Are Safety Deposit Boxes Fireproof?
By Larry Li
March 29, 2022
Although safety deposit boxes are supposed to be 100% secure, there’s always a chance of fires due to electrical wiring problems, lightning strikes, and other unfortunate events.
But will your safety deposit box be safe when a disastrous fire strikes your bank?
Contrary to popular belief, safety deposit boxes are not fireproof. This means that they are not immune to heat and fire. During a fire, if the temperature inside the bank vault rises to 451 degrees Fahrenheit, paper documents will ignite. At 1,763 degrees Fahrenheit, jewelry and other metal items will melt.
Now that we understand that safe deposit boxes aren’t fireproof, you probably want to learn if your valuables are insured and protected if they get destroyed in a fire. I’ll explain all of this and much more so that you can make the right decision for storing your valuable items.
In today’s essential guide, I’ll cover:
What happens if your safety deposit box gets burned in a fire
Items you shouldn’t keep in your safety deposit box
Alternatives to safety deposit boxes
Is Your Safety Deposit Box Safe During A Fire?
The majority of safety deposit boxes are kept in bank vaults, which are fire resistant to a certain degree. In the event of a major fire, the fire can seep into the bank fault and destroy your safety deposit box.
I spoke with a Chase Bank branch representative, she said:
“The safety deposit boxes are kept in our vault so they are protected but this doesn’t ensure that they are fire proof.”
Even if the vault wasn’t destroyed, all the crucial documents in your safety deposit box would turn to ashes if the temperature gets high enough.
So the answer is a resounding NO, your safety deposit box is not safe during a fire.
What Happens If Your Safety Deposit Box Gets Destroyed In A Fire?
Banks do not insure the contents of the safety deposit boxes because only the owner of the box knows what’s inside. Unless you purchased a separate insurance policy for your safety deposit box’s contents from a third-party agency, you likely wouldn’t get reimbursed.
For example, let’s say you had $100,000 worth of cash in a safety deposit box, and the bank burned down along with your safe deposit box. When you deposited the cash inside the safety deposit box, nobody saw what you placed into the box except for you. The bank attendant left you in the vault by yourself.
Because of this, the bank doesn’t know what items you placed in the safe deposit box and, therefore, cannot insure you.
Each bank is unique and has different protocols. You need to ask your bank for its policies if your safety deposit box does burn down.
After speaking with a U.S. Bank Branch representative, she stated:
“Our safety deposit boxes are not fire proof and the contents are not insured by the bank or the FDIC.”
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) does not insure the contents of a safety deposit box. FDIC insurance only covers deposit accounts such as checkings and savings accounts.
If you want to insure the contents of your safety deposit box, I recommend purchasing a rider to your homeowner's insurance policy to cover your valuables.
Items You Should NOT Store In A Safety Deposit Box In Case Of A Fire
There are a few items that should not be kept in a safety deposit box, which include cash, passports, uninsured valuables, living wills, and medical records. Cash is not insured, and you may need to access important documents like your passport when the bank isn’t open.
Although it’s common for individuals to store cash in a safety deposit box, I don’t recommend doing so. In the event of a fire, your cash can potentially catch fire and get destroyed. Worst of all, the FDIC does not insure the contents of a safety deposit box.
It’s much more optimal to store cash inside of a bank account. Burglars won’t be able to access it, and you can withdraw it from an ATM whenever you need it. Furthermore, rather than keeping your important physical documents in a safety deposit box, it’s better to store them in your home in a fireproof safe.
However, the best storage method for important documents is to use a digital storage platform like Trustworthy, which I discuss in detail below.
If the bank catches fire and your safety deposit box burns down, replacing items like your passport, living will, or social security card is time-consuming and inconvenient. You also won’t be able to access your passport if the bank is closed and a family emergency means you need to hop on an airplane.
I recommend making a list of all the items you plan on keeping in your safety deposit box, and then consider whether an alternative makes more sense.
Fire-Proof Safety Deposit Box Alternatives
Rather than putting your valuable contents at risk in a standard safety deposit box, let’s discuss a few alternative solutions.
1. Fireproof Home Safe
The best place to keep physical copies of your important documents is in a fire proof at-home safe. This way, you’ll always have immediate access to these documents and don’t have to worry about them getting destroyed in a bank fire.
However, it’s important to know that no safe is 100% fireproof. Safes are only fire-resistant up to a certain temperature and for a specific amount of time. The best fireproof home safes are fire proof for 60 minutes at 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
If your home catches fire, you can ask the responding firefighter to recover the safe.
In reality, storing important documents in any type of safe is outdated and risky. Due to their physical form, paper documents always have a chance of getting destroyed, stolen, or lost.
To guarantee the protection of these critical documents, I recommend using our digital storage platform Trustworthy (click to start your free trial). Trustworthy is a digital storage service that offers best-in-class, 256-bit AES encryption with two-factor authentication.
It’s the easiest way to protect, organize, and share access to your most important information. Best of all, you never have to worry about losing your documents due to a fire or other disaster.
3. With a Friend or Family Member
For items such as spare house keys, it doesn’t make sense to keep them in a safety deposit box. Not only can they melt during a substantial fire, but banks are also usually open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
This is why I recommend giving your spare house keys to a trusted neighbor, friend, or family member in the event that you’re locked out of your house.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Money Burn Inside A Safety Deposit Box During A Fire?
Paper money is made from 75% cotton and 25% linen fibers. This material is more durable than wood pulp paper. However, paper money has the exact same ignition point as regular paper. If the safety deposit box reaches a temperature between 424 and 475 degrees Fahrenheit, the money will burn.