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Here are some of the ways they evaluate them: Fire resistance Fire is the No. The National Fire Protection Association says that during an average lifetime, there's a one in four chance of experiencing a household fire large enough to warrant calling the fire department.

1 concern of most buyers, according to Greg Bonsib, director of brand management at Sentry Safe, a major manufacturer in Rochester, N. UL and Intertek rate fire-resistant safes in terms of what type of material they'll protect and how long they'll protect it.

If you buy online, don't forget to consider shipping costs, although free shipping might be available.

Other safes can be concealed in a wall or anchored in a concrete floor.

Water resistance Protection against water tends to be an added feature of home safes that are also fire- or theft-resistant.

A TL-15 rated safe, for example, can withstand an attack of at least 15 minutes using common tools.

While most home safes don't carry a rating for burglary resistance, they do, as a practical matter, provide some protection. Mc Goey, a security consultant in Los Angeles, says that burglars generally go for what they can grab in one run through a house.

Your basement could be better from a fire-protection standpoint; there's usually less down there to burn, Soos says.

But if your home is located in a flood-prone area, the safe might be at greater risk in the basement.

For example, safes rated to protect paper documents shouldn't get any hotter than 350 degrees on the inside during a fire, according to John Drengenberg, consumer safety director at UL in Northbrook, Ill.

If you plan to store old tape recordings or 35mm slides, however, you'll want a safe that's rated not to exceed 150 degrees inside, he says.

"Once they get their arms full," he adds, "they're out of there." A 1.2 or 1.3 cubic-foot safe probably weighs about 100 pounds empty, making it a less attractive target than jewelry, cameras, small electronics, and other more portable items a burglar might spot.

Many safes also come with bolt-down kits, a further deterrent to thieves in a hurry.

Where to put it The best place for your safe will depend on the design of your house, but there are some trade-offs worth considering.

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