Why it's time to consider a smart lock
In this brave new era of social distancing and sheltering at home, safety and security are increasingly on the minds of homeowners -- and for good reason. We're trying to limit the number of dirty surfaces we touch. And our partners and children are working, studying and spending more time at home, which can be concerning if we can't be present with them.
One home upgrade that can address both issues is a keyless smart lock you can install on a front or back door and can be controlled conveniently from your mobile phone and using assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Home.
"Security features like smart locks can serve as an additional level of protection and convenience, whether inside your home or away," says Christopher Sterle, founder and CEO of Acoustic Design Systems in Las Vegas. "It's important to boost your physical security during a crisis like the coronavirus, and smart locks enable you to provide unlimited or restricted access to your home at all times while keeping track of who is locking and unlocking the house."
A smart lock device either replaces or is retrofitted onto your existing deadbolt hardware. With connectivity via Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth, it allows you to lock or unlock the door using an app or your voice on your smartphone; or operate the lock by entering a numerical code using a keypad or touch screen found on the front. Batteries power the movement of the lock within the device. Depending on the model, you can receive alerts whenever the smart lock is used, and you can create secondary codes that only work temporarily -- say for a dog sitter whom you want to allow access for a weekend. Some models also permit backup operation with a key.
"Smart locks can be used for both the front and back door as well as some interior doors," says Donnie Viajar, electronics product manager for Lake Forest, California-based Kwikset, a smart lock manufacturer. "They fit standard size doors with a thickness between 1⅜-inch to 2 inches.
Jason Williams, president of the Berlin, Connecticut-based US Smart Residential Group of Assa Abloy, makers of Yale and August smart locks, says going keyless provides greater peace of mind.
"With traditional keys, you have no way of knowing who's coming in or out at any given time. But smart locks inform you of all activity. And there are no physical keys to lose or risk being stolen or copied, and there is no lock that can be picked."
Full disclosure: I have a Yale Assure Lock SL model installed on my front door, which features a touch screen keypad but no backup key option. I find that going keyless is hugely convenient (my device warns me well ahead of time if the battery is running low, and I can "jump-start" the lock with a 9-volt battery if necessary). Plus, my family no longer has to worry about getting locked out, and the handy auto-lock feature I enabled automatically locks the door after 60 seconds if I forget to.
Note: Smart locks don't work with your doorknob lock (just a deadbolt), but the doorknob shouldn't be relied on to secure a home anyway.
"The doorknob lock on an entry door offers zero security and will soon become a thing of the past," predicts David Vranicar, managing partner and founder of FBS Fortified & Ballistic Security in Boca Raton, Florida.
Many smart lock brands also offer matching handles, including paddle levers that provide hands-free operation by using your hip, forearm or elbow to push on or turn the paddle and open the door -- yet another way to decrease germ transmission.
When shopping for a smart lock, "make sure it's able to communicate with the rest of your smart home setup, whether it be smart speakers or doorbell cameras," says Williams. He adds that some smart locks require a separate bridge device to wirelessly connect, while others have that capability built-in.
Smart locks vary widely in price, from around $150 to more than $300.
Most do-it-yourselfers can install a smart lock without a hitch (I installed mine in less than two hours; the hardware steps were quick, but I encountered a few connection snafus that prolonged the process). You may need to hire a pro, however, if you have a less-compatible type of door or home network connectivity issues.