Safety First: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Locks

If you’ve never had to change the locks on your house or apartment, you’ve probably never noticed how many different locks there are to choose from. In many housing developments and condos, the locks are predetermined by the contractor or HOA. If you’re worried about break-ins, however, or just want a stronger lock for peace of mind, you may be confused by the array of choices. Whether you’re looking for a new lock for your home or for your business, we can help you find exactly what you need with our ultimate lock guide.

Does Your Lock Make the Grade?

What makes a lock stronger than others? Without getting into too much detail on the nuts and bolts and the hardware, let’s look at the basic grading system. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) grades locks based on various security tests.

  • ANSI Grade-1 locks are top of the line and generally used for commercial applications. Grade-1 locks usually don’t come with standard knobs or handles, so they’re only available with deadbolts or commercial lever handles. Because of the added security and durability, grade-1 locks are great for an office building or small business location.
  • Grade-2 locks are next in line in terms of strength and durability. You will find more grade-2 locks on residential buildings than grade-1 locks, but they are also a smart choice for business owners.
  • Grade-3 locks are the lowest on the grading scale and are the minimal acceptable quality for residential door locks. Most residential communities will have pre-install grade-3 locks. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are ineffective, but if your neighborhood is prone to break-ins, ask your landlord or property manager if you can upgrade your lock.

Security and Durability

The ANSI grades don’t just determine how secure the lock is, they also predict how long the lock will last. If you run a business with heavy customer traffic, you may want to invest in a grade-1 lock because it’s built to withstand more cycles.

A cycle is when you turn the knob or handle completely to retract the bolt and open the door. The cycle is complete when you release the handle and allow the door to relatch. If a lot of people use your door each day, you want to make sure you have a durable lock and door set.

If you’re not sure what grade your lock is or want to replace it with a higher-grade lock, contact a locksmith or lock expert and check with your property manager or HOA.

Types of Locks

Now that you know a little bit about the grading system, let’s look at the different types of locks and the best settings and situations to use each one.

Knob Lock

You can find knob locks in residential areas, but they’re usually accompanied by a deadbolt (see more on deadbolt locking systems below). You can lock and open knob locks with a key on the outside and by turning the knob on the inside.

While knob locks are common and can serve as an initial line of defense, they should never be used on their own. “The problem lies in the fact that the lock cylinder is in the knob itself and not the door,” according to Security Snobs. “In almost all setups, they can be broken off the door with a hammer or bypassed using pliers or a wrench behind the knob, completely bypassing the locking cylinder.”

If you’re installing your own locks on a new building or business, make sure you have more than just a knob lock.

Lever-Handle Locks

Lever-handle locks are used on many residential and commercial doors. The lever-style handle makes them much easier to open than knob locks and the better option if you want to make your home or business more handicap accessible. Lever-handle locks have a key cylinder on the outside and a knob to allow you to lock the door on the inside.

Just like knob locks, lever-handle locks should not be your only line of defense, they can be compromised through picking or brute force, like when someone applies all of their weight to the lever. If your home or business only has a lever-handle lock, consider installing a deadbolt or one of the other types of locks below.


You see deadbolts all the time because they’re used on exterior doors for apartments and houses. The most common deadbolt has a key entry on the outside and a thumbturn on the inside, allowing you to lock it from the inside with the thumbturn or the outside with your key.

Deadbolts can provide a decent level of security and are recommended as a second line of defense if you only have a single lock on your door. Horizontal deadbolts do have a potential downside: it’s possible to pry the door apart from the jamb or strike the plate to disengage the throw. If you’re concerned about this, upgrade your basic lock to a vertical or double-cylinder deadbolt.

Mortise Locks

You can find mortise locks on the exterior doors for businesses and upgraded condos. They are stronger than deadbolts and can withstand more force. Mortise locks are hybrid locks since they combine a sprung latch, lever handle and deadbolt.

Mortise locks are much harder to install so you may want to have someone do it for you and you should also check with your property manager or HOA before you install your new lock.

Digital Locks

Digital locks are keyless, requiring a keypad code to gain access to a room or building. These generally don’t come standard on houses or apartments, but you can buy one and replace your old locks.

Digital locks are great for people who often lose their keys or for property managers who rent out their property because keyless entry is more convenient. Just be wary of who has your code and make sure not to post it anywhere near your house, apartment or rental.

Smart Locks

If you think digital locks are fancy, smart locks take it a step further. While they’re relatively new to the commercial and real estate world, there’s no shortage of options. There are a number of ways you can use a smart lock at your home or commercial property:

  • Add an extra layer of security to your pre-installed knob lock and deadbolt.
  • Give friends and family “virtual keys” to your home or apartment.
  • Remote management of your locks—some smart locks come with an app to unlock your door from your mobile device.

Smart locks are another great option for vacation rental owners who need to grant remote access to visitors, maintenance people or service workers. Some smart locks can pair with other smart home devices as well, so if you’re a gadget geek or electronic enthusiast, you may want to explore some of these options.

When it comes to safety, you want to have the best protection for your home or business. While there are some lock experts who can pick almost any lock, a solid, secure lock can help protect your home or business from most unwanted visitors.

An upgraded lock may be all you need to scare a potential burglar away, so if your property manager will allow it, consider installing a new lock to give you peace of mind and keep your home, your family and your valuables safe.