Safes 101

Before purchasing a safe there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.

Firstly, there are two main safe categories: (a) fire-resistant safes and (b) burglary-resistant safes. (Some models combine these two features, but in terms of construction and testing, safes are classified as either fire- or burglary-resistant.)

Secondly, the safe manufacture is not always the lock manufacture. While it is true that some lock makers like Molser for instance, also made safes, this is rarely the case today. Most manufactures of quality safes today purchase their locks from Sargent and Greenleaf, LpLocks, or Kaba, to name just a few lock makers operating today.

Thirdly, when it comes to safe locks, there are two main categories: (a) electronic and (b) mechanical. The former needs batteries (usually one 9V) and requires the use of a six digit changeable code which is “punched in”. The later does not need batteries and requires the use of a three (or four) number combination which is “dialled in”. Electronic locks are faster and easer to use, but tend not to be as reliable as mechanical ones. They also allow for the use of multiple user codes and often have audit trail capabilities. The combination on most mechanical locks can also be changed, but the use of a special tool (called a Change Key) is required in order to be able to do this.

Fourthly, though safe ratings have varied over time and between regions, in North America Underwriter’s Laboratories is the predominant safety testing and certification organization today for just about everything, including safes. UL rates fire-resistant safes according to the length of the heating period and the maximum allowable temperature inside the safe. Heating periods are 1/2, 1, 2, 3, and 4 hours long; and the allowable interior temperature is 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 177 degrees Celsius). Paper inside a safe begins to char and blacken at this temperature, so if a safe placed in an oven at 1,700 degrees F (or 926 degrees C) for one hour is able to keep its internal temperature below 350 degrees F, then it qualifies for a UL rating of “Class 350-1 Hour”. If it is able to keep its internal temperature below 350 degrees F for 2 hours, then it qualifies for a UL rating of “Class 350-2 Hour”, and so on.

UL rates burglary-resistant safes according to: (a) the tools used, (b) the time given, and (c) the sides attacked. The tools used include hand tools (TL), torches (TR), and explosives (TX). The testing times are either 15, 30, or 60 minutes long. And the sides attacked include either the front only or the front and body (i.e all six sides). So, to take an example, a safe with a TL-15 rating is able to stop a burglar armed with hand tools for 15 minutes from opening the door or making a hole in it. A safe with a TL-15X6 rating is able to offer the same level of protection on both the door and body. The highest rating for a burglary-resistant safe is TXTL-60.

In summary, before buying a safe you will first need to decide on whether or not you want one that provides fire or burglary resistance. Next, you will need to choose the type of lock you would like: electronic or mechanical. Finally, you will need to determine the level of protection that is needed for the goods that you will be storing in it. If the goods that you will be storing are insured, then you will need to make these decisions with the help of your insurance agent.

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