How To Replace Valuable Documents and Pick Out a Home Security Safe

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Did you know the U.S. Treasury Department will replace damaged money? Or a replacement copy of a birth certificate or social security card can be requested from state and federal agencies? Most of us store these valuables somewhere in the bottom of a drawer, hidden away, but only marginally safe. In case of a fire, flood, or robbery, it’s common to lose valuables, but it could be worth investing in a  fireproof and waterproof safe before an emergency happens...

As you can see above, paper begins to char at around 350° and ignites at a Bradburian 451°, while photos and digitally stored media can begin exhibiting permanent damage at just 150° (the average house fire can burn between 1,100° and 1,200°).

The United States government offers a helpful website with information describing how to replace vital documents if you do lose them in a fire, flood, or robbery:

  • Bank Records: Get financial tips and resources for disaster recovery.
  • Birth, Marriage, and Death Certificates: Get records based on the location of the birth, death, marriage, or divorce.
  • Damaged Money: The Treasury Department will exchange mutilated or damaged U.S. currency.
  • Document Restoration - Fire: The Library of Congress offers information about restoring fire-damaged documents and collections.
  • Document Restoration - Flood: The National Archives offers information about how to care for flood damaged photos, books, papers, and more.
  • Drivers' Licenses and Vehicle Registration: Find nearby state's motor vehicle department to get or replace driver's license, and register a vehicle.
  • Federal Civilian Personnel Records: Go to the National Archives website for guidance about requesting personnel records for former federal civilian employees. Current federal workers can get personnel records from their human resources office.
  • Green Card Replacement: Get instructions for how to replace a lost, stolen, or damaged permanent resident card (green card).
  • Medicare Card Replacement: Learn how to replace a lost, stolen, or damaged Medicare card.
  • Military Service Records: Receive copies of military service records, to prove military service or to research genealogy.
  • Passport: Report lost or stolen passport immediately. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if your passport is lost or stolen overseas.
  • Savings Bonds Recovery: Cash and replace lost, stolen, or destroyed bonds.
  • School Records: Contact your former school or the appropriate school district if the school has closed.
  • Social Security Card Replacement: Learn how to replace your lost or stolen Social Security card.
  • Tax Return: Request a copy of your federal tax return from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

What to consider before purchasing a security safe: if you're looking for a few hours of insurance against the elements or even the prying hands of an uninvited burglar, a safe is an effective insurance policy for storage of valuables inside a home. Here are a few things to consider before purchasing a safe.

1. Fire Resistance Ratings: Most safes will state a degree of fire resistance – how long and how hot they can endure. Less expensive models usually last for about an hour or so before becoming subject to damage in a fire. While we don't recommend jumping into the flames to save your safe, knowing how long and how hot a safe is rated to withstand is as important as its cost.
2. Capacity: Consider what and how much stuff you'll keep in the safe, and make sure the capacity is large enough to store it all.
If you're only worried about fire and water protection, small safes do an adequate job for securing items. But note, they're conversely fairly easy to steal, so either find a good hiding spot or buy a model you can securely bolt into your wall or floor.
3. For Frequent Travelers: For frequent overseas travelers it's a good place to store extra or leftover currency for future visits.
4. Digital Backups: In this day and age, we recommend storing an extra set of copies of sensitive digital information on a USB memory stick and keep it secured somewhere outside your home. If it’s not *that* private you can keep it stored in the cloud with Dropbox or any of the multitude of online cloud storage services.
5. Firearms: It's always a good idea to keep firearms locked away out of reach of children and thieves. There are safes designed specifically for the safe storage of firearms, including hi-tech biometric models.



Some Safe Storage Suggestions:

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Sentry Biometric Fire-Safe
This model stands out for its biometric fingerprint lock and unlock system, making it ideal for keeping both valuables and firearms within. U.L. classified for fire endurance up to 1 hour at 1,700°F, 15-foot drop-tested for impact resistance, and water resistance up to 8" for up to 24 hours. The biometric lock is additionally secured with a tubular key-lock for extra safety, and inside a multi-position tray makes for easy organization of smaller items like jewelry. 17.8H x 16.3W x 19.3D inches and 101lbs, place this at the back of a closet.

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SentrySafe H2300 Fire-Safe Waterproof Chest (.36 cubic feet)
A popular budget choice for casual safekeeping, this safe is just large enough to hold a passport, birth certificate, social security card, currency, and other small valuables. Just under $50, the H2300 is an inexpensive and easy way to lock up small valuables without breaking the bank. Safes in this style and size fit easily tucked in a drawer or shelf as well.

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Amsec EST914 Electronic Fire Safe
This $225 model offers a bright and easy to read LCD display DL5000 Electronic Lock system with emergency key-lock override system, and a power override battery box. UL rated for 350°F at 1 hour, and equipped with a bolt work mechanism incorporating two 1/2-inch steel deadbolts which prevents door removal if hinges are removed during a forced entry attempt. It's also quite heavy at nearly 100lbs, so it's unlikely it would be carried away except by the more burly of robbers.

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SentrySafe DS3410 Black Fire-Safe (1.2 cubic feet)
With over a cubic feet of storage space, this safe can store a good amount of valuables, but requires some dedicated space to accommodate for its size. The safe fits standard and A-4 size papers, folders, and binders so it's great for keeping vital documents of important nature. With an hour rating at 1700°F, this safe will keep an assortment of valuables secure in case of a fire emergency.

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WES2113-DF Fire Resistant Electronic Wall Safe (.75 cubic feet)
Perfectly sized to fit in between 16-inch studs, this model wall safe can bolt into walls and hide within a home, making it more difficult to find and steal. With a digital electronic locking system, the WES2113 provides great protection with a 3/16" solid steel door. This model is fire resistant as well, but the main draw is its reasonable $329 price tag and easy to hide installation. Note: some customers mention some depth sizing issues, so be sure any permanent wall-installation model is the right size before purchasing.

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SentrySafe G1459E 14-Gun Electronic Lock Safe
Gun owners can safely store firearms inside this 182 lbs locker-style behemoth. The G1459E features a 14-gun capacity and an electronic lock powered by 4 AA batteries (backup key included). The hinges are concealed and the exterior is hardened steel plate to protect from drill attacks. The separate compartment shelf on the top is designed for additional valuables or equipment storage

More on safes and safekeeping posts from the archives:


Updated and reposted from 2011-06-29 - Gregory Han

(Images: Infographic by Gregory Han with Song_mi - Shutterstock; as linked above)

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