Rating Fire Resistant Safes

by Malcolm Young


The following article is about fire resistant safes and fire resistant safe contents: what you should store in your fire resistant safes, how large a fire resistant safe should be used to keep your items safely stored, protecting items from fires. What fire resistant safes are the best?


So you know you need to buy a fire resistant safe for your home. Are you a bit confused about choosing the right one to meet your needs? Awareness about how fire resistant safes are classified and rated can help take some of the guesswork out of making a choice.

Fire resistant safes are designed to release moisture during a fire. The moisture release ensures that papers in the safe remain at a temperature below that at which they will ignite. Most safes are rated by how many hours your papers will be protected. Some small fire insulated boxes have a ½ hour rating, but most residential safes carry a 1, 2 or 3 hour rating. Four-hour rated safes exist, but these are typically used for official records rooms, such as those housing court records. Some fire resistant safes are given an Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) rating as well. This rating is valuable, as it ensures that the safe has undergone independent UL testing, rather than just manufacturer testing. A UL Class C safe is designed to protect papers to a temperature of 1700 F for about one hour. This rating is basically the same as a 1-hour rating. Class B is equivalent to a 2-hour rating and protects to a temperature of up to 1850 F.

Specialized media safes are also available. These fire resistant safes are specially designed to protect electronic media such as compact discs, tape backups, DVD's from fire. Because electronic media is more sensitive to heat and humidity than paper, these safes are constructed differently and insulated more heavily than those designed to protect paper. Therefore, your papers will be protected in a media safe, but your electronic media will not be protected in a fire resistant safe designed for paper. Media safes are, however, rated using the same hourly classes as those designed for paper except they are tested to maintain a temperature of 125 degrees F or less compared to a fire resistant safe which is tested to maintain a temperature of 350 degrees F or less.  Other items that should be NOT be stored in a fire resistant safe but in a Media safe are:  Stamp collections, photos, photo negatives, microfiche and any item that could not endure temperatures above 125 degrees F.

Arming yourself with the basic information provided here can help you make a determination about what is right for you. Most fire resistant safe manufacturers report that a 1- hour rated safe is fine for most residential uses, and will provide adequate protection from a normal household fire. However, only you can make the best decision for protecting your valuable documents.




U.L Fire Resistive Rating Explanation

CLASSIFICATION
THE FOLLOWING IS AN EXPLANATION OF THE UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES' FIRE RESISTANT CONTAINER TESTING PROCEDURES ON THE CLASS 350° F, ONE HOUR AND TWO HOUR FIRE LABELS.

U.L. Label/Class 350° F-one hour and Class 350° F-two hour. The safe will maintain an interior temperature less than 350° F when exposed to fire for a period of one hour at 1700° F or for a period of two hours at 1850° F. Safe must successfully undergo all other requirements for the Fire Endurance Test, Explosion Hazard Test and the Fire/Impact Test as stated below.

FIRE ENDURANCE TEST
After heat sensors and paper are placed inside the safe, the unit is locked and exposed to a uniformly distributed fire. The furnace is regulated to reach a maximum temperature of 1700° F for a period of one hour, or 1850° F for two hours, then allowed to cool without opening the furnace. The interior temperature is recorded throughout the test and during the cooling period until a definite drop is shown and must never exceed 350° F.

Once cooled, the unit is opened and examined for usability. The units locking mechanisms and parts fastenings are examined for security and the interior examined for visible evidence of undue heat transmission.

EXPLOSION HAZARD TEST
The safe is locked and placed into a furnace preheated to 2000° F. This temperature is maintained for 30 minutes (2 hour test is 45 minutes) and if no explosion results, the unit is allowed to cool without opening the furnace doors. Once cooled, the unit is opened and examined for usability. The units locking mechanisms and parts fastenings are examined for security and the interior examined for visible evidence of undue heat transmission.

FIRE IMPACT TEST
(MANUFACTURER'S OPTION)
After the explosion hazard test the safe is removed from the furnace and within two minutes is dropped 30' onto a riprap of brick on a heavy concrete base. After impact the unit is examined for deformation, rupture of parts, damaged insulation and any other openings into the interior of the unit. Once cooled, the unit is inverted and reheated to 1550° F for a period of 30 minutes (2 hour test: 45 minutes at 1638° F).

Once cooled, the unit is opened and examined for usability. The units locking mechanisms and parts fastenings are examined for security and the interior examined for visible evidence of undue heat transmission.