A safe is the last line of defence against a determined intruder and can also offer protection against fire damage. Use a safe to house valuables, such as cash and jewellery, important documents, spare sets of household keys, personal mementoes and other items which, if lost, could cause distress or considerable inconvenience. Consider these aspects before deciding whether you need a safe — or at least a ‘safe’ place in which you can conceal important items.
Insurance Most insurance companies will require you to have a safe meeting high risk security specifications, if you intend to store expensive articles or valuable collections of items. If in any doubt, consult your insurance company.
Types of safe
The very least you can do is to buy a lockable metal fireproof box for your valuables and secure this in a ‘secret’ place. Apart from this, there are three basic types of household safe — the free-standing traditional type which could be recessed into a wall, the wall safe which includes anything from a one-brick type to an insurance approved model with a combination lock and the floor safe which is built into a floor. Most reputable security companies offer second-hand reconditioned safes at reasonable prices and it is worth exploring this avenue.
This will give a good standard of protection while being readily accessible. There are multi-purpose strong boxes available which can be fitted into walls and underneath floors as required. Some are opened with a three-dial combination lock, which can be altered by following the instructions supplied; always choose your own combination. A 230 x 230 x 100mm (or 9 x 9 x 4in) strong box is suitable for most normal purposes.
To avoid keeping all your valuables in one place you could fit two strong boxes instead of a safe; it is very unlikely a burglar would guess you have more than one strong box. This would, however, reduce the total space available and large items, such as silverware, could not be accommodated.
You will need to take care when selecting a site; never choose the obvious places such as in recesses, behind pictures, under the stairs or under the floorboards beneath the bed. An excellent site is in the loft, because burglars dislike having their exit routes blocked.
To secure a strong box, you will need to drill the bottom, preferably twice, and fix it with strong screws into wood or with expansion bolts into brick. You will find it very difficult to drill the box, particularly with a hand drill; it may well be necessary to have the box drilled on a lathe.
It is generally agreed by security experts that safes placed under the floor offer a better level of security than wall-mounted models; they are easier to conceal and more difficult to move. The limited internal size, however, restricts the contents to small items such as jewellery and documents. Make sure the safe is properly fitted; provided a safe meets the required specifications, most insurance
companies will accept the floor model for quite high risks. You can buy a floor safe with a deposit facility, which allows items of a suitable size to be dropped into the safe without opening the top. Wall safe This is a small type of wall-mounted safe; for convenience of installation these smaller models are often supplied in ‘brick’ sizes. Some manufacturers produce safes of up to five bricks in size; you simply remove the recommended number of bricks from the wall and cement the safe into the recess. They are also available with a deposit facility.
Larger types of wall safes, up to about 255mm (or 10in) deep, can be easily installed by the DIY person provided the correct tools are available and care is taken to select a suitable site.
Warning: The critical factor when fitting wall safes is the thickness of the wall. Even professional installers of wall safes will tell stories about wall drills passing clean through outside walls or through interior walls into adjoining flats or houses, causing considerable damage. Before you buy a safe you must check the wall is thick enough to accept it. In most instances, high rise tower blocks constructed with reinforced concrete will seriously resist any attempt at safe installation in either floor or wall. Make enquiries before you buy a safe; if in doubt, test a small selected area of the wall to see if sufficient material can be removed.
Installing a wall safe
When fitting a wall safe you will create a large amount of dust and debris, so cover or remove all furnishings before you begin. With a medium size wall safe — 375 x 375 x 250mm (or 15 x 15 x 10in), for example — you will need a small selection of cold chisels and a suitable hammer to make a hole in the wall; if the bricks are easy to remove, you can use a 1.8kg (41b) hammer and cold chisel to chip away the mortar. You will probably need about 13+kgs (or 28Ibs) of cement plus sand in a ratio of two parts cement to one part sand; make sure you have mixed enough to complete the job.
To cut down installation time and the period of disturbance to neighbours, use a rotary-action demolition hammer to knock out the recess. The hammers, which are electrically operated, are available from hire shops in different sizes; you should check the hammer works and its bits are sharp before you leave the hire shop. Be prepared for a small extra charge when returning the tool for resharpening the bits.
Having decided the position for the safe, you can mark out its dimensions plus about 38mm for clearance round the sides. Most wall safes have two metal straps or lugs at the back which are embedded in concrete during installation to provide extra strength; these will to some extent determine the clearance area. When choosing a site for the safe, bear in mind the average medium-size safe weighs about 25kg (or 561bs) and the demolition hammer is a heavy tool to use; try to position the safe at a convenient height, 1 or 1 +m (or 3 to 4ft) from the floor if possible.
Remove decorations and plaster from the area you have marked out. Chip away mortar from between bricks with the demolition hammer or hammer and cold chisel; the first layer of bricks should come away without much difficulty. The subsequent layers of bricks will prove more difficult, particularly if you are not used to using chisels.
Once you have made the required hole, hold the safe in position to check there is sufficient clearance all round and that the safe will fit flush to the wall; this will depend upon the design of the safe, since some will incorporate a small protruding rim. Mix the concrete, lay a bed on which to place the safe and lift the safe in place. Check the safe is level with a spirit level and make sure the door position is vertical, using a plumb line. Bed in the lugs at the back of the safe and float concrete around the sides and rear of the safe until it is packed solid. Don’t attempt to open the door of the safe until the concrete is completely dry, because the weight of the door could disturb the setting concrete. Use a fine cement screed (one part cement to three parts clean coarse sand) to finish round the edges of the front of the safe. When the concrete is dry, you can redecorate round the edges of the safe.
A floor safe can be fitted into a solid floor with concrete as for a wall safe. You can also fit one into other types of floor, but safes and strong boxes are unlikely to give good security if they are not embedded in concrete. When fitting a floor safe it is again best to hire a demolition hammer. Most safe models have rims at the top and bottom to strengthen the installation after it has been embedded into concrete. Manufacturers give detailed fitting instructions with each model; stockists and locksmiths will also give guidance on installation techniques and the suitability of different models. As with wall safes, when fitting floor models into solid floors you must check the safe fits flush into the hole; again, cover or remove all furnishings in the room before you begin work.
Safes are fitted with either combination or keyed locks. Very often manufacturers will sell combination safes ,s5,t at the same basic combination as a convenience against safe combinations being lost; always change the combination once the safe is installed. Medium or larger size wall safes are usually fitted with a handle which throws a/number of bolts to secure the door; strong boxes and smaller safes usually have handles fitted flush with the front of the safe. If the safe is keyed, you should return the key registration cards to the manufacturer; if the keys are lost, replacement would otherwise be difficult and expensive. You should also try to keep the whereabouts of a wall or floor safe a secret.