The Most Secure Kinds of Door Locks

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A handyman replaces a door lock
Andrey_Popov /

Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on LawnStarter.

Almost 3 million homes in the U.S. are burglarized in any given year, and the bad guys are not always as stealthy as you might think. Frequently, they simply enter through a door with a substandard lock.

To be honest, few homes are burglar-proof. A determined thief with time on his hands will find a way.

But a good door lock is at least an excellent line of defense between your possessions and these miscreants.

The question is, what are the most secure kinds of door locks? Let’s check it out.


Worker installing a dead bolt lock
Mark Scott /

The deadbolt is the lock of choice for basic home security. The deadbolt is a square-ended bar of strong metal that slides securely into and out of the doorframe.

That’s a step ahead of knob- or handle-operated locks. Those generally use an angle-ended “spring” or “live” bolt that is secured in place by the pressure of a spring and can be moved out of the bolt hole with leverage.

A screwdriver or a credit card placed in the gap between the door and the frame can trigger the spring bolt to retract, unlocking the door.

There are several forms of deadbolt locks, including single-cylinder, double-cylinder, single/double and thumb turn locks. Double-cylinder deadbolts require keys for both external and internal unlocking. That makes the door more difficult to break through.

What they all have in common is the need for a good strike plate that is anchored with long screws.

Knob Locks and Handle Locks

Brass door knob
Mysong /

Knob and handle locks are the most common setups in American homes, but they are best for interior doors where you want to limit access to a room but don’t need a lock strong enough to thwart an intruder.

In a knob lock, the lock cylinder is inside the knob rather than in the door. Knob locks are somewhat less secure than deadbolts. The handle lock functions like the knob lock other than having the lock cylinder in the handle.

One way to increase security quickly if you have knob or handle locks is to add a deadbolt.

Barrel Bolt and Chain Locks

Chain lock on a door
Keith Syse /

These are good for security when you are in your home, but they sit idle when you and your family are away.

They operate by attaching a chain or sliding a cylinder onto a jamb on the door.

Usually placed high on the door to prevent kids from accessing them, they are good at keeping intruders at bay when you are at home, but barrel bolt and chain locks can’t be used when the family is out of the house because they must be manipulated from inside.

They are best used to augment a door that already has a deadbolt.


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Rarely used for front door access, padlocks can be found on other exterior doors, including cellars and basements.

Padlocks have evolved. Most still require a key while some can be opened by dialing in a pre-set numerical combination.

The combined padlocks are less secure and some insurance companies won’t cover goods protected by them without the presence of a deadbolt or other more secure lock.

Mortise Locks

mortise door lock
Uncle_Bob_666 /

More popular in Europe than in the U.S., a mortise lock is one with a pocket, known as a mortise, cut into the edges of the door.

Mortise locks preceded cylindrical locks and can still be found on older buildings. At the same time, mortise locks have been gaining in popularity both commercially and residentially in the U.S.

The primary mechanism of a mortise lock is a lever lock, which calls for a set of levers that prevents the bolt from moving. The bolt will be free to slide when the tumbler is lifted to a designated height. Typically, these locks have a key entry from both sides of the door.

The mortise lock comes in heavy-duty and light models, and with the box lockset and deep recess on the door’s edge, this lock is considered one of the most secure on the market.

Smart Locks

A person unlocks a door using a smart lock and mobile phone app
Said Fx /

A 21st-century addition to the market, smart locks are the only ones that offer remote access features, meaning that with the help of a smartphone, you can open the door for friends or family without being at the door.

Smart locks come with touchpad pin access, voice control, and audio and video components. They also can be blended in with internal and external lights and driveway alarms.

Some smart locks come with fingerprint sensors, giving the homeowner a way to unlock the front door without a key, a PIN code, or even a smartphone.

Many commercial models include built-in cameras, intercom systems, and alarms.

Smart locks are just as vulnerable to force entry as other locks, and in addition, they can be susceptible to digital hacks.

Electronic Locks

entering passcode on a smart digital touch screen keypad entry door lock /

Like smart locks, these are relatively new to the market, but their use is quickly becoming widespread.

Smart locks come with keypads, enabling the user to open the door with a numerical code. They can be used either with a knob or handle locks or deadbolts.

Most come with keys, should you choose to use them. That being said, they lack some of the convenience and extra features of smart locks.

Tips for Choosing a Lock

Woman opening her front door
blackzheep /

The bad news first: A determined burglar can compromise almost any lock with time.

Even so, locks are getting better, and the most security comes in combination. Deadbolts are a crucial part of the package, and smart locks and electronic locks are part of the coming wave.

No matter which way you choose, you need to know your needs.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standardizes the security measurement for locks. Under its guidelines, locks go from Grade 1 (the most secure) to Grade 3 (the least secure).

Only the most secure of deadbolts earn Grade 1 ratings by having extra features, including anti-pick pins, extra-long bolts made of tough alloys and reinforced strike plates.

When choosing a lock, a good rule of thumb is to get the most security you can afford. And know what you are getting — a lock set that claims to have Grade 1 features may only have a few high-end features and may not have earned an overall ANSI Grade 1.

When You Should Replace a Lock

Door knobs
Everything /

There are any number of circumstances when it’s going to lead to peace of mind. Here are some circumstances when you should be ready to replace the lock:

  • When you don’t have a deadbolt
  • When the existing lock is worn out or broken
  • When you feel the need for a high-security lock
  • When you want to change your locks to work with a master key
  • When you move into a new home, or when someone moves out
  • When someone who lives in the house loses their keys

Up next, door lock FAQs.

What Materials Should You Look For in a Lock?

The slate blue front door of a home
Jason Finn /

A solid brass cylinder is best. Less expensive locks have brass-plated zinc plugs and cylinders, but those metals are softer and more vulnerable.

Should I Just Re-Key My Lock?

Homebuyer having second thoughts /

Re-keying involves changing the components of the lock to match a new key. That’s much different than replacing a lock on a door. And re-keying doesn’t provide as much security.

Do Locks Come With Warranties?

House key
Billion Photos /

Yes, the higher the security of the lock, the better the warranty.

Most high-end locks come with at least five-year warranties, and others will go beyond that, including some with lifetime warranties.

Consider Using a Professional

Worker installing a lock on the front door of a home
ungvar /

Your home’s security shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you’re not sure how to install a good lock, consult a locksmith.

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