fire Chest H2300 (*Est. $45). The safe is relatively easy to handle at just under 25 pounds, and it provides 0.36 cubic feet of interior storage -- accommodating regular-size paper laid flat. This home safe earns mostly positive ratings from more than 50 owners reviewing it at Amazon.com, and it has been tested by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Intertek Testing Services. Protection is deemed sufficient to keep documents, CDs, DVDs, USB drives and memory cards at a safe temperature (350 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler) for up to 30 minutes in fires that are as hot as 1,550 degrees Fahrenheit. The H2300 home safe is also waterproof, and it it is ETL-certified to provide one hour of protection from moisture.
If you need something larger, The SentrySafe Waterproof Fire File H3300 (*Est. $105) earns the same UL and ETL ratings as the H2300 -- water resistance plus half an hour of fire protection from fires up to 1,550 degrees Fahrenheit. This safe earns mostly positive reviews; owners praise its roomy 1.29 cubic-foot interior and ability to hold hanging file folders. The main drawback -- aside from higher price -- is that it weighs 75 pounds. It has side grips but no handle.
There are few caveats to the protection these safes provide. One is that they are not rated for impact resistance. Some owners suggest protecting these safes from falling objects -- including collapsing ceilings in a major fire -- by storing them in a closed cabinet. Also, while the safes are water-resistant, the insulation is apt to still soak up a little moisture, building up dampness inside. That's why owners encourage others to follow manufacturer's recommendations to store contents in plastic bags and to keep dry silica gel packets inside these safes.
The main complaints from owners about these SentrySafe home safes have to do with the water-resistant closure, which some users say makes them difficult to open and close. However, many owners report that it's simple once you read the instructions and catch onto the procedure. None of these home safes is designed to be burglar-resistant and they cannot be bolted down. The safes do come with tubular keys, but owners recommend leaving the safes unlocked to prevent a burglar from just carrying them off.
If keeping papers private is crucial, you can opt for a fire-resistant and water-resistant home safe that can be bolted down, such as the SentrySafe Combination MSW3110 (*Est. $150). It has ETL certification for moderate resistance to impacts, and UL testing shows that it can keep the contents at a safe temperature in fires as hot as 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit for up to an hour. The combination lock is designed for privacy from casual inquiry, but it won't withstand a motivated burglar.
This budget home safe earns reasonably good reviews from owners at Walmart.com, though some complain about the lock -- especially those who were expecting burglar resistance. The lock can be tricky to learn to use, and it doesn't win high marks for quality control or accuracy.
If you need to store valuables at home, look for a burglar-resistant home safe that's earned the UL Residential Security Container (RSC) rating. This means the safe is tested to resist break-ins with ordinary manual tools (such as a pry bar) for at least five minutes.
The burglar-resistant Gardall FB-1212 (*Est. $640) has the UL RSC rating and is UL-rated to keep its contents safe (at less than 350 degrees Fahrenheit) for up to one hour in fires up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. It also has a Korean Industrial Standard (KS) rating for two hours of fire resistance. The Gardall FB-1212 home safe comes predrilled with a kit for bolting it into place -- though owners note that this is a tricky job because of the safe's 205-pound weight. The combination lock has the UL Group II rating for burglar resistance, and if it's tampered with, a backup locking system falls into place. Some retailers offer a digital electronic lock as an extra option (*Est. $150).
The Gardall FB-1212 is one of the least expensive home safes to earn positive reviews and is rated for burglar resistance as well as impact, fire and water resistance. The tradeoff for burglar resistance is a small interior space -- because the steel walls and door are so thick. Though the safe's exterior measures 17.75 inches in height and width, the walls reduce the interior storage space to about a 12-inch cube.
We didn't find any comparison tests of fireproof home safes, but standardized testing and certification procedures plus owner-written reviews make it possible to find the best bets. We found the most useful explanations of home safe testing and certification procedures at Wikipedia and K.L. Security Enterprises. Major manufacturers such as SentrySafe and Gardall also provide helpful guides to matching a home safe with specific needs for protection. Look to retail sites such as Amazon.com, Walmart.com and EverySafe.com for the best selection of user reviews.