How Long a Fire Rating Do I Need?

As with most things in life, most of us think: "more is better." In the case of the fire rating on your safe, more is definitely better. Unfortunately, more fire rating costs more money and most of us are on a budget. So, the question becomes: How much do I need?

The answer to that question: It depends.

A bit about fire ratings first. Some safe manufacturers list fire ratings on their safes that have nothing to do with any standardized method of testing. What we're looking for when a fire rating is listed is the "UL" next to the fire rating. The "UL" stands for Underwriters Laboratories. More importantly, it means that the manufacturer is using an industry-wide means of testing their safe that has been researched and accepted as a valid test. Thus, if one manufacturer lists their safe as having 90 minutes of fire protection, but that number is not based on the UL tests; the fire rating on their safe could actually be less than that of a manufacturer who lists their safe as having 45 minutes of UL tested fire protection. Any safe manufacturer can claim a fire rating for their safes. Only a manufacturer who tests their safes based upon the standardized UL accepted fire protection tests may use the "UL" logo on their fire protection rating.

Some manufacturers might try to fool the consumer by stating that this part of the safe, or that part of the safe has been UL tested. What you're looking for, is whether or not the safe itself has been tested, not just the electric cable, or lock, or light set, etc.

There is one more thing to consider regarding fire ratings. No safe is fireproof. It you heat it up long enough and hot enough, anything man-made will fail. But, a safe with a 2.5 hour UL fire rating will stay cooler inside, for a longer period of time, than a safe with a 30 minute UL fire rating. Why is this important? If the contents of the safe are temperature sensitive, having a higher fire rating is important. Papers (important documents) tend to be the most temperature sensitive item we put inside our safe. Film, electronics, or computer disks can be even more temperature sensitive than paper. So, if storing electronic records in your safe is a concern, a very good fire rating is definitely something you need in your safe.

Most housefires burn relatively quickly, and they don't burn at their hottest temperatures for an extended period of time. What does this mean and why is it important? Typically, a 30 minute UL rated safe will protect paper documents for at least 30 minutes in a typical house fire. A 90 minute UL rated safe will protect paper documents for at least 90 minutes. So on and so forth. There are too many factors to consider for each specific scenario, but this is a good baseline for us to use when looking at fire rated safes. So, if the safe is primarily used for storing guns, an extremely high fire rating is less important than if the safe is used for storing film, computers, or electronic data and equipment. Little comfort, I know. But, if you're on a budget, balancing needs and wants is an important factor.

So, how much fire rating do you need in your safe? It depends. It depends on what you plan to store in your safe, and the importance of keeping the contents below a specific temperature threshold. Analyzing these factors while shopping will help you stay within your budget while protecting what matters to you.

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