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But if you want to safeguard hard-to-replace items such as family photos, birth certificates, passports, and tax records while keeping them close at hand, a safe could be a relatively inexpensive solution.A simple way to determine how large a safe you might need is to pile up everything you plan to put in it and measure.Your basement could be better from a fire-protection standpoint; there's usually less down there to burn, Soos 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.

"Fires tend to move through a home, so 20 minutes is about the average in a room or an area." Burglary protection Independent ratings for burglary resistance are less common for home safes than for ones made for commercial users, such as jewelry stores.

To determine their burglary-resistance ratings, UL testers go at safes with tools, torches, and even explosives, Drengenberg says.

A fairly common home-safe capacity is 1.2 to 1.3 cubic feet, which should easily accommodate a foot-high stack of 8½- by 11-inch papers, for example.

Most home safes are designed to protect their contents from fire, theft, or both. We don't test safes here at Consumer Reports, but many are tested by independent organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Intertek (which uses the ETL mark).

What they cost For about and up you can buy a fire chest, smaller than a safe but still large enough to hold a stack of documents.

Safes in the range of 1.2 to 1.3 cubic feet cost about 0 to 0.

Dale Soos, an engineer with Intertek, says his organization confers a "verified" mark on safes that meet their manufacturers' criteria for water resistance.

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