Understanding Safe Fire Ratings
What do fire ratings mean for a gun safe? Fire rating basically means that the content of that safe will not exceed a specific temperature for a specific amount of time. There is a little more that goes into it.
But at the highest level, that is exactly what a fire rating is. However, you should forget about fireproof safes because there are hardly any safes out there that are actually fireproof.
Most of them are fireproof for a specific amount of time. It’s just a matter of how long the content of the safe can stay under that temperature for a specified time. You go over that time, that safe is no longer fire-resistant.
Understanding A Safe’s Fire Ratings
When shopping for fire-rated safes, the main number you are the time period or for how long that safe is fire rated.
So, you might see something like 1-hour, 2-hours, 30-minutes, etc. But that is still pretty vague. There is more that goes into a fire rating. The safes fire rating is actually made up of three components.
- Internal Temperature,
- Length of Time, and
- External Temperature Of Test.
Now, the most common temperature you are trying to avoid inside the safe during a fire is 350-degrees. That’s the temperature that almost all fire-rated safes are rated to stay under.
The paper starts to combust at 450, so you will have up your game. However, 350 will ensure the safe’s safety. This means the inside of the safe will not reach 350-degrees so that your documents or your money will not burn in the fire.
Now, if it’s a certified rating, for example, UL certified, you might see this express as Class-350 on a fire certification decal on the inside of the safe’s door.
You will also see safes that are rated not to increase 125-degrees on the inside or 150-degrees. Most of them are specifically made for digital media and disc storage. But the safe you will mostly find won’t say media safe or data safe.
Now that you understand the first two points, the third point is somewhat difficult to find. What temperature was the safe tested at? What was the external temperature that it was tested at?
That’s important because your typical house fire burns around 1100-degrees. And, if you are buying a safe that is tested at 1500-degrees, you are going to get an extra cushion there in your environment.
So, it’s not going to get as hot as the testing temperature. You might even get a little longer fire rating. So, you need to find out what temperature that safe was tested at.
Understanding Certification Stickers
Many of the certification stickers will reveal a lot of information about the safe. However, if you have a UL-rated safe, it will be much harder to find. UL rated safe actually varies that temperature depending on the fire rating it is trying to achieve.
This takes us to the testing and certification facilities for fire-rated safes. There are several common certification centers.
- Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
- Korea Industrial Advancement Administration.
- Japanese Industrial Standards
- ETL Intertek Laboratories Testing Facility.
There are many more, but the UL is the gold standard. It’s also the most expensive test. On the other hand, the KS and JS are often used by Asian manufacturers. The ETL is used for other smaller manufacturers as well.
To ensure the safe is fire rated for the temperature in the time stated, look for a safe that has a certification decal from some reputed certifying industry inside of the door.
However, the testing procedures and external temperatures for testing are slightly different for these certifications. It does ensure that the test was performed at the rated settings.
Out of them all, the UL is certainly a lot more reliable. If the safe carry that UL rating, it’s a guarantee that the safe is going to perform at that level.
Also, there will be other tests that they will perform with the UL fire rating during the fire rating test. One of them is an explosion test. Another is the optional drop test.
Every single safe that gets a fire rating must pass the explosion test. Basically, what they do is they throw that safe into a 2000-degree for a shorter time period than the actual fire rating that they are trying to achieve just to see if it explodes.
And if it does not explode, then it is cooled and opened, and checked for damage. The optional test that can take place is a drop test.
What happens there is that after they have done their fire and explosion test, and within two minutes after the fire is turned off, they drop the safe 30-feet onto a pile of loose bricks over concrete.
This test basically simulates a safe falling through between floors from up to three stories. If it drops and it doesn’t split open, the safe is placed upside down, and it goes through the fire endurance test again to see if it passes. To get the drop test rating, it has to pass everything.
It is common for fire ratings to be overlooked, although they should be a major consideration. It is recommended that you purchase a fire-rated gun safe that can withstand a 1-hour fire. Why?
In a home fire or in commercial fire, safes with a fire rating under one hour usually don’t survive. When you’re spending almost $1,000 or more on a gun safe that won’t protect your weapons in the event of a fire, what’s the point?
The longest fire protection that you can afford would be better than a 1-hour fire-rated gun safe if your budget cannot support it.
Fire-rated gun safes are often misunderstood to be adequate to protect your most important documents.
We recommend looking for a UL certification. If you intend to place any important documents in the gun safe, make sure that the small gun safe has a 1-hour fire protection rating or an independent lab test that lasts at least 90 minutes.
To protect your firearms even better, invest in a small, fire-resistive lockbox that can be placed inside the safe.