In ancient times, a moat, drawbridge, and maybe a spear-armed guard served to protect your digs. These days, doors and locks act as our main defenses. As we point out in our article on home security, burglars usually enter homes through non-artful methods—by 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.

Need to upgrade or add locks? You’ll need a good locksmith. Our ratings will steer you to area locksmith operations that provide excellent advice and solid workmanship at a reasonable price.

Locksmithing requires specialized skills and knowledge, attention to detail, spatial perception, hand-eye coordination, and manual dexterity. You also want a locksmith who is prompt, charges reasonable fees, and leaves behind locks and keys that work flawlessly for a long time.

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 as “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 quality.” 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. Several of the companies were rated “superior” for “overall quality” by at least 85 percent of their surveyed customers.

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. Click here for more information on reported complaint counts and rates.

One simple step for protecting yourself from defective locks or lousy locksmithing 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 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. Our undercover shoppers asked companies listed on Table 1 for price quotes on four 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. 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, there might be differences in the quality of materials and workmanship.

If you know what you want done, shop for prices by email or 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.