Lock and Load
You don't have to be wealthy to own a safe--just smart. We hammered away to find the best one.
(MONEY Magazine) – Much of the world has gone digital, but that doesn't mean there aren't important papers still floating around your house. There are birth and stock certificates, wills, deeds--not to mention items that haven't been digitally replaced: jewelry, silver, pictures of Dad when he was in the service.
So why don't you own a safe, exactly? You have a smoke detector, right? You may even have a burglar alarm. And yet if either of these things should go off, your valuables are left out in the open. A home safe seems like a simple enough answer (and in the long run, a cheaper alternative to a safe-deposit box), but some models cost less than $200, while others are $1,000. What's the safe bet?
First, a home safe isn't a walk-in vault--about one cubic foot of storage should be enough. All the safes I tested are certified by independent labs to maintain an interior temperature of no more than 350° for one to two hours in a fire, but I wanted to see how well they took a pounding. Though some safes shrugged it off, others looked virtually demolished. Their locks held, just barely--a determined thief could have breached them in a comparatively short amount of time. Stephen Barrett, a vault technician in San Diego, suggests safes that use a Group II lock, which has three tumblers. "Anything less isn't as secure," he says.
Barrett also recommends safes that are equipped with relock devices, which do just that if a thief tries to remove the main lock. And stay clear of wall safes, he says; they typically are not fire-resistant. In addition, while digital locks are convenient, they can be problematic. "All that wiring can melt in a fire, and you'll have a heck of a time getting into the thing," says Barrett. Fortunately, all the electronic safes I tested had a keyed-lock override.
After trying out dozens of models, I brought home four of the most popular safes at various prices, from sub-$200 models to a $1,000 ringer. I also had a sledgehammer/ax, a tractor and a whole lot of frustration to vent.
HOW I DID IT Fireproof testing is independently verified, so I focused on the safes' structural integrity by pounding each with a sledgehammer. I also dropped them 12 feet from my tractor's bucket and squashed them with the tractor's hydraulics. TIP Store your safe in the basement for better fire protection. Its concrete walls will offer better heat resistance than the wood and fabrics in your living room.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
You can trust your valuables to the Mutual Safes Rhino RS-0C because:
• It has 90 minutes of fire protection.
• It has a large enough interior to store documents and objects.
• It uses a Group II lock, which is more durable than low-end equipment