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
locksand 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 dont pay too much. Youll find that fees vary dramatically,
with some outfits charging more than twice as much as their competitors
for the same work. Fortunately, you dont have to pay more for the best
service: We found that several of the highest rated locksmiths also charge
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 methodsby 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 homes 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.
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
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 1Tubular 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 2Vertical 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 thievesas long as you keep them lockedbut
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.
To install tubular deadbolts, two large holes are drilled in the doorone
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 4Metal Door Channel
Relatively handy homeowners should be able to install most types of locks.
If you want to go it alone, youll 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.
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 companys 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.
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
dont pay too much. Youll 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 companys 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 companys prices; a score of
$90 indicates the companys 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
Table 1Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted by Companies for Illustrative
|Install new single-cylinder deadbolt locks in two doors
|Emergency lock picking of a key-in-knob lock
|Re-key three deadbolt locks and provide four copies of keys
Fortunately, you dont 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 youre
not sure, ask locksmiths who visit your home for a written description
of the work and how much theyll charge to do it.