Imagine coming home, hands full of groceries, and having your door unlock as you approach, no fumbling with keys necessary.
Or getting an alert while you’re at your desk that your child is home from school.
What about the neighbor who has an important package that was accidentally left at their house— and you could open your front door so they could place it inside for safekeeping, then lock up… all while you’re on vacation.
If any of these sound like situations you find yourself in, a smart lock is an easy home upgrade that could be a legit life-changer. They’re well-priced given the security and convenience benefits, and bonus— I’ve installed quite a few of these, and it’s easy to do, I promise.
Here’s everything you need to know if you’re thinking about buying a smart lock.
What’s a smart lock?
A smart lock is an electronic version of your existing deadbolt or lever lock that can be controlled remotely. Smart locks let you do away with keys: You’ll either use a PIN code to unlock it from a touchpad, or you’ll use your phone as the key, operating the lock either from an app on your phone or handsfree via Bluetooth (that’s where it will magically unlock as it senses your approach). The Kwikset Kevo lock works similarly via Bluetooth, but you have to tap it to open it.
Kwikset Kevo $137
Most smart locks require you to replace your entire lock, but some, like the August smart lock or the Kwikset Kevo Convert, only require you to change the inside mechanics of your lock, which means you can keep the existing look of your hardware on the outside (see the picture below). This is nice for people who (a) like how their front door looks and don’t want to change it, or (b) are unable to change the lock hardware for some reason. The back of the lock can easily be replaced when it’s time to move, making it a great solution for renters.
August Smart Lock $119
What else can they do?
Being able to lock and unlock your home from anywhere is just the beginning.
Smart locks let you grant access to anyone in the family, either by giving them a unique PIN code, or by having them download the app and sharing access with them that way. Then you can set up alerts so you know not only who is entering and exiting at any time, which is helpful when you’re at work and you want to know your children arrived home safely, or the dog got his walk mid-day.
You can also set up temporary keycodes, perfect for those that only need occasional access, like your neighbor who you’ve hired to water your plants, or a housekeeper that shows up once every two weeks. You can put restrictions on these guest keycodes so that they only work on a certain day per week (ie. Wednesdays from 8a to 3p), or expire after a limited time (ie. from now until next Saturday). This is waaay safer than leaving a key under the mat, or having a bunch of spare keys to your home floating around.
You can also link your smart lock to other smart devices so they work in together (it’s called a “scene” in smart home lingo). For example, a “goodnight” scene locks your doors, lowers your window shades, and turns on your exterior lights and alarm system. For example the Schlage Encode lock works with Amazon Alexa’s system— it’s easy to link it to your Ring doorbell or an Alexa cam to make it easier to receive Amazon Prime deliveries. The Encode also works with Google’s Home Assistant— many smart locks are compatible with more than one smart home platform.
Schlage Encode $249
August Lock Pro and Kevo Convert are two locks that have an auto-lock feature, which allows you to lock your door after a predetermined amount of time, so you never have to worry that one of your kids walked in and forgot to lock the door behind them.
The Yale X Nest lock has a tamper-proof feature, where it will alert you if someone tries to mess with it.
Yale X Nest Lock $279
How your lock connects to the internet will determine whether you need to add additional hardware to control it from outside your home. For example, the Schlage Encode connects directly to your home’s Wifi, so it requires no additional hardware to be controlled from down the street or a beach in Bali. But locks like Nest X Yale or Kwikset Obsidian need a small bridge to be plugged in somewhere nearby, otherwise you can only control them when you’re near your front door (see the image below).
Kwikset Obsidian $208
Nest Connect $79
Kevo Hub $99
Additionally, you may have a lock that is Z-Wave or Zigbee enabled. These are other kinds of smart home platforms you might need to consider if you’re looking to connect your lock to a larger smart home system that uses one of these platforms. If you’re using a system like Works with Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit, you won’t need to worry about those.
How much will I spend?
Prices range from $150 to $280 (with the exception of the substantial Baldwin Evolved Handleset below), but you’ll end up paying another $65-99 if you need to purchase a Wifi bridge to go with it.
Are there cheaper locks on the market? You bet. But the options I’ve recommended here are all from reputable, high-quality brands that know a thing or two about keeping intruders from busting your lock apart, and keeping hackers at bay. The last thing you want to do is go the cheap route when it comes to your front door, am I right?
How difficult are they to install?
You will need to know a thing or two about locks and how they work to truly feel comfortable installing a smart lock. But most of the apps will walk you through the instructions step by step, so if you have a bit of confidence you’ll be able to do it with a little time and tools you have around. Of course, you can always call a professional if it seems too daunting, but I’ve installed a couple of these, and I promise it’s not tough. Once they’re installed, the app will walk you through how to connect them, and you’ll be locking and unlocking your house from your phone in no time flat.
Do make sure you read the hardware specs and do some measuring before you purchase, so you can be sure that the lock will fit in the space you’ve got, and is compatible with the thickness of your door.
What if the battery dies, the internet goes out, or I lose my phone?
This is a question I get asked a lot, and most locks have a couple contingency plans so you don’t get locked out (or IN!) to your home. First of all, all the smart locks mentioned here run on alkaline batteries, so they don’t require an internet connection to unlock them when you’re standing nearby. For locks with a touchpad, you’ll still be able to enter your code, and for locks that don’t you’ll be able to use a key to enter, old school-style.
For the batteries, the app will give you lots of notice when they start to run low so you can replace them. The Yale X Nest lock will even let you know it’s batteries are low by speaking to you when you use the keypad. How smart is that?
Lastly, all smart locks here have a plan if you lose your phone. You can still access your account online to remove your phone’s access (so someone can’t pick it up and use it to enter your house), and you can still operate your lock remotely by either logging on from your laptop or another phone.
What should I know before buying?
Before you buy, you should do a bit of homework—not just on the type of smart lock that makes the most sense for you, but also on the one that fits in your home. You’ll need to know which part of your lock you’re replacing, i.e., do you want a deadbolt or lever design? Most smart locks are deadbolt, but there are lever options, too, like the Yale Assure Lever lock below.
If your handleset is all one unit, most of these locks won’t fit. Unless, of course, you get one of those gorgeous Baldwin Evolved Handlesets (below), which are the only smart handlesets I’m aware of at the moment… and stunning.
You should also make sure you measure before you shop. This way, you won’t end up with a lock that’s too tall or doesn’t fit on the hole already in your door.
Other tips: You’ll be happiest with your smart lock choice if you can match your existing hardware. In other words, make sure the lock you like comes in colors that work with the rest of the hardware in your home. It’s also important to know what’s compatible with what. Most smart locks on the market are compatible with a range of smart home platforms (Next, Google, Apple HomeKit), but make sure the one you choose works with your other stuff.
When you finally select a smart lock, go the extra step to stock up on the batteries it requires to run at the same time. The app will alert you when the battery is low, but you want to make sure you have batteries ready when it does.
Make sure you go that extra step to set up strong passwords and PIN codes in the app (many apps offer two-factor authentication, which is a good thing to enable), and also keep your guest pins edited regularly. If you’re no longer employing that dog walker, delete her pincode.
Finally, make a point to choose a reputable brand. All the locks I recommend come from new companies I trust (given their investment in security) and old brands I trust (they have a history of making great locks). Check the internet for information about security breaches. It is, after all, the most important part of your security system.