The best fireproof home safe has

  • Clear information on the packaging. Don't assume a safe can protect against fire and water. Look for those features to be spelled out on the safe's packaging.
  • The ability to be bolted to the floor, if you're looking for burglar protection. Portable safes that cannot be bolted down are suitable more for fire protection than burglar protection.
  • Ratings verified by third-party testing organizations. If you're looking for fire or water protection, this is a guarantee that the safe will protect your items.
  • A fire rating of at least 30 minutes, in the case of fire-protected models. Experts say this time period should be sufficient to protect your valuables, but some safes are rated for up to an hour's worth of protection.
  • Sturdy construction. Gun safes should be constructed of 12-gauge steel at a minimum; 7- to 10-gauge steel is even better.
  • A touch door to crack. The door should be at least ¼ inch of solid-plate steel or a composite equivalent. One-half inch of steel is even better.

Know before you go

How much storage space do you need? advises gathering all the items you need to store and then measuring the pile you've created. A 1.2- to 1.3-cubic-foot safe will store a 1-foot-high stack of letter-size papers.

Do you need fire protection? If you're on the fence, consider that households have a one-in-four chance of suffering a fire large enough to warrant calling the fire department, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Where will the safe go? If you're choosing a large safe, make sure it will fit through doorways or on the stairways of your home on its way to the basement, top floor or other room in your home.

What do you plan to store? Electronics and media, like DVDs, need a higher level of heat protection than paper documents.

What kind of lock do you want? Keypads are simple, but they tend to die over time, and key locks can be broken into; combination locks may be the most secure.

Do you intend to store fragile items? If so, a carpeted interior can be a helpful feature.

Will you need to access items frequently? If the answer is yes, look for a model with key racks or other internal organizing features that can help you conveniently retrieve what you need.

Are you concerned about aesthetics? Chrome handles and a glossy paint job are nice for a gun safe, but if you're going to hide the model away, you can save money by opting for a dull-paint version.

What's to come

About a year and a half ago, published an alarming article by contributor Marc Weber Tobias that included a video showing a 3-year-old easily opening four locked gun safes. Tobias was prompted to write the article by the 2010 death of a toddler in Vancouver, Wash., who was shot by one of his detective father's service weapons, which had been locked in a department-issued safe. Tobias maintains that several gun safes now on the market are not nearly as safe as gun owners -- or retailers, for that matter -- believe, and their locks can easily be breached with paper clips, wire or even a simple bounce of the unit. It's hard to predict what will come of this story, but more awareness on the part of consumers regarding the limitations of gun safes will hopefully prevent more tragedies from occurring.

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