Fireproof Safes: A Definitive Buyers Guide

Fireproof safes are safes designed specifically to protect their contents from fires.

The safe creates a barrier between the contents of the safe and the fire so that the contents cannot act as a fuel.

There may be legal reasons why you want to get a fireproof safe, such as protecting your Articles of Incorporation if you’re a business.

But they are also invaluable for protecting anything precious or important to you, such as:

  • Insurance and mortgage documents
  • Financial documents
  • Personal identity documents such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and passports
  • Your Last Will and Testament
  • Family heirlooms
  • Cash

You can read more about what to put in a fireproof safe in this article.

Fireproof Safe Buyers Guide 

There are many considerations that should go into purchasing a fireproof safe. Here are some of the more important considerations:

Size

The general rule with safes is that you should get the largest one you can afford. If there’s any complaint we hear from our readers, it’s that they didn’t end up buying a large enough safe.

This is particularly true for document safes. A legal size document is larger than an A4 size document. So people buy so-called “document safes” and they get it … and they can’t even fit their documents!

So if you get a fireproof document safe, make sure it fits legal size documents. You might like to see our recommendations for document safes here.

But if you just want your safe for cash and passports, it’s not as big a deal. You can get a nice small one that’s passport sized. That’ll save you a lot of money.

If you plan on putting rifles in your safe, you’ll need to get a specialized fireproof gun safe. These safes are designed to fit rifles, so they’re tall and thin. They usually also have some great ammo and pistol pouches in the doors.

Fireproof Rating

The standard fireproofing standard is the UL certification. UL (Underwriters Laboratory) is an independent certification company, but they’re so well-regarded that even the US Government uses it as the benchmark for safety standards.

You’ll find that fireproof safes come with one of the following three tiers of certification:

  • Top Range: 1 hour at 1700°F
  • Mid Range: 30 minutes at 1550°F
  • Low Range: 20 minutes at 1200°F

Obviously, the higher the fireproof rating, the better your safe will do handling an inferno. But you’ll also probably pay a higher price for the better ratings.

Furthermore, the better rated safes are usually much heavier.

Note that UL fire resistant ratings for fireproof document bags are different. Document bags are measured using a UL thin material test and only designed to resist light or brief flame exposure.

Fireproof bags are really only best for protecting documents against occasional embers or being dropped briefly in a fire.

Safety Features

Most fireproof safes in the lower price ranges are not particularly secure. They’re designed mainly for their fireproof rating, not for safety. A teenager could probably pick their way into most safes under $100.

To get a safe that’s both fireproof and secure, you’d have to look at the safes over $100. This is the price range where safes start showing some of the better security features, like:

  • Pry-resistant hinges: These are hinges that have built-in bars designed to prevent screwdrivers and crowbars from wedging into the door. It’ll prevent petty theft and significantly improve the security of the safe.
  • Dead Bolts: Lower priced safes often just close with a clasp or spring-loaded clip. If you want more security, look for a safe with dead bolts on several sides of the door.
  • Anchor Bolts: Some safes can be anchored to the ground to prevent theft. Make sure to always anchor your safe to the ground, not a wall. Also make sure that the fireproof and waterproof ratings are not compromised when anchoring your safe to the ground. For this, you’ll have to check the safe’s features list.

If you want to learn more about the safety features in fireproof safes, you can read our full answer to the question “Do Fireproof Safes Really Work?” in this article.

Waterproof Rating

Not all fireproof safes are waterproof, and not all waterproof safes are fireproof. The top waterproof safes have specialized waterproof seals that are certified by ETL. The best ETL rated safes have been submerged at least 8 inches underground and left for 72 to 100 hours to ensure they are watertight.

The waterproof rating is surprisingly important for fireproof safes. During a fire, there’s a good chance your safe is going to be doused in water by your friendly fireman. So, we always try to look out for a good safe with both fire and water resistance.

Humidity

Fireproof and waterproof safes are notorious for gathering condensation, mold and mildew. This is because these safes are shut off from the outside world. There is no way for the moisture inside the safe to escape.

The water vapor within the air and contents of the safe forms condensation over time. And because safes are dark places, it’s also the perfect environment for mold and mildew to grow.

This is the endless problem and endless battle of fireproof safes.

Fortunately, there’s a decent solution. It’s best to get a silica safe dehumidifier that will absorb the moisture that accumulates in the safe.

Silica gel is a desiccant, meaning it absorbs water vapor surrounding it. It can absorb up to 40% of its weight in moisture.

Once the silica gel has reached its saturation point, it then needs to be ‘recharged’. To recharge it, you need to remove it from the safe and expose it to heat over 300°F for a few hours. The moisture will be released into the air outside, and you can then put the gel back in the safe.

Brand Name

The best brands for safes are SentrySafe and Honeywell. This doesn’t mean other brands aren’t worthwhile (We’ve found some First Alert safes that we really like, too). In our opinion, SentrySafe does the most secure safes in the fireproof category. But Honeywell does some amazing briefcase sized fireproof document bags. So go check out our buyers guides, but it’s good to stick to these two brands.

Pros and Cons of Fireproof Safes

Pros

The pros of getting a fireproof safe include:

  • Peace of Mind: The main reason our customers buy fireproof safes is because they feel it’s an important feature for any safe. It’s a feature that will ensure you have added peace of mind beyond just protection from thieves.
  • Legal Compliance: Some people may need to ensure their safe is fireproof rated for legal compliance – this is especially true of people who own certain types of businesses.

Cons

There are some big downsides to fireproof safes. These include:

  • They’re Heavy! To get a fireproof rating, a fireproof safe needs to have a thick exterior capable of resisting extreme temperatures. This adds to the weight of the safe. One alternative could be to get a fireproof document bag, but these bags are not as fire resistant as you’d like. They mainly resist light flames, and not the extreme heat of structural fires. So a document bag won’t save you if your documents are caught in a serious house fire. However, they are good for resisting ember attacks and light flame.
  • You’ll need to Get a New one After the Fire. Yes, your fireproof safe will likely help protect your belongings from a large fire. But the exterior of the safe will warp and bend. The locking mechanism will be totally destroyed. These exterior elements are designed to take the brunt of the flames and protect the interior. So, once the fire is over, hopefully your documents will be okay – but you’ll need to buy a new safe.
  • Poor Security Features. Most fireproof safes don’t have the best security features. That’s because they’re optimized for fireproofing, not for safety. However, if you get a higher-end fireproof safe you’ll get both security and fireproofing. The key point here is if you want your safe to be both secure and fireproof, you can’t be cheap.

Final Thoughts

A fireproof safe is one component of your overall plan fire safety – and after fire extinguishers and fire blankets, it’s about one of the best and most important pieces of fire safety equipment to get for your home. We’d encourage you to check out our reviews of various safes on the market today.

Cheers,
Rosie & Chris