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Buying a Safe: Understanding UL Safe Ratings

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Safe & Lock Co.We live in a nice enough area that we don’t have to be worried about burglaries but every time I walk through the office section of Costco, I consider buying a safe for a little added protection for our valuables. It’s like a halfway point between having a hiding spot in our house and a safe deposit box at the bank, a secure container that offers both protection from theft and, a seemingly more likely accident like a fire or a flood.

As I started reading about safes, I found that there’s a lot more to them than being a heavy box with a lock on it. Safes have fire ratings, burglary ratings, and all sorts of other accessories and special gizmos to help secure and protect your valuables. When it comes to ratings, the gold standard is the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and UL ratings exist for burglary and fire. When they try to break into a safe, they really get into it (nitroglycerin!).

Weight, Securing the Safe

Before we get into any of the ratings, it’s important to note the weight and methods by which you can secure a safe. Even the most secure safe is beatable if you have a lot of time. The easiest way to get a lot of time is to simply take the entire safe with you. Since we wouldn’t be buying a large enough safe, it simply wouldn’t make sense given what we’re protecting (not much!), it has to be heavy enough or secured enough that someone couldn’t walk off with it.

Burglary Ratings

While I’m not all that concerned about burglary, having a safe does provide a little peace of mind. For safes, there are burglary ratings that explain how resistant a particular safe is. The ratings are actually quite comprehensive and when it comes to commercial safes, testing sometimes even includes 8 ounces of nitroglycerin (TXTL60 rating can survive an hour of attack).

For residential safes, the main ratings are:

  • Residential Security Container (RSC): The safe can withstand 5 full minutes of prying, drilling, punching, chiseling, and tampering attacks.
  • B Rating: Doors < 1" thickness, body < ½" steel.
  • C Rating: Doors at least 1″ thickness, body at least ½” steel.
  • TL-15: Combination safe successfully resisted 15 minutes of attacks with common hand tools, electrical tools (TL stands for tool resistant).
  • TL-30: Combination safe successfully resisted 30 minutes of attacks with common hand tools, electrical tools.

Those ratings only cover attacks on the door and front face. You can get ratings for TL-15X6, which means tool resistant for 15 minutes on all six faces (hence the X6). There is also a TXTL-60X6 which means it’s torch, explosive, and tool resistant for sixty minutes.

Fire Ratings

If you’re looking at a safe to give you some protection against fire, you’ll need to review it’s UL fire rating. The fire resistance ratings are easy to decipher once you understand how they’re structured. Each rating is given a class, which indicates the internal temperature of the safe once it’s been put in a furnace that is heated up to as much as 2000°F. Once it has reached a certain time, the furnace is shut off but the safe is still locked inside with sensor measuring all the pertinent factors like temperature and humidity.

  • Class 125 means the safe sustains an internal temperature of 125°F and 80% humidity. It’s suitable for floppy disks.
  • Class 150 means the safe sustains an internal temperature of 150°F and 85% humidity. This is suitable for data tapes, magnetic drives, and compact disks.
  • Class 350 means the safe sustains an internal temperature of 350°F and 85% humidity. This is for paper.

In addition to the Class itself there will also be an hour rating, which means it can sustain that level of protection for that specified period of time.

I’m not sure if we’ll be buying a safe anytime soon but it has been fun researching them and learning all about the different ratings systems.

(Photo: lymangsr)

{ 16 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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16 Responses to “Buying a Safe: Understanding UL Safe Ratings”

  1. cubiclegeoff says:

    I’ve thought about a safe, but not sure we really need it. But thanks for the info, since it will be helpful if I browse safes in the future. Although it does show that any safe is susceptible.

  2. Shirley says:

    We have chosen a safe deposit box rather than a home safe. Now I’m wondering about the fire safety there.

  3. Strebkr says:

    This makes me want to go check my safe to see what kind of protection it offers.

  4. TBS says:

    “We live in a nice enough area that we don’t have to be worried about burglaries.”

    Famous last words.

  5. NoNonsenseNick says:

    If your concerned about important documents then you should look into an eSafeDepositBox.

    MMRGlobal ( has an electronic lock box for insurance policies, copies of passports, birth certificates, deeds of trust, and photos of personal property.

    If its jewels and other treasures, then a bank Safe Deposit Box is the way to go.

  6. tbork84 says:

    I just purchased a fire proof storage box to keep some important documents in a few months ago. Of course that was after the four alarm fire next door that luckily enough did not spread, but I am happy to have purchased it.

    • skylog says:

      nothing like an experience like that to put things in perspective. at least you got that warning/kick start and it was not a case of too little too late.

  7. billsnider says:

    There are some people who will rob you not for jewels, but for personal info. We all have this stuff all around us. That is why they are going for it.

    So a few years back I bought one for the purpose of putting my personal info in it. I hid it in my house and bolted it to the floor. I have any documnet which has my social security, bank or other key numbers.

    Bill snider

  8. Gabe says:

    I had a safe for a few years that I picked up at Sam’s Club. I like to look at it as a central location to place all the important documentation. God forbid something were to happen, I can grab the safe and go. Plus it’s rated for 1 hour of fire.

    However, I’m not too concerned about robberies. I have an alarm system and the safe is hidden. By the time they are able to locate it, the cops will be here. I like to try and make their job as difficult as possible. 😀

    My parents’ house got robbed once and almost twice before they got an alarm system. Thank goodness it was a professional – no smash and grab. They went right up to the bedroom and took jewelry and money. Anything they can put into their pocket and pawn off. Moral of the story, don’t keep things of significance where you’d expect to find them. Who would think that there’s money in the can of creamed corn towards the back of the cabinet?

    • Shirley says:

      Oh, I really like that can idea! The freezer is good too, as is underneath the garbage can liner in the kitchen.

  9. zapeta says:

    I have a small safe that I keep some personal documents in as a deterrent to theft and fire. However, since they are portable there isn’t anything keeping someone from carrying them off. When I get a house I plan on getting a safe that is rated high for fire and theft and having it mounted to the floor.

  10. thunderthighs says:

    Very useful article! I had no idea safes had ratings. Something that mustn’t be overlooked.

  11. Strebkr says:

    Ever think of having two safes? One is a little more obvious then the other. If someone wants it, they can have it. It doesn’t have much in it. The other one is well hidden and has all the very important documents.

  12. skylog says:

    one of my concerns is that even if i have a safe at home, if it is not secured in some serious way (bolted to the floor, too heavy..etc), someone can simply take it. then, where am i? i don’t care that someone else has my stuff, only that i do not have my stuff.

    then, how to balance that fear with the idea of me simply being able to quickly grab it, if there was a need to get out quickly.

    i am still struggling with this, as well as the option of a box at the bank.

    • Strebkr says:

      I really don’t think there is a time when you need to quickly grab it.

      If its a fire you should be running out on your own. The safe will protect your stuff from the heat and water.

      If its a natural disaster, you should have time to evacuate. In this case you just open it up and transfer it to something you are taking with you.

      Its a matter of balancing your risks. Robbery>Fire>Natural Disaster. Those are my concerns in that order. Mine is locked down and not going anywhere.

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