Barn Doors and How to Secure Them

Barn doors seem to be all the rage with architects. The only problem is that securing them isn’t very straightforward. Because they slide away from a wall or another barn door or maybe slide next to another barn door without meeting you can’t use a conventional deadbolt or typical hardware from the big box store.

Here’s some ways to secure barn doors:

  • Hasp and padlock – secures the door but only from one side. It isn’t very convenient if somebody wants to unlock the door from either side. There is also the danger that if the hasp is installed on the outside somebody could maliciously lock the hasp while somebody is inside with the door closed and they would be unable to get out.
  • Adams Rite Hookbolt – These are designed to prevent prying the door away from the doorframe. They’re really tough locks. Usually they are used in hollow aluminum doors but I’ve installed them in wooden doors before. It’s a bit of work to mortise out the door for them. They work well in doors at least 1 and 3/4″ thick. They can be locked or unlocked from either side with a key or a thumbturn.
  • The Octopod by Major Manufacturing – locks the door from only one side. The lock is keyed so somebody could only maliciously lock you inside if it was the only exit and they had the key or were able to manipulate the lock with lockpicks or other similar method.
  • Jimmyproof lock – These allow you to lock or unlock the door from either side. They are manufactured by Yale, Medeco, Abloy, and others. They use conventional rim cylinders so they are ideal for thick doors of 3″ or more. The only limit is the length of the screws and tailpiece for your rim cylinder.

Ultraloq: Rekey it to Schlage SC1

I don’t take any responsibility for anything that might happen or who might be maimed as a result of your interpretation of these directions which are clearly provided for entertainment only.

Ultraloq deadbolts are starting to become more popular in the residential electronic deadbolt market. They are even being carried at Home Depot. I guess that means they are at least as good as the Defiant brand electronic deadbolt. Not exactly a high bar but back to Ultraloq…

If you want to know it installs pretty easily and seems to work fine for the brief amount of time between me installing it and getting paid and leaving. At this point I’ve only installed a few that didn’t work correctly out of the box for customers (I don’t stock, sell or warranty them). If you have a modern tubular deadbolt that works without pushing or pulling on the door it will probably not be too hard for you to install one of these in its place.

The model I’ve seen comes with a key override and to the untrained eye it uses a schlage key. That’s because the manufacturer bucked convention and used a kwikset key with a schlage head on it. That’s a tad obnoxious, it is going to cause a lot of head scratching all over the world when people ask why their keys that look exactly the same can’t be made to work in their new lock. It would be like labeling shoes as sized for men when they are really size 10 women’s.

On the left is the Ultraloq key with Kwikset milling and on the right is an actual Schlage SC1 key with the same head but obviously different milling.

Many people won’t care and will put the keys that come with it in their desk drawer to be slowly shoved to the back with all of their dried up pens and other assorted flotsam, but for those of you who want or even demand their schlage key work in their new deadbolt, I have the answer for you because I have done it and after a weeklong vacation in AZ I felt unhurried enough to document how to do this for you. Read on, all three of you!

Obviously this lock cylinder will only work with kw1 keys so we’re going to have to replace the cylinder with one that is SC1 compatible. Wait! Before you reach for your 5 gallon bucket of SC1 cylinders, know that the manufacturer made their cylinder a smaller size than regular 99 type or “universal” kik cylinders. You can’t use a normal cylinder without reaming the space for the cylinder out to a larger size. You CAN use an Emtek cylinder or any cylinder made to work in an Emtek deadbolt though as long as it isn’t longer than the original meaning it must be a five pin.

Those malcontents at Emtek are the only large manufacturer to use these smaller stupid cylinders but I’ve done a good business selling better cylinders made by CX5 to fit in them, Medeco also makes cylinders that will work. As a result I have a few Emtek cylinders that will work for this.

The Emtek cylinder slides right in! If you have a tailpiece for an Emtek deadbolt, you’re golden, you can just put the whole thing back together and plug in the batteries and forget all about the nasty details of tailpieces and keyways and other outtakes of my daily struggles.

I usually reuse the tailpiece on the new cylinder when I replace them so I don’t have Emtek tailpieces. The blockheads at Ultraloq copied the format of the Emtek cylinder but decided to move the hole for the spring loaded cap pin 180 degrees to the bottom of the cylinder for some reason which means the timing is off for their weird tailpiece. It will not fit through the deadbolt because of a nubbin they added on.

That upside down T shape accomodates the tailpiece in only one orientation because of the protuberance or nubbin but Emtek deadbolt tailpiece will go in too.

So, you’ll have to cut that nubbin off. I ground it off with my angle grinder, took ten seconds. If you have a bench grinder that would work well too. I suppose you could just file it off. Once the protuberance of delight has been removed from the tailpiece you can reassemble the deadbolt. First some little screws hold on a sort of stop to keep the cylinder from being pushed back. Then a black plastic thing slides over all of it and is also held in place with an exceedingly small screw. I hope after all of that you remembered to rekey the Emtek cylinder to the SC1 key!

I’ve ground the idiot-proofing right off of it!

The point of the stupid protuberance on the tailpiece is to make sure idiots like us don’t try to put the tailpiece through the bolt in the wrong orientation. That would confuse the deadbolt, it would think it was locked when it was unlocked or maybe that the moon landing was faked. Now that we ground that protuberance off, the deadbolt is no longer idiot-proof. You have to put the tailpiece through the bolt horizontally when the bolt is in a retracted state, though at this point the tailpiece is upside down and it should still be horizontal when the bolt is not out.

Cylinder is installed with stop bracket screwed back in
Black plastic shroud is screwed back on and it looks almost like it just came off the assembly line in Shenzhen.

At this point just follow the rest of the instructions and enjoy using your normal house key on your new electronic deadbolt against all efforts employed by Ultraloq.

Did you remember to reprogram the garage door opener?

The longer I do this job the more I find myself mentioning to new homeowners. Sometimes I think I should just print out a pamphlet to give them instead; often they are anxiously shifting from foot to foot as they look over their shoulder at their zoom meeting nearby while I try to give them helpful information and add value to my costly visit. I let them know:

  1. about their key’s bitting,
  2. what they can do with it,
  3. how to change the batteries on their electronic lock,
  4. remind them to forward their email receipt to their insurance broker for proof they rekeyed their house to get lower rates on homeowner’s insurance
  5. If I see a garage with an electric garage opener I remind them to reset it to delete all codes and pushbutton openers that are programmed into it.

Proactive people call me out to rekey their house and often ask me to look for security vulnerabilities they might not be aware of. Even if people don’t ask I tell them to reset their garage door opener. It’s not my thing, I do it sometimes for people who are adamantly against interacting with electronics in any capacity more demanding than pushing one button but it’s so easy I like to let people know how to do it themselves for free by following instructions in the product manual found on the internet. Usually it involves one button on the garage door opener called the learn button. It is usually really obvious and labeled as such.

Disclaimer: Maple Leaf Locksmith and related entities take no responsibility for injury, wrongful death, fire, electrical shock, voodoo curses that may result from following the instructions below which are provided for entertainment value only and contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Now that that’s out of the way:

Typically the first step is to hold the learn button down for 30 seconds to a minute. This resets the garage door opener and wipes out any credentials that are paired to it. That means that “clickers” or built-in openers in modern cars will no longer work along with codes that were programmed into keypads outside the garage door. This is important because former residents and their friends might include axe murderers, junkies, lawyers….we don’t know what nefarious agents of wickedness might come back to open the garage with a credential we don’t know about.

The second step is to add credentials back in. Take a deep breath and follow the instructions in the manual for your garage door opener that you downloaded before. The instructions may seem complicated but in my experience usually can be completed in minutes. This is usually done by using the same learn button as you used to reset the opener. Most openers have you push the learn button once, then push the button on the “clicker” or remote whether stand-alone or built into your vehicle. This tells the opener to “listen” for this device.

Most vehicles built in the last twenty years include built-in remotes for garage doors. They are typically found near the sun visor on the driver’s side. These work exactly the same as a remote. They are programmed into the opener with the learn button and once programmed in the same single button is used to remotely open or close the garage door. If your vehicle doesn’t have one you can also look at your opener’s manufacturer and then go to a big box store and buy either an aftermarket or OEM remote. They are usually $15-20. They will often contain their own directions for programming to accommodate many different models.

Eviction Moratorium to End Soon

Today I noticed that Gov. Inslee is bringing an end to the eviction moratorium in WA. After two years of not receiving compensation of any kind from tenants or the state, property owners will now have recourse to legally remove nonpaying tenants. Not so fast though! The Governor surely doesn’t want to be remembered for doubling the number of homeless people overnight and has mandated additional rules before an eviction may occur. From The Seattle Times:

State law now requires landlords to offer tenants repayment plans and to notify a local dispute resolution center when they begin the early steps of the eviction process, allowing for possible mediation before a tenant loses their housing. For landlords following that process, state law requires certain waiting periods, such as allowing a tenant 14 days to respond to a payment plan.

https://www.seattletimes.com/business/real-estate/inslee-says-he-will-let-statewide-eviction-limits-expire-sunday/

So evictions are not greenlit yet. The city of Seattle has its own eviction moratorium that won’t expire until 2022. For other areas there are extra steps to go through. First there is a mediation process. Once that has been completed, then the police have to post notice. I can’t change the locks until the possessions of the tenant are all gone or the police tell me that it’s okay to change the locks. The legalities of eviction right now are as certain as the shifting sands. New free legal services are being offered to tenants so the best advice for property rental owners is probably to lawyer up.

I’m starting to get some calls asking about locking out nonpaying tenants. I’m not going to do it without getting the legal green light from the police. This presents its own hurdle since the police force is already spread very thinly in Seattle and what remains of the SPD is probably engaged in higher priority work than evictions.

What is a “Sticky” Lock?

Locksmiths love it when people call them up, describing a myriad of issues with their locks as being caused by stickiness. I’ve never once found that one of these locks felt sticky to the touch. It would be a strange situation outside of maybe a maple syrup production facility or maybe an apiary or meadery.

Instead when people describe their locks as sticky they mean that it is difficult to turn a key which is miscut or a copy of a copy of a copy, or they may mean that it is difficult to throw the deadbolt because the strike plate isn’t in the right spot or the door is sagging.

I can’t fault people for not having the terminology to describe their problems. If they did then they’d just look up how to fix their problem on the internet. Still, I feel like I know how doctors feel with their patients throwing around medical terminology they saw on reddit or youtube or somewhere. Not that I am conflating locksmithing with the lofty ideals of Medicine; nobody ever made me recite an oath to be a locksmith, though maybe that ought to be a requirement.

Earlier this week the problem of throwing around misunderstood terminology cost one of my customers $150. She asked me to come out and rekey a door. To me, this means I should make a new key work in that door. She didn’t elaborate and I rekeyed the door to a new key. The original pins were casually tossed in my brass recycling box.

A few days later the woman called and demanded to know why the key provided didn’t work in the other doors it was supposed to! To her, to rekey meant that I should recreate the original key that worked in that door. I explained what rekeying was as locksmiths understood it and what recreating a key was and the difference between them and she paid me to come back out and regenerate the key from a different door and I rekeyed the first lock back to the originated key it used to work with. It all would have been cheaper and easier if this customer had told me in plain English exactly what it was that she wanted but I have certainly annoyed some other professional by casually tossing their professional lingo about.

Many times people call me up asking to rekey their vehicle because they lost their key but in this situation I know that they are probably confused about what they want and after learning what rekeying is they invariably say that they want their lost keys replaced rather than having their vehicle rekeyed. It is possible to rekey a vehicle and even a good idea if you lost your key near where you park your vehicle but it is very expensive because it’s often difficult to get the lock cylinders out, especially with older cars that have brittle plastic linkages connecting the lock cylinders to the locks themselves. These pieces of plastic snap easily! Many older American vehicles require that you remove the entire steering column to disassemble the ignition!

Is Lockpicking Bad for Your Lock?

I have a professional interest in lockpicking so I sometimes check on what the sport lockpicking community is up to. One of their rules is to only pick locks that you own which is prudent from a legal standpoint but I’ve also read that this rule is because you may break the lock. It would be difficult to break most locks with lockpicks but there’s plenty that can go wrong. Let’s talk about what can happen to a lock when it is picked.

  1. The lock can be disabled by popping a floating cap off of a cylinder.

Many locks have a cheap piece of metal covering the bible that clips on and can fairly easily pop off. The worst offender is the Schlage F series. Many locksmiths think that they are garbage locks, I think they’re fine for residential purposes but I agree with my colleagues that when it comes to masterkeying they are trash. If you put a large top pin in one of these locks and then put a key with a shallow cut in that lock there’s a good chance that the floating cap will pop off.

I’ve heard anecdotes about locksmiths who installed Schlage F51 knobs in a building and were constantly being called back to fix the knobs which stopped working because the cap would pop off under normal use. I grudgingly masterkey F series knobs for value minded building managers who have these but I try to use bittings that will not cause the cap to pop off if a blank key is inserted. The pin stack shouldn’t add up to anything over nine, if you understand what that means.

A better choice for masterkeying doorknobs is the Arrow rk11 which has a brass cylinder with no floating cap, though the cylinder’s design is annoying and it’s harder to insert a key into the cylinder than other lock cylinders from other manufacturers.

The floating cap can pop off in a masterkeyed building scenario but what about with lockpicking? Yes, attempting to unlock these knobs with lockpicks, bumpkeys or comb picks can all result in a popped floating cap. In fact there are tools commercially available to locksmiths designed to do exactly this. If the cap pops off and you don’t know what you’re dealing with you will still be locked out. The pins will still be in the lock, it will be much harder to unlock with a key or lockpicks because there will no longer be spring pressure pushing all the pins down against your key and you will have no feedback with lockpicks. If you don’t have a comb pick to push all of the pins out of the chambers you will need to make one at this point or destroy the knob or figure out another way in.

2. Master pins can fall into the keyway

This shouldn’t be possible most of the time but I’ve been to a few late night calls in my time where the victim actually had a working key that just wouldn’t work. Lockpicks wouldn’t work either! The culprit was actually a master wafer that was smaller than the manufacturer’s smallest suggested master wafer. Lock manufacturers build their lock cylinders with certain tolerances in mind and one of them is size of the smallest master pin allowed without causing the lock to malfunction. For a Schlage lock this is .030″. Rules are made to be broken, as they say, and one building in downtown Seattle I won’t call out here was masterkeyed by somebody who thought that rules are for the birds and used wafers as small as .015″. As a result, the wafers actually get stuck in the space between the plug and the cylinder housing. The strange thing is that this building uses a six pin system so they should have thousands of possible bittings that don’t require them to use master wafers out of spec and cause residents to pay locksmiths $150 to come fix things for them in the middle of the night.

Really small wafers can fall out of place in locks under normal use which is why they shouldn’t ever be used, but what about with lockpicks? Things get much more interesting with lockpicking. If you pick a masterkeyed lock and rotate the plug 180 degrees even .030″ pins can fall into the keyway. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be possible because there would be a key in the way. The bottom of the key would be blocking the pins from falling out of their chambers. This is especially easy with Weiser locks and their spacious keyway.

3. If you pick a dirty lock you could overlift the pins past where they’ve ever gone in fifty years. Up in those dark lands your pin will encounter grime and corrosion that will sometimes cause it to get stuck. Your lockpick will lift the pin and shove it into some sticky gunk. This could also occur if the wrong key was inserted and it had some shallower cuts than the normally used key. This can be prevented by cleaning your locks out once a year by spraying some tri-flow on your key or directly into the lock. Once the pin is already stuck it will be much harder to clean around it. You can take the lock off and turn it upside down and spray lubricant or penetrating oil into it but that doesn’t help you if you are locked out.

These things can all happen to professional locksmiths and sport lockpickers along with criminals. More interesting things can happen with amateurs though, like breaking a lockpick off in the lock. If you don’t have special tools to get foreign material out of a lock, then you can’t stick the key in and it is disabled.

If an amateur picks a padlock in the wrong direction the lock can be disabled as the top pins will all fall into the keyway and block it from rotating. This is an easy thing to fix if you can lift all of the pins.

That is really all of the ways I can think of that a sport lockpicker could accidentally render a lock unusable. Of course superglue, drill bits, and a million other things can maliciously render a lock unusable.

Locks for a Thick Door: Where Do You Get Them?

This is a fairly big problem I run into once or twice a year. A rich customer buys a custom door that is two and a half inches thick and buys a doorknob from Lowe’s and wants me to install it. Not going to work.

Manufacturers make their doorknobs for the most common size of doors which are 1,3/8″ to 1,3/4″ thick. Most will accommodate a 1,7/8 or even 2″ door but beyond that you’re getting into the weeds as they say.

A hack will countersink the door to install the knob but that looks like trash. We want a handleset that will mount on the door and operate correctly and look good doing it. There are options but unfortunately they aren’t $25 doorknobs from Lowe’s.

Probably the cheapest and easiest thing to do is install a deadbolt with a thick door kit. Schlage’s B60 deadbolt is a versatile and decent deadbolt for the price and you can get a kit that will allow it to work in up to 4″ doors! Combine this with either a pull handle or two dummy knobs screwed onto the door surface and you’re there. If you want the door to latch you may want to install a ball catch or roller catch or two. These spring loaded devices act like detents to hold the door shut.

Second plan is go to build.com and select handlesets by door thickness. They have a decent selection. I don’t know how comprehensive it is. There are handlesets in both the Schlage C and Kwikset KW1 keyways. Conspicuously absent are commercial grade ones that take a more or less standard KIK cylinder.

My go to choice was once the Schlage A series which could be made to spec on a factory order but apparently Schlage is phasing out the A series due to lower demand. The A series knob used to be the standard but ADA and fire safety rules stipulate new construction and upgrades must use compliant hardware and knobs don’t fit the bill.

If your door isn’t prepped yet mortise locks are a great choice for thick doors. They are also very expensive in comparison with tubular locks. It is also a ton of work installing mortise locks. What’s a cheaper solution?

Rim mount locks are great for thick doors. These are locks that are screwed onto the inside of the door. A rim cylinder which is available in very long lengths can be installed on the outside along with a pull handle. Rim or surface mount locks can be either really cheap or really expensive, there isn’t much middle ground. My favorite rim deadbolt is the Yale original. They also make an awesome jimmyproof lock. It’s around $150 I think. There are a ton of cheaper clones that use these as a pattern.

If you like many of my customers with thick doors have money to burn you might also consider a mag lock or electric strike and pull handle. The downside to this is that no key override is available unless you set up an electric switch with a mortise cylinder or something.

If you are planning on getting a thick door or gate and want a lock on it be aware that factory lead times in the locksmith industry are unusually long. It might take a factory months to send a custom lockset! Alarm Lock makes a thick door chassis for their locks with free egress but not for their double sided locked lever.

How to Prevent Theft of Outdoor Objects

A lot of restaurant owners have recently complained to me about stolen outdoor propane heaters and tents. They are forced to buy these objects to keep their restaurants open and heartless thieves are stealing them. Some things like tents are difficult to lock down because the fabric can be cut but other objects like propane tanks and heaters can be locked down effectively.

To guard against these people you need something more than cheap steel chain from the hardware store. Boltcutters will cut through that. In fact, as of the writing of this article the Harbor Freight in Seattle has a limited stock of 42″ boltcutters. It would seem that some segment of the consumer market is exhibiting a high demand for boltcutters that can cut through steel chain of even 1/4″ size!

But wait! What if I told you that there are products against which these boltcutters wouldn’t work? A magical elixir with eleven secret herbs and spices that will make your hair grow again though it smells suspiciously like the invidious tang of…wait this was for my etsy page. There is no magical elixir, but there are products made of different alloys that are resistant to boltcutters and even angle grinders.

One of my favorite lock manufacturers makes a bunch of awesome security hardware including high security chain and anchors to bolt into concrete securely. As I myself have discovered chains need to be bolted down when protecting objects under 1000 pounds.

This combination is much more expensive than a masterlock and hardware store chain made of mild steel but also very much more effective at protecting your property. Let me know if you want help procuring any length of high security chain or shrouded shackle padlocks or chain anchors.

Can Somebody Hack my Electronic Lock?

The short answer is: yes, there are ways to unlock your electronic lock but you probably have nothing to worry about; the people with the knowledge to do so most likely have bigger fish to fry.

To protect against unauthorized entry we must consider motivations for the would-be intruder. The most obvious one is theft. Another possibility is squatters: if they get the code they can argue they legally live there and legally you have to prove that they don’t have permission to be there. It might be six months or more before the cops will remove them. We’re over a year now during the pandemic with no legal evictions outside of unusual circumstances. In that time squatters will probably total your residence.
One must also consider the terrible possibility not of what might be taken but what might be left. There are publicized cases of people being framed for possession of child pornography for example. All one need do is gain access to a person’s house or office with a usb device loaded with child porn and load it on their computer. Even if the computer is password protected, with physical access it isn’t difficult for somebody with arcane knowledge to put the files on a locked computer. Then they just call the FBI to report it and boom, your life is ruined. That’s worse than anything a burglar could steal. They’ve essentially stolen your life at that point.

But how do these villains gain access in the first place? Let us consider some of the ways one could gain unauthorized access. The low tech way would be to watch you put in the code. Then they have the code!

The high tech way to get in would be to reverse engineer the lock to find hardwired codes or other vulnerabilities that are common to all locks of the same model. There are people attempting to do this. Other methods might include man in the middle attacks that detect the communication between your phone and the lock or your zwave controller and the lock.

  1. The guy in the bushes

A lot of locks have a code that needs to be punched in to unlock. That is an issue if somebody is watching you put the code in! Think about whether or not somebody could see you put the code in from behind a tree or a bush.

Now that electronic devices are cheap and prevalent there is another danger that I must admit I’m a bit afraid to even utter for fear that I will let an evil out of Pandora’s box that can’t be put back in: small videorecording devices that can be put somewhere near a person’s door could record 24 hours of video on a small microsd card and if properly placed could record somebody punching in their code. When you put your code in, cover your hand with your body and your other hand.

A bit more money and they could have access to telescopic lenses. In the city there are possibly many windows facing your door and one of them might have a recording device with a telephoto lens aimed at your door. That is why you must cover your hand when you put in your entry code. Now people can buy drones that hover in one place for hours at a time from hundreds of feet up in the air with telephoto lenses, all for less than $1500.

Then think of the ways somebody could see what keys you had pressed on your keypad. Your fingers leave oils that are visible under different kinds of light. One can also leave an invisible dye on the doorknob which would then be spread on the keypad. If you have a 4 digit code there might be 16 combinations to try. At this point I should give credit to Yale. They change the location of digits on the keypad every time it is activated. This spreads oils around the keypad. It also means somebody with a telescope won’t necessarily be able to figure out the code by watching you enter it. If they don’t see the number being entered but just what part of the keypad you are touching they won’t get the code. This is a brilliant innovation.

There are other methods of more interest to movie studios and government actors. The methods used to authenticate are getting more complicated and with more complication come more possibilities for exploits. Zwave and Bluetooth implementations aren’t always done securely. Many software engineers have told me they refuse to have electronic locks installed because they’ve seen the codebases for different hardware devices and all of the shoddy code on them.

Keyless lock lockouts: how to prevent and get back inside

There are lots of ways to get locked out with an electronic lock. The most common reasons are that there is a keyed lock elsewhere on the door that is locked, or the electronic lock’s battery died. If you are having this problem figure out which lock isn’t working by sliding a card between the door and frame next to the locks. If the card won’t slide past one chances are it is your problem lock. Read on for some ways to get around these malfunctioning locks.

Not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t call me because they are locked out for one of these reasons. I show up and there is an electronic deadbolt on the door and a door knob below it. The hapless customer explains that their friend or relative locked the doorknob when they left. You can’t blame the friend in this circumstance. Maybe they have the same doorknob at home and are used to locking the door this way. Maybe an older family member doesn’t understand or trust electronic locks. In both cases the person is trying to help you by locking the door. They don’t want you to get burgled!

This situation comes down to being the homeowner’s fault. If you don’t want people to lock the doorknob, you shouldn’t have a locking doorknob. This is one of those Murphy’s Law situations: if something bad can happen, it will happen.

If I see a door with this problematic configuration I always warn the occupant of the dangers. Often it simply hasn’t occurred to them that a keyless lock on the same door as a keyed lock inevitably means the keyed lock will be used some day. Sometimes the person insists that it’s fine because they put tape on the thumbturn or they told everybody not to lock the knob. They like having a second lock on the door despite it not offering much security against people kicking or prying the door open, also known as false security.

This was the case today, my customer had me replace a lock that some idiot had drilled out. The lock could have been bypassed with any type of card and any decent locksmith would have picked the lock or at least used a bumpkey. Instead of replacing the drilled out lock with a passage lock, they asked for the exact same lock. Thus setting themselves up for another costly mistake in the future.

Solutions to this problem are simple. The easiest thing to do is often replacing the locking lockset with a nonlocking or passage lockset. A passage knob or lever will only cost $10-50 at a big box store although a passage mortise lock might cost hundreds more. The cheapest solution aside from hiding a spare key nearby is to modify the lockset to no longer lock. For Kwikset knobs and levers one can simply remove the spindle. This is a nice solution because it is reversible. You can put the spindle back in and it will lock again. Schlage residential locks and the inexpensive locks found at big box stores can usually have the spindle clipped off with a hacksaw or other metal cutting instruments. Then if somebody attempts to lock the knob the thumbturn will spin around without doing anything at all. This is not reversible but at least you don’t have to buy a new lock and from the street the door will appear to have two locks on it still. Make sure to break a key off in the keyhole, otherwise somebody can accidentally lock the knob with a key and you’ll get locked out the next time you use the door. If you have an antique mortise lock on the same door ask me about converting it to passage only.

The third solution is to remove the latch and install a ball catch in its place. This is nice because it’s cheaper than a knob, makes getting locked out (nearly) impossible, and the knob will feel locked if a burglar tries it.

You can also hide a key to the lower lock somewhere, though I urge you not to do so in your own yard as drug addicts and others drowning in desperation have been known to search people’s yards for keys and they know all the best spots including under the flower pot, over the door frame, and the fake rock or sprinkler head. Even key safes aren’t safe. Criminals have made an art of breaking into Masterlock keysafes in particular. Better to hide the key at least 500 yards away in a few different directions. This minimizes the chances that if somebody finds the key they will discover where it goes and you have backups if they do find a key.

Hiding a key is a bit silly though if you have a keyless lock. The convenience of not needing keys is why you got one in the first place. You are better off making sure that the only lock on the door is the electronic one and making it impossible for well-intentioned people to lock you out.

If you are in any of these situations try using a card to unlock the lower lock before calling me. Deadlatches and springlatches when installed on doors with foam weatherstripping are often easy to bypass with a gift card or a piece of celluloid. It could save you $80-150.00! Probably 1/3 of the people I suggest this to are able to get in on their own.

Maybe there is a different problem causing the lockout. People will swear up and down that their keyless lock isn’t working but a passage handleset can sometimes malfunction and not work even when you turn the handle or push the thumblatch down. The card trick can often work in this instance as well but sometimes malfunctioning locks need to be drilled out. The card can be used to determine which lock is malfunctioning by trying to unlock the deadbolt first and then turn the knob all the way in one direction. Then slide your card past both and see at which one it stops. That is your problem lock.

If the electronic lock itself is malfunctioning or the batteries are dead it may be possible to open it with a key override. Many of these locks come with a key. Hope you entrusted a copy to somebody who lives in town. Some of these locks have a battery override on the outside of the lock. This is for a 9 volt battery. If you left one somewhere outside the house or can get one from a neighbor then you’re golden. Get one out of a smoke detector.

When keyless locks aren’t lined up correctly with the strike plate on the door frame they can malfunction. This is often due to excessive friction between the bolt or latch and the strike plate. This can sometimes be alleviated by pushing, pulling, lifting or otherwise manipulating the door into a more optimum position for the lock to work. This has worked for me many times to resolve lockout situations. The culprit is often a sagging or swelling or warping door but can sometimes be the result of the house settling. Whenever there is a minor earthquake you can be sure that the next day people will call to report that their door is stuck or their lock is broken. The lock is fine, it’s no longer working because it’s jammed against wood and metal with great force.

The cheap fix for a lock out of alignment is to adjust the strike plate by either moving it or grinding it. There are benefits to both. If the door has swelled or isn’t hanging correctly you have bigger problems though you might solve them with a plane or a belt sander. Be careful, it’s a game of 1/16″ at a time. If you do it wrong you will be looking at sunlight coming in around your door.

I have had one customer in eight years who forgot her lock’s code. She gave me what she thought was her working code but the lock told me that it was not. After proving to me it was her house I unlocked the door. A few minutes and $120 later she slapped her forehead and revealed that she forgot she changed the code. When we tried the code she had just remembered it worked. She had been very certain that the lock just stopped taking her code and vowed to raise holy hell with the manufacturer right up until her mouth opened and forehead wrinkled with the painful realization of her mistake.

This is becoming a book, thank you for letting me share my musings with you. I must condense this in the future, this is probably too much to ask someone who is locked out to absorb. I hope that it helps somebody out there.