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What’s the safest place in your home? It’s an answer every adult and child in your household should instinctively know. But if your house doesn’t already have a hard point that would be safer in the event of a break-in, natural disaster, or social unrest, a vault door may be worth considering. Survivor’s Edge installed a Vault Room Door from the Hornady Snap Safe to test the process and results.

The Setup

The 2002 film, Panic Room, changed the idea of what a safe place means for many or why it’s important. But for the average family, air filters, intercoms, and high-tech locks are out of the budget. But a vault door is less expensive than most stand-alone gun safes and can create a secure room for people as well as security for firearms and valuables.

I live in Utah, in the heart of Mormon country. Though I am not a member of the LDS church, I endeavor to learn from them where I can. The Mormons have been onto the prepping game for over 150 years and have geographically-oriented emergency support systems throughout the respective wards that may cover one or several neighborhoods. Additionally, most of the homes in Utah are built with “cold storage” rooms, as the church encourages its members to store one year’s worth of provisions in the event of an emergency.

As such, I have the advantage of an 8-foot by 20-foot concrete-walled room with a corrugated steel roof built into the basement. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it was part of the home when I bought it. In this case, a vault door makes a great deal of sense, as it securely seals the opening to walls and a ceiling that would require a jackhammer or metal cutting saw to breach. With my gun safe moved into the vault room, my firearms and valuables are now double protected, and I have 160 secure square feet that I didn’t have before. Here’s how the install went.

The Install

I chose a Snap Safe 36-inch Vault Room Door with a SecuRam digital lock for the job. Snap Safe is now part of the Hornady family and makes modular safes, vault doors, and a variety of firearm-specific security products. The 36-inch wide door is made of 12-gauge steel, weighs 350 pounds, and carries an MSRP of $1,148. Snap Safe ships it free within the Continental U.S., so I arranged to pick it up at a local shipping terminal. The door fit into the bed of my standard pick-up truck, and the drive home was easy, but the first step in the install process was by far the most challenging.

The door frame and space the door is destined for are in the basement of my house. If 350 pounds doesn’t sound formidable, when it’s shaped into a flat rectangle your mind will change. Two men are not enough. We only managed to get through the front door. Two neighbors and the addition of a tree-trunk protector tow-strap and a heavy-duty dolly got the job done. Luckily, you only have to move it once. Make sure to clear the path beforehand and pad any walls or corners you may have to navigate—a steel vault door is not designed to navigate hallways. You will be happy for its oblong rigidity when once installed, but the move to your safe room is no cake walk.

Once in place, things get much easier. The vault door comes in its own steel door frame, so installation is merely an exercise in lifting it into the opening and mounting the lag bolts into the walls. In my case, the walls are concrete, which is both good and bad. Good because high-quality masonry bolts hold the frame tightly in place, but the wooden frame from the poured concrete walls was not perfectly square. I hired a local contractor to square and shim the framing and install the lag bolts. The steel frame holds the door securely in place and allows it to swing freely in space, so a few degrees from perfect wouldn’t have mattered, but I figured it made sense to get it right the first time. Once it’s in, it is totally in. Very simple. The installation, once the door was in place, took about an hour.

Door Details

The door has nine, 1-inch locking bolts and steel-trimmed flanges that cover the area where the door frame meets the walls. Programming the digital lock took about five minutes. A nine-volt battery powers vault door’s SecuRam lock and a set of long-shanked keys are included in the event the battery fails. Snap Safe also offers an optional EMP-shielded lock. The door also has a large internal handle to open the door from the inside. No combination or key is required to turn the handle so there is no risk of being locked inside. The Snap Safe Vault Door, like most others, opens to the inside, not out, to ensure those inside can open the door if debris or other objects were to block the path out.

If you are contemplating a vault door for a room with walls of standard construction, a few considerations are in order. First, ensure your door frame was built to code. The vault door supports most of its weight on its steel frame, but a close inspection of the craftsmanship of your doorframe may help you avoid problems. If you have any doubt, spend the time and money to have a qualified contractor perform an inspection. Second, the vault door is a deterrent but may only force a motivated intruder to breach the sheetrock walls to the sides of the door. A vault door may be deterrent enough to keep most burglars away, but consider re-enforcing the construction of the walls and ceiling of the secure room with extra framing and/or a solid ceiling.

Why a Vault Door?

Yes, it looks cool, if you care to show it off. A vault in your home is a statement. It also presumes you have something to protect, so balance your vanity for visible in-home gear with considerations of security. In other words, a vault door in a back room is going to attract less curiosity from the random cable guy with a criminal record casing your house while he’s getting Netflix running again than one adjacent to the living room. But beyond appearances, the value of a vault door on an enclosed room versus gun safe is the added secure space.

For example, firearms can be stored on walls or stacked in the open along with accessories, ammunition, and other supplies behind a vault door. The larger secured space allows for an open and visual layout to inspect, organize and augment your supplies and safety plan. But while you consider changing your existing plan, don’t forget the age and training level of those in the household. If your family emergency plan involves little ones locking themselves in the vault space, additional security for your firearms and ammunition might be in order.

In my situation, the vault door prompted a complete re-think of the room’s layout and what items should be behind the door. For example, I chose to move ammunition inside for security, and soft goods outside, as they are less valuable given the space they occupy.

Options

The vault room re-focused my thinking on the secured area as a purpose-organized emergency supply space rather than a place to stash Christmas decorations. Ultimately, space that you can lock up changes what you put in it. There’s no reason I couldn’t have organized things in such a way before, but changing the nature of the space from unsecured to secured can’t help but change your safety plan. One unexpected outcome was the impact of sealing the previously open doorway. The room has no external ventilation so the air gets stuffy over time and would be something to consider by those seeking long-term shelter inside.

After considering and experimenting with several options, I elected to keep my firearms inside my gun safe, which is inside the vault room. Any security plan is a series of layers, and I now have two steel doors with different lock codes between my guns and a would-be thief. The remainder of the vault space is now reserved for other high-value safety or emergency preparedness items that might be of subject to looting or pilferage. As with any plan, a homeowner can spend very little or large sums of money securing a room, so the only method that is universally correct is the one that suits your family and budget. But the moderate cost and additional secured space inside my existing concrete walls made the vault door a significant improvement in the overall security of my home and property, and I submit, a worthwhile consideration for yours.

For more information on the Hornady Snap Safe Vault Door by Hornady Manufacturing, visit SnapSafe.com.

This article is from the spring 2018 issue of “Survivor’s Edge.” To subscribe, please visit OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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