If you don’t deal with the security industry very often, you may be under the impression, but the most expensive locks are basically the same. As you might expect, however, the truth is very different.
Locks are graded by an organization called the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). A trusted non-profit in the security world, they have established 3 distinct lock grades to help rate locks based on how secure they are. Today we’re going to discuss this grading system, what it means, and how to best use that information to your advantage.
How Are Locks Graded?
ANSI’s process for grading locks is fairly rigorous, especially if a lock is going to earn Grade 1 (the best grade they hand out).
Note that Mortise Locks are allowed to aim for an “operational grade,” taking most of the tests at one level, and then have a separate “security grade,” taking the security tests at a different level (usually Grade 1). (These locks are commercial/industrial models generally designed for heavy-duty security.)
The tests a given lock undergoes are grouped into six categories:
This group of tests covers one of the most basic functions of a lock. To earn any grade, a lock must latch with a maximum of 4.5 founds of force and, where relevant, retract with 28 inch-pounds or less rotational force by a lever.
This is basically a group of tests that measure everyday wear. Locks undergo 800,000 cycles (1,000,000 for grade one testing) and are then rechecked for operational compliance. A lock that passes this process can be relied on to not break with everyday use for a very long time.
This group of tests checks to make sure the lock can take everyday abuse. A few hundred pounds are applied incorrectly to the device. This mimics the likes of the lock being banged or accidentally used improperly. In many ways, the purpose of these tests is similar to the cycle tests in that it is less a test of security and more a test of wear and tear.
This group of tests has the most significant differences between grade levels. They are broadly speaking meant to test attempts at forced entry.
While there are several tests that can be performed, one example the ANSI gives is the use of a powered ram to try and smash open the lock. A Grade 1 lock must be able to take ten blows in this test while a Grade 3 lock only must survive two.
This group of tests probes for problems in the lock’s materials and check to make sure the lock is relatively precise in its design.
One of the tests the ANSI discusses is the use of a pointed probe to impact the lock’s rose, with Grade 1 locks having to survive a slightly more precise probe than Grades 2 and 3.
This group of tests is primarily about aesthetics. They check to make sure a lock won’t look deformed or marred by everyday environmental conditions.
Grade 3 Locks
Grade 3 is the lowest grade the ANSI can give to a lock that still manages to pass their testing. These locks are generally going to be the cheapest and most widely available but don’t actually make for good security.
We would generally not recommend installing a Grade 3 lock anywhere you want to actually be secure. A dedicated attacker, even of relatively low skill and without much equipment, will get through a Grade 3 lock. Grade 3 deadlocks simply can’t be trusted for the purpose most people purchase them for.
However, this isn’t to say these locks are useless. They still passed ANSI testing and can make for good locks to prevent unintentional intrusion. If you have a door, you don’t want children in your house or customers at your business to enter; these locks should still suffice.
Grade 2 Locks
ANSI’s Grade 2 locks are for most security-conscious people the bare minimum grade of lock you should trust. These locks do their job and do it reasonably well.
At the very least, this level of lock is when you may also know about the actual material the lock is attached to. You’ve reached a level of security where a door might actually fail before the lock does!
While relatively suitable for areas where intrusion attempts will be obvious, Grade 2 locks can still be defeated by a dedicated attacker fairly quickly. Some people may still want to consider Grade 1 locks for their homes and for entryways protecting valuable or otherwise critical materials.
Grade 1 Locks
Grade 1 locks are when one really starts to enter truly secure territory. They’re tough to pick and extremely durable. If it’s important you protect a location from unwanted entry, Grade 1 locks have got you covered.
These locks aren’t magic and can still be picked or broken, but it’s going to be tough. Combined with other smart security measures, they should greatly discourage all but the most dedicated attackers.
We’ll also quickly note Mortise Locks that are rated Grade 1 in Security can also often fit the same role, although it may be of moderately low quality in other areas depending on your choice.
If you’re interested in having a Grade 1 lock installed or maintained (including Mortise Locks), we can help! As security experts with plenty of experience in the industry, we can help make sure everything is installed correctly and give you any advice you might need to protect what’s important to you!
Mistakes to Avoid
If you’re concerned about security, we also thought it worth mentioning some common security mistakes people make. After all, a strong lock isn’t especially useful if you install it on a plywood door!
One could write an entire book on common security mistakes, but we’ll just quickly review some of the most common and most dangerous:
Forgetting to Lock Up
If there is one mistake you need to avoid, it’s this one. An unlocked lock is useless! This doesn’t just apply to door locks either; lock your windows up too.
Don’t assume doors and windows, not on the ground floor are safe either. If a person could feasibly access an entryway, even with a ladder, it should be locked when not in use.
Remember that if it leads into your house, it should be locked up. This includes garage doors. Even if the door from your garage into your home is locked, a criminal who manages to get under your garage door has a big advantage. Since nobody outside can see them now, it becomes much easier for them to bypass a locked door and enter your home.
Relying Purely on a Lock
Proper security doesn’t end with a good lock. Locks are important, yes, but locks alone don’t protect vulnerable areas. You’re going to need more to keep safe.
Eventually, basically, any lock can be beaten. But if you also have an alarm or even a few cameras? Now you’ve really made a location an extremely undesirable target to intruders.
Security is this odd mental equation where it can be hard to see its value until it is too late. This results in many of the above mistakes and, worse, people just trying to save money buying inferior security measures.
While you don’t need literally the best security money can buy (unless you’re building a fortress), you still shouldn’t buy weak locks and cheap doors.
The funny thing is that cheaping out on security actually makes it more likely you’ll be targeted. Criminals want easy targets. If the choice is between a lock with flimsy doors and locks or one that has invested in good locks, who do you think they will choose?
Unless you know what you’re doing, you shouldn’t install your own security measures. An improperly installed lock can often be extremely easy to pick. Even a few loose screws may be enough to render a Grade 3 lock effectively useless.
If you want to install new security measures, consider contacting a company like ours for help. Our lock services can make sure everything is as it should be. If there’s one thing worse than being vulnerable, it is being vulnerable and thinking you’re safe!
We’re Experts on Lock Grades and More!
That’s the basics of ANSI lock grades and how to get the most of your locks once you install them. Remember that the quality of the lock you choose matters almost as much as installing it in the first place. A low-quality lock can give you a dangerously false sense of security!
We are Pros On Call and we are all about quality security solutions. If you would like to request our services and make sure your home or business is secure, we’d love to hear from you. We can answer any security questions you have and are even able to help with more complex locking systems, like biometric models!