SPECIAL REPORT: Safe and Secure

A Locksmith's Guide to Keeping Your Home Safe

  • You get what you pay for: don't cut quality just to save a little money
  • A good deadbolt will cost you between $30-80, with labor and overhead potentially costing $100 more
  • Avoid Grade 3 locks, aiming for Grade 1 or 2 instead
  • Check for certification from an independent testing lab
  • Consider "neutering" your keys
  • Don't loan your keys out
  • If you think someone has duplicated a key to your home, the simplest solution is to rekey your locks
  • Electronic locks are not more secure, but may be more convenient
  • Lock your windows and put wooden rods behind your sliding doors

There are thousands upon thousands of keys hanging in Mark's Lock Shop on Cedar St. in Lansing. They come in different shapes and shines, lengths and widths.

Not every key, though, is created equal.

"Just as cars come to us in different quality levels, so do locks," said owner Mark Blum, a certified master locksmith. "We can offer you a whole lot more product than what's commonly available in the retail markets, which is aimed at a particular price point and a commodity level of distribution."

A lock at a local "big box" hardware store -- for example Menards, Lowes, or Ace hardware -- can cost you anywhere from about $10 to $110 and they come in all varieties.

It can be easy to be cheap, Blum said, but the reality is that when it comes to locks, you get what you pay for.

"When you're putting a piece of hardware on your door to protect your assets and life safety of your loved ones, it's unfortunate that some people will spend more on a pizza and a six pack of Coke than they will for the front door lock on their house," said Blum "I find that tragic."

To evaluate a lock, look at the packaging. Locks come in three, numbered grades. Grade 1 is the highest quality and grade three is the lowest.

"If it can be put into a box, it meets grade three," Blum said. He recommends grade two as a good starting point instead, though of course it depends where you are using the lock and how frequently the door will be utilized.

Another thing to look for is certification from an independent testing lab. That assures that certain standards are met for durability, quality and construction materials.

A higher grade lock also means the chance of someone holding the duplicate is much less, Blum said.

"The odds of somebody having a duplicate key is one in about 18,000," Blum says, pointing to one box of keys. "This manufacturer, 1 in 100,000. This manufacturer, 1 in about 3,000."

Blum also recommends "neutering" your keys -- in other words, using an unidentifiable head. The heads on keys are part of a manufacturer's trademark, Blum said. If you can tell who made it, you can quickly limit the inventory and potentially cut your own key by getting a good look at the grooves.

But Blum's best advice is to buy a good latch and a deadbolt -- something that will cost between $30-80 (and perhaps another $100 for labor and overhead).

Michigan State Police Trooper Marco Jones also strongly recommends a deadbolt. But he says the installation of the lock makes all the difference.

"You want to make sure you're using the right length of screws into the framing themselves or the studs," he said. "You don't want it to just enter into the wood, you want to use two possibly three screws to go deep into the framing."

Beyond locking the doors, Jones says there are other simple steps that can be taken to secure your home, especially in the nicer summer weather.

"Just make sure that you're locking your windows," he said. "Make sure that you're keeping your doors latched. Make sure you not only lock your sliding doors, but you put a rod in there to make sure the door itself is not able to be opened."

But Jones's best advice is in line with Blum's: sacrificing quality may sacrifice safety.

"Quality is the key," he said. "You want to make sure you're not shorting yourself just because of a little bit of added cost."


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