If you’ve read up on fire safety, you’ve likely taken precautions to keep your family safe and prepared — you’ve equipped your home with a smoke detector on every floor, established an emergency escape plan with your family, and invested time in teaching your children to call 911 in case of a fire emergency. You’ve taken the steps to protect your family — but have you fully protected your most valuable possessions?
In an instant, a household fire can destroy treasured items, documents, and a lifetime of memories. You can protect your valuable possessions by storing them appropriately. Today, many people opt for a fireproof safe, rather than paying to keep their belongings in a safety deposit box at the local bank. The benefit to having a fireproof safe at home is that you can access original copies of crucial documents (like insurance papers and passports) immediately — not just during the bank’s business hours. Additionally, valuables and cash stored in a safety deposit box aren’t always covered through FDIC insurance, while homeowners and renter’s insurance may cover items kept in a safe at home.
If you have — or are considering buying — your own fireproof safe, it’s worth noting that these safes are best used for specific purposes. It’s important to learn which items should be kept in a fireproof safe for ultimate security; and which are best kept elsewhere.
What to Keep in Your Fireproof Safe
Standard fireproof safes protect your valuables against intense heat and smoke damage, for periods of up to 120 minutes. The best type of fireproof safe for you depends on the items you wish to store.
When deciding which fireproof safe to get, keep these points in mind:
- Paper, passports, certificates, and documents require a safe capable of withstanding 350 degrees F or more.
- Digital media — such as memory sticks, USBS, CDs and DVDs — require a safe that can withstand 238 degrees F or more.
- Data such as computer backups, internal hard drives, and tapes are the most vulnerable; these require a safe that may withstand temperatures of 150 degrees F or more.
If you’ll be storing a combination of items from all three categories listed above, opt for a more resistant safe to encompass all of the requirements. Here are the most recommended items to store in a fireproof safe:
1. Insurance Policy Information
In the aftermath of a home fire, you need to first ensure that you’re covered by your insurance. Keeping vital documents within a fireproof safe allows you to access them immediately, when a disaster strikes.
2. Bank and Financial Account Information
If you keep financial documents at home, or information relating to bank accounts, these should be in your fireproof safe. In the event of a house fire, you may need to access funds quickly. Financial documents may include additional paperwork, too — such as those related to your retirement plans, and investments. It’s a good idea to save copies of this information electronically, just in case!
3. Identification and Passports
Passports and identification (such as birth certificates and social security cards) can be difficult to replace if lost, or damaged. It’s generally best to keep passports at home in your fireproof safe, so they’re ready to use within a moment’s notice; but it can be beneficial to store original birth certificates elsewhere, and simply keep a copy of this document in your fireproof safe.
4. Important Information
Information about your family doctors, essential prescriptions, and people you may to contact in case of an emergency should be within your fireproof safe at all times.
5. Keys for Your Safety Deposit Box
A safety deposit box at the bank is only valuable if you have access to it. If you’re storing valuables at the bank, keep the keys in your fireproof safe to ensure you can access those valuables in an emergency.
6. Cash and Other Valuables
If you store cash at home in case of an emergency, it’s best to keep it in your fireproof safe — along with other valuables and collectables, like coins and jewelry.
7. Data and Hard Drives
In an increasingly digital-oriented world, keeping hold of your family memories in data form can be as simple as storing them on a hard drive. If you want to protect those precious moments from going up in smoke, it’s a good idea to keep hard drives, and other data in your fireproof safe. The same rule applies for businesses who need to retain company data. Remember that creating extra copies always improves your chances of retaining the information you need.
What NOT to Keep in Your Fireproof Safe
Think of your fireproof safe as a security measure for valuables that are difficult to replace, but also require easy access. Items that you don’t need to have on hand at all times — such as your original birth certificate, negatives of family photos, car titles, and even the deed to your home — are better off stored at the bank. You can always store copies of these documents in your fireproof safe, while the original is safe and sound, in a safety deposit box at your local bank.
It’s important to store things you can’t replace — from family keepsakes, to videos of your home taken for insurance purposes — away from your property, so you can access them in an emergency situation. Remember that although fireproof safes are very effective, they are not completely damage-proof; and they can’t always prevent burglaries. If you’re concerned about theft, it may be worth it to look into a burglary safe.