Fireproof Safes & Cabinets Buying Guide

Fireproof safes and file cabinets are designed and certified to withstand the highest temperatures of most residential and office fires. But not all products are created equal. What do you need to keep in mind when shopping for a fireproof safe or cabinet?


UL Fire and Impact Ratings

Always check to make sure the safe or cabinet is tested by Underwriters' Laboratory (UL) or ETL independent testing companies that ensure products meet UL standards. Be wary of a product that makes a statement such as "built to UL specification." If the item is UL or ETL listed, it will be expressly stated and advertised, since these certifications are expensive and difficult to achieve. But what does UL certification entail?

Overview of ratings

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is an independent company that tests hundreds of thousands of manufactured products to ensure that they meet their rigorous quality and safety standards. Beyond just testing products, UL performs several unannounced inspections per year at manufacturing locations, to ensure that the manufacturer meets their high standards.

Electrical Testing Laboratories (ETL) is another independent testing company. Like UL, it is an OSHA recognized Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). Unlike UL, ETL does not publish their own standards; instead, they test parts and components to the published standards of other NRTLs, like UL.

A product that meets Underwriters Laboratories standards is said to be "UL Listed." This listing is so well respected that installing a safe or file without an ETL or UL mark could be considered gross negligence in some situations, and may violate insurance requirements or government regulations (i.e. HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, OSHA).

FireKing Fireproof File Cabinet

UL Fire Ratings

With fireproof safes and file cabinets, a UL listing specifies the standard of protection the fireproof container provides its contents when exposed to fire. The file cabinet or safe is subject to various test conditions that will ultimately expose all six sides to fire. This is accomplished by placing the file cabinet or safe in a furnace that heats all exposed surfaces to the temperature conditions specified in the test standard. In the video below you can see how FireKing fireproof file cabinets are fire tested.

Underwriters Laboratories uses three different listings to evaluate records protection equipment:

1.)  Class 350-rated files and safes protect paper products
2.)  Class 150-rated files and media safes protect magnetic tapes and photographic film
3.)  Class 125-rated files and data safes protect all media plus flexible computer disks

Each class indicates the maximum temperature the inside of a safe or cabinet will reach at external temperatures of 1700° during the time its certified for. So a UL Class 350 1-hour cabinet will not exceed 350° for at least an hour. A UL Class 125 2-hour cabinet will not exceed 125° for at two hours.

UL Class 350 1-Hour Fireproof File Cabinet

1-Hour Rated Fireproof File Cabinet

The above chart shows the rate at which a typical commercial structure fire burns compared to the protection offered by a cabinet or safe that's been UL tested to provide 1 hour of protection. As you can see, the average commercial fire burns at approximately 800°F for 20 minutes, but fireproof safes or file cabinets can withstand up to an hour at 1700°F. The temperature of a fire can be higher depending on several factors, but the average gas temperature in a fully developed fire is not likely to reach even 1500°F. Fires that have not developed to post-flashover stage will not exceed 1000°F (far below the 1700° rating).  What this means is, in a typical house or office fire your fireproof cabinet or safe may protect your contents far longer than it's hour rating since the fire will probably not reach the extreme conditions of the certification. 

UL Impact Ratings

Fire very commonly results in building or structural collapse – an impact rated file or safe must be able to withstand a fall from multiple stories. For a UL listed safe to be labeled “Impact Rated” it is heated to 1550°F in a furnace, raised three stories and dropped onto a pile of bricks and then returned to the furnace and reheated. In order to meet the listing requirement, temperatures inside can't have risen above 350°F and sample papers left inside must be readable. In the video below you can see an impact test for a FireKing file cabinet

Fireproof Safes & Cabinets FAQ

What fireproof safe or cabinet should I buy?
That depends on what you need it for! UL125 is the recommended rating for storing computer media, photographs, jewelry, film, or any other sensitive items, while UL350 is enough for proper protection of paper documents.

Many fireproof safes & cabinets also seemed to be rated for water resistance. Why is this?

Typically, where there is fire there is also water. Fire hoses can release up to 250 gallons of water per minute while overhead sprinklers distribute about 30 gallons per minute. Water is often the cause for document loss and, in the event that your home or business is involved in a fire, the items in your safe will need just as much protection from the water as they do from the fire.

Are fireproof safes & cabinets also impact tested?

Usually, but not all fireproof safes are tested for this. You can see the section on impact testing above.

Can I store computer media in a fireproof file cabinet?

Yes, as long as the file cabinet is media rated, it will protect computer media. For more secure storage, however, you may want a media & data safe.

DigitalBuyer carries a full selection of fireproof file cabinets and fireproof safes. Competitive pricing, free standard shipping, and full warranties. Contact our Sales team to request a quote, browse our selection, or check out some of our best sellers below.

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