I remember well when I purchased my first safe — a Browning — back around 1992. I wanted to put it — of moderate size and not firelined — on the second floor of the three-story condo in which I lived at the time. Being 25 years younger than I am now, I figured it would be easy for me and two other cop buddies to wheel the safe on a dolly up the stairs.
We were entirely incorrect.
The stairs were a bit narrow, and we found it difficult to get the safe into a position to haul it up, even on a dolly. We also quickly realized that this was not like moving something lighter — like a dresser — up the stairs. Further, we realized that the Browning safe wasn’t going to end up on the second floor and that we were clearly lacking in safe-moving technique. That Browning safe might as well have been a grand piano for as far as we were able to move it up a flight of stairs.
Though fire protection adds weight to the safe, it does not add enough to warrant buying one without it due to weight restrictions of a floor.
As if that first experience wasn’t humbling enough, I would soon eat another slice of humble pie. When I later moved into a house, I hired a moving company for much of the heavy work, including moving the safe. This house also had a walkout basement. There were three movers that day, and while two of them moved other objects, a lone mover tackled the safe. Built like a professional powerlifter — maybe he actually was — the guy took a large nylon moving strap for securing items on the truck, wrapped it around the safe — yes, it was empty — and strapped it around his chest. He bent forward and hoisted the safe onto his back without assistance. He carried it through the walkout doors and placed it in the requested location. All I could say was, “Wow,” and feel that all the weightlifting I did over the years was pretty pathetic in comparison.
I tell you this story for a couple of reasons: first, to reiterate that I am not a professional mover of safes; this is why I contacted a professional source. Second, to show you that there might be some things to consider when moving a safe to an upper level in an individual home, or especially when it is going into an apartment where there are other renters living below.
In order to bring some credibility to the table, I contacted an actual safe mover: Corey Sowards, owner of Moderne Safe Moving in Dayton, Ohio. But before I tell you what he had to say, let’s talk about weights and sizes of safes, and why you should — especially when it comes to the larger models — consider using professional movers. One of the most important reasons for hiring the pros is that if the safe or the building gets damaged during the move, you don’t have to pay for repairs or replacement. Equally importantly (and perhaps not surprisingly), the professionals will come in especially handy when you’re looking to move a safe to a second- or even a third-story location.
In addition to my Browning Safe, I own a Liberty Centurion Series “fire-protected” safe that I purchased back in 2009. Note that the safe is not referred to as “fire proof.” No vault of this type of a reasonable weight with a door that opens can be made to protect its contents against unlimited heat for unlimited periods of time. Though fire protection adds weight to the safe, it does not add enough to warrant buying one without it due to weight restrictions of a floor. In short, if your floor can’t hold a fire-protected safe, then it can’t hold one without fire protection.
Any floor that can support a bathtub full of water can support all but the largest commercial-size safes, since the weight is about the same.
The Centurion I have is the equivalent of the current Centurion 18, which can hold up to 18 long guns. The Centurion line is less expensive than the standard Liberty line and, like the standard line, is made in the USA. The height, width and depth of the Centurion 18 measures 59.5 inches by 24.25 inches by 22 inches. It weighs 340 pounds empty. The Centurion 24 takes the weight up to 375 pounds, which might not be as much weight as you expected.
When you move up to larger safes and greater gun capacity, the weight moves up significantly as well. Some of the more popular large safes in the Liberty line, based on my sales experience at Vance Outdoors in Columbus, Ohio, are part of the Franklin series. The Franklin 35 — the mid-range in that particular line — measures 60.5 inches by 36 inches by 32 inches and weighs in at a whopping 810 pounds. The Franklin 50 weighs 1,045 pounds; the smaller Franklin 25 weighs 665 pounds. The biggest safe I saw purchased while working there was the Franklin 35, which gives us a pretty good range of the most common purchases.
My conversations with Sowards proved interesting with regard to placing safes above the ground floor. First, few of his customers purchase the truly large gun safes for placement in an apartment. I suspect that folks who live in apartments mostly purchase smaller, lighter, less-expensive units like those from Stack-On; their 10-gun Steel Security Safe weighs only 134 pounds, which is pretty easy to move and poses a threat to only the rottenest of flooring.
Sowards told me that most second-story floors in homes or apartments of solid structures are much stronger than most people realize. Any floor that can support a bathtub full of water can support all but the largest commercial-size safes, since the weight is about the same. For those of you who can remember the ’70s and ’80s, waterbeds were quite the rage. Those were far heavier than a bathtub when filled and I don’t remember hearing about any apartment floors caving under their weight. Do you have a two-person Jacuzzi tub on the second floor of your home? A floor that handles a Jacuzzi tub can handle the weight of a safe quite easily.
Modern building standards require that floors can support weight well beyond what any reasonable person is likely to store on them, so unless you are considering a commercial model, Sowards said that the weight itself might not be a consideration. However, if you are considering moving a safe into a second- or third-floor apartment and that safe would have to ascend a set of wooden steps, he would want to make sure that the step design is solid and the wood construction is in good condition. In his experience, any stairs that can handle a pool table can handle a safe.
Should You Bolt Your Safe?
Now comes the part that I hadn’t thought of since I never bothered bolting a safe to the floor through three moves with the Browning and one with the Centurion: issues involved with bolting safes to wooden floors. After talking with Sowards, I was glad I hadn’t.
What he tells me falls under the “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should do something” category.
A professional burglar would find it easier to bring in a power saw to cut through the safe than to haul it out, so don’t waste the time and risk the damage or your lease.
Drilling through subflooring down into the ceiling of your neighbors is a big no-no in so many ways. First, it likely violates the terms of your lease. Second, the likelihood that you will actually hit a solid floor joist that corresponds to the holes that are predrilled into your safe is remote. Then there’s the risk of damage or injury since you cannot determine where in your neighbor’s ceiling electrical lines might run or where their lights or other fixtures are.
Not only do you not want to drill through the floor out of concern for damage to the property of others or injury to yourself, doing so likely isn’t even necessary. While a very intrepid burglar might sometimes remove smaller safes from one-story houses to open at other locations, the odds that he will want to haul a major safe down multiple flights of stairs from a second-, third- or higher-story apartment — likely drawing the attention of curious neighbors — are long odds indeed. Sowards said that a professional burglar would find it easier to bring in a power saw to cut through the safe than to haul it out, so don’t waste the time and risk the damage or your lease.
Safe Doors Are Heavy Doors
There is something else that Sowards told me that was surprising, regardless of where you live or on which floor you plan to install your safe. It has to do with the actual bolting-down of the strongbox, and it’s another reason I’m glad I never tried to do it: damage done to the subfloor over time.
This is actually a pretty good argument for not bolting a safe to any wooden floor anywhere. As Sowards explained, the locking mechanism — the bolts — and any other mechanicals that are built into the door make any safe naturally front-heavy. Every time you open your safe door, the weight of the door is pulling forward against the floor bolts. I don’t know about the rest of you out there, but I open my safe doors quite a bit.
Because of the stresses exerted by the opening and closing of the safe door, I would save any bolting down for concrete floors, which should be able to better withstand the stresses. Compact safes, such as the Sentry-brand document fire safes found at hardware and big-box stores, can store a few handguns and can also be carried off relatively easy.
My dad had a compact safe for documents that he bolted to some heavy built-in wooden shelves in his basement. We then cut out the bottom of a cardboard box (not the box the safe came in) and covered the safe with it, and it blended right in with the rest of the items on the shelf. As rarely as he got into that safe, it could have been bolted to an upstairs floor if he wanted without much concern.
I was surprised to find out this much information when I first spoke to Sowards and was initially concerned that the issue of safes being stored on an upper floor or above neighbors would not generate enough material of interest. However, as we talked, he added more and more valuable advice as a professional safe mover.
If you are ready to get a safe for upper-floor use, you might want to consider these points and then contact a professional safe mover in your area. Have them come out to look at where you intend to put the safe and get their advice about your particular situation.