Do Fireproof Safes Really Work?

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do fireproof safes really work?We believe a safe that protects a birth certificate, will, passport, cash, and legal documents needs to be fireproof. In fact, if you have articles of incorporation for your own business, some jurisdiction insist they’re kept in a fireproof safe!

But if you’ve searched for a fireproof safe online, you’ll see all the crazy negative reviews.

A lot of people complain that fireproof safes are not secure enough. Well, there are good fireproof safes out there – you just have to look in the right places. For example, you could check out our full review of the best fireproof safes for the latest on some high quality safes on the market today.

So we’re here to give our personal (non-professional) opinion on two questions.

  1. Are they really able to protect valuables from a fire?
  2. Are they safe and secure from theft?

We think the answer to both those questions is ‘yes’ – so long as you know what you’re looking for.

Are fireproof safes really able to protect your valuables from a fire?

Quick Answer: The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) is the premium independent quality certification company.

The Underwriters laboratory (UL) conducts independent tests to come up with a fireproof rating.

The common ratings that UL comes up with include:

  • 1 hour fireproof at 1700°F
  • 30 minute fireproof at 1550°F
  • 20 minute fireproof at 1200°F

UL actually stress tests the safes – i.w. the safe is actually exposed to the heat for the specified time in order to see if the safe passes the test. So, the safes have been tested and have passed the tests themselves.

With UL certified safes, the interior of a safe can still reach 600 – 900°F during the fire – so while combustion is still unlikely inside a safe during a fire, we don’t think they’re 100% effective. We’ve still read stories of fireproof safes being absolutely destroyed in fires.

We’ve also heard many anecdotes and stories of safes surviving home fires.

In general, it seems the exterior of the safe is usually absolutely destroyed by a fire. It seems lots of people often find that the hinges and locks have been totally melted, requiring a locksmith to break into the safe for them to take their documents out (Especially if it’s a super secure safe. Less secure ones can be pried open with ease).

Are fireproof safes easy to break into?

Quick Answer: Many fireproof safes are designed mostly for fire resistance, not for safety.

For cheap fireproof safes, their main locking mechanism is usually just a latch secured by a simple (and small) key lock. These safes can often be opened by a simple paperclip. So, they’re not amazingly secure.

If you read online reviews, you’ll see people RANTING about how they can pry into their safes. The reality is – yes! If you buy a $50 safe, it’ll be pretty easy to break into. Sorry to break it to you.

These cheaper safes might be able to keep out prying children’s hands or even deter petty theft. But they won’t help you if you’re trying to keep your $1 million safe.

So here’s what we look out for if you want a safe that’s … safe.

The first thing we look out for is a quality key. Some keys are just little pieces of metal without many teeth. Look for one that’s more like a door lock – one that will be hard to pick.

Or alternately, we’d get a safe that uses a combination code or digital lock (but to be fair, all safes usually have key back-up anyway).

Next thing we do is look out for a dead bolt lock. A dead bolt doesn’t use a spring – so it usually can only be pried open by turning a key or entering a code.

Third, we look for a pry-resistant hinge. These hinges prevent people from getting access using a crowbar – so they’re much more solid for theft resistance.

And fourth – we’d consider getting a safe that can be bolted to the floor. Just remember that these sorts of safes also need to be complemented by a floor that can be bolted through as well. The other thing we keep in mind is to ensure that the bolt doesn’t ruin the fireproof or waterproof rating.

We have found through our online research that fireproof gun safes are some of the safest fireproof safes on the market. You can check out our round-up review of gun safes for some examples of what’s around.

Are fireproof safes also waterproof?

Some are, some aren’t. While Underwriters Laboratory (UL) certifies fireproof ratings, it’s ETL that certifies waterproof ratings.

We think it’s a good idea to get a fireproof and waterproof safe. Damage may occur if water is used directly on the safe to put out the fire.

To ensure a safe is waterproof, we would get one that has an ETL rated waterproof seal. They usually come in intervals of 24 hours, 72 hours, or 100 hours of waterproof seal.

Another thing to note is that even fireproof and waterproof safes have the problem of build-up of moisture. To address this, we like the idea of getting a safe dehumidifier.

What’s the best lock mechanism for a fireproof safe?

There are three main lock mechanisms on the market today. These are: key lock, digital pin pad lock, and combination lock.

A key lock is the most common still. We like to look for one that comes with a decent quality and sturdy key. We also like to get spare copies of it cut the minute the safe arrives. Safe keys are known for being quite flimsy (especially if you’re paying anything under $150 for a safe).

You’ll also find that most combination and digital locks still have backup key locks.

A combination lock will use a combination code that you dial manually side-to-side. These are cool. And a big bonus of combination locks is that they don’t require batteries to operate.

A digital pin pad lock is increasingly common. And they’re all the rage at the moment. The one downside of these is that you rely on batteries to operate them. And inevitably you’ll come to your safe one day and the batteries will have run out. Then you’ll need to use the backup key to get into the safe to replace the batteries … and you’ll have to hunt around for your backup key that you haven’t seen in years.

What are the main safe brands to look out for?

When looking for a safe, we usually look out for a Sentry Safe or Honeywell safe. Both are high quality brands that specialize in fireproof safes. Another brand that is well respected is First Alert.

Where should I keep my fireproof safe?

We think (personal opinion only!) that the best place to store a safe so it’s most protected from a fire is the basement. The lower the better, really. But, if the safe is fireproof, it should be okay anywhere in the house. The bigger concern is keeping it somewhere so that thieves can’t see it. We would hide it in a discrete but easily accessible location.

What about fireproof bags?

Sorry, these bags aren’t really fireproof. They’re fire resistant. And while they have UL ratings, those UL ratings are the UL 94 VTM-0 (Vertical Thin Material) tests that are more or less designed to see whether the material will catch when a match is held under it. In other words, your fireproof bag will absolutely disintegrate in an inferno.

The best reason to get a fireproof bag is if you work in a space where flames and sparks are a regular occurrence. But if sparks or embers fall on your bag, the bag most likely won’t catch fire. If you’d like to learn more about fireproof bags, check out our buyers guide here.

Final Thoughts

A fireproof safe is helpful to keep valuables safe from a fire if it has a UL rating. We would personally get one with the highest UL rating of 1700°F for 1 hour. If we also need a safe to be very secure from theft, we’d make sure we get one that has a pry resistant hinge and solid deadbolts.