Keyless door locksets differ in their mechanical quality, password strength, password administration flexibility and bypass or battery backup features. Keyless door locks cost between $50 and a few hundred dollars. Popular lockset (complete lock kit, including strike plate) brands include Schlage, Samsung (EZON), Kwikset, DigiLock, Trilogy and Simplex.
A keyless door lock means:
- Protection against “key bumping” lock pick attacks.
- No fumbling for keys.
- Not getting accidentally locked out of the house.
- No lost keys, and having to change the locks when keys are lost.
- Allowing guests and service people access, without fear of them making unauthorized duplicate keys (you can remove their access code, later).
However keyless locks are possibly less reliable, due to their increased complexity.
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Door Lock Basics
Whether traditional keyed or digital keyless, the mechanical workings of door locks are similar. Locks are either deadbolts or spring bolts (latch key).
Spring bolts are:
- Auto-locking. A spring automatically pushes the bolt to lock the door when the door is closed. This means no forgetting to lock the door, but can result in accidental lock-outs if the keys are forgotten.
- Easier to force open. The trick seen on TV shows, where a credit card is used to force open a lock, works on spring bolts.
- Not auto-locking. However, some keyless deadbolts have electric motors that can auto-lock the bolt.
- Harder to force open. The key needs to be turned to close the bolt. This makes the door resistant to the credit card trick.
There are three ANSI door lock security grades. Grade 1 locks are the most secure.
Mechanical Keyless Entry Combination Door Locks
Not all keyless or digital locks are electronic. Mechanical keypad locks are “digital” (use numbers) too.
- Simple and reliable.
- Batteries not required. No flat battery or cold weather issues.
- Usually water resistant.
- Usually only one password for the whole lock.
- Limited password length, usually 4 or 6 digits maximum.
- Password can be less secure as the number sequence doesn’t matter in many designs. If the password is “6789&Prime, “9876&Prime will also open the lock.
- No timed lockout if the wrong password has been entered.
Features to look out for
- More than 10 digits keypad. Additional A, B, C, D keys allows more secure passwords such as “372C”.
- Key access for password change. The password is changed by opening the lock (on the inside-home side of the door) and changing the settings. For many locks, the lock is opened by simply unscrewing the lock – a mechanical key is not needed.
- Wrong password indication. For some locks, turning the knob before entering the password can indicate if there have been any failed attempts to guess the password. If there are, the knob will click.
Electronic Keypad Keyless Entry Door Locks
There are two main types of deadbolt electronic keyless locks:
- Motorized locks combine the security of a deadbolt with the auto-lock safety of a spring lock. However the batteries don’t last as long and the additional moving parts can mean lower reliability.
- In an unmotorized lock, an electromagnet locks and unlocks the bolt, but a knob or lever needs to be manually turned to move the bolt.
Electronic door locks usually run on batteries. This makes them easier to install, and immune to mains power failure. The batteries can be AA, AAA or 9 volt.
- Stronger passwords. Passwords can be longer, and the digit sequence matters.
- Multiple passwords supported. Temporary passwords can be created for service people or guests, and then deleted.
- Batteries can be unreliable.
- Can be less resistant to rain and cold weather.
Useful security features
- Timed lockout. Lock will jam up for about a minute, if the wrong password has been entered a few times. This reduces the number of attempts that can be made to guess the password.
- Long password length. Some locks support a fixed 4 digit password length. Others can be set from between 3 to 20 digits.
- Multiple passwords. Some electronic locks allow only one password.
- Master password to protect password programming. A fixed (set in the factory) master password controls the creation of new passwords. On less secure locks, new passwords can be created simply by unscrewing the inner (safe) side of the lock.
Useful keypad features
- Lighted keypad for use in the dark.
- Keypad that clicks or beeps, so that it is clear that the key has been pressed.
- Waterproofing, to protect against rain damage.
Useful battery features
- Low-battery warning.
- Alternative mechanical key access, in case the batteries fail. The mechanical lock should be a “bump proof” design.
- Backup battery, in case the batteries fail. This can be a separate internal battery or exposed 9 volt battery terminals on the front of the lock (a fresh 9 volt battery is connected from the outside of the lock, to gain access).
- Cold weather operation. Some manufacturers specify operational temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit. Using disposable lithium batteries can help improve low temperature performance.
The Best Home Keyless Door Lock
A good electronic keyless lock can provide better home security and more flexibility, than a conventional mechanical lock. If high security is not required, and battery reliability is a concern, a mechanical keyless lock can be used instead.