Safe buying guide

Safe buying guide

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

When it comes to protecting jewellery, documents or cash, there's no better option than a safe. Whether you go for a wall or freestanding safe with key, combination, digital or biometric control, you simply have to enter a code, turn the wheel and your valuables will be secured. Read on to find the right safe for you.

Important features

  • Wall safes
  • Freestanding safes
  • Locking system
  • Security features
  • Standards
  • Insurance ratings
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Different types of safe


Broadly speaking, safes can be split into two main categories: wall safes and freestanding safes.

Wall safes


Ideally, you'll want to plan for the installation of a wall safe while your home is being built. For obvious security reasons, the wall must be thick and made of a solid material. Don't even think about cutting into a stud wall to install a safe! While you can probably hide away a safe in plasterboard, the wall itself will provide no protection.

Freestanding safes


Freestanding safes work best when secured to a concrete surface using special plugs designed for the material. It's all very well to secure your valuables inside a safe but if the first burglar who comes along can simply make off with the safe, it's not really doing its job! The base of the safe should come with pre-drilled holes meaning you simply need to secure the safe to the ground and seal your fixings which should prevent it from being removed. Just like with a wall safe, it's no good securing a safe to a wormwood-ridden floor with 40mm screws or to seal the fixings with plaster. Be sure to check the quality of your surfaces before installation.

What size of safe do I need?

What size of safe do I need?

In short, that's a question to which only you know the answer! Think carefully about the items you want to protect whether this be documents, chequebooks, passports, savings or laptops. Different safe sizes are available and the most common options are 3 L, 7 L, 15 L and 40 L. But remember – the bulkier the safe, the harder it will be to disguise.

Which safe locking system should I choose?

Key lock


Manual locking with a key is the easiest and most traditional option when it comes to safes. The only downside is that you cannot lose the key! While it may seem obvious, a safe is designed to resist forced entry. So if you find yourself having to force the lock to open the safe... good luck to you!

Key lock and combination wheel


A manual combination wheel is perhaps the most traditional option. Of course, two locking systems is always better than one. In this case, you need to enter the right code and use the key to open the door.

Digital combination


Digital safes are far easier to use. You simply need to enter your code into a keypad to open your safe. The advantage of this system is that several people can have access to the code and you won't have to worry about losing the key. Programmable and reprogrammable, a digital safe runs on batteries and will come supplied with a security key. Some models also come with a backup power supply.

Key lock and digital combination


A key lock paired with a digital combination is great for enhancing security.



Biometric safes require a fingerprint to open. Not a hugely popular option these days, this locking system is nonetheless reliable. A biometric safe will usually come with a security key to use in case of emergencies.

How to choose a safe locking system

Your choice of locking system will depend on the number of people using the safe and their ability not to lose a key or forget a code! It goes without saying that two systems will always be more effective than one. The level of security required depends entirely on how you plan to use the safe and what you plan to keep inside it. You should also think about how often you plan to use the safe.

Security features for safes


Needless to say there is a difference in security between the cheapest safe and the most high-end option. To ensure your safe is reliable, there are a few features to consider such as the thickness of the walls and its fire and drop resistance. The door of your safe is its Achilles heel and, as such, must be subject to extensive testing.

Door strength

The strength of a safe door refers to its ability to withstand attempts to break in. This means things like using a crowbar to force the door, a sledge hammer or rotary hammer to break down the door or cutting through the walls using a saw or angle grinder.

The size and number of the lock bolts: the bolts are the parts of the safe that lock into the strike in order to secure the door. This factor will impact how easy the door is to force open.

Additional security features

Any additional security features, along with the quality of these components, will determine how well your safe can stand up to the threats outlined above. High-quality hinges, a sturdy door frame and thick door (with additional security devices) will guarantee your safe is protected from any attempts to force or cut through the door (using an angle grinder or blow torch, for example).

Safe standards

Safe standards

There are three main safe standards to be aware of. These standards are in place to give you a clearer idea of the type of protection offered and reassurance that your valuables are secured in a safe worthy of the name:

  1. EN  1443-1: sets out the requirements with regards to material strength (excluding security features).

  2. EN 1047: sets out the requirements with regards to fire resistance, thermal shock and dropping.

  3. EN 1300: sets out requirements for lock strength.

Insuring valuables stored in a safe

Let's take a quick recap. Once you've chosen the type of safe, volume and locking system you need, installed your safe appropriately, and read up on all the relevant standards to be sure that your valuables will be well protected, all that's left to do is insure the contents of your safe. To do so, it is highly recommended to contact your insurance company to find out exactly what will be covered.

Safe insurance ratings


One last factor to consider is the insurance rating of your safe. The cash rating of a safe dictates how much your insurance company will cover. However, some insurance companies will insist on a Euro graded safe which classifies safes according to the value of its contents:

  • Grade 0 - £6,000 cash -  £60,000 valuables.

  • Grade 1 - £10,000 cash - £100,000 valuables.  

  • Grade 2 - Grade 2 - £17,500 cash - £175,000 valuables. 

  • Grade 3 - Grade 3 - £35,000 cash - £350,000 valuables. 

  • Grade 4 - Grade 4 - £60,000 cash - £600,000 valuables. 

  • Grade 5 - Grade 5 - £100,000 cash - £1,000,000 valuables.

  • Grade 6 - Grade 6 - £150,000 cash - £1,500,000 valuables.

  • Grade 7 - Grade 7 - £250,000 cash - £2,500,000 valuables.

It goes without saying that the higher the insurance class, the more expensive the safe and the costlier the insurance.

5 tips for choosing the best safe

  1. Of course having a high-quality safe will put your mind at ease. However, it must be paired with good home security and that means installing an alarm and a decent lock on all doors (a multi-point lock if possible).

  2. A safe that is on show is not nearly as effective as one that is hidden and if it is not built into a wall or floor – or at least secured properly – the safe simply won't be doing its job.

  3. Hiding a safe behind a painting is a great idea... if you want your safe to be discovered immediately! Be crafty, be creative and hide your safe away with care.

  4. If you are buying a safe to protect digital storage media, beware that things like hard drives can get damaged at temperatures of 50 °C and over.

  5. Take the time to read the product descriptions carefully and you'll be provided with all the information you need in terms of the safe features.

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Guide written by:

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Sebastian, self-taught DIY-er, Exeter

Redo a roof with wooden beams? Check. Advise everybody in the DIY shop? Check. Redo bathroom plumbing? Check. If it doesn't work, try again! I'll do my best to advise you in your projects.

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