A safe that protects your 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.
So we’re here to answer two questions.
- Are they really able to protect your valuables from a fire?
- Are they safe and secure from theft?
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?
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 tests the safes in ovens where the safe is 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.
You can expect the interior of a safe to reach 600 – 900°F during the fire – but combustion is still unlikely.
We’ve also heard many anecdotes and stories of safes surviving home fires.
But the exterior of the safe is usually absolutely destroyed. You’ll often find that the hinges and locks have been totally melted, requiring a locksmith to break into the safe for you to take your 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?
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 to look out for if you want a safe that’s … safe.
The first thing to 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, 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 to do is look out for a dead bolt lock. A dead bolt doesn’t use a spring – so it can only be pried open by turning your key or entering your code.
Third 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 – consider getting a safe that can be bolted to the floor. Just remember that you’ll need a floor you can stick a bolt through … and ensure you get one where the bolt doesn’t ruin the fireproof or waterproof rating.
We have found that fireproof gun safes are some of the safest fireproof safes on the market, so you might want to check out our round-up review of gun safes for some ideas on 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.
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 your safe is waterproof, you need to get one that has an ETL rated waterproof seal. They usually come in intervals of 24 hours, 72 hours, or 100 hours of waterproof when submerged 8 inches underwater.
What’s the best lock mechanism for a fireproof safe?
There are three main lock mechanisms you will come across. These are: key lock, digital pin pad lock, and combination lock.
A key lock is the most common still. Look for one that comes with a decent quality, sturdy key and make sure you get copies of it cut the minute your safe arrives. They’re known for being quite flimsy if you’re paying anything under $150 for your 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 SentrySafe or Honeywell safe. Both are high quality brands that specialize in fireproof safes. Another brand that is well respected is First Alert, although it’s a broader brand and does not specialize in safes specifically.
Where should I keep my fireproof safe?
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. 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. If sparks or embers fall on your bag, your bag won’t catch fire. If you’d like to learn more about fireproof bags, check out our buyers guide here.
A fireproof safe is likely to keep your belongings safe from a fire if it has a UL rating. Get one with the highest UL rating of 1700°F for 1 hour. If you also need your safe to be very secure from theft, make sure you get one that has a pry resistant hinge and solid deadbolts.