When shopping for a gun safe or home safe, you will see a large range of fire ratings, typically from 30 minutes up to 2.5 hours. You may have some questions about the manufacturers' claims for fire ratings, sometimes called fire-resistance or fire-protection ratings. What does this fire rating mean? How is the rating achieved? How long of a fire rating do you need?
Before we answer these questions, there are a few national standards that you should be aware of that will help explain why different manufacturers have relatively consistent ratings. The first thing to be aware of is that paper will start to char at just over 400 degrees Fahrenheit and it will ignite at 451 degrees Fahrenheit. For that reason, most manufacturers will give a max internal temperature around 350 degrees. The next thing to be aware of is that according to the NIST or Nation Institute of Standards and Technology, the average house fire burns between 800 and 1400 degrees. Now, let’s dig deeper.
What does the Fire Rating describe?
Let’s take Liberty Safe for example. When they state their safe is rated for 60 minutes, that means that if the gun safe is exposed to a fire raging at 1200 degrees, the internal temperature will stay below 350 degrees for 60 minutes. Liberty Safe has entry-level gun safes with a 30-minute rating and their top end models like the Presidential and Magnum series will have a massive rating of 2.5 hours. While there’s no such thing as a completely fire-proof gun safe, 2.5 hours gives emergency assistance plenty of time to come to you and your belongings’ aid.
Every manufacturer is going to give their fire ratings with very similar parameters, but you may see marginal differences. For example, Browning Pro Steel employs a patented technology called ThermaBlock and their max internal temperature will be listed as 275 degrees.
How is the Fire Rating achieved?
The most common method for manufacturers to achieve their fire rating is by lining the interior of the safe with gypsum, commonly known as fireboard. The more layers of fireboard, the higher the fire rating will be. You will find this method of insulation in Liberty Safe, Browning Pro Steel, and Rhino Security gun safes.
The next method of insulation is a poured concrete aggregate material; this type of insulation can be found in Brown Safe and American Security products. American Security’s BFX safes use a patented concrete aggregate called DryLight, which is rated for an impressive 2 hours.
The last and least common method of insulation in the industry is the use of a ceramic or fiberglass liner. Ceramic liners are also used to line the inside of furnaces. This type of insulation can be found in Sturdy Safe products as well as some models made by Vault Pro USA.
How long of a Fire Rating do you need?
Entry-level safes will typically have a fire rating between 30 to 45 minutes, while mid-level safes will fall in the 60-to-75-minute range and your higher end models will exceed 90 minutes. We all have a budget to stay in but there are a couple of things to consider when deciding what level of fire rating you would like to invest in. The first thing to consider is how close the nearest fire department is. If there isn’t a fire department nearby you may want to consider investing in a higher rating. The next thing to consider is the value of what you’re putting in your safe.
With all things considered you may still not be able to get the gun safe fire rating you want. If that’s the case, one thing you can do for important documents is to buy a small document safe with a high fire rating and then put the document safe inside of your gun safe. Now you have essentially doubled your fire rating for the most important documents.