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Fireproof Safes: 5 Things to Know Before You Buy

Family photos, birth certificates, passports, insurance documents ━ in the event of a house fire, would these items be safe? A fireproof lockbox can help protect your valuables from fire, water damage and possible theft.

With hundreds of options on the market, there's a lot to consider when making a selection. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

A lockbox open showing money and passports.

  1. External temperature. As a rule of thumb, a fireproof safe or lockbox should be able to withstand 30 minutes at temperatures of up to 1,550 degrees Fahrenheit. This standard is based on today's firefighting response times. The safety organization UL and the inspection firm Intertek test and rate the majority of fireproof safes available today. The Electrical Testing Labs mark issued by Intertek indicates the lockbox has been tested and met this standard.

  2. Internal temperature. If you're just storing documents, the internal temperature of your safe will need to stay below 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are also storing digital media, such as external drives, flash drives or DVDs, the safe will need to keep the temperature much lower, closer to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Compare manufacturer specifications and independent review sites, such as Consumer Reports or Wire Cutter, to verify accuracy.

  3. Lockbox size. Consider the items you need to store. These items may include insurance policies, birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, immunization records, passwords, family photos, and an external hard drive holding digital backups of photos, music or important documents. Ensure the lockbox can fully close and be sealed shut with all your items inside. Need a larger option? You may wish to upgrade to an in-floor safe or in-wall safe. Confirm the safe you choose is designed to be fireproof and deter burglars.

  4. Portability. If you are concerned about weight and portability, consider choosing a lockbox that includes a handle. This will make it easier to transport should you need to evacuate your home in advance of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane. A fireproof document bag is an inexpensive and portable alternative for securing important documents.

  5. Access and security. Fireproof lockboxes are designed to fit easily in a closet, under the bed or in a home office. Due to their small size, fireproof lockboxes typically feature a small key lock. Some may also include a battery-powered digital keypad for coded entry with a key lock backup should the batteries fail. From a security standpoint, some homeowners have expressed concern that locks can be easily picked. However, keep in mind that while the lockbox can deter theft, its primary purpose is to protect documents from fire and water damage. If you have jewelry, precious metals or anything of high value that does not require frequent access, consider keeping these items in a safe anchored to your floor or in a safe deposit box at the bank.

A fireproof lockbox is an important part of a home fire protection plan. If you have not done so already, consider completing a household inventory and practicing a fire escape plan. Talk to your independent agent about the different options for securing and insuring your home and possessions.

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