Keyless door locks
May 18, 2008 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have those door locks that use a combination instead of a key? Do you like them? Any problems? I'm considering putting touchpad front and back door locks on a rental house that I own so I'm not out $150 everytime I need to re-key the locks. Good idea or no?

Any suggestions on brands or features, either to get or avoid? Do any of you have them on a rental?
I'll get one that comes with a key too so I can have access if needed but the tenants would just have the keypad.
Here's an example of what I'm looking at.
This seems like such a good idea for both me and my tenants, I'm hoping someone can steer me to a good one.
Thanks for your help.
posted by BoscosMom to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I see this type of lock (not necessarily this brand) used at banks, fire stations, rescue squad buildings, etc., where security is important but a changing cast of characters needs access. It appears to work well in those situations. The only drawback I can think of is (a) tenants might forget their combo, especially if you allow them to change it themselves, which means you'd need to come open the door for them, and (b) tenants might be indiscreet about who they give the code to, word gets around, they get robbed and/or your place gets damaged. The likelihood of that kind of depends on the type of tenants you get and how you vet them.
posted by beagle at 9:10 AM on May 18, 2008

My experience has been that electronic combinations locks can be annoying. They have batteries and those batteries need changing, which can be a pain if you are rushing out the door, but can't lock it without finding new batteries. Also, if the deadbolt isn't lined up exactly right, it will stop before the door is locked, which you might not notice unless you stand in front of the door and wait.

On the other hand, I've used a purely mechanical combination lock and it was excellent. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a reasonably priced mechanical lock for sale recently, but I haven't looked all that hard.
posted by ssg at 9:14 AM on May 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

We have these in the Tisch building and the problem seems to be that they're just not terribly secure. With keys you at least have a physical object that can be kept track of, but with the information, once it's out there, it's out there. In a residential situation you can't get it back from ex-boyfriends, creepy houseguests, and freeloading relatives or the guy who just hangs out and watches people go in. All you can do is continually change the code, which is a pain to remember in the first place. This is what eventually happens every year at school when someone gets their stuff stolen and we have to change the code. Seems like more trouble than it's worth to me and I don't know that I'd feel comfortable with it in my apartment.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 9:14 AM on May 18, 2008

You wouldn't have a problem with batteries if you had a proper locking system installed and connected to the house power supply. I had this at my old apartment.

I'm not sure if I would recommend it, though. I always felt vulnerable knowing how easy it would be to break in. I became semi-paranoid thinking someone could be watching me or recording my gestures as I typed in the numbers.

If you're going to go for the key-pad I'd recommend strongly keeping a strong bolt on the door as well, and maybe the option of a regular key-lock for tighter security.
posted by howgenerica at 9:20 AM on May 18, 2008

The last time I rented an apartment, the outside door had that kind of lock. My suggestion to you is that you change the combination once in a while -- every year or two, maybe -- even if the tenants aren't moving out, because the combination on the place I rented probably hadn't ever been changed, and the three digits that were part of the code were shiny and worn, and the other buttons dirty and unused, so figuring out the code would have been really easy. But that was on the outside door, and there was a second door (with a regular key lock) on my apartment -- I'm not sure if I would be 100% comfortable with a combination lock as the only lock on the door, because it is so easy for someone standing behind you (like a delivery person who arrives at the same time you do, say) to see the combination and remember it.

(Also, the last times I had to rekey locks, I just took them to the hardware store and it cost a few dollars, maybe $20 or $30, but not $150 -- is there something unusual about your current locks that is making this such an expensive operation?)
posted by Forktine at 9:21 AM on May 18, 2008

I can't speak to that specific model, but we use a keypad entry to get into our offices. It works quite well. Two combinations - a master that is known by the building owner and the Office Manager, and a second that is known by the employees. The second combo unlocks the door, but it locks immediately after them. The building owner and Office Manager have a master combo that can be used to perminantly lock or unlock the door. It's easy to change the combo if necessary, and we do it every time an employee leaves the company. We've had two problems with it in the four years I've been here, but that seems to have been from people really jostling the device. I have to say, I really love not having to keep track of a key to get in and out of the office.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:21 AM on May 18, 2008

Note: The page states you can use 'Two to eight' numbers for entry - there's a relatively simple trick where an attacker rubs a pink eraser on all the keys, then come back and check the pad for missing crumbs - Two digits =2! possibilities( 12, 21), three digits = 3! possibilities (123,132,213,231,312,321), etc. I'd use at least five, personally. 5!=120 possibilities.)
posted by Orb2069 at 9:48 AM on May 18, 2008

My family had a keypad on our house that was wired into the house electricity, so we didn't have the problem with changing batteries. It was great until the power went out in the dead of winter.
posted by adiabat at 9:49 AM on May 18, 2008

My parents has one (the battery type) that can be opened with a key as well, so lack of electricity doesn't render it non-functional.
posted by winston at 10:36 AM on May 18, 2008

Seconding Thin Lizzy. I'd be really, really uncomfortable with a combo lock as my door lock. Even if the landlord swore that the code was changed for every new tenant.

And really, it's just not that hard to figure them out. Sure, you might have to go through 120 combinations...unless you get lucky on the second try.

The kind of person you want as a tenant -- cares about their belongings and security -- may very well walk away from this setup. The kind of person that you don't want -- doesn't care about your property -- will give the code to all of his/her friends and then refuse responsibility when something gets damaged. (Uh, I dunno...someone must have figured out the code and broke in and punched a hole in the wall?)

Why on earth is re-keying costing you $150?
posted by desuetude at 10:42 AM on May 18, 2008

They are subject to code grabbing as others have mentioned above.

For the price of one of those keypad locks you can buy 3 or 4 decent keyed units and simply swap them out when ever you turn over tenants

If you really want to make your life easy, buy 4 good quality locks, have them all Master Keyed, NOT keyed-alike. that way your master key will work on any of the locks, but your tenants keys will be specific to the individual lock, so your master key works all the time, regardless of which lock is on the door.

Also there are many locks that are VERY easy to re-key your self. For about $10 you can buy one of THESE KITS and rekey yourself. It's ridiculously easy to do
posted by Mr_Chips at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2008

beagle writes "The only drawback I can think of is (a) tenants might forget their combo, especially if you allow them to change it themselves, which means you'd need to come open the door for them,"

If you don't let them change it this is actually an advantage as you can just tell them the code over the phone. I just asked our border what code they wanted and programmed that in when they moved in.

We have a Schlage 10 digit deadbolt model that is awesome. Much better than a key IMO and well worth the 300% price premium (a bill and a half at home depot) over a normal deadbolt. No fiddling with your keys to lock the door on exit; no worry whether your SO has her keys when you step out for a bit; no hassle with giving a short term guest a key (not applicable in the case of renters); no fiddling with keys when you have your hands full on entry.

It can be locked without needing a code and the codes are easy to change. You can even have multiple codes at the same time (8 I think) so that you can give a contractor a temporary code without compromising the tenant's code. Also you need a code to program the lock so you can prevent your tenant from setting their own codes. All the existing codes can be nulled in less than a minute when the tenant moves out.

We only installed it about 6 months ago but it's been flawless in that time with no battery change (a 9V) needed yet.

Orb2069 writes "Note: The page states you can use 'Two to eight' numbers for entry - there's a relatively simple trick where an attacker rubs a pink eraser on all the keys, then come back and check the pad for missing crumbs - Two digits =2! possibilities( 12, 21), three digits = 3! possibilities (123,132,213,231,312,321), etc. I'd use at least five, personally. 5!=120 possibilities.)"

One of the reasons we went with the Schlage over the Weiser is with 10 buttons instead of 5 the key space is a bit larger. Our keypad uses 4 out of 10 digits and order matters (10,000 possible codes). I gave my wife, myself, and my border codes such that all ten digits are pressed between us (EG: the codes could be 1,2,3,4; 5,6,7,8; and 9,0,1,5) therefor dirt/wear is distributed evenly. Anyone with the patience to run thru the combinations is just as likely to toss a brick thru the window or Fubar the door.
posted by Mitheral at 10:55 AM on May 18, 2008

I work at an international airport, where security requirements are about as high as you can get outside the Defense Department. We use mechanical (not powered) pushbutton locks for access to most of our secure areas and have very few problems. I like them so much that when I built a new house a few years ago I installed them on every exterior door except the front entrance (aesthetics). We would not go back to keyed locks. The Simplex combination locks from Ilco that we use have met our every expectation. No more fumbling for keys as you try to open the door with bags of groceries in your arms, no more locking yourself out, and no more having to let children carry keys which are easily lost. These are very secure locks, and bullet-proof to boot.

As for the various comments on touchpad security, there seem to be some misconceptions. The keys are programmable so that various combinations of keys must be pressed simultaneously to unlock the door. This yields thousands of possible combinations, not dozens as suggested previously.
posted by dinger at 11:10 AM on May 18, 2008

dinger writes "The keys are programmable so that various combinations of keys must be pressed simultaneously to unlock the door."

The electronic ones (or at least ours) don't work this way. However the numbers have to be pressed in the correct order so the result is the same.
posted by Mitheral at 11:18 AM on May 18, 2008

Why does it cost you $150 to rekey every time? You should just be able to go to Home Depot and get new tumblers/key sets for the locks for $10-15 each ... Total of $30 each time.

Everyone I've known with the keypads got punk'd eventually by friends who either learned the combo, or by an ex or someone who they'd told the combo to and then broken up with, so I can't say I'm really a fan.
posted by SpecialK at 11:46 AM on May 18, 2008

One cold Canadian winter day, I was left locked out of my house because the battery had died on mine.

To add insult to injury, I had decided to where my converse chuck taylors that day with one pair of cotton socks. Grr. I will never buy one after that. I still leave the house underdressed, mind you.
posted by sunshinesky at 12:11 PM on May 18, 2008

I have a mechanical combo deadbolt and I love how convenient it is. My model lets you build combos that require pressing two buttons at the same time so the number of possible combinations is pretty high.

The only hassle I've run into is that if I don't change the combo every few months, the mechanical innards of the lock will wear unevenly and then I might have to replace it.
posted by rhiannon at 12:47 PM on May 18, 2008

Response by poster: The high cost is to get a locksmith out and there are 4 locks, 2 on the security doors and 2 on the interior doors and if they are master keyed well, that's extra. I tried to take them out and have them re-keyed once and could never get them in quite right again and ended up having to call someone anyway.
This is for a single family home not an apt.
The tenants can choose their own code and change it for various psycho ex-friends, lovers or creepy delivery guys as needed.
Thanks for all of your reccomendations and links, that's just what I wanted. You've given me some great ideas as to what kind of questions to ask as I search out my best option.
rhiannon - I never would have thought of that!
I'll keep checking back in case you have any other thoughts.
Thanks again.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:48 PM on May 18, 2008

Just as a data point, I am a very 'high quality' renter (great credit, good job etc), and I would probably decline to rent an apartment with those locks. No real data, it would just sketch me out.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:58 PM on May 18, 2008

Adding my voice to crabintheocean's. I was a 'high quality' tenant as well, and I'd have not trusted this setup.

If by security door you mean that you have an outer door and the doors to the units proper, it'd be okay for the former, but not the latter.
posted by desuetude at 4:42 PM on May 18, 2008

Consider a lockset with changable cores. Very often used in retail types of establishments.
posted by gjc at 4:58 PM on May 18, 2008

We just bought the Kwik Set Smart key series for our house and it's very, very easy to re-key the lock. It only takes about 30 seconds and doesn't cost anything except the cost of the key. It's something worth looking into.
posted by rmtravis at 5:20 PM on May 18, 2008

get a second set of locks and learn how to change them (it only takes a few minutes each with a screwdriver)

have a rental set and a non-rental set. when renting season is over, change it to your set that doesn't have a million possible dupes.

leave an extra set of rental keys under one of those plastic rocks or somewhere non-immediately obvious. explain that if a renter needs it it will cost them their deposit.

bolt a key lock box next to the door and change the combo frequently.
posted by KenManiac at 7:32 PM on May 18, 2008

Chiming in late, but wanted to share my experience. My husband and I put this kind of lock on our house about six months ago and have now stopped using it. We used a $70 model from Menards (a midwest USA big box hardware store), but I'm not sure of the brand. It is battery powered, but even with fresh batteries, it still has many glitches.

I have to smash the lock button a few times to make sure it gets locked. Sometimes if you close the door too hard, the battery case comes off and batteries scatter around the house, stranding you outside. I very rarely get in by keying the code only once. I have to press the code about three times before it takes it and opens up. In cold weather, it barely functions at all and I find myself punching it in six or seven times. My brother has a similar lock on their house and has the exact same problems.

So, my suggestion would be to go with a keyed system. A keypad is not a very reassuring lock to have on a front door and it's just nicer to know as a renter that someone would have to have a key to get in. Maybe you could take the money and install an alarm system instead? When I was a renter, I found this to be a very attractive feature worth a little extra rent.
posted by bristolcat at 7:22 AM on May 19, 2008

I also have the Schlage 10 digit deadbolt and it's awesome. The way it's built, you won't have problems like the previous poster did on their cheap lock. The battery is a 9 volt secured in a screwed on case on the inside. It has a low battery warning so you don't need to worry about getting locked out when the battery dies.

Another important note is that the locking mechanism isn't electronic on the Schlage. When you enter the code, it makes it so the key area will rotate and actuate the bolt. Some of the other electronic locks use a motor to move the bolt in and out. If the battery gets too low, then, you'll be hosed.

So, yes, recommend the Schlage 10-digit lock.
posted by jeversol at 7:31 AM on May 21, 2008

Not a fan of the cheaper electronic keypads here. Seen them fail too often.

I'd suggest getting one of the interchangable cylinder locks as well. A good high-quality lock + multiple cylinders may run $100-$200, but it'd cost $10-$20 to swap out the cylinders and re-key it. Additionally, you could use a restricted keyway, so your renters can't go out and make copies of your keys, which might reduce the need to re-key (as long as they don't lose/keep the keys you've issued to them). I ended up doing this on my own condos after a contractor made a copy of the non-restricted Schlage key and decided to come back a month later and try to help himself to some of the valuables. The silent alarm did its job and the police caught him in the act, but I still would have preferred to never have to deal with it.
posted by OTA at 6:25 AM on May 23, 2008

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