I get these all the time. Many of these problems could have been solved if people had just read the directions. Most locks come with installation directions and locks are designed to be much easier to install than they were 30 years ago.
Laundry rooms and mail rooms are popular to break into in Seattle right now. I get a few calls a week about this problem. At night nobody is around and there is probably more than $50 in quarters inside the machine’s coin box, making this an attractive target for people who need some quick cash for some heroin or meth.
Typical communal laundry rooms in Seattle are secured with nothing more than a doorknob. Junkies have discovered that these doorknobs can be forced open with a pair of vice grips or a pipe wrench. This unfortunately works on even very expensive knobs, such as the Schlage D series which costs over $400. Sometimes the doors to these rooms are outside, making these rooms even more vulnerable. I can secure your laundry room door to make it much harder to get at your machine.
The best way in my opinion to do this is to replace the doorknob with a lock that is not vulnerable to attack with a wrench. This means either a panic bar and rim cylinder, a Marks nightlatch, or a knob or lever with a shroud.
If you are getting break-ins and you already have a solid door that shuts properly then here is a plan to secure it. Some of these may not apply to your door. Read on for an explanation of why you may want these things.
- $65 for a weekday service call in addition to…
- $270 for a Marks gate lock, or
- $300 parts and labor to install a lever guard on an existing always locked lever
- $20-50 labor to replace the lock on your door with the new one
- $125-500 for a door closer depending on your door and door frame if you don’t already have one
- $50 labor to install a door closer on either a wood or metal door if you don’t already have one
- $50-120 for a new lock cylinder with a restricted keyway, not including keys
Seattle is getting hit by a petty crime wave. As you might imagine from my job description my finger is on the pulse of petty theft and more generally the human condition in King County. Building owners are getting hit pretty hard in a few different places: garages, storage rooms, mail or package rooms, and laundry rooms. The thing that all of these places have in common is that, late at night, nobody is usually in or near them. Thieves of course are attracted to this and will break into cars, storage units, laundry machines or whatever and will have hours to do it between the hours of 3 and 6 am.
There are a few components to physically keeping them out:
- Key control (whether or not criminals have access to the key).
- The door itself.
- The lock on the door.
- The strike on the door frame.
- Whether or not the door is getting shut automatically and the lock is actually engaging.
- Whether or not the lock is protected by direct manipulation such as prying, wrenching, hammering, etc.
I can fix all of these things except replacing the door, though I can do a lot to reinforce a door and door frame. A properly installed door is crucial to building security. If the gap between the door and frame is too great, it is easy to pry open without the addition of an astragal.
No matter how secure your door is it won’t help if thieves get a key. Get a restricted keyway and audit who has how many keys. If they lose the key, for the best security rekey the locks the key worked on. That is expensive, so put it in the lease agreement that they have to pay for this if they lose the key.
Addressing the question of locks, there are a few requirements for buildings open to the public and multi unit residential buildings. Designated exits have to have either a lever or a panic bar, depending on the maximum occupancy of the room near the exit. Unfortunately, this excludes the use of deadbolts.
Deadbolts are also a poor choice because they require that you trust your residents and tenants to turn around and lock the door when they are leaving the room or building. As any property owner will tell you, they just can’t be trusted to secure the building. To properly secure your building, you have to make the doors stupid-proof. This means the doors must automatically close, and they must automatically lock when they close. This means our choices are limited to levers, panic bars, and special hybrid locks like gate latches.
For the lock to work correctly, the door first has to be shut. This is most often done with the help of an automatic door closer. It will shut the door slowly but firmly without slamming. This ensures that as long as nobody puts something in the way of the door it will shut until the lock engages in the door frame.
For the lock to engage, a strike plate must be installed in the door frame correctly. If it is installed wrong the door might not latch shut, leaving it unlocked, or the deadlatch might not engage, meaning somebody might open the door with a credit card or a butter knife.
We can mitigate this weakness by either moving the strike plate, grinding the strike plate, or installing a latch protector or an astragal. One limitation of many of the doors on a modern multi unit building is that the doors will be fire doors, meaning that we can’t legally move strike plates or grind strikes. Adding or modifying hardware on these doors invalidates their fire rating. Any hardware that is added to such a door must be approved by the entity that issued the fire rating. If you want hardware installed on a fire door I will not do so unless you accept the full responsibility for the fire door and its UL rating.
If you’re still with me, here is the part where we get to solutions: how to keep criminals out with the perfect door. If you already have a correctly installed door, we need a door closer, a deadlatching lock with no knob or lever on the outside, and maybe a latch protector or astragal covering the gap between the door and door frame blocking direct manipulation of the lock’s deadlatch.
The best locks for this purpose on a standard wood or hollow metal door are a panic bar and lock cylinder mounted flush to the surface of the door for exits of rooms rated for occupancy of 50 people or above, or the Marks gate latch with a lever on the inside and what appears to be a deadbolt on the outside. This lock is much more resilient to efforts of forced entry. A pipe wrench won’t force this lock open. Neither will a pipe or brute strength. Even a hammer won’t force this open, unlike levers and doorknobs. These locks are still ADA compatible and meet fire safety rules for rooms rated less than 50 occupancy.
I am so proud. In a multipart challenge composed of picking a six pin lock cylinder, impressioning a Nissan lock cylinder, and programming an Alarm Lock I beat the competition with minutes to spare! This took place at the KDL trade show so the competition was fierce: seasoned locksmiths, all of them. I emerged from the miasma of locksmiths cursing and struggling against their competition locks victorious, holding aloft my 32″ lcd tv which was my prize. Now I can watch public access and QVC at the same time (neither of these tv sets supports picture in picture to my knowledge. In reality I won’t watch either of them, only relatives will)
Lockouts are maybe my favorite part of my job. Everybody is very thankful when you unlock their door. They are often the most comical part of my job, too. I’ve started collecting pictures of the implements scattered outside of people’s doors when they have given up and called me out. Here are a few of those pictures.
First, this person fashioned a tool out of a hanger taped to a serving spoon. I was told that the potato masher wouldn’t fit under the door so was not included in this contraption. The customer reported that these tools were all fashioned with the intention of moving a backpack containing room keys closer to the door and trying to get the keys out.
This picture is from a frat house at UW. The customer reported that the only brother with lockpicking experience was out of town. The doorknob was a simple defiant
and easy to pick, but even with hours of attempts with these tools successful manipulation evaded these hapless Greeks. Members of collegiate fraternal organizations at my alma mater, WSU, would no doubt have kicked the door in or broken the doorknob off with a hammer. If these differing approaches are extrapolated as life-guiding philosophies, which do you think will lead to more success? Regardless of the answer, I hope that people will continue to choose me in their time of need.
Recently there’s been a lot of interest from property managers trying to save money on fixing and replacing mortise locks by installing wrap around plates or remodeler plates. These are great, especially since once they’re installed people can easily replace broken locks themselves obtained off the shelf at the hardware store.
Unfortunately, the options for these plates are very limited when it comes to finish. Don-Jo is my favorite source for this type of hardware and their products are great. Their oil-rubbed bronze or 10B finish is unfortunately a different color than every other 10B in the industry though. People are spending a lot of money on these things getting installed so it’s really a letdown to some of them when they see that the plate on the door doesn’t match the finish of their locks at all.
I recently found a solution to this problem. Baldwin makes a product called a push plate that is made to put on doors where people push the door. I think the idea is to protect the door from scratches or dents. Whatever its intended purpose, these plates are wide enough to cover old lock holes and they come in a wide variety of finishes including aged bronze and oil rubbed bronze. If you want me to install one on your door I’m going to charge $75 more for this than a prefab wrap plate but it can be done.
Here’s some stuff I see a lot of outside of apartments in the University District. Bless their hearts, sometimes they will spend hours giving it the college try! Typical implements are hair pins, safety pins, hangers, bent credit cards, scissors, screwdrivers, and the occasional actual lockpick.
One of the most interesting parts of my job is seeing the repairs done to these locks years ago. This lock is about 100 years old so there has been plenty of time for different repairs. This one’s cracked in multiple places. I suspect this was because somebody ran a screw through the body of the mortise lock trying to screw something to the door. It is fairly logical when a screw comes out of your door to replace it with a bigger, longer screw but that larger screw will cause materials to crack. Especially inflexible materials like iron.
This looks more like a candidate for welding to me but some person in the past repaired this manually with several strips of metal and little rivets. This worked for at least 40 years because my client only called me in 2018 after he couldn’t open his door due to the bolt breaking while extended.
The bolt breaking seems to me to be unrelated to the case being cracked. The solution in this case was to manually retract the bolt and discontinue its use as the customer already had a deadbolt installed above the old mortise lock.
This happens frequently in Seattle. People call a 1-800 number they found searching for a locksmith on their phone and some guy comes out and drills their lock out. They charge a lot of money. Oftentimes they charge $200 or more to unlock your door. For a regular lock this is way too much. You should pay less than $100 during the day to unlock a typical residential lock.
The lock below was drilled out at 10:30 PM. The resident was charged over $400. I would have unlocked this for $100 total at this time of night, and her key would still work after the door was open. Unfortunately this type of lock is no longer manufactured. If you hire a cowboy with a big drill to unlock your door, make sure he plans to fix the lock once he’s done. This lock works with a special tailpiece and if somebody drills it, you might have trouble finding somebody who has a replacement.
Criminals know this, so you may as well know it too: Doorknobs can be defeated by somebody with a pair of vicegrips. If somebody takes a large pair of vicegrips and grips a doorknob really hard, it allows them to apply enough force to turn a locked knob. Usually knobs fail safe, meaning that the door will open. A deadbolt cannot so easily be overcome by vicegrips because the housing doesn’t rotate. Many of them are designed to allow the housing to freely rotate if enough torque is applied to them.
Sometimes a deadbolt is not allowed on an exterior door because of fire safety or ADA laws. In this case, somebody with a pair of vicegrips can by stymied by a knob guard or shroud. This covers the knob in such a way that the knob cannot be attacked with brute force. Another possibility is to install a panic bar and rim cylinder on the door. These are flush with the door and also give nothing to wrench on for would-be intruders.
Sometimes when I go on walkthroughs in large buildings I see the telltale signs of wrench marks on doorknobs or a lever that has been forced and point them out to building management who have no idea the knob or lever has been forced open because their key still works in the lock. Take a walk through your building and see if any of your locks have these marks, especially on the exterior building. If so, consider asking me for a quote to replace the knob with another knob and a knob guard or a panic bar and rim cylinder.