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REAL ESTATE

Is Your Home Safe a Joke?

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You lug home a 100-pound home safe from Costco, fill it with cash and jewelry, then pat yourself on your aching back for being a responsible homeowner. You did good, right?

Um, not so fast. Unless you knew what type of safe to buy, where to put it, and how to install it, you're fooling yourself by thinking your most valuable possessions are secure. They may be safer, but they're not all that safe.

Granted, a home safe adds a layer of inconvenience between your valuables and smash-and-grab thieves who, on average, spend less than 10 minutes ripping off your home. Still, as long as you're going to invest $200 or more on a home safe, you might as well get the best security you can for your buck. Here's how.

Check the rating

You can quickly gauge how "safe" your safe is by a rating from a testing company -- Underwriters Laboratories is among the most well-known and respected. UL assesses how long it would take a thief to break into a safe using tools and blowtorches. A "UL TRTL 30" rating means it would take a blowtorch- and drill-toting burglar at least 30 minutes to break into the safe.

While not every manufacturer submits its safes to UL testing, John Drengenberg, UL's consumer safety director, advises homeowners to buy safes that, at the very least, have been tested by an independent third party.

Assess its fire resistance, too

Most people buy home safes to protect valuables not only against theft, but also fire. And luckily, many safes are tested on this front, too (i.e., baked in ovens to see how hot the contents get and whether they'll burn to a crisp).

As for how much fireproofing is enough, that depends on what you're stashing. If it's money or paper documents, your safe's interior should not get hotter than 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Computer disks or DVDs, on the other hand, can't stand temperatures above 125 degrees. How long the temperature remains that high matters, too, which is why ratings may read as "350F-1/2 hour," which means it will stay under that temperature for that duration.

According to Consumer Reports, fires generally sweep through a room, then die down in 20 minutes, so a half-hour should be fine.

Pick one that's easy to open (for you, that is)

While you want a safe that's hard for burglars to crack, you also want one that's easily opened by you. Safes come with a variety of opening options: key, combination, or push-button code.

Robert Siciliano, a Boston security consultant and TV personality who specializes in home security and identity theft, thinks the best choice for most homeowners is a four-digit code. Unlike identity thieves, who use advanced technology to steal passwords, home burglars typically don't waste time figuring out your home safe code; they're too busy rifling drawers for keys and grabbing the silver. Of course, make sure to pick a code that's easy to remember, so you're more likely to use the safe.

Pick the right place

So where's the best place to put a safe? It's a tough balancing act between concealment and convenience. You don't want it sitting on your nightstand where it can be easily spotted by baby sitters and contractors; however, if you stow your safe in some hard-to-reach spot like your attic or behind a heavy dresser, you're less likely to use it for valuables you might want to access on occasion, like your diamond stud earrings or gold cuff links for a fancy night out.

So, try to find a spot where stashing bling can become habit rather than a hassle, but where it's hidden. That might mean a closet.

Nail it down

Of course, if burglars can remove your whole safe, they can open it at their convenience. That's why many home safes come pre-drilled so you can bolt them to a wall and/or floor.

Select a place with wall studs and thick flooring, which can grab the bolts. A cement floor is best; a vinyl floor over thin plywood is worst since it can be easily ripped out. But there is a way: Position the safe so you can drive a bolt through a floor joist, which is the thick slab of wood running under your floor (to find the joists, lightly tap the floor with a hammer until you hear a heavier thud; that's where they are).

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