A good home safe is a must to protect your irreplaceable valuables or jewelry from theft and damage. It can also safeguard important documents like birth certificates, social security cards, and other vital records that can be hard to duplicate if lost or damaged.
Of all the fireproof home safes we evaluated, the SentrySafe SFW123DTB (Est. $160) offers the best combination of fire and water protection at a good value, plus a few effective anti-theft measures. It's UL classified to survive up to one hour in a 1700 degree fire, and also UL tested not to explode or rupture when exposed to a flash fire in a 2000 degree furnace for 30 minutes.
The SentrySafe SFW123DTB home safe is ETL verified for 15 feet of impact resistance in a fire (important because this simulates the performance of a super-heated safe that may fall through a floor or have a beam fall on it). With a guarantee that the interior won't exceed 350 degrees, the SFW123DTB is also certified for protection of USB drives, CDs, DVDs and portable hard drives for up to an hour. However, it can't protect photo negatives or floppy disks in a fire because they're susceptible to heat damage at lower temperatures than some other media. Some prospective buyers misconstrue this to mean that you can't store any electronics or media at all, but, in fact, it will effectively protect the above listed items. You also shouldn't store pearls in this safe, because they sustain damage at relatively low temperatures.
The SentrySafe SFW123DTB is also flood proof to a certain degree, with ETL-verified water-resistance for up to 24 hours in up to 8 inches of water. That waterproofing goes away, however, if you drill into the safe to mount it to the floor as a theft deterrent (the bolt-down kit is included).
That's an impressive selection of disaster-proofing at a great price, and the SFW123DTB has a few anti-theft measures built in as well, including the pre-marked bolt holes and bolt-down kit, steel construction and pry-resistant hinges. However, the manufacturer doesn't disclose how thick the steel is, and it's likely that much of this safe's 90-pound weight is due to the heavy, moist fire-resistant insulation, not steel; so it's best to think of this as a disaster-proof safe rather than a theft-proof safe. Many home users take the extra step of hiding the safe in a closet to make it a less obvious target for would-be thieves.
Although the SentrySafe SFW123DTB represents a stellar value in disaster-proofing, there are a few quirks you should be aware of. Users are sometimes surprised to see that both the safe handle and the outer dial on the combination lock are made of plastic and feel a little flimsy; happily, these cosmetic parts don't have anything to do with actually locking the safe -- but you do need them to open it.
Also, SentrySafe's proprietary fireproof insulation, combined with the airtight/waterproof seal on the safe, produces quite a lot of condensation inside. Leave the desiccant package that comes with the safe inside, and consider adding more; and if you store electronics, watches, jewelry, photos or firearms in the this safe, they should be put into airtight containers first, to protect them from the condensation. SentrySafe offers a fire protection program that will replace up to $50,000 worth of belongings if they're lost to a fire while in the safe -- but you do have to enroll first. They'll also send you a replacement safe if the one you bought is damaged in a fire.
Many users like the backup key lock on this safe, which can be used to provide extra security to the sometimes-fiddly combination lock. Note that it's not an override key that can open the safe if you forget the combination; it's just an extra layer of security. Also, you can't set your own combination -- you're stuck with whatever the factory issued.
If you don't like the dial combination lock, this safe is also available as the SentrySafe SFW123FUL (Est. $250); essentially the same safe, plus an electronic keypad lock and interior light. However, many users say that the electronic keypad doesn't always last a long time, and customer support for this safe gets very mixed reviews, whereas people are usually pretty happy with the customer support on SentrySafe's smaller fireproof products.
This line of safes has an interior capacity of 1.23 cubic feet, and users are sometimes surprised by how small the interior is: It measures 13.8 inches by 12.6 inches by 11.9 inches, or just large enough to hold tabbed file folders. There's a door pocket and key rack for quick access to small items, and one adjustable interior shelf tray that users say seems a little flimsy, so only use it for light items.
Most of the varied model numbers on this line of safes simply designate different lock types or interior configurations. For example, the SentrySafe SFW123DEB (Est. $250) is essentially the same safe with a shelf instead of a tray and the addition of a locking inner tray/top-access drawer, which can also act as an additional shelf. You can also purchase extra trays, shelves and drawers for any of these safes separately.
If you're not particularly concerned about fireproofing, the all-steel Mesa Safe MHRC916E-BLK (Est. $130) hotel safe makes a small, affordable anti-theft deterrent for in-home use. You'll want to spend some quality time with the manual, though: It offers a complicated array of options that take a little while to sort out, including programming your own four-digit access code on the keypad, a six-digit override code, or swiping almost any card with a magnetic stripe -- including credit cards and some driver's licenses -- to open it.
All told, users say this small safe is very well-built and that Mesa provides excellent customer service. Its capacity is 1.2 cubic feet -- about the same as the larger SentrySafe models we just discussed -- and it's impact-rated for extra theft resistance, but it's not fireproof.
The Mesa MHRC916E-BLK's interior is relatively spacious compared to thick-walled fire safes. It measures 8-7/8 inches by 17-3/4 inches by 12-5/8 inches inside, and users are thrilled that it can hold 15-inch laptops. It's also well-lit inside, with removable interior carpet, and it has concealed hinges and pre-drilled holes for mounting on the wall, floor or a pedestal. You'll need four AA batteries to run the keypad.
Portable safes are a good alternative for those who need to transport valuables, or may have just a small number of items or documents to protect. Each of the small safes we're highlighting here is rated for some degree of fire protection, and they're small enough that you can -- to some degree -- just grab them and go in an emergency. However, their small size and portability means that even if a thief can't break into them on the spot, they can simply be carried away; so they're not great theft deterrents. Many owners hide these small safes to reduce the chance of them being stolen.
Of the portable fire safes we evaluated, the SentrySafe 1200 (Est. $20) fire-safe chest draws the best reviews for being able to stand up to a fire. It's UL classified to survive up to half an hour in fire temperatures of up to 1550 degrees Fahrenheit, and ETL verified for keeping internal temperatures low enough to protect USB drives, CDs, DVDs and portable hard drives. It's also an excellent value.
This is one of the few products where we actually see an owner review from someone who had it in a fire. That user writes that although the box itself was "neatly seared" after what the fire marshal estimated as 10 to 15 minutes of exposure, everything inside the box survived just fine. However, If this box is in a fire, it seals itself shut and will have to be pried open; SentrySafe will send you another fire chest to replace the old one.
One place the SentrySafe 1200 does not excel is burglary protection, but that's not what it's designed for; after all, it's deliberately built small enough that you can pick it up and run in case of a house fire. We also found a few scattered complaints about durability for the key-lock mechanism, but users say SentrySafe's customer service did a good job of replacing defective products.
Owners are sometimes surprised by just how small this fire-safe box is: The interior capacity is just .18 cubic feet, or 3.5 inches by 12 inches by 7.5 inches, so it's long enough but not quite wide enough to lay a letter-size piece of paper flat. Most people use this small, 14-pound box for storing small but important documents -- like birth certificates, social security cards and passports -- and sometimes even for securing prescription medication, although there's no rating to say whether it can protect meds through a fire. A similar lock chest is also available, the .17 cubic foot the SentrySafe H0100 (Est. $30) that is ETL verified for water submersion in case of a flood.
SentrySafe offers a larger, .36-cubic-foot version of the SentrySafe 1200, the SentrySafe CHW30100 (Est. $50) that is large enough to hold letter-size papers laid flat, as long as they're not in bulky organizers; it weighs 26 pounds.
If you want a larger fireproof box, consider the SentrySafe FHW40220 (Est. $130) large file safe, which is UL classified for fire endurance for up to half an hour at 1550 degrees. It's also ETL verified for a half-hour of fire protection for digital media, UL classified against explosion hazards, and ETL verified for water submersion in case of flood or water from fire-fighting efforts.
The biggest thing to be aware of with the SentrySafe FHW40220 file box is that its fireproof insulation has a high moisture content, which is part of what makes the safe so heavy). Although this offers excellent fireproof protection, users are sometimes dismayed to see that the manufacturer recommends against storing anything that might be damaged by that moisture -- including firearms, stamps, photos, watches and other jewelry with moving parts -- inside the safe. Some readers store these items anyway, placing them in airtight plastic bags -- often with a desiccant inside -- to protect against that moisture.
With an interior capacity of .66 cubic feet, users say the fireproof and waterproof SentrySafe FHW40220 file box is large enough to hold several dozen full letter-size file folders (hanging or non-hanging) or four reams of paper, and it has a pair of straps in the lid to help secure smaller items. It comes with built-in carry handles on the side and isn't meant to be bolted down -- so technically it's still portable -- but at about 44 pounds while empty, you probably won't be moving it around much. Owners are sometimes surprised by how thick the safe's walls are: Its interior dimensions are just 11.6 inches by 12 inches by 8.1 inches.
Another excellent portable fireproof box is the Honeywell 1104 (Est. $90) fire/water chest. This hefty file box is large enough to hold both letter and legal papers laid flat or in file folders, and it's UL rated for surviving up to an hour of fire exposure at 1700 degrees while maintaining internal temperatures of less than 350 degrees -- good enough for storing valuable paper documents, but not electronics, pearls, firearms or other combustibles. The manufacturer says it's also independently tested for up to 24 hours of submersion in water, but doesn't indicate which company did the testing.
On the downside, this is another fireproof safe where the high moisture content of the insulation translates to high moisture content inside the safe, and even more moisture if it's actually in a fire. (The evaporation of that moisture is what helps keep the safe's contents cool.) The manufacturer even recommends occasionally airing it out for 30 minutes to keep too much moisture from building up inside. Some users choose to seal their belongings in airtight containers instead, as protection against the moisture -- but it's not clear how those containers react in case of fire.
As often happens with fireproof file boxes, some users are confused about this safe's primary purpose and expect it to be theft-proof. Although its size and weight -- 56 pounds while empty -- might deter featherweight burglars from toting it off, it's still technically portable, and the key lock isn't built to withstand entry attempts; just fire and water. Your best theft deterrent with this sort of safe is keeping it hidden out of sight, although several users are disappointed to find it's too large to fit under the bed.
The interior dimensions of this safe are 38 inches by 14.8 inches by 12 inches, and it's worth noting that the very heavy lid comes with a hydraulic cylinder to keep it from slamming shut. That cylinder only works if you open the lid completely, though; and when you're closing it, support the lid until the cylinder kicks in to lower it gently. The Honeywell 1104 is protected by a 7-year limited warranty, and a lifetime replacement policy after a fire.