Why do people in the UK lock themselves INTO their houses?
December 30, 2017 10:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm hoping to boost the security for my flat. It seems that people in the UK prefer to use a key to lock themselves into houses rather than a standard deadbolt. Why???

There have been some breakins in the area where I live, and I would like to up the security of my houses. Right now, our lock is one of those turn things that locks automatically (i.e, do not have to turn the bolt) and then a lock that you use the key on the inside to lock. I guess most people leave the key in the door to get out later? I have noticed this in many houses and flats.

This seems perfectly insane to me. I have lived in lots of rough places, and have always just had a number of deadbolts that you turn manually when you go to bed (and do not require a key.) I do not want to lock myself into my house -- what if the keys went missing and there was an emergency? What if my partner wants to come home late and I want to go to bed, and the key is in the door already so I have to get up and let him in?

So TLDR: English people, why do you do this? Is it really better? Is it possible to get American-style deadbolts and chains in the UK?
posted by caoimhe to Grab Bag (43 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Doors made of glass/plastic are popular here, and the most common designs tend to come with a strong lock that you lock on both sides rather than a (yale) lock + deadbolt. I've only ever had yale lock + deadbolt in the UK when the door was made of wood, maybe 20% of the houses I've lived in. The rest were plastic & glass models with just the lock, no bolt.
posted by terretu at 10:19 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hmmm,, interesting! But my door is made of wood as was the one in our previous flat!
posted by caoimhe at 10:22 AM on December 30, 2017

You can buy them here (via Amazon) but they're not very common.

In the UK, home insurers specify what type of locks you have to have on your property, and can avoid paying burglary claims if the locks aren't compliant. I just checked my insurers, and doors have to be secured by a lock that operates by a key from both inside and outside.

So although a deadbolt that's secured with a turn on the inside instead of a key would be fine as a back-up secondary lock, you'd need to make sure you have other locks that comply with the insurer's specification too.
posted by essexjan at 10:34 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yes, you can definitely get door chains and deadbolts, etc., at UK DIY stores even if they're not exactly like the US ones.

As for the question of why, I don't know about your door but many of the modern UPVC doors which are common here have multi-point locking mechanisms where turning the key locks/retracts bolts all around the door.
posted by A Robot Ninja at 10:37 AM on December 30, 2017

Oh very helpful. Yes, insurance makes sense! I still think from a safety standpoint though they still sound like real losers -- surely it is terrifying to think that you may be trapped in your house in case of fire if the key is not in the lock?
posted by caoimhe at 10:39 AM on December 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

Is it really that weird? You just always keep your key in the door or right next to the door, so you never do lose your keys. If you're worried about that happening nonetheless, you can keep a duplicate right next to the door.
posted by trig at 10:51 AM on December 30, 2017

Won't threadsit, but yes, it is very weird to Americans -- as far as I know, this does not exist in the US. And it means that someone else can't come in even with a key if you've locked it from the inside. But I definitely understand it better now!
posted by caoimhe at 10:59 AM on December 30, 2017 [11 favorites]

You see deadbolt locks with keys on both sides in the US, too, but generally only if the door has lots of glass in it, for obvious reasons.

In our house, with big metal doors devoid of windows, our deadbolts have a handle on the inside instead of a keyhole. This is pretty common.
posted by uberchet at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Had deadbolts all my life they are great if the door is near a window or has glass in it as they can't be opened with a simple smashed window. You simply keep the key on a hook well out of reach of the window but near the door. You usually only lock them at night and know where the key is, using it becomes a habit so it's not that hard to unlock them in an emergency and I've done so twice now during serious emergencies in my life with no problems without a second thought until you mentioned it just then. I also have keyed locks on all my windows.
posted by wwax at 11:09 AM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is not completely unheard of in the US either. Every house I’ve lived in in Seattle has this on exterior doors where there is a glass window above the lock. Also I’m not sure what you mean about not being able to get in from the outside if there is a key inserted in the other side. I never had a problem with unlocking a door from the outside in that scenario.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:53 AM on December 30, 2017

I've had a similar setup - key in the deadbolt on the inside - in the majority of places I've lived in the US (four states and maybe 6 cities). In most places, that's where I kept my keys when I got home. Since my house key was with the rest of my keys on my keychain, I'd just stick that in the lock and lock the door. That way my keys were always in the same place, and I had to take them with me if I left the house.

In every case these were solid wood exterior doors, not doors with windows on them. In fact, I was annoyed when I moved into my current place which has the non-key inside lock handle and realized I couldn't use one of my favorite life hacks to always remember where my keys were any more.
posted by ralan at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2017

I've had key-on-both-sides locks in a couple of apartments in Montreal. I'm guessing it's a European influence. The inside and outside used the same key. We had wood doors so just left a key in the lock. We also had copies on our key chains. I've never been concerned about late night emergencies, just like I am not concerned about getting in with a key if there's some kind of emergency that requires it.

And it means that someone else can't come in even with a key if you've locked it from the inside.

We've always been able to unlock the door from the outside, even if someone locked it from the inside and left the key in the lock. The key was exactly the same as turning a bolt for us.
posted by eisforcool at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2017

yes, it is very weird to Americans -- as far as I know, this does not exist in the US

This totally exists in the US. I'm in the Boston area and double keyed deadbolts have been in literally every single house and apartment I've lived in for over 30 years. I just went up to check my front door and yep, it's a double deadbolt and the key is in it. The key never leaves the lock.

And it means that someone else can't come in even with a key if you've locked it from the inside.

No, it doesn't mean that at all. You can still open the lock on the outside with your key even if it's locked on the inside.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

Won't threadsit, but yes, it is very weird to Americans -- as far as I know, this does not exist in the US. And it means that someone else can't come in even with a key if you've locked it from the inside.

Have lived in the US 47 out of 48 years, and I've used this style of lock (keys both sides) in Richmond VA, DC, Ithaca NY, and Baltimore. It's not weird to me at all. I never installed it myself; the doors always came that way. I've never found it to be a safety problem, and I've even had a house fire and had to run out in a hurry. We keep a hook near the door with the keys on it, or when I'm home during the day I get lazy and just leave them in the lock itself. This does not prevent anyone from using a key on the other side of the lock. My husband and I both have the same keys to the lock, so no one coming in late has to get up to let anyone else in. You can copy these keys many times over and hand them out to all your friends if you like.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 12:09 PM on December 30, 2017

Ok, clearly I am out of the loop and have somehow missed this before, even though I've lived in about 10 states, including many named above. And in both my flats if the key was left in, someone else could not get in, but maybe that was the problem with the flat itself.

I will accept this is not weird and rest assured that I will not have locked myself in if there is a fire!
posted by caoimhe at 12:16 PM on December 30, 2017

right now, our lock is one of those turn things that locks automatically (i.e, do not have to turn the bolt) and then a lock that you use the key on the inside to lock. I guess most people leave the key in the door to get out later?

I have two locks - the "mortice deadlock" (regular lock you open and close with a key from both sides) and a night latch (opened with a lever from the inside, and a key from the outside - this "locks" automatically when the door closes). The deadlock is only ever locked when we leave the house unoccupied. Needing a key to get out of the house seems strange to me, and potentially dangerous if there was a fire. At night the only lock that's locked is the night latch (which can be opened without a key from the inside).

Keeping keys next to the front door also seems pointless, security-wise, as someone could smash the door window and grab them to unlock the door or use a stick with a hook to grab them through the letterbox.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:17 PM on December 30, 2017

Forgot to say - the above lock configuration is pretty common (at least around here) and most places I've lived have had it. The others had PVC doors with "multi-point locking system" built into the door (these are also common for backdoors).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:21 PM on December 30, 2017

A lot of American homes and apartments have locks that cannot be unlocked from the outside at all. As a renter, I prefer this because it means if I am in my home no one else can come in without breaking in or me letting them in. That function of a lock doesn't seem weird at all. It's not the only lock, of course, but it has its uses.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:21 PM on December 30, 2017

you may be trapped in your house in case of fire if the key is not in the lock?

The key is always in the lock, but if you are concerned (which is fair enough) the other thing is to put a duplicate of the key on a hook immediately adjacent to the door. You then need to make sure all residents and houseguests know where that key is.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:28 PM on December 30, 2017

I'm in Australia and need the key to lock the door inside. I keep the keys in the lock and for safety overnight guests always get told where the key is and that they'll need to use it. No problems with using another key from the outside at the same time. Bonus is you can't lock yourself out.
posted by kitten magic at 12:34 PM on December 30, 2017

Some American building codes specifically forbid double-key deadbolt locks. For the obvious safety issue.

Double key locks are common in Germany too. There's the occasional story of someone managing to get themselves locked in to an AirBnB or whatever when their friend locks the door and leaves without understanding you need a key to unlock the door.
posted by Nelson at 12:47 PM on December 30, 2017 [13 favorites]

Californian American here, and I have found this insane too when I've stayed in such deathtraps. Locking someone in? What non-creepy reason would you have to do that? Fire or big earthquake and fumble with the key in the dark? Yow. And if you keep a key in the inside lock or right next to the door, what exactly is the point of the inside keyed lock?

kitten magic, if you you don't have a latching at the handle (or set it do it doesn't catch) and exclusively use the deadbolt with a key outside, you also can't lock yourself out.

It's been a year of cringing and wincing for many of us in the US, so yes, I'm prepared to die on this hill.
posted by tula at 1:13 PM on December 30, 2017 [15 favorites]

Yeah, my old apartment across town used to have a back door with a lock we kept a key next to, which I thought was both dangerous and terribly insecure. I found out when I moved into my house in the same city that it's forbidden by the building code here (in the U.S.), so I had to change out all the locks on the house. Anyway, check your insurance requirements, as some are saying, but if nothing in the fine print prohibits it, totally buy some locks on Amazon that have an interior thumb-turn.
posted by limeonaire at 1:36 PM on December 30, 2017

Ok, I'm swinging back to thinking this is a bad idea. I also just realized that of course insurance companies want you to have these -- if they perceive them as keeping your home more safe from intruders, they are going to prefer it because they only pay out when there is property damage.

If you die because of fire/earthquake/whatever, they don't pay for the damage done to your body (I don't think, at least.)

I find fire safety much more lax in the UK (few fire escapes, etc), so maybe this is just part of it -- prioritizing different concerns.
posted by caoimhe at 1:41 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

It's not weird that you find it weird. Personally, as someone who is mysteriously godawful at operating even the simplest of locks, double cylinder locks are my nightmare. I can't even tell you the number of times I found myself incapable of either locking or unlocking European doors, and once in France had to exit a dwelling via window.

I am also very concerned about fire safety, so I never feel good sleeping around that kind of lock.

Edit: Although it's interesting that you mention a lax attitude toward fire safety in the UK. My experience was the opposite, at least in the sense that we endured many - so many - fire drills during my year abroad. Perhaps to compensate for the fact that some of the building architecture was indeed not 100% ideal from a fire safety standpoint? Sometimes there's a limit to how safe you can make a centuries-old building.
posted by desert outpost at 1:49 PM on December 30, 2017

I’ve lived in about 20 different houses and flats in the UK and have never, ever come across the arrangement you describe - it’s always:
* Yale lock that can be opened with a handle from the inside, plus
* Mortice deadbolt that needs a key to lock it but is only locked when there is nobody in the house, by using the key on the outside of the door when you leave (if you’re the last person to leave).
posted by penguin pie at 1:54 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

To add to the Anecdata, my parents in Australia have a lock that has 3 states: the tongue pushed in (so the door is unlocked) the tongue out, able to be opened from the inside with a twist of the mechanism (locked), and deadbolted, which can't be opened without a key. The door has two handles so it doesn't blow open when it's in unlocked mode.

The purpose of a deadbolt is to stop someone breaking in and then easily able to walk out the door with your stuff.

You don't deadbolt people inside.
posted by freethefeet at 2:22 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not to divert, but it seems worthwhile to note that, at least in US nomenclature, a "deadbolt lock" may have keys on both sides, or my have keys on the outside only and a "handle" on the inside.

Wikipedia refers to this difference as "single cylinder" (key outside, latch inside) and "double cylinder" (keys on both sides).

The actual mechanism of the lock is the same in both cases.
posted by uberchet at 2:25 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

BTW the fire regs in UK HMO houses, or at least our UK HMO house, say that you must have a key in one of these next to the door, precisely so that people can get out if there's a fire.
posted by katrielalex at 2:48 PM on December 30, 2017

This is a very funny thread to be reading as a British person. We lock the door for safety, I'm most certainly not thinking about having to get up in the middle of the night to let my drunken other half in. He has a key for that. I guess it's just custom, as I find the concept of deadbolts rather pointless if you've already opened the door (it's easier to kick a door in that's already partially open than it is one that's locked, and you guys all have wooden doors anyway).

Buuuut to be perfectly honest, if someone wants to break into your house/flat/apartment, they're going to break in. A locked door or bolted door probably won't stop them.
posted by Lewnatic at 2:58 PM on December 30, 2017

Er, if the deadbolt is locked, you can't open the door. No lock will secure an open door.
posted by uberchet at 3:06 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think Lewnatic has confused deadbolts with door chains.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:25 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is also amusing to me as an Oregonian who's lived in France for 18 years, Finland for 2, and stayed in several others.

We had deadbolts on our doors in Oregon. I warmly recall kicking in a side door since my parents refused to give me a key to get inside. My mother busted windows more than once. Y'all, our deadbolts are not huge deterrents.

As for locking from the inside, here in France there are no doorknobs on the outside of doors. You have to unlatch/open a door with a key from the outside. So it's already pretty much locked once you're inside and have fully closed the door behind you. I don't lock the front door of my place from the inside, and I live in a huge city.

Where I visited in Norway they had outside doorknobs, and would leave the key to the door hanging outside next to it. You read that right. Unlocked front door, with a doorknob, plus there was a key left outside next to it just in case. Safest I've ever felt. (not ironic)
posted by fraula at 3:29 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd consider a double cylinder lock extremely unsafe in the event of a a fire. I think they are against building codes in California.
posted by onecircleaday at 3:49 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

More anecdata: I have lived in 15-20 different houses/apartments across Texas, California, and New York. I've never lived anywhere that required an interior key for the deadbolt. I've seen it rarely, in friends' homes (but not AirBnBs, I don't think?), and I've wondered about fire safety in those cases, but they always left the key in the interior lock.
posted by unknowncommand at 3:51 PM on December 30, 2017

you keep a key in it inside while home............double deadbolts for me 30 years ago in Tampa Fla US, makes it harder for the bad guys to get stuff out if they cant open the door. Of course cameras now ID the burglars & hopefully lead to arrest & conviction.
posted by patnok at 5:55 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

This thread has solved a minor childhood mystery for me. As a kid growing up in India I read an awful lot of Enid Blytons. I distinctly remember a book where the child investigators managed to get into a locked house by jiggling something in the keyhole until the key dropped onto a paper they had slid under the door. That puzzled me as a child - what was the key still doing in the lock? This might explain it.
posted by peacheater at 6:54 PM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Well turning the key in the lock is exactly the same as turning the last home so that bit makes no difference to me. But I agree it is absolutely insane to lock people in without the key being there ready to use - that's a death trap. And never deadbolting people in. But in the 30 odd places I've lived, you always have to do something to open the door from the inside and turning a key is no harder or slower than any of the other options.

And if you keep a key in the inside lock or right next to the door, what exactly is the point of the inside keyed lock?

I'm having trouble picturing this. Are you comparing it to deadlocks where you can freely turn the latch from the inside or lock it so the latch doesn't move (and so burglars can't clear out your house by easily opening the front door?) Mine isn't like that, it's just the round barrel bit. The point of the inside key is that is how you turn it to open. If you've broken into my house, I'm more than happy for you to take things out anyway that works (there's nothing to take but the cats)

My night time fire exit plan involves going over the upstairs balcony anyway. I'd definitely put fire safety ahead of locks if I was in a residence with less evacuation options.
posted by kitten magic at 8:58 PM on December 30, 2017

They do this double key shit in Uruguay as well, and it drove me bonkers when I lived there. On more than one occasion, my girlfriend accidentally took my keys along with hers, and I was locked in her house. It's awful, it's unsafe, and it's righteously stupid that British insurance companies would require that.
posted by weed donkey at 9:50 PM on December 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I distinctly remember a book where the child investigators managed to get into a locked house by jiggling something in the keyhole until the key dropped onto a paper they had slid under the door.

That's referring to a different type of lock, although the idea is the same. Old door locks, particularly those used on interior doors—lever tumbler locks, properly—had a single lock cylinder with keyholes on both sides. (The key is symmetrical, so it can unlock the door from either side.) These are also the sort of locks where you can literally look through the keyhole and into the room.

Under some conditions, if the key is left in the cylinder, you can use a small object to push the key out of the lock from the opposite side, so that it drops onto a piece of paper and can then be retrieved under the door. I'm pretty sure I remember this from one of the Hardy Boys books and at least a few old movies.

Modern "double cylinder" deadbolts have two separate locking cylinders, one on the inside and one on the outside, which are keyed the same, but do not share any parts. In fact you could easily key them differently, if you wanted to. There's no way, at least with most designs, for you to manipulate the inner cylinder from the outside, or vice versa. (There might be some really flawed designs where you can, but it's bad.)

As others have stated, in the US—at least in the context of new residential construction—they are almost exclusively seen where there's a window in or near the door, to prevent someone from being able to smash the glass, reach in, and unlock the bolt. I was personally unaware that they're common on solid doors without adjacent windows in the UK—I guess I just never noticed, or the places I've stayed haven't had them. The idea of preventing burglars from easily exiting with your stuff might have been the compelling reason at one point, but certainly seems at odds with modern ideas of fire safety, and of course the inner lock has no advantage over a thumb-turn if you leave the key in it all the time. Single-cylinder deadbolts with an inner thumb-turn have fewer parts and one less cylinder to re-key if you ever want to change it, so it's unsurprising they're the default choice in the US.

FWIW, when I've lived in houses with double-cylinder deadbolts, I've always tied a key to a nail or hook with a fairly long string somewhere in the vicinity of the door, to keep people from wandering off with it. As long as you hang the key more than an arm's length away from any glass, it still seems to preserve the security aspect. If you have the key mounted on the latch (not the hinge) side of the door, it also discourages leaving the key in the lock, because the string crosses the doorway when it's inserted.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:30 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

[A couple deleted. OP, Ask Me isn't really meant for "I'd like to have a discussion about X," but "I'd like more information about and/or solution to X." It's okay to ask for clarification if something is unclear, but please avoid general chat, debate, or expanding the topic to other points. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 4:18 AM on December 31, 2017

Nthing the building code thing. But, if someone breaks in through a window- hopefully not when you're home- they won't be able to waltz out the door with all your valuables if they can't open the door from the inside. So, don't put a key near the door when you're not home.
posted by mareli at 7:13 AM on December 31, 2017

I've only ever lived in the US, but:

The places I've lived with double-cylinder deadbolts used them because the door had glass in it. It's trivial to knock out a pane, reach through, and flip the lock.

You still keep a key NEAR the door, often on a hook close by, but -- critically -- out of reach of an intruding hand from a broken pane or window.
posted by uberchet at 3:13 PM on January 1, 2018

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