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Gun Safes FAQ & Buying Guide
Let’s face it. If you own firearms, you need a gun safe or gun vault. I personally can’t think of one good reason for not owning a gun safe if you are indeed a gun owner. In fact, in some states, such as California, gun owners are required by law to either own a California-approved gun safe or purchase a new gun lock for each firearm purchased. Proof of ownership/purchase is required for each. If you do not own a gun safe or vault, you face potential liability if your firearms are stolen. Purchasing a safe is no easy decision however. There are literally dozens of gun safe manufacturers and endless design options available to you. Extracting the facts and separating them from the hyped-up marketing claims can be a daunting task but it doesn’t have to be nor need to be. I hope this Gun Safes Buying Guide serves as an invaluable tool in your gun safe research and purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Which is right for me? The combination lock or e-lock?
- If I buy a safe with an e-lock and the battery dies, can I still open the safe?
- Can I determine the combination on a manual dial lock?
- What is the automatic “lockout” feature on electronic locks?
- Which gun safes have a key backup?
Safe Rating Questions
- How are gun safe fire ratings formulated?
- How much fire protection do I need?
- Do gun safe manufacturers use standardized fire-rating tests?
- What is a Palusol door seal?
Shipping & Installation Questions
- How are most safes usually shipped?
- What is the best way to move a safe into my home?
- Can a safe be mounted to the floor?
- What should I know about the safe delivery process, before ordering a safe?
- What are my options if I live in a rural area or have a long or unusual driveway?
Q: Which is right for me? The combination lock or e-lock?
A: The type of gun safe lock any person should choose is purely a personal style preference, however, below is a short list of the pros-and-cons regarding both the e-lock and the combination dial-lock. Most gun safe manufacturers offer you to choose between the combination lock and the digital e-lock. Regarding security, both the e-lock and dial-lock possess the same security rating, Group I or Group II.
PROS for the e-lock:
- Quick and simple access
- Combination change every once in a while otherwise the keypad will wear down, showing the numbers that you use most
- Easy to see the keypad under dimmed light
- Vault door is automatically locked once the door is shut
CONS for the e-lock:
- Possible electronic failure (very-rare)
- Must update combination to avoid keypad wear-down
- Change the battery, twice a year to be safe
- life-span (typically 8-12 years)
PROS for the combination dial lock:
- No electronic parts & no battery to replace
- More durable & typically longer-lasting
CONS for the combination dial lock:
- Having to turn your dial back-and-forth can be very time consuming, especially if you’re in a defense (home invasion) situation
- Harder to see the numbers under dimmed light
- Door won’t automatically lock when shut
- Make sure to properly spin your combination dial each time you close your safe door!
Q: If I buy a safe with an e-lock and the battery dies, can I still open the safe?
A: There is absolutely no need to “get into the safe” to change the batteries on an e-lock. You simply replace the batteries which are located inside the keypad. Once the batteries have been replaced your gun safe will be ready to open. Most electronic locks do feature a low-battery alert, which notify you when the battery needs to be changed so you can avoid this issue all together.
Q: Can I determine the combination on a manual dial lock?
A: Combination dial-locks come with a per-determined code from their respective manufacturer’s factory. In most instances the lock combination can be changed, but that will need to be done by a certified locksmith. Depending on your personal preference this can be one advantage to choosing an electronic lock.
Q: What is the automatic “lockout” feature on electronic locks?
A: Most high-quality electronic locks do have an automatic lock-out feature. This feature is designed to disable the lock for a short period of time (typically 15 to 30 minutes) if someone enters the combination code incorrectly three consecutive times. This excellent safeguard keeps thieves from trying multiple different combinations in a short period of time.
Q: Which gun safes have a key backup?
A: Surprisingly, most full-size gun safes do NOT have a key backup. However there are a few exceptions.
Q: How are gun safe fire ratings formulated?
A: A safe’s fire-rating, conveys to a customer, the period of time a gun safe will sustain at or above a specific temperature all the while keeping its internal temp below 350 degrees. Advanced testing and research shows that most paper will begin to char at 400° F. Directly related to this fact is the reason manufacturers typically use 350° as the max internal temperature in which the valuables of a gun safe can reach during the period of time which they specify for each vault or safe. During the test phase, gun safes are usually heated up to a specific temperature, typically between 1100° F and 1400° F, for up to five hours. The gun safe is then allowed to cool naturally. To pass the test, the safe’s contents of the safe must not exceed 350° F. This is to ensure the survivability of any important documents which may be stored in the safe. Many office safes and house safes are manufactured specifically to hold and protect a variety of media (cd’s, flash drives, external hard drives, etc.). Because of this, the internal temp of the gun safe must always remain under 125° F. The reason as to why is because most media typically melts at much lower temperatures. If you are indeed planning to secure any type of media in your safe, A-1 Safes Co. recommends placing a separate smaller media-rated safe inside your larger fire-rated gun safe.
Q: How much fire protection do I need?
A: Many factors should be considered when you are deciding on a fire-rated gun safe. Most fire-ratings start at just 30 minutes. As fire insulation is increased in the production of the safe, the amount of time in which that respective gun safe can withstand a higher temperature is increased. Consumer gun safe fire ratings typically top out at 2.5 hrs. When deciding your fire protection needs you should ask yourself a few of the below questions:
- Do I live in a high fire danger area?
- Am I securing this gun safe inside my general home or will it be placed in a basement?
- Are there a lot of trees, brush, and other natural fuels near or around my home?
- How far away is my home from the local fire department?
- Can my insurance replace all of the valuables which are in my gun safe or are the valuables irreplaceable?
Do a quick Google search and you can find many sources of great information regarding gun safe fire-ratings. Most of what I’ve found pointed out that the average house fire in the U.S. burns for 26 minutes at 1150° F. Look at your specific situation and determine what end of the “average” you are on. You will want to choose a fire-rating based upon that determination.
Q: Do gun safe manufacturers use standardized fire-rating tests?
A: No. Unlike fuel standards or electric ratings in the U.S., there is not a regulatory body which oversees or regulates the fire-ratings on gun safes. Because of this, many gun safe and vault manufacturers are able to assert bogus claims. If you will seek and ask the tough questions and do your research and due diligence you will be able sniff out any phony gun safe claims. Below are a few questions to keep in mind and get answers to when researching your fire-rating needs:
- Does the gun safe manufacturer use composite material or fireboard?
- How many layers of insulation are used in the production of the respective safe and on how many sides is the insulation used on?
- What is the period of the warranty and does it cover all fire damage scenarios?
- Does the gun safe manufacturer have any complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau?
Q: What is a Palusol door seal?
A: A Palusol seal is one specific brand of many intumescent seal brands. These intumescent door seals are placed in the door jams of all fire-rated safes in order to prevent any heat transfer and/or smoke from gaining entry into the safe. Some gun safe manufacturers use Palusol door seals, while others use generic branded door seals, but all intumescent seals work using the exact same concept. When an intumescent seal is heated from any heat source, the seal expands and seals the safe door shut. This seal can also keep small amounts of water out, but it is not meant to and does not make the gun safe waterproof.
Q: How are most safes usually shipped?
A: Because of their overwhelming weight, most safes are usually shipped via an LTL freight carrier. LTL (Less Than Load) carriers are typically 18 wheelers but can sometimes be small box trucks (UPS type of trucks). The gun safes are pre-packaged with padded edge protectors and heavy-duty cardboard. The safe is then bolted into a wooden pallet so the freight delivery driver is able to easily move the respective gun safe with a simple pallet jack. Curbside deliveries over 135 lbs will be delivered with a lift-gate. A lift-gate is a hydraulic lift on the back end of the truck which lowers the safe down to the ground level. If a gun safe is shipped “curbside-delivery”, that means it will be unloaded by the freight driver then left at the curb. Depending on the carrier, if the truck driver is comfortable and able to do so, he will unload the gun safe on the driveway of the home. Of course, this will depend on the driver, the truck’s ability, and the grade of the driveway.
Q: What is the best way to move a safe into my home?
A: Typically there are half a dozen options available to you when it comes to getting your gun safe moved into your home:
Hire a safe-moving company. Most safe-movers will usually offer several tiers of service.
The first tier usually consists of the gun safe being moved into your garage. They safe movers will move your safe into your garage which is a great option if that is indeed where you’re planning to keep it. The wooden pallet will most likely be left attached to the bottom of the gun safe with this level of service.
The second tier of service offered usually involves the safe delivery company safely moving the gun safe inside your house, typically into any room of your choice. Most likely, this level of service will include the removal the wooden pallet that is connected to the bottom side of the gun safe. If the gun safe is under 800 pounds the movers may also offer to move your gun safe up or down two flights of stairs. After the gun safe is securely in place, the movers will clean up and dispose of all packing debris.
The “Do-It-Yourself-er” method of delivery
If you can arrange some manual laborers or good friends to move your gun safe from the curb into your house, you will be able to avoid paying any delivery fees. There are many and various methods to moving a heavy gun safe but the most popular and by far the safest way is to use a heavy-duty pallet jack or furniture dolly. Pallet jacks are great tools because the gun safe will most likely already be attached to a wooden pallet. The hydraulic lift on the pallet jack will make the actual moving process from the curbside to your home’s threshold very easy. Once at your front door, you’ll most likely want a solid crew of 3-4 men to help lift the gun safe inside the front door. Furniture dollies can be incredibly helpful at this point.
Q: Can a safe be mounted to the floor?
A: Yes, most of the time, your gun safe can be mounted to your floor. Most gun safe and vault manufacturers will pre-drill mounting holes into the bottom of the safe. They recommend you bolt the safe securely into the floor. On rare occasion the mounting hardware will be included with the gun safe. If this is not the case, there is no need to worry. The bolts and gun safe mounting kit can be picked up at your local locksmith store. If you are planning to mount your gun safe in the garage floor or down in your basement and you have a concrete floor foundation there are lag bolts, which are completely suitable, that you can use. One of the many advantages to mounting your gun safe is that it won’t be able to tip over. In addition, bolting the safe down adds a higher level of security by making it harder for someone to break-in.
Q: What should I know about the safe delivery process, before ordering a safe?
A: First off, you will need to write down incredibly accurate measurements of each and every door in which the gun safe will be passing through. Then compare those doorway measurements to the exact exterior dimensions of the fully-assembled gun safe. The most important spec of the gun safe will most likely be the depth and this because a gun safe can be easily tipped onto its side. Doing this will make the depth of the safe the widest measurement when going through any door. In most cases the gun safe will be shipped with the handle stored securely in the safe to keep it from being damaged.
You’ll also want to plan the best route for the safe to go through your home to its final destination. Is it easier to go through the front door, around the back, or through the garage? Make sure to mention at the time of the order if you have a steep or gravel driveway, a section of grass to roll over, a fence, or any other obstacles. This way the delivery company will make sure to bring the appropriate equipment the first time. It’s also a good idea to think of a possible “backup plan” in case they’re not able to get the safe where you wish. If the safe won’t fit or is too hard to maneuver into the location you choose, give them a secondary location to put the safe.
Q: What are my options if I live in a rural area or have a long or unusual driveway?
A: Safe & Vault deliveries are usually determined on a case-by-case basis. Obviously, your best bet is contacting your local gun safe delivery company and discussing with them your specific situation and options available to you. The gun safe delivery representative will be able to determine the best way for you to proceed. If your home’s driveway is not a suitable candidate for large truck deliveries, you may need to plan on picking it up at the end of your driveway or at the local delivery terminal in your city.