A fire is one of the most devastating disasters you’ll ever have to contend with. Even a small house fire can cause a large amount of damage. Meanwhile, the effects of global warming mean that major fire events such as wildfires are predicted to increase up to six-fold in the coming years.
Investing in a fireproof safe is a great way to prepare for the worst-case scenario. These safes will protect both important documents and sentimental items. Knowing that these things are safely stored makes dealing with the aftermath of a fire so much easier.
What do you need to protect?
Look around your home and think of all the things you just couldn’t afford to lose: birth certificates, financial records, photographs. Make a pile of important items on your table. Be reasonable; only choose items that are of the utmost importance, are irreplaceable, or might be needed in the days immediately after a fire.
Once you know what you need to protect, you’ll know how large a safe you require. You’ll also know what level of protection you need.
Types of protection
Fireproof safes come in two basic types:
- Safes that protect “paper” (cash, documents, letters)
- Safes that protect “data” (electronic items, CDs, DVDs etc. Will also protect paper)
Paper can tolerate temperatures as high as 350° F (177° C) before it suffers damage. Electronic items can only tolerate between 125° F and 150° F (50° C – 65° C).
Every fireproof safe should have a rating that tells you whether it protects paper or data, as well as how long it withstands extreme heat (30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). Safes with higher time ratings can withstand higher temperatures.
To be absolutely sure you get the fire protection you need, only purchase a safe that has been independently tested and certified. In the USA, the most renowned fire tests are carried out by the Underwriters Laboratory. Their UL72 fire test involves heating safes to temperatures as high as 2,000° F (1093° C) for up to 4 hours. If this seems high, bear in mind that house fires can reach up to 1500° F.
The UL72 test has the following protection classes:
- Class 350: Keeps contents below 350° F (177° C)
- Class 150: Keeps contents below 150° F (65° C)
- Class 125: Keeps contents below 125° F (52° C)
If you need to protect items like DVDs or family videos, you’ll need a Class 150 or Class 125 safe. For many electronic items, you can check the manufacturer’s website for the “non-operating” or “storage” temperature to determine what heat levels the device can withstand.
Other things to consider
Location: How long does it take your local fire service to respond? Longer response times mean you’ll need a safe with a higher time rating.
Water-resistance: A fireproof safe that is also water-resistant will protect against the fire hose as well as the fire.
Placement: Your basement is usually the most fire-resistant part of your house. Consider keeping your fireproof safe down there.
Burglar-resistance: Many fireproof safes double as burglar-resistant safes. The better ones carry independent burglar-resistance ratings.
Bear in mind that in prolonged, intense flames and heat, the contents of even a heavy duty safe may still suffer damage.