Purchasing a fireproof safe or file cabinet is a crucial step you can take in protecting your home or business's important documents and media from fire damage. Though the tragedy of fire may seem like an unlikely event, preparing for the worst by ensuring the safety of your important documents and media is always a smart decision.
If you're wondering what kind of documents require the protection of a fireproof safe, look no further. The following list, from Sentry® Safes, includes suggestions for which documents to protect and how long to save them.
- Adoption Papers - permanently
- Bank & Credit Card Records - for 6 years
- Birth & Death Certificates - permanently
- Citizenship Papers - permanently
- Contracts - for 7 years after expiration
- Child Custody Papers - permanently
- Deeds - permanently
- Divorce & Separation Papers - permanently
- Health Records - permanently
- Home/Property Inventory - permanently; update as needed
- Insurance Policies - for 4 years after expiration date
- Loan Papers - for 3 years after loan is paid off
- Marriage Certificate - permanently
- Mortgage - for 3 years after loan is paid off
- Passport - until replaced
- Stock & Bond Certificates - for 4 years after sold
- Tax Records - for 6 years
- Warranties - as long as you own the item(s)
- Will - as long as it is in effect
Finding the right fireproof safe or file cabinet may seem like a daunting task. There are many different styles and models to choose from, as well as safes and cabinets designed to protect different things for different amounts of time. This buying guide is designed to make understanding the protection you need easier and less time consuming.
Underwriter's Laboratories Class Ratings
The first point to understand about buying fireproof safes and cabinets is the rating system used to delineate the protective quality of the unit. Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) is the trusted source across the globe for product compliance. Benefiting a range of customers - from manufacturers and retailers to consumers and regulating bodies - they've tested products for public safety for more than a century.
UL rates products by a 1, 2, or 3. This means that the product successfully withstood an external fire temperature of 1700 degrees Fahrenheit to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit for 1, 2, or 3 hours while the internal temperature did not exceed 350 degrees for paper storage and 125 degrees for media storage. It is important to note that the 1, 2, and 3-hour ratings are how long the products were tested, not how long they will stand up in a real fire. Many independent tests have found that they last much longer.
Paper versus Media Storage
There is a great difference in deciding on a fireproof storage product for paper versus a product for media, such as CD's, disks, photographs, etc., which is why we carry a large selection of both types of products.
Paper ignites at 400 degrees Fahrenheit and begins to sustain damage at 350 degrees which is why products pass UL tests only if the internal temperature does not raise above 350 degrees.
Electronic media, and any other non-paper products, are much more susceptible to heat and humidity damage. They begin to degrade at only 125 degrees and 80% humidity. Media safes are constructed differently and insulated more heavily than those designed to protect paper.
Keep this in mind when looking for a fireproof safe or cabinet; you can keep paper in a media safe or cabinet without it sustaining damage, but you cannot keep media in a paper safe or cabinet and expect the same protection. Both types, however, use the same 1, 2, and 3-hour rating system.
Other Useful Tips
All truly fireproof safes are impact resistant per UL testing standards because of the danger of safes and cabinets falling through damaged ceilings and floors.
All fireproof safes and cabinets are water resistant during a fire because of the positive pressure on the inside of the file, which along with the expansion created by the heat tends to keep water out. In the absence of fire the safes and cabinets are vulnerable to water intrusion, though depending on the brand some resist water better than others.
Many people believe that their files are protected in standard metal cabinets because they are metal and metal does not burn. Unfortunately this is not the case; in actuality the metal conducts the fire's heat inside creating the effect of an incinerator.
If you are looking for a safe for your home, usually a safe with a 1-hour rating is sufficient as the price increases dramatically the higher the rating.