House deeds storage that’s as safe as houses

Fire and Safety Centre looks at how the technology of fireproof filing cabinets can offer fireproof document storage bringing modern benefits for traditional ways. The arrival of the digital age has overtaken paper in many areas of day-to-day living – but the ‘old’ ways remain vital for life’s significant milestones. Birth, marriage and death certificates, wills, and house deed storage in the right environment can be just as important as it ever was.

The utopian vision of a paperless office has been with us for years. However, the fact that it is still no more than a vision indicates that we’re unlikely ever to reach it. Certainly the world of ‘digital’ looms larger than ever before, and as far as that’s concerned, we hear much about the discipline of backing up digital files on a regular basis.

If it’s necessary to protect digital files so carefully, then don’t paper files deserve the same respect and careful storage? They do, of course, and the areas that require the most protection are those on which lives hinge – house deeds storage; birth, death and marriage certificates and wills.

For house deeds there is also another layer of legal protection, afforded by the increasing prevalence of land registration, which applies throughout England and Wales. The Land Registry holds property title details in digital format, but, despite this, the need for paper copies of house deeds can still remain. Firstly, if your house is not registered with the Land Registry (perhaps because it has been owned for many years with no compulsory trigger for registration) then your house deeds will be your only title evidence – there will be no electronic record at the Land Registry. Secondly, even if your house title is registered then the old house deeds can be very useful in helping to solve any boundary queries or disputes.

Given this potential importance, let’s examine fireproof document storage cabinets and the vital role that they can play in house deeds storage.

Fireproof Document Storage Cabinets

The way to offer hard copies the same protection as digital backups is to create the right storage conditions, controlling humidity and temperature, and preparing for the most extreme eventuality – fire. The best way to guard them is therefore by investing in fireproof document storage. So what is it, and how does it work?

It’s important to understand that no cabinet offers 100% indefinite protection against fire. Left for long enough in a fire that’s hot enough, the temperature inside a ‘fireproof filing cabinet’ will rise to the level at which paper will spontaneously combust; about 450ºF or 233ºC. However, their robust and clever construction will hold heat and flames at bay for long enough for fire suppression equipment and the Emergency Services to do their stuff.

The legal profession understands the need for safe and fireproof storage, which is a key element in vital areas such as business continuity, reputation, for insurance purposes, and to comply with professional regulations. Indeed, the Law Society’s excellence mark within the Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme requires a company to have set up correct and proper systems for the safe storage of wills.

Most legal practices will find the greatest value in fireproof storage cabinets as an invaluable addition to long-term ‘deep’ storage of large numbers of documents in a strongroom. This is because documents will always need to be retrieved from strongrooms from time to time for specific work to be done, and it’s at that point that these smaller fireproof filing cabinets come into their own. Available in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles to fit any office environment, they are supplied with a range of locking systems – keys, electronic locks and biometric ‘fingerprint’ locks are all available.

Some look like conventional cabinets, others like small safes or ordinary cupboards. All will protect their contents against fire, but for varying lengths of time. They are also waterproof, which is a significant extra layer of protection – putting out fires often involves large quantities of water, which can be just as harmful to paper as fire.

How to choose fireproof filing cabinets

When choosing a cabinet, consider how much it will need to store, and narrow the selection down to appropriate-sized options. Consider the location too – a legal practice with only a handful of employees might need just one cabinet on the premises; larger ones might require something on every floor, or senior partners could benefit from smaller
ones in their own offices for sensitive and highly-confidential material.

Another very handy option is the ‘data insert’ cleverly designed to have its own fire rating, but to sit snugly inside a larger cabinet, where it will protect all kinds of data storage, such as memory sticks, CDs and small portable hard drives.

Look carefully at fire ratings, which will always contain two significant pieces of information – the temperature your potential cabinet can withstand, and the length of time it can withstand it for. Both elements need to be considered in your final selection. Fire and Safety Centre presents all of that information on the Description and Technical Specification tabs on the product pages. This example is for a Chubbsafes four-drawer one-hour fire file, but the principle is the same for all of them.

Another important consideration is the building in which the cabinet is to be installed. Legal firms working in fine, prestigious listed buildings will have to consider the weights involved and their impact on the structure – larger fireproof filing cabinets for house deeds storage can weigh more than 250kg even before adding the weight of the contents. The size of these items can make delivery tricky, but Fire and Safety Centre offer a wide range of delivery options to attempt to suit all eventualities.


And finally…

The quality of a law firm’s strongroom is irrelevant if documents removed from it on a temporary basis are not protected to the same high standard. Investing in a fireproof filing cabinet extends the strongroom’s protection into the office, and safeguards important documents more thoroughly, proving that house deeds storage really can be as safe as houses.