A typical wall safe, with its rotating combination lock (hidden behind a framed painting), seems like a secure (and very made-for-TV-movie-like) bet. But if the crook is experienced and motivated, he or she will know how to find it and defeat it in a short amount of time. Contrary to conventional wisdom, sometimes the best places to stash your valuables are places that are more conspicuous—and we’re not talking about under the mattress.
There are plenty of “hidden in plain sight” opportunities in the average home or office. If you look online, you’ll find thousands of ideas on how to camouflage your secret stash in everyday objects that blend in to the surroundings. They range from a hollowed-out can of shaving cream or empty lotion bottle to a bookcase with hidden compartments. You’ll even find the old gutted-out book—another throwback-TV idea.
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One idea that caught our attention, though, was fake-air-vent safes. Air vents are ubiquitous in most any home or office, so an air-vent-style safe would certainly blend in well if done correctly. A word of caution first—please note that we are using the word “safe” loosely in this instance. These ideas are not without their own amount of risk. Since most nontraditional safe options are not actual safes, they are not truly lockable and are not fire-resistant in any measure. Keep that in mind when considering this option.
We looked around online and in a local (big and orange) hardware store for ideas on how to tackle this project. Surprisingly, our best bet wasn’t piecing one together ourselves, but buying a DIY-style kit from Amazon.com. Taking into account budgetary concerns versus time and effort spent, we surmised that the kit we found fit our needs well. But how was it to install and does it really work? We’ll soon find out.
The aptly named “Steel Wall Safe Hidden as Air Vent” (rolls right off your tongue, doesn’t it?) cost us a penny under 80 bucks and comes with everything you need to install it, minus tools. There were plenty of other vent safes available online, some even with built-in RFID-activated locks, but they cost $200 and up, and that was more than we were willing to spend. But the RFID locks are a cool feature for sure.
The vent safe we chose comes with a faceplate that looks to be a standard-issue vent that you’d find on many HVAC systems. The concept is straightforward. The kit consists of a vent faceplate and a steel box that sits inside the wall. It also comes with a grille that you can use to further cover up your valuables, optional magnets for a quick-release option, installation sheet, wall-cutting template and assorted fasteners.
After carefully reviewing the installation guide, we proceeded to find a suitable area and prep it for the install. When selecting a place for the safe, be mindful of what is behind the wall. Studs, conduit or pipes are just a few of the things to be careful of.
We held the vent faceplate to the wall and marked where its mounting screws would go. Because the body of the safe is smaller, using the faceplate helps us make sure there is enough room to mount the wide lip of the vent.
This kit came with a template that made marking off the cut area easy. We used thumbtacks to pin the template to the wall at the points we marked in the previous step. This helps align the template. We used a thumbtack to poke holes in each corner to mark off the cut area.
We connected the holes we made with the thumbtacks to mark the cut lines.
We went at it with a saw and cut the drywall. Be careful not to cut the hole too big. You can always trim a smaller hole to fit the safe.
Then we removed the cut piece of drywall.
With the hole in the wall cut to size, the steel body of the safe was a perfectly snug fit. We installed it next to a wall stud for a secure mounting point. We mounted the box into the wall with its included wood screws.
The faceplate can be screwed into the wall like a real HVAC vent would be or it can be mounted into place with magnets. The kit comes with provisions for both. Screwing it in would be a little more secure, but we chose to go with the magnets for quicker access. The mounting holes on the faceplate are plugged with a nylon screw and steel nut, while the magnets simply stick to the back of the plate.
9. Finishing Touch
The kit comes with a grille that allows the contents of the wall safe to be hidden. It comes in a raw metal finish that can be seen from certain angles through the vents. We spray-painted it flat black so that it is less noticeable.
The internal measurements of the safe are 13.5 inches wide by 4.5 inches high by 3.5 inches deep. That’s not the largest space, but it was enough for us to stash some cash, a portable hard drive and some other items. There’s enough space here for concealing a good amount of small valuables.
The grille is not secured in any way—it just sits there.
The installed vent safe.
The Steel Wall Safe Hidden as Air Vent worked as promised. The installation guide is a bit confusing, but it’s not a complicated thing to install. After a few steps, we just figured it out ourselves. The fit and finish of its pieces are precise and very well done.
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We probably could have pieced something together ourselves at the hardware store for less cash, but this kit saved us time, and what we would have ended up with probably wouldn’t have been so well finished. What we would do to improve this kit is to switch out the faceplate’s nylon mounting screws for color-matched steel screws to create a more authentic look.
Overall, this kit does what it sets out to do. It provides an inconspicuous place to conceal things that you don’t want easily found out in the open. Even if this air vent idea doesn’t work for you, allow it spark your imagination to create any number of other projects that you can do yourself to hide valuables in plain sight. Just don’t stick them in a mattress—with a little bit of creativity, the possibilities are virtually endless.
Model: Steel Wall Safe Hidden as Air Vent
This article was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of BALLISTIC™. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.