Fire ratings on a gun safe are probably the most incredibly confusing aspect of buying a gun safe. What do the ratings mean? How are gun safes fire rated? What actually makes a safe fire rated? How are these regulated?
Honestly most of these things are rather confusing, and difficult to give definite answers. However I’m going to do my best to help explain this to you!
I would also like to mention, this article is not meant to completely debunk fire ratings, and to make you shy away from owning a gun safe. The point of this article is to give you information you may not have had otherwise.
Gun safes as a whole are a good thing, you just shouldn’t have assumptions that a safe is completely impenetrable, and perfectly fireproof, when that just really is not the case.
After reading through this article, you should also read this article that details what fire rating is right for your circumstances. You may not even need a fire rating, and should invest in more steel! Who knows!
What makes a safe fire rated?
Fire eating a safe is surprisingly simple, and really comes down to 3 different ways that manufacturers use to do this.
This is by far the most common form of fire resistant material for a gun safe and can be found on bit names like Liberty, Fort Knox, Browning, and so many more.
Fire-board is essentially drywall, similar to what you would find in most homes in the USA, with different companies using different types of blends. Many of those blends will include the ability for a vapor barrier to happen when a fire is present!
This type of fire-board will basically give off a vapor that helps keep the safe cooler than it would without this vapor.
This form of wall filling is not nearly as popular, because it proves to be ridiculously heavy. However, it also is one of the best types. It takes a ton of time for concrete to heat up, meaning the interior of the safe takes that much longer to heat up.
So why is concrete the better option?
- Concrete composites will release steam into the safe, which makes it cooler on the interior of the safe.
- When fireboard is used in safes, it can’t be cut quite as well as a pourable concrete in the safe. This means that there aren’t any gaps that heat can get through with concrete, unlike fireboard where you will have gaps because you can never cut fireboard to that perfect of a level.
- You have to cut through the concrete when cutting through the safe. This is more for security, but still an important aspect.
From what I can tell, not many manufacturers use this style of fire resistant material.
The main one I can think of is Snapsafe. I can’t speak to their testing methods, however Snapsafe’s Titan series has a ridiculously great fire rating of 60 minutes at 2200 degrees, which is very very impressive. Because of that, you can’t count this fire resistant material out.
What do the fire ratings mean?
Gun safe fire ratings are broken up into two different parts. And surprisingly they have a super wide range of types, and are by no means consistent throughout the industry.
You will normally see it look like this: “1 Hour at 1200 degrees”. The 1 Hour references how long it can with stand the second part, the heat.
The time range of a test generally ranges for 30 minutes up to 3 hours for the best safes. This can either be the amount of time the safe was burned over all, or the amount of time the safe was tested at the temperature that the test is being tested at.
Most manufacturers will have the heat range, generally between 1200 – 2200 degrees) of their safes advertised first. Basically this is the temperature that the safe reaches 350 degrees on the inside. This can either be the peak of the test, or the temperature that the whole fire test will take place. The best safe companies will raise the temperature of the test to this temperature and run it for the whole test. The other companies will likely only have this temperature for a short period of time.
How do safes get their fire rating?
This is probably the most popular way the manufacturers will rate their products, and unfortunately there is such a huge amount of ways that these manufacturers will perform this test.
For example, Liberty Safes has their own oven that they use and test their (and competitors) safes. This is a well thought out process and gives them the best idea of what they are up against. You can see some of their tests here.
Another great example of a smaller company fire testing their products the right way is Dakota Safes. They make Dakota, Bad Lands, Black Diamond and the Modular Interloc Safe. They use a similar method to Liberty by baking their safes. You can see more about how they do this here.
Unfortunately other manufacturers aren’t quite so thorough, and this is one reason why you want to make sure you buy your safe from a reputable brand, and reputable source.
UL stands for Underwriters Laboratory, and basically is a 3rd party tester to test products for differents aspects of claims. It is similar to the EPA and gas mileage.
Getting a UL certifications for gun safes are not mandatory by any means for any gun safe manufacturer to claim having a fire rating. Most manufacturers won’t do this, as the cost is high, and return on investment is low.
That said, there are three different versions of a UL listing for fire rating:
- UL Class 350°F-one hour – The safe is heated up to 1700 degrees for an hour and cannot exceed 350 degrees on the interior of the safe. 350 degrees is when paper starts to burn.
- UL Class 350°F-Two hour – The safe is heated up to 1850 degrees for two hours and cannot exceed 350 degrees on the interior of the safe.
Making it up
Obviously we don’t have any proof of this. However there are a ton of new companies popping up that buy safes and import them into the USA, then they will dropship from a warehouse and make up a rating for it.
SecureIt is well known to be debunking these types of companies that just don’t go through the needed testing, and you can view his video here.
Me personally, I don’t lean quite as far as he does in the video. I think that companies like Liberty, Fort Knox, Browning and more have gone through the needed paces to prove that you can make a safe fire resistant and keep items safe. I don’t think it is completely necessary to use cement like he states, however it is important to know the details when you are shopping for a gun safe.
I kinda want to reiterate my feelings on fire ratings, as I feel like mine is a bit different than most. Most people’s budgets do not allow for them to buy an Amsec BF series for thousands of dollars.
This means that there are going to be some kind of a risk to purchasing a gun safe.
With this in mind, it is important to know all the aspects of fire ratings, and decide what is worth a risk and what is not.
When you go into the market of a gun safe under $4000 or so, you are going to run into a lot of safes that are not concrete filled, and they aren’t UL rated fire ratings. So the best thing you can do is be aware of the shortcomings of the industry, and make sure you make the right choice for yourself.
Can you get a good safe that will probably last through a fire for around $1000? Yes you probably can. Can you get a guarantee no matter what? No, you really can’t.
With gun safes, on the security end, you are just buying time. Similarly the fire rating is going to buy you more of a chance to make it through a fire. The more you spend, the more likely it will make it through the fire, that is just how it is.
In the end, you need to decide for yourself, if you want to save up for more of a chance, or if you are willing to take a less of a chance but save some money.