A gun safe is an excellent way to protect firearms, ammo, and other valuables. Most people buy a gun safe for storing firearms but they can also protect other assets such as important papers, coins, jewelry, heirlooms, photos, etc. Even if you do not own firearms you may want to consider owning a gun safe.
Gun safes have a fire rating that is measured by temperature and duration. The temperature rating is the maximum temperature that the safe can tolerate. This is normally 1200° to 1400°. The ratings is the amount of time that the safe will protect the contents at the maximum temperature. The duration figure assumes that the safe will be at the maximum temperature for entire time duration. The safe is normally NOT exposed to the maximum temperature for the full time duration. Normally a house will burn down faster than this or the fire will be extinguished. It is very unlikely that the safe will experience both maximum temperature and maximum time duration in a fire.
You should determine the fire rating of the safe by your proximity to your fire department. If you a few minutes from the fire station then you can probably get by with a 30-minute rated safe. If it takes longer for your fire fighters to arrive then you will need a safe with higher fire rating. The fire rating is normally set when the inside of the safe reaches about 350°. Note that each increase in the fire rating increases the price of the safe by roughly $300.
I spoke with a very helpful representative at Liberty Safe and asked him about the internal temperature of the safe. He informed me that a safe exposed to the maximum temperature for the maximum duration would have an internal temperature between 275° and 300°. I spoke with a representative at SentrySafe about their document safes and he gave me very similar temperature ranges for the inside of their safe.
Temperature Critical Contents
I asked the representatives from both Liberty and Sentry what would happen if a document safe were placed inside of a gun safe. The gun safe will have a maximum internal temperature of about 300°. Would the document safe then have an internal temperature that would be safe for sensitive equipment such as backup hard drives, DVDs, etc.? I could not get an answer because they did not test for this condition. What I would like to try is placing a thermometer inside of a document safe, putting the safe in an oven at 325° for 2 hours, and then opening the safe and reading the temperature. The safe in a safe idea SHOULD work but I have NOT tested it and the safe companies could not provide an answer. If I can test this then I will update this article.
Opening a Dial Safe
Dial safes are not intuitive to open. They do NOT operate like the old Master Locks that you use on lockers. When opening a typical dial safe remember 4-3-2-1. To open the safe:
- 4: Rotate the dial counterclockwise at least 4 times to clear it and stop on the 1st number.
- 3: Turn the dial clockwise, pass the 2nd number once, then pass it twice, and stop on 2nd number.
- 2: Turn the dial counterclockwise, pass 3rd number once, and stop on the 3rd number.
- 1: Turn the dial counterclockwise until you feel some resistance. Keep turning the dial until it stops. You can then open the safe.
With a dial safe do NOT expect to open it quickly in the event of an emergency. If you miss any number in the sequence or do not count the rotations properly the safe will not open. For fast access a digital lock would be much better.
Installing the Safe
When installing a safe you should include about 3/4″ under the safe for a vapor barrier. It is also good to bolt the safe to the floor. When installing a safe on a raised floor you MUST consider the effect of the added weight on your floor and joists. You may have to reinforce the floor to handle the added weight of the safe.
Some safes (including Liberty) include a transferrable warranty. This could be a nice feature especially when selling your house. If you moving and want to purchase a new safe in your new house you can leave the old safe at the old house and transfer the warranty to the new owner. This could slightly enhance the value of the old house.