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The Ultimate Guide to Reinforcing Your Doors

2 May 2019

How do most burglars enter homes?

The answer may surprise you. They aren't sneaking down the chimney or digging their way into your basement; most of them simply walk right up to your door and smash their way through it.

It may be hard to believe, but the stats back it up:
34% of burglars break in through the front door
22% gain entry using the back door
9% get in via the garage

In short: 65% of burglaries involve a criminal being able to defeat your door security.

Securing your home with a monitored home security system is a good place to start, but a layered approach offers even more protection than relying solely on a burglar alarm.

The best place to start securing your perimeter is by focusing on your first line of defense: exterior doors.

Is Your Door Strong Enough?

An issue we see in many homes is people using an interior door on an exterior entry point.

An interior door is one that you would most likely use for your bedroom or bathroom. These hollow-core doors are usually made of a thin veneer with a hollow center; they’re designed for privacy, not security.

hollow core solid core door

You can put the best locks in the world on a hollow-core door, but it won’t do you any good if a 12-year-old can kick through it at the door’s weak points.

Replace any hollow-core exterior doors with metal-insulated or solid wood doors. These will be much more resistant to burglar attacks.

Reinforcing Your Door

Armor Concepts make a door reinforcer called Door Armor -- essentially, a metal sleeve that bolts around the door in the area of the doorknob and deadbolt to give that part of the door additional strength.

door armor

This helps to prevent the door from breaking in the area of the lock from a kicking or prying attack.

Door Armor can also be used to temporarily secure a door that has been recently broken into, giving it some strength until a new door can be installed.

Selecting the Right Locks for Your Door

As surprising as it may sound, many burglaries happen to homes that were left unlocked. The burglar didn’t have to break in at all—just turn the doorknob.

Sometimes people make burglars’ lives even easier by not closing the door in the first place. Talk about an open invitation!

It’s more common to leave garage doors open, but police tell us they frequently encounter cases where apartment doors, dorm doors, and house doors have been left standing open, and a burglar seized the opportunity.

It would seem obvious that the first things to do would be to close your doors and use the locks that you currently have. Any lock is better than no lock.

But some types of locks aren’t much better than leaving your door wide open. You need the right type of lock on your door if you want any protection.

Why knob locks aren’t good enough

One type of lock is the knob lock. It has a key slot in the doorknob on the outside and a thumb turn or button on the inside doorknob.

knob lock

If a knob lock is your only protection on the exterior door, your home may be vulnerable. Here’s why:

  • The locking mechanism is in the doorknob itself, which is vulnerable. All a burglar needs to do is saw off the doorknob, knock it off with a hammer, or twist it off with a pair of pliers. Once that’s out of the way, it takes a bit of finesse with needle-nose pliers or a screwdriver to open your door.
  • Another problem with the knob lock is that the latch is too short. A burglar can defeat this type of lock by a shim attack, like using a credit card or similar object to push the latch back and open the door. Or the burglar can use a spreading attack, prying the door open with a large screwdriver or wrecking bar.
  • Lastly, a door with a knob lock may be possible to kick open because the latch is so short and it doesn’t go deep enough into the strike plate to hold solidly when any real force is applied.

Why you should have a single-cylinder deadbolt

If all you’ve got on your door is a knob lock, you can add a second layer of protection with a deadbolt lock positioned 6–8 inches above or below your doorknob.

single cylinder deadbolt

A single-cylinder deadbolt has a key slot on the outside and a thumb turn on the inside. When you fully extend the deadbolt, you can’t push the bolt back in, like you may be able to do with a knob lock. This prevents someone from using a knife or other sharp object to pry the bolt back and open the door.

Look for a deadbolt with a bolt that is a minimum of 1 inch when fully extended. Also, look for a lock that has a tapered cylinder guard. The slot you stick the key into is called the cylinder. The piece of metal that goes around the cylinder is the cylinder guard.

cylinder guard

This should be tapered, meaning it should be wider around the part that goes up against the door and narrower toward the front where the key goes.

A tapered cylinder guard makes it harder for someone to chisel or drill into the cylinder guard. The cylinder guard should be free spinning, which means you can twist it or spin it around and around without doing any damage, preventing someone from unscrewing the cylinder guard and removing the lock.

Deadbolt locks offer several security benefits:

  • The locking mechanism is protected because it is inside the door where it can’t simply be smashed off.

  • The deadbolt can’t be pushed back in after it’s fully extended, reducing the chance a burglar will be able to open the door with a shimming attack.

  • The deadbolt is longer than the latch on a knob lock, so it will be harder for a burglar to "spread" the door and pry it open.

  • The deadbolt goes far enough into the doorjamb wood and strike plate to hold when it is kicked (provided the strike plate is properly installed, which we’ll discuss later).

How to Choose a Deadbolt Lock

When buying a deadbolt lock, it’s important to choose quality over price. Sure, there are $8 deadbolts available at discount stores, but it’s important to look for a lock that meets the specifications outlined to adequately protect you.

Do you often forget to lock your deadbolts? Get a smart deadbolt instead.

With the Yale Assure Lock Touchscreen Keypad, you can lock and unlock your doors via your phone. That way, even if you leave for work one morning and forget to lock the door behind you, all you need to do is pull up your app and enable the lock with a single tap.

yale-assure-smartphone-app

Plus, your family members can all punch in their unique passcodes that give them keyless entry. Want to let in a housekeeper or rent out your home for Airbnb? Allow guests temporary access with key codes that expire after a set period of time; no more handing out spare keys.

Deadbolts that protect against key bumping

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz on the internet about key bumping to unlock deadbolt locks without damaging them.

Locksmiths have been doing this for decades, but in recent years, lockpicking enthusiasts have produced all sorts of YouTube videos, instructions, and tools enabling anyone to open most ordinary deadbolts with ease.

bumping keysA set of bumping keys

In a nutshell, a special bump key is inserted into the lock, and it's struck with a plastic hammer. This causes the tumbler pins inside the lock to fly up randomly, and after a couple of whacks, the pins line up correctly and the lock can be opened.

If you really want to protect your family, yourself, and your possessions, it’s a good idea to invest in a high-security deadbolt such as the Medeco Maxum Residential Deadbolt.

 

Maxum_Residential

Once used primarily for protecting nuclear power plants, laboratories, and government facilities, Medeco high-security deadbolts are now being used in more residential settings to combat the fear of key bumping.

Let’s get technical. This Medeco lock exceeds ANSI (American National Standards Institute) grade 1 standards for auxiliary locks. Grade 1 is the highest rating. This lock features a free turning collar, making it resistant to attacks from tools like pipe wrenches or cold chisels, and quarter-inch diameter mounting bolts that resist wrenching, prying, and hammering attacks.

It has a hardened steel bolt that is 1 inch when fully extended, which makes it resistant to sawing and crowbar attacks. There are also hardened steel inserts and pins that rotate to make it that much harder to pick or drill, in accordance with Underwriters Laboratories UL 437 standard.

The Biaxial® design offers a utility patent that provides protection against unauthorized key duplication. In other words, no hardware store will be able to make a duplicate key unless you authorize it.

The Medeco’s strike plate makes it highly resistant to kick-in attacks: The strike plate’s special box design is anchored directly to the building structure behind the doorframe with 2-inch screws. The steel bolt and bolt throwing mechanism are surrounded by heavy-gauge tubular steel housing, which provides substantial resistance to crowbar attacks. And high-tensile steel mounting bolts hold the lock’s solid brass design together, making it strong against prying and hammer attacks.

Medeco’s lock has several features that make it so resistant to lock-picking, including false slots on the bottom pins, mushroom top pins, a special rotating and elevating pin tumbler design, and a sidebar mechanism. These features are also what make this lock so resistant to key bumping.

If all this weren't enough, it is very difficult to defeat this lock by drilling because hardened steel inserts are positioned in crucial areas of the deadbolt cylinder.

The most important thing about a deadbolt: Use it consistently

Before we leave deadbolts, consider this: Having the best lock in the world does no good if you don’t use it.

You might have deadbolt locks on your doors right now. You probably lock the deadbolt at night. But did you lock the deadbolt when you left home this morning? Did you put the key in the slot and lock it?

If you did, great! If you didn’t, that deadbolt lock wasn’t doing you any good at all. You were putting all your faith in your old knob lock, and we’ve already discussed how unreliable that can be.

Locks should be locked when you are away from home and when you are home. We’ve seen cases where unlocked homes have been entered while the resident was outside working in the backyard, painting, or sunbathing.

We’ve also seen cases where unlocked homes have been entered while the occupants were asleep, in the shower, or in another part of the home. That’s why—while it sounds so simple—it’s so important to keep your doors (and deadbolts) locked at all times.

The Hidden Dangers of Windows Too Close to Your Door

If you’ve got a window in your door or very close to it, you’ve got a potential problem. If you have glass within 40 inches of your lock’s thumb turn, you’ve got to do something. Here’s why.

If a burglar breaks the glass in your door, all they have to do is reach in and turn the thumb turn to open your door.

exterior door with window

The best thing to do is to replace that door with one that doesn’t have a window. And, while you may lose some of the aesthetic value of having a window around the door, your door will provide more protection for you and your home. If you’re not willing or able to ditch the windows for a more secure door style, though, consider these other options.

Window bars or grates

A more extreme option is to put bars or grates over your windows near your door. In fact, in areas with higher crime rates, you’ll see bars or grates over all the windows.

Before you install window bars, however, consult your state's fire code to be sure it’s legal. In some areas of the country, you may be prohibited from putting bars over bedroom windows.

This is so that if there is a fire, the firefighters will be able to rescue you, and if the firefighters are in your house battling a blaze, they know they’ll be able to get out through a bedroom window.

Double-Cylinder Deadbolt

Some people will install a double-cylinder deadbolt if there is glass within 40 inches of the door lock. A double-cylinder deadbolt has a key slot on the outside and a key slot on the inside instead of a thumb turn.

master lock dual cylinder deadbolt

Here’s the theory: You leave the house. You put the key in the slot from the outside and lock your door. Along comes a burglar, who breaks your window and reaches in, but can’t get in because there is no thumb turn to open on the inside.

While double-cylinder deadbolts are a powerful security measure, they also put you in danger in an emergency because of their design.

Imagine this: You get ready to go to bed. You go over to the door to lock it. There is no thumb turn on the inside, so you have to insert your key into the slot to lock the door. You go to bed.

Three hours later, you wake up in a smoke-filled house with your smoke detector going off. You manage to stumble your way to the front door, but you can’t get the door unlocked because there is no thumb turn and you have to now find the key, put it in the slot, and unlock the door. When you’re in an emergency situation, every second counts, and fumbling for a key could be disastrous.

Polycarbonate resin windows

A final solution to windows too close to your door lock is to replace the window glass with a piece of polycarbonate resin.

Polycarbonate resin is available from a glass installer and is about 300 times more resistant to breakage that a standard glass windowpane. The downside? It’s more expensive, scratches easier, and may yellow with age.

These windows must be properly installed because even though it is almost impossible to break, if polycarbonate resin isn’t installed properly, it is possible to knock the whole piece out of the frame to gain entry.

Once you understand the potential issues presented by using bars, grates, double-cylinder locks, and polycarbonate resin to bolster security if you have a window on or near your door, you can see why replacing the entire door may be the easiest and safest option.

Strike Plates

A critical part of securing your door is examining the strike plate.

The strike plate is the piece of metal that is mounted to the doorjamb. It’s the piece that the deadbolt goes into when the lock is locked.

strike plate

Here’s the problem with many strike plates: Builders installed the plate with the half-inch screws that came with the strike plate.

When a burglar comes along and kicks your door, even if you’ve got a deadbolt lock, because the strike plate screws are too short, the doorjamb splinters. The door comes open as one piece of the jamb goes flying across the room.

Luckily, this strike plate problem is easy to fix. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Check the length of your strike plate screws.
  • Replace the tiny little ones with screws that are 2.5–3 inches long. Now the screws not only go into the doorjamb, but they go clear into the door stud, deep enough to hold when the door is kicked.
  • Consider replacing your strike plate with a heavy-duty strike plate such as the Prime-Line U 9539 Armored Security Strike Plate. It’s made of heavier material and will be larger than the standard strike.

prime line armored security strike plate

Security Chains Versus Peepholes

Does your door have a security chain? You know, one of those little chains that you can latch and open your door a couple inches, presumably to look out the open crack and still be safe?

If you have a security chain, don’t count on it to protect you.

door security chain

The problem with the security chain is that it is a vulnerability in disguise. If you unlock your door, an intruder can easily shove their shoulder up against the door, snapping the chain to gain entry. Police have to do this all the time to gain entrance to homes in emergency police calls.

If you’ve got a security chain, get rid of it and install a peephole instead. Now instead of opening your door a crack to see who is out there, you can look through the peephole, keeping your door locked. Peepholes come in several styles now, but the traditional style will give you almost a 180-degree field of view.

National Hardware N162-362 805 Door Viewer is a standard fish-eye peephole. It's cheap, effective, and easy to install.

national hardware door viewer

One disadvantage is that to look out of it, you have to put your eye right up to it. Someone on the outside can see the viewer get dark when this happens, which will indicate that someone is home.

But there are other high-tech options when it comes to peepholes. VW Optics Wide Angle Peephole Door Viewer Doorscope is designed so you don't have to put your face right up to the door to look out.

wide angle peephold door viewer

It works best at about three to four feet away. This wide-angle viewer will give you a 132-degree viewing area. You’re still going to need adequate outdoor lighting to see who is outside your door clearly at night.

If you want the combined functionality of a peephole and a doorbell, the Skybell Trim Plus Video Doorbell will turn your doorbell into a smartphone-integrated video camera.

skybell video doorbell

You can easily see who is at your door on any device without letting them know you are home, ensuring your family’s safety.

The viewer compensates for lower light levels, and the image is easy for anyone of any height to see. The Skybell Trim Plus Video Doorbell also features zoom so you can get a closer look, and there is no fish-eye distortion like you would find on a traditional peephole.

Door Jammer

A door jammer is another option for additional door security. It is functionally similar to jamming a chair under the doorknob, but it’s more secure and sturdier than a chair.

buddybar door jammer

The Buddybar Door Jammer

The Buddybar Door Jammer is a popular door jammer that provides your dwelling with an added measure of safety by reinforcing doors from intruders.

You can set the Buddybar up quickly and without tools. The powder-coated steel 16-gauge bar weighs 8.2 pounds and extends from 36 inches to 51 inches. Its 2-by-4-inch foot is rubber-coated steel and non-marring, which gives it a solid grip that works on wood floors, concrete, tile, or carpet.

The Buddybar is ideal for your home, apartment, dorm room, office, or hotel room, and it’s the stoutest home security bar currently on the market.

GE Personal Security Door Stop Alarm

 

Another door jammer option is the GE Personal Security Door Stop Alarm. Weighing only four ounces, it looks like a standard doorstop but has a built-in 120-decibel alarm. This door jammer does not just help keep intruders out; the alarm will alert you to their presence, giving you more time to react.

ge door stop alarm

The GE Personal Security Door Stop Alarm is easy to use: You don’t need wires, and it runs off one 9-volt battery. (A battery indicator light lets you know when it’s time to change the battery.) To install the device, position it at the base of a door. If the door is opened, the Door Stop Alarm’s 120-decibel alarm will sound.

The Door Stop Alarm’s rubber foot works on carpet, tile, vinyl, and wood. With its gripping ability, the device functions as a doorstop that prevents a door from being opened.

This doorstop alarm is small enough to be easy to take anywhere. With this little device, you'll be able to secure your apartment, dorm room, hotel room, or any room in your home.

Conclusion

Properly securing your doors is an investment of time, money, and energy. But the protection it provides is essential to keeping your home safe.

Consider this: What is the potential cost of not securing your door?

Just remember: when a burglar can’t get in through your door, they’ll
 try your windows next.

The Ultimate Home Security Guide

A comprehensive list of steps you can take to protect your home and your loved ones.

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