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Smart Home

Your complete guide to keyless locks

Forgot your keys? No problem.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Compared with standard locks, keyless locks are more convenient and secure. There are no physical keys to lose or would be thieves to copy. Nor is there an open keyway to pick from the outside. These gadgets are fun to operate too. 

Installing a keyless lock, or any lock for that matter, can seem intimidating. Especially so if you've never tried to swap one before. Don't worry. This guide will walk you through the process of outfitting your door with a keyless deadbolt step by step.

Three good reasons to go key-free

No keys to lose

Relying on physical keys is a drag. If you lose them, you're either locked out or can't secure your home if you leave. Keyless locks though don't have keys to lose or even a keyhole to pick. The model I chose to install, the Kwikset Obsidian, is an extreme example of this. It's more mysterious glass obelisk than a standard lock. The Obsidian's glossy face is square, black and completely blank until you activate its keypad.

You're in control

The simplest way to open a keyless lock from the outside is with a numerical code. Just punch in your string of digits on its keypad and you're in. As the lock's owner, you enjoy absolute control over what codes it will accept.

If someone unauthorised gains access to a working code, no sweat. Just tell the lock to kill that particular pin. Likewise, if all your codes have been compromised you can deactivate everything and create entirely new ones.

Bye bye locksmiths

Traditional locks use entirely mechanical parts. For service, these contraptions require the specialized skills of a trained locksmith. Keyless locks don't have cylinders to operate their deadbolts. Silicon chips, circuits and electric motors run the show. So after you swap one in, the chances of needing a locksmith to fix it are low.

When keyless isn't your way

Converting to key free locks isn't for everyone. Perhaps you're not comfortable trusting codes and pins completely to get in and out of the house. Maybe you'd like to have a failsafe, unpowered method to open doors in addition to smart controls. If this sounds like you, then check out our smart lock buying guide. There you'll find everything you need to choose a lock update that's right for you.  

Goodbye old key cylinder.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Step 1: Take out the old lock 

Unless your door is custom made and not cut to standard dimensions, any commercial lock or deadbolt should fit. Still, before you fiddle with anything, snap a few pictures of your door hardware. That includes the exterior and interior sides plus the door's edge. This way you'll have a record of your functioning setup before you make any alterations.

Now unscrew the bolts on the inside of your door. They should be on the latch and what holds the lock cylinder assembly in place. You'll have to unscrew screws keeping the deadbolt face in place on the door's edge too. Next remove the old deadbolt and lock cylinder. After that's done you can then pull the old deadbolt out of the door.

Chances are the lock you'd like to install will fit the particular dimensions of your door. The Kwikset Obsidian calls for the door edge itself should be 1.4 to 2 inches thick (35 to 51 mm).

The circular hole inside the door edge needs to be 1 inch in diameter. You also have to confirm that diameter of the lock bore (where the lock and cylinder fits) is either 2.3 or 1.5 inches (54 or 38 mm). You might encounter the smaller size on older doors but the larger bore is the current standard.

Unscrew the old deadbolt faceplate and remove it.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Step 3: Install the new deadbolt

First fully extend the deadbolt plunger. You can use a Phillips-head screwdriver to do this. Insert the driver tip into the bolt's "D" shaped hole and turn it clockwise.

Make sure the new deadbolt matches up with your door hole.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Now slide the deadbolt into the door. Make sure the bolt's "D" shaped hole sits at the center of the door hole and the bolt face is flush with the door's edge. If the bolt is too short, rotating its face clockwise will also lengthen the entire bolt assembly.  

Don't forget to remove the old strike plate on the door frame opposite the bolt. Your new lock should come with a matching strike in the box. This strike plate won't just coordinate style-wise with the lock. Since the lock and plate are paired, installing it will hopefully increase the chance of the door closing and locking smoothly.    

Attach the new lock to the door.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Step 4: Attach the new lock

Finally it's time to install your keyless lock onto your door. Using the Kwikset Obsidian's instructions, the setup was straightforward. I attached the lock's mounting plate (door's inside surface) with screws to the touchpad resting on the outside of the door. Next I placed the lock's interior assembly on the mounting plate.

The assembly contains an electric motor, battery pack (4 AA) and controls for various security settings. For more on how this model works check out our full review of the Kwikset Obsidian.

Mount the lock's internal assembly to the inside of the door.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I also connected the data wire so the keypad outside can communicate with the assembly inside. Last, I slipped the assembly's cover in place and secured it with screws.

Slide the inside cover into position.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Step 5: Adjust if needed

Now that all your lock's parts are in place on the door give it a test. Does the deadbolt extend and retract smoothly both when the door is open and when it's closed? If not then some piece of the lock system is out of whack.

It could be that one of the striker plates is slightly out of position. Alternatively, the lock itself could be out of alignment inside its mounting plate. Regardless of what's causing the trouble, a little fiddling might be necessary. Ideally you want the motorized lock to lock and unlock the door when it's shut without any issues.

Mission accomplished!

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Enjoy your keyless lifestyle

So you have a keyless lock, now what? For one, forgetting to lock the front door is now unlikely. Many electronic locks like the Kwikset Obsidian will automatically lock themselves if left unlocked for a short period. As long as you remember your code you can ditch the keychain too. 

I also wager these new abilities will whet your appetite for a more sophisticated, smarter lock down the road. With one of those you'll be able to simply tell either the Alexa, Google Home or Siri assistants to lock up for the night. 

Locks linked to your phone through Bluetooth or wireless home networks through Wi-Fi let you control them with a quick screen tap. Also, if you ever decide to make the upgrade, you'll have the know how to handle it all yourself -- no locksmith necessary. Now that's convenient.