Home safe burglary and fire ratings

If you decide a home safe is the route to take to store your collection, it is useful to brush up on the different levels of burglary and fire protection that are available.

Good-to-know: some manufacturers can make custom-sized safes at the same cost at the “standard” sizes. With this benefit, you can select the right size to fit an appropriate location in your home, and even design to fit whatever you will be placing in the safe (watch display boxes, hard drives, computers, paperwork, etc.).

Some manufacturers to consider:
American Security
Brown Safe
Prestige Safe (many of their safes are made to order, so you can select any size or shape, at no additional cost)

As for the specs of the safe and your home, being risk-averse I recommend:
1. TL-15 Rated safe weighing enough that no thief is going to be able to carry out without some serious assistance (if they were even able to unbolt it from your dwelling)
2. Group 2M mechanical lock
3. Class 350 degree 2 hour fire rating: interior temperature not above 350 degrees when subjected to 2 hours at 1850 degrees
4. Home alarm

Burglary Ratings and Classifications
Please don’t purchase safes with the following ratings:
No recognized rating
The only rating on these is from the manufacturer itself (no UL rating). Avoid.

Theft resistant
The safe has a lock. That’s it. Your office file cabinet has the same rating.

RSC (Residential Security Container) TL-5 rating
UL-rated, yes, but can only withstand an assault by a thief with basic household tools (crow bar, screwdriver, hammer, drill, etc.) for up to 5 minutes. Beware of safes that blend steel plating with drywall fireproofing panels. Tip-offs for these will be weight – the heavier the better. Most home burglaries are over in 12 minutes. This safe will probably only help you out if you are in the home and the thief is someone you have let in and is either a guest or perhaps working within the home, so you’ll be able to hear any attempt to open.

Safe classifications worthwhile to consider
The following are Construction Ratings, established by the insurance industry
Class B rating (“B” Rate Construction)
This rating is not standardized across the industry, and while in theory a step up from RSC TL-5, these have not been UL tested. These safes most often have a 3/16″ to 1/4″ thick steel body with a 1/2″ thick steel door. Note that the thickness measurement provided is the total thickness on a side, including any material sandwiched in between other plates (so a Class B safe may have two pieces of 1/8″ steel with material in between). I recommend a UL rated safe.

Class C Rating (“C” Rate Construction)
Double the weight of Class B, and double the steel thickness all around.
As with “B” Rate Construction, this rating is not standardized across the industry, and while a step up from Class B, these also have not been UL tested. Again, this is not my recommendation.

If you are really serious…these will help to keep thieves at bay for a while
UL (Underwriters Laboratories) rated safes
TL-15 Rating
A burglary rating provided by UL, TL-15 guarantees the safe is capable of withstanding sustained attack from a seasoned safecracker with an assistant and intimate knowledge of the safe’s inner workings. To pass this test, the safe must resist high-powered specific safecracking tools using by professional thieves for at least 15 minutes on the door (an additional 8 minutes on the body). The 15 minutes is the actual working time on the safe…when the tools are physically touching the safe and attempting to open. Tools for this rating include common hand tools, drills, punches, hammers, etc.

TL-30 Rating
As with TL-15, but resistant for at least 30 minutes (and an additional 8 minutes on the door), and some additional tools.
A TL-30×6 rating provides for testing on all 6 sides of the safe. A TRTL-30 rated safe can handle 30 minutes of attack with a torch and other advanced tools with high speed drills, saws with caribide bits, etc.

Lock Ratings
Some choose electronic locks for their ease-of-use, others go with the old standby mechanical locks (the dial you spin back and forth). Pacific Lock has a nice safe lock reference guide.

Electronic Locks
Group 1 (“UL Type 1”)
If you go with an electronic lock, you’ll want a UL Type 1. UL 2058 (the primary standard for electronic safe locks) has just one grade, so you will want to make sure if you select an electronic lock that it is UL Type 1. For these rating, batteries much be stored outside of the safe (in the keypad mechanism), the safe combination must be stored in non-volatile memory (remains even after power is cut), and the processing of entry combination takes place within the safe.

Mechanical Locks
Most locksmiths I have spoken with prefer the old school mechanical locks, noting they hold up better over time, and easier to bypass if necessary. The arguments given in favor of for electronic locks is they are easier to use if you need to get into your safe extremely quickly, if you need to regularly change the combination (and want to do so on your own), and are going to access on a very frequent basis (say, multiple times per hour).

A mechanical lock can be unlocked in roughly 10 second by someone who moved as a reasonable speed. Don’t believe nonsense such as this Dean Safe video that shows someone taking 30 seconds to open a mechanical lock.

Mechanical locks are rated based upon UL 768, which specify tolerance levels and defines attack resistance. All rated locks under UL 768 must provide at least 1 million possible combinations.

Group 2
The minimum rating. Using on B and C class safes (see above). Not recommended for higher rated containers, such as TL-15 and TL-30.

Group 2M
Most common, providing up to 2 man-hours of resistance, and used on TL-15 and TL-30 rates safes. I recommend use of a Group 2M or higher (Group 1 or 1R) lock.

Group 1
Incredibly safe, and recommended for TL-30×6 and TRTL-30 rated safes. Resists 20 man-hours of attack. Punching results in the lock being immobilized.

Group 1R
Beyond Group 1, and resist up to 20 hours of radiological (aka X-ray) attack.

Fire Ratings
UL offers the most comprehensive and stringent fire testing. The temperature on the UL label (i.e. Class 350) indicates the maximum interior safe temperature during testing. For reference, paper chars at 405 degrees F, with paper auto-igniting around 480 degrees F. Home fires can reach temperatures of 1100-1500 degrees F, with the highest temperatures at the ceiling and in the attic area – so hopefully far from where a safe would be positioned.

When purchasing a safe, you may also wish to ask how the safe reacts to high temperatures. Some safes have walls that expand with heat, providing additional protection, and some feature material such as Palusol and Flexilodice, which act as seals to expand at high temperatures and prevent access by flames, smoke or hot gases.

Both your environment and distance to fire station locations should play a role in your decision on appropriate fire rating, as these in turn determine how long a fire might be expected to burn uncontrolled at your home.