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Fire Ratings for Safes

Fire Ratings

Protecting valuables is the number one concern of people who are interested in purchasing a safe. How real is that risk? The National Fire Protection Association says that during an average lifetime, there's a one in four chance of experiencing a household fire large enough to warrant calling the fire department.

For home safes, 30 minutes of protection is most common, although you can also find safes that offer one or more hours' worth, typically with higher price tags. Generally speaking, 30 minutes should be sufficient, Bonsib says. "Fires tend to move through a home, so 20 minutes is about the average in a room or an area."

Protection against water tends to be an added feature of home safes that are also fire- or theft-resistant. Dale Soos, an engineer with Intertek, says his organization confers a "verified" mark on safes that meet their manufacturers' criteria for water resistance. Some safes are submerged to simulate the effects of a flood or broken water line.

A fire-resistant safe is a type of safe that is designed to protect its contents from high temperatures or actual fire. Fire resistant safes are usually rated by the amount of time they can withstand the extreme temperatures a fire produces, while not exceeding a set internal temperature, e.g., less than 350 °F over 30 minutes. 

Fire resistant record protection equipment consists of self-contained devices that incorporate insulated bodies, doors, drawers or lids, or non-rated multi-drawer devices housing individually rated containers that contain one or more inner compartments for storage of records. These devices are intended to provide protection to one or more types of records as evidenced by the assigned Class rating or ratings; Class 350 for paper, Class 150 for microfilm, microfiche other and photographic film and Class 125 for magnetic media and hard drives. Fire ratings can range from 30 minutes up to 4 hours.

In case the safe drops to a lower level or has debris fall on it during a fire, fire safes may also be tested and rated for impact resistance ranging from 15 to 30 feet. 

Document safes are designed to maintain an internal temperature no greater than 351 °F while in a constantly heated environment in excess of 1,830 °F.

Most Data safes are designed to maintain an internal temperature no greater than 131 °F while in a constantly heated environment in excess of 1,830 °F.

In the USA, both the writing of standards for fire-resistance and the actual testing of safes is performed most of the time by the Underwriters Laboratories.

As with Burglary Ratings, listing with a Standards & Rating Agency is a pass/fail process for Fire Safes. The product either meets applicable standards or it doesn't. If a product fails, in must be redesigned and resubmitted for testing again. The listing, or label, reflects that the product is designed and manufactured to meet certain standards and has passed testing of aforesaid standards. The label does not endorse design, quality or performance of the safe.

An in-floor safe installed in a concrete floor is very resistant to fire. However, not all floor safes are watertight and will often fill with water from fire hoses, therefore everything stored inside should be placed in either double zip lock bags, dry bags, or sealed plastic containers.

Unless the safe has been tested & classified by an outside agency (such as U.L. or ETL), the fire rating standards are completely up to the individual manufacturer and can vary greatly.

Standards and Rating Agencies for Fire Proof Safes

Fire/Data safes that are marked as being rated by one or more of the following parties adhere to set ratings standards:

Underwriters Laboratory Standards

The Underwriters Laboratories (U.L.) is the most accepted means of testing and rating products and services from around the world. U.L. standards have been instilling confidence in products and services that people sell and purchase for over 100 years. They have been testing and certifying safes for a majority of that time. To ensure that a safe continues to uphold the U.L. certification standards initially met during the U.L. testing process, a U.L. representative will routinely visit the manufacturing facilities to perform random inspections.

U.L. preheats the testing oven with the safe inside until the temperature reaches the desired setting, then the safe is cooled artificially. Though safes are rarely dropped 15 ft. or more, U.L. tests and certifies up to 30 ft. drops and also runs an indirect explosion test on all safes. 

U.L. Class 125
The safe sustains an internal atmosphere of 125 °F and 80% humidity. This class was introduced with the emergence of floppy disks. The safes are tested with only non-paper media, but are clearly sufficient to hold paper. New, more durable computer media, such as data on compact disks crystallize at 350 °F which make this type of safe overly-sufficient to store CDs. An added benefit of this safe is that it is waterproof due to a gasket on the door and the label will state this. These class ratings are used in conjunction with hour ratings such as: ½, 1, 2, 3, or 4.

U.L. Class 150
The safe sustains an internal atmosphere less than 150 °F and 85% humidity. This class was introduced with the emergence of computer data tapes or magnetic reel-to-reel tapes. UL tests this with paper and non-paper articles. This safe is also sufficient in storing some optical media, such as CD’s. Cases can be purchased that will meet Class 125, if they are placed inside a Class 150 safe. Some may be waterproof due to a gasket on the door and the label will state this. These class ratings are used in conjunction with hour ratings such as: ½, 1, 2, 3, or 4.

U.L. Class 350
The safe sustains an internal atmosphere of less than 350 °F and 85% humidity. This is the most basic of U.L. tests and specifically tests for the storage of paper. The ignition point of paper is 451 °F so this safe is sufficient for storage of paper. Cases can be purchased that will meet Class 125, if they are placed inside a Class 350 safe. These class ratings are used in conjunction with hour ratings such as: ½, 1, 2, 3, or 4.

ETL Laboratories/ Intertek Standards
ETL Testing Laboratories has been conducting performance and reliability tests since 1896. Intertek Testing Services (ITS) acquired ETL from Inchcape in 1996. ITS is recognized by OSHA as a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), just as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and several other independent organizations are recognized. ITS tests products according to nearly 200 safety and performance standards. This certification mark indicates that the product has been tested to and has met the minimum requirements of a widely recognized (consensus) U.S. product standard, that the manufacturing site has been audited, and that the applicant has agreed to a program of periodic factory follow-up inspections to verify continued conformance. 

An ETL listing and label have the same legal standing as a UL listing or label. Either label certifies compliance with the same standards. An ETL label is considered less expensive and therefore easier for a small company with relatively few products to list. The UL label is more widely recognized by American consumers. 

Korean (Industry) Standards
The standardization process in Korea follows the basic principles for standards development outlined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT). The Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) oversees the development of Korean Standards (KS or KIS), coordinating input from various public and private sector stakeholders through its technical committees. 

Japanese Industrial Standards
Specifies the standards used for industrial activities in Japan. The standardization process is coordinated by Japanese Industrial Standards Committee and published through Japanese Standards Association.

 


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