Choosing the right door lock is one of the most important decisions you can make for the security of your home. There is a wide variety of home locks—both traditional and electronic—on the market, so even if the style and finish are just as important to you as the level of security the lock provides, you will be able to find something to suit your needs.

Lock Basics

When shopping for secure door locks, there are a few key points to keep in mind. Exterior doors should always be equipped with deadbolts. Doorknob locks will lock the door handle, but they will not prevent—or even deter for a significant length of time—a criminal’s attempt at forced entry. Deadbolt locks have a throw bolt that extends approximately an inch into the doorframe to bolt the door closed, while doorknob locks contain a spring mechanism to keep the knob from turning and unlocking. The problem with these handle locks is that they are easily breached with a paper clip and a credit card. If your exterior door is currently equipped with only a doorknob lock, you will want to install a deadbolt for enhanced security. Deadbolt locks are not difficult to install if you have the right tools, or you can always call a locksmith to do the work for you.

The actual locking mechanism isn’t the only thing to consider when purchasing new locks for your home. The strike plate is also an important component of the lock’s ability to secure your home. Usually made of brass, steel, or another strong metal, the strike plate ensures that the lock’s bolt is surrounded by wood and metal when it is thrown into the locked position. If someone did try to force the door open, the bolt would have to go through both metal and wood before yielding. Unless your door has side windows, the strike plate should be anchored to the doorframe with screws that are at least three inches in length. If they are too short, the security of the strike plate will be compromised, so make sure to replace them if necessary.

Finally, pay attention to the grade assigned to the lock you’re considering. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has worked with the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) to develop a grading system for home hardware items. On the ANSI/BHMA scale, locks are given a grade of 1, 2, or 3. Grade 1 locks are considered commercial quality and are not typically used for residential applications. Most residential exterior doors are equipped with Grade 2 locks. Grade 3 locks are usually used for interior doors and can be easily unlocked. Several sources warn homeowners of locksets that are advertised as providing Grade 1 components. This claim does not translate to the grade of the lock as a whole, so for residential exterior door purposes, look for sets that have specifically been given a Grade 2 rating. Grade 1 residential locks can be purchased, but they are harder to find at home improvement stores. Locksmiths typically carry a larger selection of Grade 1 locks.

Keyless Entry Locks

Most people are familiar with keyless entry locks on vehicles, but similar technology is now available for the home. One advantage to home keyless entry systems is that they do not require a key at all, so there is no need to make—or hide—copies of your house key for children, friends, or home service providers. Most of these electric locks use a numeric code to grant access, but some use biometric scanners to read fingerprints. In either case, each user can be loaded into the system with a numeric passcode or with a copy of their fingerprint. Most keyless entry systems are also designed to integrate with a home automation system, so many give the homeowner the option of seeing who has unlocked and locked the door from a smartphone application. If someone forgets to lock the door, the homeowner can correct the mistake from the same application. As a backup, most keyless entry locks also have a key so that the door can be physically unlocked in an emergency or in the event of a power failure.

Since these types of locks require electricity, it’s important to consider their power source. Some keyless entry systems can be hardwired into the home, which is, of course, easier to do during renovation or the construction of a new home. Make sure that you understand how your specific lock system will function if there is a loss of whole-house electrical power. Most systems have a built-in battery backup for these instances. If the lock system isn’t hardwired into the home, it will be battery powered. Batteries don’t last forever, so you’ll need to pay close attention to any alerts the lock system displays. Forgetting to replace the batteries in time may mean that you either call a locksmith or spend some time on your front porch waiting for a family member bearing a key.

The best time to replace your home’s door locks is when there isn’t a pressing need to do so. Making a change before you move into a new home, for example, or as a weekend project will give you the time necessary to research your options and decide on the best door lock for your home. There are advantages to both traditional locks and keyless entry systems, but ultimately, the decision will rest on the needs and habits of you and your family.

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Sources: Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association;;; State Farm Insurance; The Family Handyman; This Old House.

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