HOT STUFF HOW TO PICK A SAFE THAT A BURGLAR CAN'T
By HANNA RUBIN

(MONEY Magazine) – IS IT RAMPANT PARANOIA? OR MERELY too many people tuning in to crime shows like Cops and Rescue 911? For whatever reason, home safes, priced anywhere from $40 to $3,000, are hot. Though the industry, which consists almost entirely of privately held companies, is secretive about overall sales, experts told us that sales to homes grew by at least 10% a year over the past five years, to more than $100 million.

Two undeniable factors propel the growth: the proliferation of home offices, which often require places to stash cash and valuable documents, and the rising number of homes that are empty much of the day while both spouses are off working.

If you want a safe, first decide what you are thinking of protecting against: fire, theft or both. Safes built primarily to withstand fire are relatively cheap, though they may be little match for a wicked crowbar. Expect to pay between $40 for a small, no-frills model like Sentry's 1100 and $500 for a big, fancy one with two file drawers and an hour's worth of fire protection. Safes built to foil burglars tend to carry more armor and higher price tags. You'll pay between $200 and $3,000, depending on the safe's size and sophistication. The Amsec DXE 2420 safe, for example, has an interior that measures 24 inches by 20 inches by 20 inches and sells for $2,640.

To get a sense of how much protection your money will buy, check the Underwriters Laboratories ratings found on many safes. Fire safes are rated by how many minutes they can withstand direct heat and still maintain an internal temperature of less than 350ûF, well below the 450ûF point at which paper might char. For example, a safe with a one-hour rating can take the heat that long. Usually, that's more than enough time for the fire department to arrive.

Many burglary safes carry TL, or tool-resistant, ratings that show how long their doors can withstand continuous assault with power and hand-held tools. A rating of TL-15, for example, means the safe could tough it out for at least 15 minutes. Bill Phillips, president of the International Association of Home Safety and Security Professionals, says that's enough for most home needs. To keep thieves from simply carting them off, TL-15 burglary safes can weigh more than 750 pounds.

Hybrid safes that protect against fire and offer some protection against burglary are a more recent innovation. The $985 Gardall Z1812, for example, consists of a burglary chest that fits inside a fire safe. The interior dimensions on the safe are 9ç inches by 12è inches by 9 inches.

Several makers, including Sentry and American Security Products, sell media safes to protect computer disks, which can be damaged at temperatures as low as 125ûF. A media safe capable of keeping heat at bay for one hour can range from $70 to as high as $1,300, depending on its capacity.

--Hanna Rubin