8 Ways to Drastically Improve Front Door Security
You’ve probably chosen your front door’s appearance to welcome guests into your home and show off your personal style. Now you need to take steps to make sure it doesn’t welcome uninvited intruders.
Countless articles in home magazines and on decorator websites focus on curb appeal: choose this color to stand out, or pick that one so your home can blend attractively into the surrounding neighborhood and landscape. However, the front door is also the most obvious entry to a home, and if it’s not secured, it only takes a moment for a burglar to muscle in through the door and gain access to all your possessions and potentially your family. In the past, securing a front door meant bulky locks and heavy, unattractive doors that made homes feel more like fortresses, but modern options take steps to make front doors both secure and stylish.
Before You Begin…
Assess your current door security before you begin. Is the door new? Old? Solid-core? Cracking at the edges, or rusting at the hinges? Older metal security doors can easily lose their stability when they begin to rust at the edges, and although they may look solid, they can be hollowed out inside by rust and corrosion.
Next, assess the door’s locking mechanism. Ideally, a front door will be secured with a high-level security lock such as a strong deadbolt into a sturdy doorframe, along with a locking mechanism that allows you to partially open the door without opening it completely—or better yet, with a doorbell camera that allows you to interact with visitors without actually opening the door.
After that, consider integrating your door security with your home; are there smart-home features connected to your Wi-Fi? If so, consider smart locks as well as a security system that works with your current smart-home features.
You may need to take a trip to the home improvement store for some basic tools and components (especially if you’re replacing hardware, locks, or the door itself). Most of these steps are reasonable for experienced DIY-inclined homeowners, but if you’re not certain you can do the job, start early in the day so you have time to call in assistance—you don’t want to find yourself in a position where you can’t secure the door overnight.
STEP 1: Consider getting a brand-new door—ideally a solid-core door.
Many older homes feature wood doors that have begun to rot or split, and simply don’t have the strength to withstand a sharp kick or shove. Hollow-core doors, which are really intended for indoor use, are also a huge liability when installed in an exterior entryway, as are older doors with large panes of glass. If your assessment of your front door revealed that it is time to consider a replacement, take a look at the doors on the market.
There is a wide array of styles among security doors, making it easy to find one that suits the aesthetic of the home. Don’t assume that the door is a standard size—measure carefully before choosing a replacement to make sure it is the correct size. For security purposes, look for a solid-core door made of wood, steel, or even fiberglass with a wood core. Steel security doors are some of the strongest doors available and are difficult to crack or break through, and solid wood and fiberglass options aren’t far behind. There are quite a few security doors that do feature decorative glass elements, but it’s unlikely you’ll find any that include large panes of glass—large spans are too easy to break through.
For an added layer of protection, consider replacing a full-view glass or screen storm door with something a little heftier. Security screen doors and security storm doors provide an additional barrier between an intruder and the front door, and they are also available with decorative designs. Plainer metal screen doors can also add security, but they’re less likely to add style.
STEP 2: If you have an older doorframe, consider replacing it with a new one.
The door itself is not the weakest point of the entryway—that honor goes to the doorframe. A solid door is typically secured with a heavy deadbolt, but that deadbolt is only securing the door to the frame, which is usually made of wood and secured to the house with a few screws. Doorframes are exposed to weather and heavy daily use as doors open and close, swinging in and out and tugging on the screws that secure the frame to the house. If the doorframe is older or showing signs of wear (such as splitting or cracking, shifting when the door is opened or closed, or moving when the door is pulled), it’s time to replace it.
There are several ways to do this. Replacing the whole door means you can choose one that is pre-hung in a new frame. This will make the door easier to install correctly. There’s also the option to rebuild the doorframe using lumber from the home improvement store, replacing old, soft wood with fresh pressure-treated stock and finished with trim. But there’s no guarantee that the new doorframe, whether it comes with the door or is custom built, is any more secure than the old one.
To reinforce the frame, consider choosing a door jamb reinforcement kit, which will include a metal reinforcement piece to make the door more difficult to wrench out. Such kits also usually include improved strike plates to make the deadbolt more secure, door shields to prevent the door itself from ripping loose when forced, and hinge guards so an intruder can’t just pop the hinges free. Adding these components to the existing or new doorframe will make the weakest points of the door far more secure.
STEP 3: Consider installing a door chain and a deadbolt.
Most doors include a handle set with a twist or push-button lock in the handle. These types of locks are nice as backup but can easily be defeated by a quick kick or punch from someone trying to get in. They simply don’t have the mass to keep the door closed under pressure. For that, it’s a good idea to install a deadbolt.
The best deadbolts are rated as ANSI Grade 1 or 2. Grade 1 deadbolts are commercial-grade security door locks often used in commercial and industrial applications and are the strongest locks available. Grade 2 locks are high-quality locks intended for residential use that can withstand five strikes of 75 pounds of force before bending or warping, and they are considered the best lock for most homes.
When someone knocks on the door or rings the bell, the first instinct is to open the door to see who is there, perhaps after a quick look through a peephole. As soon as the door is opened, an intruder can easily push past and gain access to the home. There are several tools available to protect against this; the easiest to install is a door chain. Using long screws to secure the chain base to the doorframe and the chain catch to the door, you can securely add the option to open the door a few inches to engage whomever is outside in conversation without giving them free access to your home.
Renters may find that their existing door locks are insufficient. If this relates to you, talk to your landlord about adding a deadbolt; a secure door reduces the landlord’s liability and adds protection for the apartment or rental home. Adding a door chain may be especially helpful to renters—the landlord, maintenance staff, and other employees may have keys to the apartment in case they need emergency access. A chain helps prevent others from accessing the apartment, even if the person trying to enter has a key. Also consider strike plate locks, which function similarly to a chain, or other removable lock devices such as jammer bars to add security when you’re inside your rental unit. Consider the best door security bars as an extra layer of protection.
STEP 4: Rekey your lock or replace it completely.
If you’ve just moved into your home, having the locks rekeyed or replaced should be your very first order of business. That’s because whoever lived in the home previously may have handed out keys to friends and relatives who may not realize that someone new has moved in. Your home isn’t secure if you’re not certain who has keys to access it. A good locksmith can make new keys and shift the tumblers in the lock to match, and can make it so all the locks in the home use the same key—or not, if you’d prefer them to be different. If the locks are older, however, the locksmith may suggest replacing them. Over time and through heavy use, tumblers and lock mechanisms can wear down and be less secure. That means even if the locks were rekeyed or replaced when you moved in, it may be time to do it again if you’ve been in the home for a while.
How many keys do you have to your front door? Think hard—your family members likely each have one, plus the one you gave to the neighbor in case of lockouts, along with the one you gave to the contractor who was working on your house last year. And have any of them made copies? To keep your home secure, rekeying the locks periodically can help ensure you know exactly who has access.
STEP 5: Reinforce any glass in the door.
Glass panes in front doors add a decorative element to your home. Additionally, they let in light and let the warmth inside your home shine through at night. But they could also allow an intruder to smash them, reach through, and flip open your deadbolt. Then the intruder can simply stroll into your home—most of the time without much effort or a lot of noise. The best way to secure a door with a lot of glass is to replace it with a solid door.
If that’s not practical or you’d prefer not to, the next best option is to use security film. Made of thin vinyl and available either in clear or translucent frosted styles, security film is applied carefully to all the glass in the door, and once set will bond with the glass. Should someone try to smash in the glass, the film will work like the anti-shatter coating on automobile windows: the glass pieces will crack but stick firmly to the film, which will not give way easily. The intruder will be forced to shove their hand through a wall of sharp, shattered glass to try to get to the deadbolt, which makes injury very likely and may cause the intruder to retreat. Frosted film (which is available in plain translucent or decorative geometric or floral patterns) also works to blur or partially conceal what is behind the door, which will make it more difficult for an intruder to see if you’re home or to view any valuables in sight of the front door.
STEP 6: Keep the area around the front door well lit and visible.
Darkness is a stealthy intruder’s friend; it provides cover and hides them from immediate discovery. To discourage intruders from trying to get in through your front door (or any door, for that matter), add lighting. Good security lighting includes several layers. Consider improving the basic door lighting by adding fixtures, cleaning the glass surrounds on existing lights, and increasing wattage. Those lights can also be connected to light sensors or a smart-home system that automatically turns them on at dusk and off at dawn, saving you the trouble of remembering to turn them on and protecting your home when you’re returning after dark. Also consider the lighting just inside the door. Well-lit interiors suggest that someone is home and that residents may still be awake and moving around the house.
In addition to traditional entryway lighting, consider adding motion-sensor lighting to your front yard. These lights can be programmed to respond to different levels of motion, which is important. If the sensors are too sensitive, they’ll turn on every time a cat stalks through the yard or a bunny hops by, which can make them easy to ignore. These lights should ideally focus on the door and any dark or obscured areas surrounding the doorstep so that they can draw immediate attention to anyone who is close to your home without good reason.
STEP 7: Install a home security system, including a video doorbell and a keyless lock, and opt for professional monitoring.
Home security systems serve several functions in securing your front door. First, they often deter criminals from approaching your home to begin with. Given a choice between a home with obvious indicators of a security system and one without, burglars will generally choose the less-secure home to avoid the lights, cameras, and sirens that often accompany security systems.
These systems provide an early-warning signal to you (or your professional monitoring service) to let you know that a person has been spotted in the yard or approaching the door. The cameras connected to a security system can record anyone getting too close in the event that they do manage to break in, which will help law enforcement track the burglars down.
Beyond the deterrence and monitoring services, however, contemporary security systems (whether professionally installed or DIY) come with technological perks. Most work through Wi-Fi, so you’ll be able to connect additional devices and build a smart home system. Many security companies work with Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant to integrate smart lighting, appliances, HVAC, and other systems.
Many security systems include an option for a video doorbell, which can protect you by allowing you to see who is at the door and interact with the visitor from anywhere—upstairs, the basement, or your vacation spot miles away—without the visitor knowing where you are. This can give the illusion that you’re home when you are not, and it can also allow you to screen a visitor without actually opening the door.
A keyless lock can also add a layer of safety. You can check to make sure your door is locked from anywhere using a smartphone app, and lock it if you realize you’ve left home without doing so. Keyless locks also permit you to change the code as needed to maintain security, and to let family members or contractors in for limited periods of time without giving away a set of keys.
Many homeowners choose self-monitored home security systems because they seem easier and less expensive. However, professional monitoring offers several advantages. A self-monitored system sends an alert when someone is approaching or is trying to break in, but it can’t call for law enforcement help. For example, if you’re relaxing upstairs with a snack and your favorite show after your kids are in bed, your first instinct will be to panic if your smartphone alerts you that someone is on your front step trying to push through the door. Your focus will be on gathering your family and getting out of the house as fast as you can. You may not be in a state to calmly call 911 and recite your name, address, and the type of emergency at hand. A professionally monitored system can handle that part while you focus on making sure you and your family are safe.
Professional monitoring also includes medical monitoring, carbon monoxide and smoke detection, and other safeguards. Plus, monitored security systems will likely earn you a discount on your homeowners insurance, so the cost increase over a self-monitored system may be worth the additional cost.
STEP 8: Never forget to lock your front door.
The previous steps will strengthen the front door by adding layers of security to your home. But the single most important thing you can do to make your door a solid obstacle between you and an intruder is to lock it every single time you leave your home, even just for a quick walk around the block. An unlocked door is an intruder’s wildest dream—don’t make it easy for them! If it’s a challenge to remember to lock the door, or you can’t recall whether you locked it after you’ve left, a keyless lock is an excellent option. Some keyless locks include reminders if you take your key fob too far from the base unit without locking them.
With a small investment in some supplies and reinforcement, a little time, and some research into home security systems, your door can welcome your guests and stand firmly and solidly in the way of unwelcome intruders—and you can rest more easily at night.