Vault Doors 101 | Northwest Safe

Vault Doors 101


When it comes to the security of your vault room or panic room, there is no more important feature than the vault door. Generally speaking, it is the easiest part of your vault to breach. So making sure you have a heavy door that’s installed correctly gives you the highest level of protection. 

What to Look for in a Vault Door?

A Door with Enough Weight to Stand up to a Brute Force Attack

Entry-level vault doors weigh between 300 and 400 pounds. While the price point may seem attractive at first glance, these lighter doors are constructed with lighter weight material and are missing key reinforcements that make the door more susceptible to prying, cutting, and ramming.  

The doors we carry at NW Safe start at 600 to 700 pounds and go up from there. In fact, we often have customers who prefer vault doors that weigh closer to 1,500 pounds. And, we carry vault doors that weigh up to 3,000 pounds! At these kind of weights, it’s substantially more challenging for an individual to break through the door using brute force.

Vault Door Lockout Mechanism

Internal Lockout Mechanism to Control Access from Inside the Vault (Panic Room Essential)

People often confuse an internal release with an internal lockout mechanism, but they are two very different features. 

An internal release is a standard feature on all vault doors. This is important, as no one wants to get locked inside their vault room with no way out. However, an internal release doesn’t keep someone from accessing your vault or panic room if they have the combination. 

An internal lockout mechanism is a unique feature that allows you to control access from inside your vault room. Generally, it’s a lever located near that interior handle of your door that simply needs to be slid into place. Once it is flipped, even someone with the combination can’t breach your panic room. 

A Door with a High Fire Rating

In the event of a fire, the vault door is the most common point of entry for heat and flames. This is why it’s important to ensure any vault door you purchase is outfitted with fire insulation and a heat-expanding seal to keep smoke and heat out. 

For example, the Liberty Beast Vault Door weighs in at an impressive 1,245 pounds. It’s a formed composite door with an overall thickness of nearly 6-inches (5.75-inches), and it features a ¼-inch steel reinforced plate. Thanks to the high-end features and exceptional construction of this vault door, it offers a 2.5-hour fire rating. 

Consider the Door Clearance Height

The standard vault door has a rough opening of 80-inches and a clear opening of 74 to 79 inches. This allows an average height man or woman to walk comfortably through the door without stooping. 

However, there are shorter, less expensive vault doors for sale. These doors often have a clear opening of just 71-inches. Depending on your stature, this may not be enough clearance for you to walk into your vault or panic room comfortably. 

Generally speaking, we recommend doors with a clear opening of at least 76-inches (6-feet 3-inches). This allows most folks to easily walk into their vault room carrying a rifle or long gun. 

A Door with a Solid Fit & Smooth Operation

The fit and operation of your door both play a crucial role in withstanding: 

  • Fire
  • Brute force attacks
  • Standard use

The best way to know how a door fits and operates is to see it in person. Before you buy a vault door, we strongly recommend you operate the mechanism and open and close the door. Pay attention to: 

  • Rattles. Do you hear any rattling when you open the door?
  • Flexing. Does the door flex at all when it swings inward?
  • Consistency. Try opening the mechanism more than once. Does it work the same each time?

Taking this time to try different doors allows you to compare the weight and quality of different doors. Furthermore, seeing the doors in person lets you get a better idea of how different finishes will look in your home. 

It’s worth noting that the fit and operation of a vault door is dependent on the quality of the door and how it’s installed. Proper installation is critical to a door’s operation. This installation process requires leveling and adjusting the door to provide a smooth, rattle-free swing.  

Creating this kind of fit requires working with an installer who is familiar with their product. Some gun vault retailers don’t carry display models and simply drop-ship their doors. This can often lead to a lack of familiarity with their product. 

6 Considerations When Building a Vault Room

Installing a Vault Door

1. How Thick Should You Make Your Vault Room Walls?

Typically, vault room walls are eight-inch poured concrete with a reinforced steel grid. However, the thickness of the walls can be adjusted depending on the level of security and fire protection you want.

2. Will Your Vault Room Stand Up to an Outside Threat?

Fire safes are designed to help protect valuables for a period of time while help arrives to put out a fire. Vault rooms can be constructed with even more fire protection than the highest fire rated wall safes and gun safes. 

During the construction process, you control how thick the walls are, how many layers of fireboard you use, and whether you use steel panels. All of these elements can help make your vault room more fire-resistant. But it’s important to note that no safe or vault room is capable of withstanding a fire indefinitely. 

Bonus Tip: Even if the fire doesn’t breach your vault, the increased heat can damage your valuables. Many vault owners will also use safes and fire-safe chests within their vault for valuables and money. Explore our collection of Fireking SureSeal boxes. 

3. Can You Build a Vault Room in an Existing House?

Yes. It’s possible to build a vault room in an existing house. We offer modular concrete and steel panels that can be bolted and welded together. These can be utilized in new construction for additional security or in an existing house to easily create a vault room within an existing structure.

4. Where Should Your Vault Room be Located?

Due to a vault room’s weight, it’s generally best to have it located on the ground floor. Depending on your property’s landscape, you may also consider using the natural habitat to further insulate your room. For instance, building your vault room into the hillside gives you additional protection if you are building on a hillside.

5. Should Your Vault Door Have an Inswing or Outswing? 

Generally, we recommend vault room doors to open inward. This is particularly important if your vault room is also a panic room or storm shelter, as this ensures you can’t be trapped from the outside by items being placed to block the door.

However, many vault room configurations don’t allow for an inswinging door. If your vault room is only going to store valuables and firearms, this is not a significant concern. In fact, an outswing allows you to maximize the usable square footage of your vault. 

6. How will Your Vault Door be Installed?

Even lighter weight vault doors are heavy and take expertise to install correctly. This isn’t an assemble by numbers installation process. This is why we always recommend having a professional install your vault door. 

Not only does this offer easy installation for you, but it also helps ensure your vault door is correctly installed. 

Why Build a Vault Room?

There are two common reasons to build a vault room:

1. Safety.

A safe room can serve as a source of shelter for you and your family in the event someone breaks into your home. Also known as a panic room, this can be a place that you take refugee until help can come. 

In some regions of the country, some homeowners will also build vault rooms as a last resort when facing tornadoes or hurricanes. These storm shelters provide more security from high winds that could list lighter structures into the air. 

2. Secure Storage.

Even if you own the biggest gun safe or precious metal safe on the market, it’s not uncommon for your gun collection and valuables to outgrow your safe. They are only made so big. While you can certainly buy more than one safe, we’ve found many homeowners prefer the additional space and functionality that a custom-made vault room offers.

Learn more about our vault doors and custom vault rooms. 

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