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Buying a Safe: Understanding UL Safe Ratings

Posted By Jim On 03/22/2011 @ 7:13 am In Personal Finance | 16 Comments

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 [3] 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 [4], 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 [5])


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[3] safe deposit box: http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/how-to-use-safe-deposit-boxes.html

[4] break into a safe: http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/corporate/newsroom/storyideas/urbansafetymyths/safes/

[5] lymangsr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87371141@N00/3054200486/sizes/s/

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