Do you need a fireproof gun safe?
The first thing that needs to be addressed in this article is whether a fireproof safe is necessary. Fire damage each year in the US is far more costly than burglary so you are right to be concerned about what would happen to your possessions in the event of a fire. The problem with generalizing the amount of damage a fire can do is that not all fires will result in the complete destruction of property. Whereas in the event of theft of an item then that item is usually completely lost, especially if the offender moves the item on quickly.
What makes a fireproof safe necessary is whether what you are going to be storing in it is worth more to you than the amount it would cost to get a genuinely fireproof safe. Important documents are generally replaceable at less cost than would a fully fireproofed safe cost. So the trade-off between costs of securing against just theft and securing against fire damage need to be deliberated based on your personal circumstances.
To make things more complicated the amount of protection a fireproof safe gives you can be difficult to discern based on how and who tested the safe. I’ll be addressing the different ratings and which ratings are definitely to be relied on, as well as what protection you can expect from a product that has gone through rigorous tests.
During a home fire the temperature can reach up to around 1300 OF and even after being put out the structure and surrounding areas can remain at very high temperatures for up to 8 hours depending on the severity of the flames. Most gun safes are only certified fire proof for around 30 minutes to 1 hour so even though they’ll protect your goods for 30 minutes the temperature can stay incredibly hot for longer and then your property will be damaged anyway.
What type of damage can fire cause inside a safe?
High temperatures inside a safe can cause all kinds of damage to the property held within, some common examples include:
Paper documents start burning (or autoigniting) at around 450 Degrees Fahrenheit
Ammunition can explode whenever it gets too hot causing shrapnel to fly everywhere and damage other property stored with it.
A sealed safe can actually explode open itself as the air inside will increase the pressure as it heats up due to having more energy and can burst the door open resulting in complete exposure to external temperatures.
What are the different fireproof ratings?
There is a large variety of fire safety ratings being used in the gun safe industry today. Both what tests are used and who performed the test impact how reliable a certain rating is to a consumer. The very best tests are performed by independent labs that have defined standards and test methods.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is highly regard as the best organization that hand out fire ratings as they use the most rigorous testing and when asked by a manufacturer to ensure their products are up to standard perform multiple quality tests throughout the year. Fire testing can be expensive, up to $60000 per year for a single model so having an UL fire rating is respected.
Overview of UL fire safety ratings
Class 350 – safe protects paper documents. Exposure to temperatures of over 1700oF and the internal temperature must not exceed 350oF for at least an hour.
Class 150 – protects paper documents, magnetic tapes equipment and photo film. Exposure to 1700oF and the temperature inside cannot get higher than 150oF and the humidity inside has to stay below 80% for at least an hour.
Class 125 – protects paper documents, tapes, photo film and other electronic computer equipment. Same again, exposed to 1700oF and the internal temperature can’t rise above 125oF or the humidity to raise above 60% for minimum an hour.
Self Certified Testing
Due to the cost involved in UL testing some manufacturers do test their own products. Although they have to at least perform to the standards they define these tend not to be as rigorous as those performed by UL.
What are the methods used to fireproof gun safes?
True Fire Safes
These provide fireproofing by having separate outer and inner shells with space between them which is filled in with a concrete fireproof mix. The concrete mix provides fireproofing by incorporating materials that prevent heat transmission from the outer shell to the inner shell such as vermiculites and fiberglass. Having a concrete filled gap also increases security against drill attempts as it will break the drill bit. Unfortunately personal home gun safes do not use this kind of protection as it is costly, requires too much space and will make the product horrendously heavy for the user if they want to keep it in their drawers.
Sheetrock or Gypsum Drywall
This refers to a layer of gypsum that is attached to the inside of a safe to protect against fire. Due to its chemical formula it is roughly about 50% water by weight so when it heats up the water absorbs the heat and turns into steam. It is a relatively cheap way of adding some fire protection but it doesn’t last forever as once the water has turned to steam it doesn’t turn back so this protection only lasts until the water runs out and then will do no more to help.
Some gun safes incorporate this technology but it is usually very sub standard for true fire proofing. So after all that, do you really need a fireproof gun safe? We think it is better to have a larger personal home safe that is fireproof or at least fire rated by UL and then store your firearms in a smaller home gun safe where you need quick access to them.