How to Reinforce an Entry Door, Affordably, in 6 Easy Steps
Your home protects some of the most important things in your life: your family and your possessions. But the main line of home defense, the door, can be bypassed in a number of ways and as quickly as 5 seconds. To protect what’s inside of your home, address the main points of weakness in your exterior doors: the frame, the locks, and the door’s edge.
Why Strengthen Your Home’s Door
Statistics vary every year and depend on the reporting agency, but there is approximately one burglary in the US every 15 seconds. That’s 240 an hour or 5,760 break-ins per day. Most home robberies occur during the day while the home owners are at work, and most occur using forcible entry through the front door. I’ve seen the number for forcible entry between 40 and 60%. And surprisingly, a significant number, 30%, occur by simply walking through an unlocked door.
When a locksmith can open your front door in less than 30 seconds, without using force, so can a criminal. And most residential doors can simply be kicked in less than 5 seconds. By default, builders don’t focus on door security, they focus on profit which means compromising door security. Knowing that, you realize that one of the best ways to protect your home is by reinforcing the exterior doors.
When you can make it more difficult to get into your home than your neighbor’s home, would be burglars move down the road.
All of the enhancements we are going to discuss can easily be completed by a homeowner. They do not require removal of the door in order to complete. All you will need is a drill with a Philips-head drill bit.
Start by Locking the Door
Though this seems like an obvious thing, when, 30% of home burglaries are accessed by walking through an unlocked door or window, it needs stating. The world’s best door locks will not protect your home if they are not used.
People forget to lock their doors. Hey, I get it. I’ve forgotten to lock my door too. That is, until I installed an electronic deadbolt on my door. Electronic deadbolts have one great feature, the ability to auto relock themselves after being left open for a specified amount of time. So if you forget to lock your door, the lock still remembers, and your door stays secure.
My favorite residential grade 1, the best grading you can get (see lock grading explained) are the Schlage touchscreen deadbolts. In addition to the bump resistant pinning you are getting the best materials used in a residential deadbolt. They are very affordable on Amazon. Be sure to get one with a key override as there is a trend to skip this in favor of saving money when building it. We also really like the Yale YRD426. Though a grade 2 deadbolt, the security is good and it is the deadbolt I have on my personal home. It too is affordable on Amazon.
We discuss the features of electronic deadbolts, such as blue tooth and home automation in our blog post about electronic deadbolts.
How to Strengthen a Door Frame
Now let’s get to the meat and potatoes of preventing a door from being forced open.
The best and simplest thing you can do for your door is to simply throw out the common 1/2 inch screws that were installed on your door hinges and door strike by the builder and replace them with 3″ to 3.5″ screws. This is very easy for any home owner to do that is comfortable with a power drill.
Those 1/2 inch screws only go into the framing for the door. But a 3″ screw will go through this framing into the two 2 X 4 studs that are behind it, greatly improving your overall door strength.
We recommend reinforcing every door hinge with at least two screws and reinforcing both screws that are on the door’s strike.
If you are on a budget this door reinforcement will only cost a couple of dollars. I believe this is the single best thing you can do to enhance the strength of the door.
If you wanted to take this to the next level, remove the little strike plate that is on the door frame and replace it with an elongated strike plate. This will allow you to use 4 (or more) 3″ screws to secure that strike plate to the 2 X 4’s behind the frame instead of just the two that a standard strike takes. This will help distribute force to multiple points should anyone try to kick the door down.
There are manufactures that are selling door reinforcement kits. These kits will come with all of the hardware you need to reinforce the framing of the door and the door edge (discussed below). They will already have the 3-3.5″ screws you need as well. The kits take what we have discussed and add to it some additional materials to further protect the door hinges. They also have strikes that are several feet long so that force is distributed over a very big area making it nearly impossible to force a door in – even with a battering ram.
Though the most expensive solution, they are the best solution and often the easiest solution since one purchase gets you everything you need. You can find them on Amazon at some of the best prices. For less than $100 you get everything you need to reinforce the door.
If you aren’t comfortable installing any of these items, contact your nearest locksmith for help.
Strengthening a Door’s Edge
Once you have that frame taken care of, the next thing to look at is the door. The weak part of the door is the section that the bolts travel through to lock into the door’s frame. This photo is from one of our customers that was broken into when her door was kicked in.
What happens is that the door’s edge is only secured to the frame by the deadbolt’s bolt and the door handle’s latch that run through the door. Thus, there are only two areas for force to be distributed when the door is battered or kicked in (the bolt and the latch). Because the bolt and latch have a small surface area they don’t distribute this force well, and all the force is concentrated on just two points on the door’s edge. Once you’ve reinforced the door’s frame, this is where a door will break in a forced entry.
The best way to handle this is to install some sort of a door wrap. It’s called a wrap because it wraps around the edge of the door. The objective of a door wrap is to create more surface area to distribute the force over. When you distribute force, the amount of force required to damage the door is much greater.
Think of it like the tip of a sharp pencil popping a filled balloon. It’s easy to to pop a balloon with the tip. But if you hit the balloon with the same force from the side of the pencil is will not pop easily, because the force is distributed over a larger surface area.
The door reinforcement kits we discussed above include small wraps for the deadbolt and the latch. Bigger ones are available to even further distribute the force but as they get larger they get less attractive. The little door wraps that come with the door reinforce kits will work well enough when the door is either metal wrapped or solid wood.
Installing Stronger Door Locks
Most residential grade door hardware installed by a builder is grade 3. That is the least strong lock grade (lock grades explained). These locks contain plastic parts, cheap material, no resistance to lock bumping, and the shortest/narrowest bolts. They are the opposite of what you want.
When choosing a deadbolt, in addition to finish and style, you need to consider security. You can refer to our blog post for details for my favorite home deadbolts. But primarily it boils down to these things.
- Grading. The lower the grade, the more rigorous the testing of the deadbolt. Lock grade 2 is better than grade 3, and grade 1 is better than grade 2. For residential you will want at least a grade 2. All grade three deadbolts should be replaced and thrown in the garbage where they belong.
- A minimum of 1″ throw for deadbolts. The longer the better. The “throw” is the length that the deadbolt extends out of the door and into the frame.
Do you know why you need a long throw on your deadbolt? Because a little device called an airbag. This device was designed to assist locksmiths in opening cars, and it has been found effective for forcing open doors.
The air bag can be inserted into the door, and it is then blown up. This inflating of the bag spreads open the gap between the door and frame so the door will slide open even when the deadbolt is extended. The door frame will only flex in so much, so that a longer bolt is the door reinforcement you need to stop this type of break-in.
We first saw this “technique” used when we were working with 20/20 on a locksmith fraud story. The scam locksmith used this to open the house door.
We had never seen this before because it is not a skilled way to properly open a door. It can easily damage the door and real locksmiths do not not use them. But crooks (and scam locksmiths) don’t care about your door being damaged, and it is an effective technique to get in quick when the deadbolt throw is not long enough.
Stop Lock Bumping
On this blog we’ve thoroughly discussed the topic of lock bumping. Click here to watch our video and see a demonstration of lock bumping that I shot a couple of years back.
Bottom line. If you have grade 3 locks, or any lock older than 10 years, they are susceptible to lock bumping, and anyone with $3 and an internet connection can get everything they need to open your home within seconds.
The easiest way to fix this problem without replacing the locks is by installing an after market product called the Flip Guard. This device not only stops lock bumping, but when activated stops anyone that has a working key from opening the door.
Stop Old Keys from Opening the Door
If you’ve bought a home or have lived in your home for a very long time, rekeying should be considered. Back in the old days, my mother would give the neighbor that she trusted a key to our home just in case she ever lost hers.
Well, that was probably fine back in the old days, but now it’s not just the trusted neighbor you have to worry about when it comes to someone using that key to enter your home. It’s the neighbors teenage kids or their kid’s friends that pose the most risk.
So if you think that there are any possible keys floating about out there, rekeying a home is an inexpensive way to improve your home’s security, and it should be done for every new home your purchase to ensure the old owners, neighbors, etc….can’t get in with a key.
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