Door Lock Buying Guide

Emily Ferron
Updated Jan 27, 2021
5 min read
Don’t skimp on your home’s door locks. Most burglars strike between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, and around 34-percent enter through the front door. These surprising statistics can be chalked up to the fact that it’s easy to slip into an unsecured door when most people are busy at school or work. Keep prospective burglars moving onto their next target by protecting your home with sturdy, untamperable locks. Here’s a comprehensive guide on residential door locks and how to make the best selection for your security and functionality needs.

Deadbolts are essential for your exterior door locks

Exterior doors require some kind of deadbolt. Deadbolts are locks separate from the handle or knob and they are difficult to pick, saw through or jimmy open. When you turn the key, a thick and solid metal bolt extends into the strike plate and door frame, effectively bolting the door shut. There are two main categories of deadbolt:

  • On a single cylinder deadbolt, there is a keyhole on the outside and a lever or turning latch on the inside, so the door can be locked and unlocked from the interior without a key. Single cylinder deadbolts are also available in a one-sided configuration that can be operated from the inside but not the outside. One-sided deadbolts are strong supplemental measures but aren’t usually appropriate for the only lock on your main door (unless there is a keyless entry option for the exterior).
  • On a double cylinder deadbolt, there is a keyhole on both the interior and exterior. This double-locking presents added security, but it can also prevent you from exiting safely in the event of an emergency. Some buyers want to use this kind of lock on doors with glass panels (so that a criminal can’t break the glass, reach in, and let themselves in with the turning lever) but residential building codes often prohibit double cylinder deadbolts due to safety concerns.

Usability and security checklist for your door locks and handles

The deadbolt is the recommended locking mechanism for all of your outside doors. But beyond the type of lock used, you still have decisions to make regarding how that lock fits into your door and how the door is operated. All of these considerations affect the door’s appearance, usability and security. Handlesets, door knobs, levers, keyless locks and smart locks are all available with deadbolt components that are appropriate for exterior doors. (Many knobs and handles are sold separately from their locks, so if you’re selecting a replacement, know what you are buying.) Decor preferences are largely subjective, but there are usability and security objectives that you should always meet. Here’s your checklist for determining if your door locks are as safe and secure as can be.

Does the door lock have an ANSI Grade 1 or Grade 2 deadbolt?

Door locks are scored via the ANSI Grading System. This is a numeric representation of how easy it is for a burglar to move past this type of protection. Each grade has minimum acceptable requirements for ease of operation, impact resistance, number of key torque cycles (a longevity measure), pull strength and finish. Most exterior residential locks have ANSI grades between 1-3. On this scale, Grade 1 offers the highest level of security and is considered commercial grade. Grade 3 meets the basic residential requirements. We recommend choosing a Grade 1 or 2 lock and bolstering it with additional locks and security measures.

Are the strike plate/box strike and any other screws and hardware securely installed?

The role of the strike plate - which is installed into the doorframe - is to catch and hold the deadbolt, which keeps the door shut. A low-quality or poorly installed strike plate compromises the security of your lock. Install the strike plate with long screws that extend deep into the door frame. Better yet, upgrade the strike plate to a box strike. A box strike is a small piece of hardware that fits into the doorjamb, like a regular strike plate, but instead of just a flat piece framing the deadbolt, it has a box shape that surrounds the entire deadbolt with metal. For a small additional cost, a box strike makes your lock much harder to be compromised.

Can the knob or handle be removed and make it easy to enter your home?

Is it easy to remove the knob or lever? Does the removal allow someone to enter your home? If you have a doorknob that can easily be drilled through, it could leave a hole for an intruder to reach through and unlock the deadbolt. Make a different hardware selection or add a secondary lock to mitigate this risk.

Can the door lock be easily operated by the people in your household?

Some door handle hardware can be difficult to use for certain people. For instance, lever-style mechanisms are easier to operate than knobs for children, the elderly or anyone with poor grip strength. A keyless lock, such as a coded lock or a smart lock, could be best for someone with bad arthritis in their hands. Smart locks are overall the best choice for flexible, convenient control over who enters your home. They can also work seamlessly with your home security system if it supports home automation.  

Does your door need a secondary lock?

Secondary locks are generally recommended because they add a low-cost security layer that slows down intruders. For this reason, locks are often sold in combination packs with both door knob locks and deadbolts. If you don’t have any kind of knob lock backing up your deadbolt, interior options like chain locks, slide latches and bolts are also excellent supplemental measures. They’re especially important for weaker doors like sliding doors, basement doors and any other entryways that can’t accommodate a totally secure deadbolt.

Add more security to your entryways

While door locks are the cornerstone of home security, you have a number of options for bringing your safety and protection practices into the 21st century.

  • As mentioned previously, smart locks provide safety and peace of mind even without worrying about a set of keys. They have convenient features like keyless codes, smartphone remote control and custom access configurations.
  • Video doorbells and outdoor security cameras give you a unique vantage point on everyone that crosses your threshold. Your locked door keeps unwanted visitors out, while your camera captures anyone who might be trying to get in.
  • Professionally monitored home security systems monitor and respond to your home in real time. It’s like having a non-intrusive set of eyes and ears on your house at all times, freeing you to focus your attention wherever life may take you.

Written by your home security expert

Emily Ferron

Emily is an experienced writer passionate about covering topics at the intersection of tech, health, safety and humanity.

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