Review of Electronic Deadbolt Locks
The principle market for electronic deadbolts is homeowners who want the convenience of not having to carry a key. This is useful when one goes jogging and also for small children who tend to lose things but can remember a code number. Electronic deadbolts allow homeowners to temporarily admit people (repairmen, pet sitters, etc.) and then lock them out without the expense of hiring a locksmith to rekey their mechanical locks. The electronic deadbolts with more than two codes can provide the same convenience for small businesses that often fire their employees and do not want to hire a locksmith every time they do so.
Sadly, the Newtown incident has created a new market: Schools that want their teachers to be able to lock their classroom door without having to step into the hallway in the event that a mad gunman is out there. Today, all classrooms have classroom function levers. Institutional function levers would work for this new application, but they are very expensive. Also, locking the door from the inside requires using a key and this is more time consuming than just turning a knob; time is of the essence if there is a mad gunman in the hallway.
A better option than institutional function levers is to install an electronic deadbolt above the existing classroom function lever; the teacher can quickly lock it without having to fumble for her keys in the event of a mad gunman but, if the students lock her out, she can enter the code number to get back in. Classroom function levers were invented because it could not be assumed that teachers will remember their key, which is (ironically) the same assumption that was made of small children when electronic deadbolts were invented.
Weiser invented the idea of a deadbolt for the front door of a house that uses an electronic keypad. It was a good idea and innovative, but their lock was a bit flimsy and has since been discontinued. Weiser has since been purchased by Kwikset. Thus, there are only three brands that I will consider here: Kwikset Smart Code, Schlage BE 365 and Master DSKP, which I will henceforth refer to as Kwikset, Schlage and Master. There is another brand that costs about the same as the Master, the E-Digital by Lockey, but I have no idea who Lockey is and so I mention them only in passing until I have some experience with their product.
Kwikset also makes a lock called the Kevo, which differs from the Smart Code in that it does not have a keypad but instead communicates with the Bluetooth-enabled smart phone in the user’s pocket. My concern would be that it would open the door when you are inside looking through the peephole, but Kwikset assures us that their Kevo knows whether you are inside or outside. However, internet chatter indicates that calibrating the device is not nearly as easy as Kwikset describes and depends on what material your door is made of, so the jury is still out on the security of this feature. Also, I can visualize times when one might not want the door to open even when one is outside. For instance, suppose a boy is walking a girl home and, when they get to her house, he is strongly suggesting that she invite him inside, which she is not comfortable with. So he just reaches up and touches her Kevo and – Presto! – he is in.
I am not going to specifically review the Kevo here because I have no experience with it and, even if I had one, I would be testing it in my own environment with the particular material that my door is made of, which may not be representative of other people’s houses. Anyway, without ruining the suspense, Kwikset’s keypad version is going to lose this review because their key override is insecure and, since the Kevo uses the same type of cylinder, it loses too. The primary purpose of a deadbolt is to keep one’s house secure, not to entertain Bluetooth-enabled technophiles. If the key override is not secure, then I don’t care if it generates a holographic image of a naked Katy Perry opening the door for me when I come home from work; it is just not acceptable.
Kwikset, Schlage and Master are all major manufacturers who make locks of all types. I have sold and installed many of their electronic deadbolts and am quite familiar with all of them. I have also sold and installed many of the expensive programmable levers that are used on commercial buildings. They will not be reviewed here because they are for a different purpose, controlling the access of large numbers of employees in a hierarchy (workers, supervisors, managers, etc.) working three different shifts, and in some cases creating a paper trail of exactly who entered at what time. I mention these locks only because a familiarity with them enlightens a review of the inexpensive homeowner versions.
All three locks have a key override, which is necessary because otherwise you would be locked out in the event that the batteries die. As mentioned in an early column, Schlage has a different keyway than Kwikset. If the other locks on your house are Kwikset, which is far more common than Schlage, you cannot use that key for the manual override of your Schlage electronic lock. The Master can be ordered with either Kwikset or Schlage, so compatibility is never an issue for it.
As before, I will present the chart first and then go into detail about each characteristic.
|Reliability Even After a
Door Has Sagged
Guessing the Code
|Multiple Users and
Reliability Even After a Door Has Sagged
The Master lock has a big dial similar to their combination padlocks and so it is the user’s own strength that throws and retracts the bolt. Without the proper code, the dial spins freely; but with the proper code, the electricity does not help throw or retract the bolt – it is all on you. Schlage is similar in that there is a knob that is either activated or not and, when it is, it is the user’s own strength that throws or retracts the bolt. On the Kwikset, it is a solenoid (a little electrically powered piston) that throws and retracts the bolt. If the solenoid cannot perform this task, there is no way for the user to help it along.
Wood doors sag over time, they swell with moisture and sometimes the whole house settles; steel doors can expand if exposed to direct sunlight. If, for whatever reason, the bolt is no longer lined up just right with the strike plate, then it will drag and require more strength to open. If you own a Master or Schlage electronic lock and you notice that it has become increasingly difficult to retract the bolt, you can force it open with your own Herculean strength and then call a locksmith to adjust your strike plate to compensate for your sagging door.
If the Kwikset solenoid is not strong enough to retract the bolt, then you are locked out of your house until you use the key override. Getting locked out will bring the problem to your attention but, in the meantime, you may not realize that you are not actually locking your door. You hear the solenoid buzz and you think the door is locked, but in fact the bolt bounced off the strike plate and the door is unlocked. Even if your door has not sagged, if you just fail to close it fully before activating the lock, the bolt might bounce off the strike plate.
Owners of Kwikset electronic locks should get in the habit of manually checking that their door is locked and not just relying on the buzzing noise of the solenoid to indicate this. But, because the Master and the Schlage is locked manually, it provides positive confirmation of the bolt actually extending its full length into the strike plate. Thus Master and Schlage get five stars and Kwikset only one.
Resistance to Guessing the Code
I am not aware that the electronics of any of these three manufacturers can be compromised. However, all electronic keypads are vulnerable to being deciphered by the wear on their keys. If you never change your code, thieves will eventually be able to look at the keypad and note that certain buttons are worn and the others are pristine. If you have a four-digit code and four buttons are worn, which means that the four digits are all different, there are 4!= 1×2×3×4=24 possible codes. It does not take long for a thief to just try all 24 possibilities. If you re-use digits so fewer than four buttons are worn, it is even easier. For instance, if your code is 6969 and a thief observes that only the 6 and 9 show wear, he has only to try 14 possibilities; 2^4-2.
Even if the buttons are not worn, there is another technique that accomplishes the same thing. There is a type of spray paint that glows under ultraviolet (black) light but is transparent in visible light. It is used for catching employees where they shouldn’t be. For instance, if supplies are missing, the boss could spray the door knob of the supply room and then leave it unguarded. On returning, he demands that everybody hold their hands out to an ultraviolet light; whoever’s sticky little fingers are glowing will have to explain what he was doing in the supply room. But what goes around comes around; thieves can make use of this same paint by spraying the keypad of a lock and then shining an ultraviolet light at it to see which buttons have been smeared by their boss’s fingertips.
The Schlage has ten buttons but is limited to only a four-digit code. Thus, there is a good chance that a thief can learn what the four digits are. In contrast, the Kwikset has five buttons but allows codes of up to eight digits. If the user has the wit to use an eight-digit code (it will accept as few as four digits), then there is a good chance that all five buttons will indicate use and so the thief learns nothing about the code. Master also has five buttons and will accept codes even longer than eight digits. So Master gets five stars, Kwikset four and Schlage one.
Pick, Bump, Twist and Drill Resistance
These issues have already been examined in detail in my Review of Upscale House Locks. I will not repeat that information here, but suffice it to say that Schlage is best, then Master and then Kwikset. The durability of the cylinder was also discussed at that time, and not favorably for Kwikset.
For all of these manufacturers, a locksmith (not the homeowner) can disable the key override. Batteries do not actually fail very often and, provided there is another entrance to the building, the key override is not really needed.
Multiple Users and Night Lockout
Having at least two codes is essential. This means that you and your family can memorize one while frequently resetting the other one for people who are granted only temporary access. If you only had one code, then you would have to notify every family member of events that do not really concern them, like giving an air conditioner repairman temporary access to your house. Also, especially for children, frequently making them memorize a new code number is just going to result in unintentionally locking them out.
The Kwikset meets this minimal standard and gets two stars. People using this lock at a small business rather than their home will need more codes. By giving every employee their own code number, it is possible to abruptly lock them out when they get fired without the expense of having a locksmith rekey the lock or the inconvenience of having every employee memorize a new code or be issued a new key.
Schlage can have up to 19 codes and gets four stars. Master can have up to 20 codes and has the added feature of their Nightwatch, which is a button on the inside that can be pushed to lock everybody out. This is useful for women with drunken husbands who sometimes have to sleep with the dogs, and also for business owners who want to grant a number of people access during business hours but lock them all out at night or on holidays. Master gets five stars, though with the caveat that it does not work for classrooms, because it allows the students to lock their teacher out.
As mentioned in the introduction, there are locks that can keep track of large numbers of employees with different levels of authority and working different shifts. But these locks can easily run to $1500. The Master and Schlage provide a semblance of this at a fraction of the cost.
All of these locks are available by mail order for under $150, which is far less than their list price. I am not going to quote any exact prices, but I will point out that Master is the least expensive and Schlage the most expensive, though there is not a vast difference in their prices.
Conclusion:Master’s key override is far more secure than the easily twistable Kwikset, but only slightly less secure than Schlage. It is slightly more difficult to bump but far easier to pick and, while the internet abounds in videos of gurus both picking and bumping locks open, as a practical matter, picking requires more skill. There are probably more burglars armed with bump keys than there are with lock picks, or at least the ones with lock picks do not really know how to use them. But both locks picks and bump keys are readily available on the internet for as little as $7, so it is pure speculation to assert how frequent their relative use is among burglars. Regardless, I am sticking with the assessment in my Review of Upscale House Locks that Schlage is better than Master and Kwikset is crap.
Bottom line: Master gets the nod! It is the least expensive and also the best electronic deadbolt of the three considered. The primary focus of this review is the electronics and, in this regard, Master is clearly better than Schlage. With regards to the security of the key override, none of these locks are exemplary and I would recommend disabling the key override, provided that this is not the only entrance, such as a communicating door in a commercial building, or a door that is frequently used by employees but is locked with a barrel bolt on the inside at night. If disabling the key override is not possible, then the extant electronic deadbolts should not be used where security is important. Such customers might include joggers or people with latchkey kids who live in nice neighborhoods, or an exterior door on a commercial building inside a compound with a high fence.
If security is really an issue, you can always put a Primus cylinder in the Schlage, though that doubles its price and, in fairness, it cannot be compared to the other locks reviewed here. But, if the security of the key override is that much of a concern, then burglars guessing the code with the aid of spray paint that glows under ultraviolet light is also a concern. Schlage is weak in this regard, though the security conscious can get used to wiping the keypad with a rag after every use; hanging the rag on a retractable chain near the deadbolt will remind people of this procedure.
Of the three locks reviewed, Master cannot be used on classroom doors because its Nightwatch feature allows the children to lock their teacher out, and Schlage is too expensive. So, for this application, Kwikset gets the nod. Two code numbers are sufficient and its weak key override is not a concern because insane killers of little children are probably too far out of their minds to think of things like twisting open the lock cylinder. Any deadbolt will stand up to rifle fire longer than a lever, even a commercial-grade lever.
Sneak Peek! Electronic deadbolts are primarily marketed to homeowners on the grounds of convenience. But those with more than two codes (Schlage and Master, but not Kwikset) also have application in a business environment. In the next two columns we will focus exclusively on commercial buildings, first on how to secure them and then on the Matt Blaze problem.
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