How much storage space do you need? For a rough gauge of how much space you need, stack everything you intend to store together. ConsumerReports.org reports that a 1.2- to 1.3-cubic-foot safe will store a 1-foot-high stack of letter-size papers.
Do you need a fire protection? If you're on the fence about whether you should buy a safe with fire protection, consider that the National Fire Protection Association says the average household will experience 5 fires in its lifetime. Most of those must be pretty small, because the NFPA also reports that the average household has "just" a one in four lifetime chance of having a fire that actually gets reported -- but one in four odds is still a surprisingly high level of risk.
Where will the safe go? If you're choosing a large safe, make sure it will fit through doorways or up the stairways in your home on its way to its final destination. Some very large and heavy safes may only be installed on a ground floor; consult the manufacturer if you're not sure where your safe can be safely put.
What do you plan to store? Electronics and media, like CDs, DVDs and photographic negatives, require a higher level of heat protection than paper documents.
What kind of lock do you want? Each lock type has its advantages and weaknesses. Keypads are simple, but depend on a power source (usually typical household batteries), and users report that the keypads on inexpensive safes often stop working eventually. Keyed locks are simpler yet, but can be picked and require you to keep track of the key, so it may be hard to give the entire family access. Many users like combination locks for their combination (no pun intended) of easy access and security.
Will you need to access items frequently? If the answer is yes, look for a model with shelves, racks or other internal organizing features that can help you quickly and conveniently retrieve what you need.
Are you concerned about aesthetics? Chrome handles and a glossy paint job are nice, but remember that ultimately, the most important measure of a safe's worth is how well it resists burglary attempts, fires and even floods. Aesthetics are even less important if you're going to hide the safe away where nobody can see it.
In 2012, Forbes.com published an alarming article by investigative attorney and security specialist Marc Weber Tobias, which included a video of a 3-year-old easily opening four locked gun safes. The article addressed the 2010 death of a toddler in Vancouver, Wash., who was shot by one of his police detective father's service weapons, which had been locked in a department-issued safe.
Tobias maintains that several gun safes on the market are not nearly as safe as gun owners -- or retailers, for that matter -- believe, and that 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 increased consumer awareness of the limitation of gun safes might help prevent more tragedies from occurring. The bottom line for gun owners is this: No matter where it's located, never leave a small child unattended in a home with a gun.
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