Living Smart: Locksmiths say deadbolt the key to home security

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

There are many things you can do to boost home security, such as adding an alarm system or getting a guard dog, but unless you have working deadbolt locks and actually use them, your home isnít secure, locksmiths say.

Lance Cronk, owner of highly rated (on Angieís List) Metro Lock Service in Portland, Ore., says intruders use force to gain entry in a majority of home burglaries. "Because the locks or deadbolts are not functioning properly or they are inadequate, the intruder is able to kick the door in," he says.

A deadbolt is a type of lock with a steel bolt that extends into the door jamb and strike plate of a door frame. The most common type is the single-cylinder deadbolt, operated by a twist knob on the inside of the door and a key on the outside. Some people prefer the double-cylinder deadbolt, which doesnít have a twist knob and requires a key for operation both inside and outside the home.

Many burglaries are forced-entry

According to the latest FBI statistics, there were 1.9 million burglaries in the United States in 2013, resulting in $4.5 billion in property loss. Out of all burglaries, 59 percent were the result of forced entry. Residential burglaries accounted for 74 percent of all burglaries, and a majority occurred during the daytime.

"You should definitely have a deadbolt, and it needs to be a quality one with a hardened steel bolt," says Eric Ball, locksmith at highly rated Broad Ripple Lock in Indianapolis.

For the deadbolt to function properly, the bolt must extend fully into the hole on the door jamb. The hole should be reinforced with a metal strike plate. If the bolt doesnít extend all the way into the hole or if a strike plate isnít used, the lock and door frame can be compromised.

"Typically when someone kicks in a door, itís not the door that breaks, itís the door frame," Ball says. "You should use 3-inch screws to reinforce the strike plate into the studs of the frame of the house."

Even if you have a deadbolt lock on your door, it wonít make a difference if itís not used regularly. Cronk says many homeowners find it easier to lock the doorknob and often neglect to lock the deadbolt.

Ball agrees. "Doorknobs are for convenience, deadbolts are for security," he says.

Single- and double-cylinder issues

Homeowners should take note that a single-cylinder deadbolt can be breached if an entry door has glass panels, because a burglar can break the glass and reach inside to unlatch the deadbolt. A double-cylinder deadbolt will protect against this, and Ball recommends homeowners keep a key close by but out of armís reach. However, the double-cylinder deadbolt can be problematic in the event of a house fire because a key is required to unlock the door from the inside.

Another solution may simply be to replace the door itself. Many exterior doors are designed with security in mind, using reinforced glass or small windows far enough away from the lock to prevent a burglar from reaching in.

For additional security, Cronk says, avoid hiding a spare key under the doormat. "Get a secure lockbox for your Hide-a-Key," he says. He also recommends that new homeowners have their locks changed, because there is no way to know who previously had keys to the home.