"Smart locks," or connected locks, are exploding in popularity. They are one of the first gadgets to be in the pool of "smart home" gadgets, or the "internet of things." The idea behind any smart/internet of things device is that it will connect to your home network and other devices in your home, along with your smartphone. This creates additional functionality, convenience, and opportunities for automation.
With smart locks, that means the ability to unlock your doors with a keycode, smartphone, or even a fingerprint. Some even include features like voice activation. While the ability to tell your front door to lock or unlock with a voice-command through your smartphone or a device like Amazon’s Echo is quite cool, connected locks are about more than just neat tricks and flashy gimmicks. These are real security devices that, with the right lock and the proper installation, can have a serious impact on making your home safer.
While some smart locks will completely take the place of a traditional lock with a physical key, others retain the ability to use a physical key as a backup, or for any members of your family who can’t or don’t have a smartphone. Having the option to use a physical key may appeal to some as a feature, however, consider that one of the major benefits of having a smart lock is the potential ability to completely get rid of keys.
Having a physical key actually makes your home less secure. For one, keyholes create the potential for a lock to be picked. No keyhole – no lock-picking. Second, the existence of a key will always create the risk that the key can be lost and/or copied. You and your family members are far less likely to lose your phones, and if you do, most smartphones can be tracked down or remotely wiped.
How many times have you gotten halfway to work or the gym or the grocery store only to have a brief moment of panic, wondering, “Did I remember to lock the front door?” Smart locks with geofencing ensure those moments of panic are things of the past. A geofence is a digital, invisible perimeter that gets set within a certain radius around your house. When your smartphone crosses outside of that perimeter, the smart lock will automatically engage. That means forgetting to lock your front door becomes more or less impossible.
Better For Kids
The more people you have in your family, the greater the chance for lost or forgotten keys. This goes double for kids and teenagers. How many of us have stories of getting locked out of the house as a teenager and having to break into our own homes? Not a problem with smart locks.
Today’s kids live with their smartphones constantly attached. Connected locks give parents the ability to give their kids their own unique key. Not only does this get rid of the worry of kids getting locked out of the house, it gives parents the ability to monitor exactly when and if their kids get home. Since many smart locks also give the ability to use expiring or one-time-use keys, parents can also send a key to their kids only once they have called to check in.
Coming and Going
Beyond just checking in on your kids, smart locks that give you the ability to see everyone who is coming and going to and from your home, along with the ability to assign unique and temporary keys, adds an extra layer of security to your setup. This could be used to see when relatives arrive from out of town, when a babysitter arrives to watch or pick up the kids, when a neighbor swings by to borrow your some tools, when a cleaning service comes to clean the house, and so on. There are endless ways you can take advantage of these features, and all of them are safer and more convenient than hiding a key under the doormat.
One more important usage of smart locks with unique and temporary keys is for rentals. Many people have vacation properties that they rent out, and even more have opened up their homes to rental through services like AirBnB. A smart lock gives you more control in these rental situations over exactly who gets to access your property, and exactly how long they retain that access for. Plus, giving renters access can be done remotely so there is no need to meet in person to hand off a key.
While some locks are available in hardware stores with DIY installation, most manufacturers strongly recommend professional installation. Professional installation is important for most locks, but especially smart locks. There are several reasons for this.
First, some smart locks require manual calibration for the lock to learn things like how far the bolt needs to extend and contract to be in the locked and unlocked positions, and what direction it needs to turn.
Second, every smart lock is going to have its own set of requirements for how far it can be from the central control panel in order to function properly. A professional installer will be able to assess that distance, as well as account for any obstacles in the way, such as walls or a steel refrigerator. If the distance is too great, a professional may be able to install a signal repeater in order to extend the distance.
Lastly, there are various wireless signal protocols that smart devices operate on, such as Z-Wave and ZigBee (the most common two, though there are others). Each protocol has its own quirks and requirements for optimal performance. A properly trained professional installer will understand the abilities and limitations of each wireless platform and will be able to make sure your devices all connect in your home the way they should.
Home Automation Gateway
Not only are smart locks a cool gadget that adds convenience, with the right features and proper installation, they also make homes more secure. As smart locks become more and more popular, they will also become more ubiquitous. Since there are so many of them and they can integrate into so many existing systems, smart locks also make for a great introduction to the world of smart devices and home automation for the average consumer. Once you see the added convenience and security that a smart lock can provide, it isn’t hard to imagine the other ways your life can improve through in-home automation.