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Locksmiths (From CHECKBOOK, Spring/Summer 2015)
Go to Ratings of 22 Puget Sound Area Locksmiths
 

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Locksmiths

Since most home burglaries occur when thieves enter through unlocked doors and windows, or force open poorly secured entry points, the most effective way to secure your home is to equip all exterior doors with good deadbolt locks—and then remember to use them. A few easy steps can further beef up your security. 

Good locksmiths provide valuable advice for choosing the right locks for your home and installing them to maximize their effectiveness. But choose your locksmith carefully: While several area locksmiths receive rave reviews from their surveyed customers, others evoke less enthusiasm. 

Since many qualified area locksmiths perform excellent work, shop around to make sure you don’t pay too much. You’ll find that fees vary dramatically, with some outfits charging more than twice as much as their competitors for the same work. Fortunately, you don’t have to pay more for the best service: We found that several of the highest rated locksmiths also charge low fees. 

If you can, pay for locks and locksmithing work with a credit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act and the dispute-resolution policies of credit card issuers allow consumers to refuse payment for faulty products and services. 

As pointed out in our article on home security, burglars usually enter homes through non-artful methods—by simply opening unlocked or poorly locked doors and windows. Before springing for a whiz-bang electronic home security system, it makes sense to fortify your home’s low-tech barriers, starting with your locks. 

Locksmithing is a difficult job that requires specialized skills and knowledge, attention to detail, spatial perception, hand-eye coordination, and manual dexterity. In addition to technical skills, you want a locksmith who is prompt, charges reasonable fees, and leaves behind locks and keys that work flawlessly for a long time. Our ratings of locksmiths for quality and price will help you pick the best. 

Do You Need a Lock Upgrade? 

Start by assessing your locks. All exterior hinged doors, including doors leading to a garage, should be equipped with good deadbolt locks. Key-in-the-knob locks are inadequate for security because they usually can be quietly shimmied open in a few seconds. Although this can be prevented by bolting a guard plate to the outside of the door, these locks still can be defeated by other means. 

There are four basic types of deadbolt locks: 

  • Cylinder deadbolt (also known as “tubular deadbolt”). Standard equipment on many houses since the 1950s (see left half of Figure 1), cylinder deadbolts have a substantial portion of the mechanism located within the door. The latch is a horizontally movable bolt that extends into the strike plate on the doorframe; it is controlled by a key in a cylinder on the outside and by a thumb-turn on the inside. When engaged, the bolt should extend at least one inch beyond the door. Also, unless a heavy beveled collar extends out from the door on the outside, it may be easy to defeat. Ordinary cylinder deadbolts cost $7 to $75 or more, and $100 to over $400 for fancy electronic models that are unnecessary for most residential uses. 

Figure 1—Tubular Deadbolt Lock & Interconnected Lock Set

  • Interconnected lockset. This is a combination of a key-in-the-knob lock and a tubular deadbolt (see right half of Figure 1). The interconnect device is hidden, but turning the thumb-turn opens both the deadbolt and the key-in-the-knob latches, a feature designed to facilitate quick exits. These locks are installed in six- or eight-inch-high hollows that weaken doors. If you already have good deadbolts, we advise against replacing them with interconnected locksets, even if you like their quick-exit features. They usually cost $30 and up. 
  • Surface-mounted deadbolt (also known as “rim-mount lock,” “knuckle-lock,” or “vertical deadbolt”). This ugly contraption has most of the mechanism built into a casing that attaches to the interior side of the door (see left side of Figure 2). Easier to install than tubular deadbolts and generally stronger, surface-mounted deadbolts range from $10 to more than $40. 

Figure 2—Vertical Deadbolt Lock & Horizontal Deadbolt Lock

  • Horizontal deadbolt (also known as “horizontal rim lock”). This is similar to the surface-mounted deadbolt except that its latch moves horizontally (see right half of Figure 2). If the latch extends out at least one inch, these locks can be quite effective. 

All four types of deadbolts usually come with a keyhole on the outside and a thumb-turn on the inside for setting and retracting the bolt; this is called a single-cylinder lock. If you have a glass door, or glass panes in a wooden door, or glass near the door, consider the double-cylinder version. This replaces the inside thumb-turn with a keyhole that can be turned only with the key, even from the inside. 

The trouble with double-cylinder locks is that they are less convenient to relock after entering the house, and can be a real hazard if your family must make a quick exit in the event of a fire. Because of this risk, some jurisdictions prohibit double-cylinder locks on exterior doors. If you install a double-cylinder lock, hang a spare key somewhere nearby (in a place that cannot be reached by potential intruders), and have your whole family practice locating the key and opening the door while blindfolded (smoke from house fires often creates near-pitch-dark conditions). 

There are several alternatives to double-cylinder locks. You can replace the glass with shatter-resistant glazing, or back up the glass with shatter-resistant glazing. You can wire the glass to an alarm or, if glass is built into the door, replace it with a solid-core door. 

Good deadbolt locks deter most thieves—as long as you keep them locked—but diligent bad guys can exploit their weaknesses. Fortunately, with modest effort you or a locksmith can reinforce deadbolts— 

  • Some vertical and horizontal deadbolt locks come with puny screws. Substitute the longest, thickest steel screws that fit. 
  • The cylinders on many locks can be picked or otherwise defeated. High-security replacements are available for $80 to $200 or more. 
  • Most cylinder deadbolts and some interconnected locksets have weakly secured strikes for the doorframe, usually secured with two 3/4-inch screws. Replace these screws with two- or three-inch ones. An even better solution is to replace the regular strike plate with a “security strike” or “strike box” that has holes for additional screws. One type is about six inches long and has holes for four or six screws; make sure holes are at least one inch apart. Another type has a metal cup welded to the plate (into which the bolt protrudes) and extra screw holes in the bottom of the cup (see Figure 3). Most stores sell security strikes for $2 to $10. 

Figure 3—Strikeplates

  • To install tubular deadbolts, two large holes are drilled in the door—one for the cylinder-and-lock mechanism, and one for the bolt. The holes weaken the door, but you can reinforce the door by installing a metal door channel (see Figure 4) around the door in the area of the lock. Brass-plated channels cost $10 to $40. Avoid channels that are less than eight inches high. 

Figure 4—Metal Door Channel

Relatively handy homeowners should be able to install most types of locks. If you want to go it alone, you’ll need one or two special drill bits to make large-diameter holes with a 3/8-inch electric drill. Most homeowners should be able to add a vertical or horizontal deadbolt lock to a basement door, or a back door that does not need to be unlocked from the outside, by using a small bit to drill the screw holes. Discard the through-the-door cylinder assembly and retainer plate, and mount the rest of the lock on the inside of the door, as it would normally be installed. 

Where to Turn for Advice and Help 

Our Ratings Tables list the area locksmith services that received 10 or more ratings in our surveys of area consumers. Our surveys on locksmiths ask customers to rate companies they used “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” for “doing work properly,” “starting and completing work promptly,” “letting you know cost early,” “advice on service options and costs,” and “overall performance quality.” (We primarily survey CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers. Click here for further description of our customer survey and other research methods.) 

Our Ratings Tables report the percent of each company’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” for each question. Many of the companies were rated “superior” for “overall performance quality” by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers. 

For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period and complaint rates relative to the volume of work companies do. For more information on reported complaint counts and rates, click here

One simple step for protecting yourself in case you get defective locks or lousy locksmithing work is to pay with a credit card. The Fair Credit Billing Act and the dispute-resolution policies of credit card issuers allow consumers to refuse payment for faulty products and services. 

Keeping Costs Down 

Since many local locksmith outfits get high marks from their customers for service quality, obtain prices from a few of them to make sure you don’t pay too much. You’ll find that prices vary widely from company to company for the same work. 

The price comparison scores shown on our Ratings Tables provide a starting point for your shopping. Our mystery shoppers asked companies that were evaluated in our last full, published article, for price quotes on three jobs. The price comparison scores indicate how each company’s quotes, on average, compare to the average price for all companies quoting on the same mix of jobs. The price comparison scores are adjusted so that the average for all companies equals $100. A company with a score of $110 had prices 10 percent higher than the average company’s prices; a score of $90 indicates the company’s prices were 10 percent lower than average. 

As you can see, the price comparison scores vary substantially. The differences are even more dramatic between the lowest and highest prices quoted for individual jobs. 

Table 1—Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Companies for Illustrative Locksmith Jobs
Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Companies for Illustrative Locksmith Jobs
Description of job Low price Average price High price
Install new single-cylinder deadbolt locks in two doors $176 $252 $329
Emergency lock picking of a key-in-knob lock $69 $90 $135
Re-key three deadbolt locks and provide four copies of keys $106 $140 $184

Fortunately, you don’t have to pay more to get the best service: We found that several of the highest rated locksmith services also charge low fees. 

Although our shoppers gave each company the same description for each job, bear in mind that there might be differences in the quality of materials and workmanship the different companies planned to use. 

If you know what you want done, you can shop for prices by phone. If you’re not sure, ask locksmiths who visit your home for a written description of the work and how much they’ll charge to do it.



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