By Scott Bennett
Burglary safes have been around for as long as there was a reason to protect your valuables from theft. Fire safes have been around for almost 200 years. All safe, including fire safes, have some burglary resistance due to the fact they are all locked and would need hand tools, such as pry bars, hammers and the like to gain access.
Fire safes are usually constructed of lightweight sheet metal or even plastic in some cases, including the fire insulation itself.
Burglary safes are constructed out of heavy gauge sheet metal or plate still up to several inches thick depending on the level of burglary protection needed.
There are now fire/burglary safes that are constructed using both technologies so you get protection from all.
Over the last 50 years, safe manufacturers have increased from just a few to many. This has driven the cost down, but has also driven the quality of safes down. However, there are still good quality safes out there for fire, burglary and both. Those safes can only be purchased from a safe and vault store, locksmith shop, etc. The mass produced safes you find at box stores or home stores may look about the same, but will fail prematurely.
Most safe manufacturers have been forced to go overseas to have some of their safes made, just so they can compete price-wise with the home/box stores. Most manufacturers have lines from overseas and lines that are made in the USA. Gun style safes are a great example of this. They ae big and look impressive, but do not hold up as well as a safe designed to secure money. In the safe world, you get what you pay for.
Now, to get back to the basics of how a safe is designed so you can make an educated decision on what safe will work best for your needs. There are different ways to make fire safes, meaning the type of insulation used to reach the same outcome.
Some insulation is poured and stays wet. When the safe is in a fire, this insulation starts to put off steam, which dampens the contents of the safe, so they won’t ignite.
Some fire safes have crystals that will melt in a fire and put off steam so the contents won’t ignite.
Both styles need to be left open from time to time so they can air out, as they will sweat out the moisture in the insulation and dampen the contents, even when the safe is not on fire. The dampness will also rust the safe as well.
Then there are the fire safes that have a drier insulation, which doesn’t have the sweating problem. Those safes usually have much thicker insulation so they can protect the contents from igniting. That makes the safe much larger on the outside and much smaller on the inside. Most of these types of safes are made overseas and don’t have the same Environmental Protection Agency laws required of U.S. manufacturers. This means the insulation can be dried out differently than safes manufactured in the U.S. Most of these types of safes are not labeled by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and don’t go through or pass fire test standards put out by independent testing methods.
They are manufacturer tested, meaning they tell you what you want to hear, but may not actually perform as well as the safes that test to UL specifications.
The same applies to burglary safes. Most burglary safes are tested by UL and can carry the residential security container (RSC) label, which is the lowest burglary label available. The next label up is the TL15, followed by the TL30. Those are the label ratings on the door of the safes as to how long it takes to put a small hole in the door with drills, grinders, hammers, etc.
The next level of burglary safes are tested not only on the door, but the body as well. With the TL15 and TL 30 models, the X6 designation means that all six sides of the safe have been tested against those modes of entry.
Finally, there are the TRTL15 or TRTL30 safes that go through the same tests for hand tools such as grinders, pry bars and drills, plus adding protection from cutting torches as well. There are very few manufacturers that make safes at that level, since they are the most expensive safes out there and overkill for most security needs.
The best way to purchase a safe to protect your valuables is to contact a professional safe company that specializes in safes. They can help guide you in the proper direction and help you choose the right level of safe. They can also provide other services, such as installing the safe where it needs to go without damaging your property, and securing it to the floor properly.
There are certain areas where you don’t cut corners to save money and security should be at the top of that list. The bottom line is that in the security world, you get what you pay for!
Scott Bennett is a second-generation safe vault technician and owner of Security Safe & Lock in Bellevue, Washington. He has more than 35 years of experience in the security field for safes, vaults, locks and access control.