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Residential safes

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  • Wed, Jul 04, 2012 - 01:48pm



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    Residential safes

I have included here a portion of the material in my wiki on "Personal Safety and Home Defense" regarding the use of safes to secure valuables in the home.  Safes offer valuable protection, but there is a wide range of features and costs.  An important warning is: don’t be overconfident or complacent just because you store valuables in a safe.  A safe should not be considered invulnerable to theft.  A safe is just one of many possible layers in a home safety/personal defense strategy.

Safes are rated for fire protection and/or for burglary protection.  Many safes protect for only one of these threats, so be sure what you need.  A safe that will protect your valuable papers from burning in a fire will provide some protection against burglary, but not a lot.  A safe that will resist men with tools trying to break in to it for 15 minutes, may get so hot inside during a fire that your important documents and paper currency spontaneously burst into flames (not to mention what happens to any electronics, computer disks or ammunition inside!).

Underwriter’s Laboratories tests and rates safes: http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/corporate/newsroom/storyideas/urbansafetymyths/safes/

Consumer Reports on safe ratings: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2011/01/choosing-and-using-a-home-safe/index.htm


Most residential safes/gun safes qualify as “B1” (minimal security/theft resistant).  These gun safes can be broken in to surprisingly quickly.  Watch this demonstration from You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBhOjWHbD6M

I say “surprisingly” because the safe can be very heavy (say 350-500 lbs.) and cost $1,000 – $1,500 or more.  Most of the rest of residential safes qualify as “B2,” also known as “Residential Security Containers (RSC).”  These safes (600-800 lbs., $2,500-$5,000) provide much more security but even they are only rated and tested to withstand men using tools to try to break into them for five minutes.  FIVE MINUTES!!  Compare that to a top-rated TL-30X6 safe that is most commonly used in jewelry stores.  One of these monsters with inside dimensions of 60X28X16 and a curb weight of 2,210 lbs can easily cost $6,000.  The difference is that the TL-30X6 rated safe has been tested to withstand men trying to break into all six sides of them with a variety of tools (and even a small amount of explosives) for 30 minutes.  So, think about it: if the most common rating for a quality gun safe (B2 = RSC) is only designed to resist attack for five minutes and the top of the line jewelry safe which could store millions of dollars in gold and jewelry is only designed to resist attack for 30 minutes the owner is counting on the police or an armed owner being notified of the attack on the safe and responding to the scene before the thieves can successfully break in to it.  (The same is true to a lesser extent of fire ratings: the designers are counting on the fire department.) That means a safe is not a stand-alone item: it has to be protected by an alarm system and measures taken to make finding and accessing it as difficult as possible.  You also have to remember to make the safe as difficult as possible to remove from the premises (for breaking into later in privacy and with plenty of time).  Weight is not enough to insure the safe won’t be removed.  Because of these issues, it is not uncommon for homeowners to build a structure around a safe to conceal it, improve how long it can survive in a fire, and to make accessing it all the more difficult and time-consuming.  Use your imagination here.

A custom-built or commercially available safe room (perhaps measuring 6‘X10’ or 8‘x8’) can be a more economical and more secure alternative to buying a safe big and strong enough to store every high-value thing you own.  Imagine a walk-in closet off the master bedroom custom-fortified with steel plate and featuring a vault door which when closed appears to be a normal door.  Or imagine a commercially available steel tornado shelter built into a basement with a high-security door hidden behind a normal interior hollow core door.  Such a safe room would be plenty secure and roomy enough for storing firearms.  If you also want to protect documents, currency, gold/silver and jewelry, a small jewelry safe could be installed inside the safe room.

While considering a safe, you should first decide what it is you want to protect and how much space those items would require in order to be stored.  If you have a stack of important documents, $30,000 in cash, two handguns and 100 gold American eagle coins that could all fit in a fairly small jewelry safe.  If you add rifles, shotguns, and framed paintings then you need a much larger, heavier, more expensive safe.  A small, high-security safe inside a hidden safe room would probably be a more cost-effective solution and provide benefits a big gun safe would not (eg. a place to retreat in case of a tornado or home invaders).

You should also be very mindful of how someone could steal your valuables from your safe.  1) If you leave the safe open/unlocked or if you leave your valuables outside of the locked safe, theft would be easy even for a casual visitor in your home.  Don’t laugh: this happens frequently.  I once responded to a burglary in which the victim had over $100,000 in gold and jewelry stolen.  The stolen items were in a shoe box in the same room as a locked safe which was not breached. No alarm.  No insurance.  2) A criminal could break your safe open in your home.  3) A team of criminals could rip your safe from the bolts holding it to the floor and cart it away in a truck.  4) A team of home invaders could put a gun to your head and force you to open the safe for them.

You may consider the strategy and expense of having two safes.  The idea is to have one safe that would be found by burglars in 5 minutes or less.  This safe would be the cheaper of the two and, in a sense, a decoy.  This safe would be filled with some cash, valuables and personal papers so that if the burglars/home invaders found it they would gleefully conclude they had struck the mother lode.  Then, hopefully, they would leave the house without looking further.  (You have to decide wisely what to put in the first decoy safe so that it is believed to be where you keep ALL your most valuable things.)  The second, larger safe (rated for fire and burglary) would be hidden much better and contain the majority of your valuables.  For this to work, no one can know that you have a second safe or where it is.  Many burglaries and nearly all home invasion robberies are initiated because the criminals get information about certain cash or valuables kept in a specific home (this intelligence sometimes also includes the specific hiding place).  “Loose lips sink ships!”  Don’t imagine this intelligence comes to criminals through high tech spy technology.  You and some friends are discussing guns and precious metal investments and you mention your safe.  Two or three of those friends later discuss the same subject with their friends, who discuss it with their friends.  One of those discussions occurs in a restaurant and a paroled felon sitting in the adjacent booth listens in enough to determine YOUR address.  Now you’re a target and they know what they’re looking for.  Having a safe installed is a key time for your precautions to be discovered.  The delivery vehicle should absolutely have no commercial markings, especially any that might enable observers to conclude you’re having a safe delivered.  The safe should be covered with a blanket when wheeled inside so no one can be 100% certain what it is.  A night time delivery after everyone’s in bed has some obvious advantages.  Whatever the methods for delivery and installation, you should have a believable cover story if/when someone asks you what was going on at your house last night.  Once your safe is installed it should be hidden or disguised and never shown to or discussed with anybody, except those you trust with your life (and then not too many even of them).

If you were considering going down to Costco, Home Depot or Cabella’s and buying one of the big gun safes they have on display, all this talk about safes may have scared you off.  If it’s the cost that has discouraged you, be sure to consider the cost of a safe and safe room over the number of years you will have it and against the cost of what you would lose if you don’t get a safe and are the victim of a burglary or home invasion.  A $5,000 safe to protect $10,000 in firearms and cash doesn’t seem sensible, but it would make more sense if you plan to have the safe for 30 years and leave it to your heirs in your will.  However, spending $30,000 on a safe room and small jewelry safe to protect firearms, cash, $1 million in gold and your own life can seem like a no-brainer.

There are alternatives to consider.  The first is insurance on your valuables.  Most homeowner policies limit what and how much they will cover and reimburse.  Generally, you have to get a policy rider to cover high value items.  This will be relatively expensive, certainly more expensive than buying a $5,000 safe and using it for 30 years.  Secondly, insurance riders require that you divulge to the company exactly what it is you are insuring.  This is a big security concern as there are any number of ways the knowledge of the valuables you keep at home can leak into the criminal world.  Last, you have to consider the possibility the insurance company will go bankrupt and be unable to pay you for a loss.

Two alternatives for securing precious metals are bank safe deposit boxes and private vaults outside of the banking system.  Use of either of these options could significantly affect your decisions about a residential safe.  Some experts discourage bank safe deposit boxes for precious metals because of the possibilities of being unable to access them during a “bank holiday,” and of having the metals confiscated by government as was done in the US in 1933.  Keeping your precious metals in a private vault has advantages over safe deposit boxes and residential safes, but access in an emergency or disaster is still a concern.

Remember that the institutions that are known to have the most to protect use layer after layer of protection.  Think of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and it’s hoard of gold.  Think of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and it’s priceless art treasures.  These kinds of institutions use locked doors, electronic alarms and access controls, safes, vaults, safe rooms, 24/7 human surveillance and armed security personnel.  Take a page from their book and think of security in layers: don’t just think of one simple solution for all threats all the time (like a safe).




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