4 common types of front door locks

Front door locks can provide ultimate security or an open invitation for home invaders. Know which type will provide your home the best protection. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Monica S. of Chicago)

Front door locks can provide ultimate security or an open invitation for home invaders. Know which type will provide your home the best protection. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Monica S. of Chicago)

Is your front door as secure as it could be? If the wrong door locks are installed, or the right ones aren't properly installed, a thief can gain entry in a few minutes. Here's a straightforward guide to the types of locks available:

Knob locks

Knob locks are used on a variety of doors, from entry doors to garage doors or rear patio doors. These locks have knobs on both sides, can be opened with a key from the outside and twisted to lock from the inside. The locking cylinder for this type of lock is inside the knob, not the door, meaning it can be bypassed using a wrench or broken off completely using a rock or hammer. If you need to buy new locking cylinders because of damage or a break-in, there are several styles — make sure you have the right one before trying an upgrade. When replacing a knob lock, you must also consider which "hand" it is — right or left. If the lock is placed backward, it won't work.

Bottom line: Doors with knob locks are simple to lock from the inside and outside and are inexpensive to buy and install. However, because they can be easily broken or damaged, they should never be used as the only form of security on a front door.

Lever-handled locks

Lever-handled locks typically aren't keyed. Instead they have small buttons on the inside face that need to be pushed in and twisted to lock. Just as with knob locks, the lever-handled variety have their lock cylinders within the handle, not the door, and can be broken off with enough force. Some of these locks will pop open when the handle is pressed down; others require that you turn the locking button and allow it to pop back out.

Bottom line: Lever-handled locks are versatile, simple to use and make it easy to get out of a house in an emergency. Just like knob locks, however, they are vulnerable to brute force and should never be the only line of defense for a front door.

Dead bolts

Dead bolts are the most common lock used in front doors as they provide maximum door security for minimum cost. These locks use a metal bolt that slides into the door jamb and which is controlled by a latch on the inside and a keyhole on the outside.

There are a number of dead bolt types that offer increasing levels of security. The first is a standard external dead bolt, which has a portion of the lock mechanism mounted outside the door. A secure external dead bolt will have no outside access to screws but could be tampered with through brute force. One way to improve the security of this kind of lock is to increase its bolt length so that it sits in the door stud when closed, rather than just the door jamb. Standard dead bolts also come as inside mounts, meaning the lock mechanism is entirely contained in the door itself.

It is also possible to buy dead bolts that have a latch on the inside and only a blank face on the outside. This limits tampering but means there is no way to access your home if the door is locked, even if you have a key. In addition, you can install double dead bolt locks that require keys for both sides.

Bottom line: Dead bolts offer more security than knob or lever-handled locks, but make getting out of your home quickly more difficult.

Keyless entry pads

Electronically controlled locks are also an option; these are typically dead bolts that use a numbered keypad instead of a standard key to provide access. You set the code to your door, and, when the code is entered correctly, the dead bolt slides open. These locks are more expensive than other types and, while they offer solid security, do pose a problem if their batteries die or you forget your access code.

Bottom line: If you plan to replace an existing lock with a newer, keyless entry pad, it's always a good idea to hire an experienced installer. A pro can make sure the lock is seated properly, operates smoothly and doesn't accidentally compromise your door security in an unexpected way.


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