By Tina Jepsen
The first time it happened to me, I was in my pajamas on a frigid November morning in Northern New England. I walked outside to get the morning newspaper through a door in my garage, and I heard the door close behind me. *Click.*
Oh no! What did I just do?
I didn’t plan on closing the door all the way. I knew the lock was finicky. But it was early, and I wasn’t thinking clearly.
I never did walk to get the paper that morning. Instead, I went into panic mode, frantically turning the knob and banging on the door to no avail.
Truth be told, I wasn’t prepared for the situation. I was new to the neighborhood and I didn’t have a spare key, and it was well before cell phones were glued to our sides. I was Google-less, friend-less, and freezing!
With the help of a friendly and very understanding propane delivery man, I finally did break back into my home. And what this experience taught me is that it can happen to anyone, at any time.
It’s best to be prepared.
If you’re locked out of your home, there are a number of easy ways to help you get back in; ones that won’t arouse suspicion or cause too much damage in the process. Simply follow these six tips, and when you’ve finally crossed the threshold and are “home free,” take the necessary measures outlined below to prevent future lockouts.
6 Ways to Get In When You’re Locked Out
1. Do a Door Perimeter Check
Once you realize you’re locked out, start the reentry process by walking around the entire perimeter of your home. Note the condition of any exterior doors and windows, and turn the knobs on each door you have to see whether or not they’re unlocked.
If you have exterior access to basement or crawlspace areas, attempt to access these as well.
Just don’t break down any doors yet! It’s not worth the damage.
2. Shimmy through an Unlocked Window
While you’re doing your perimeter check, pay close attention to your windows. If you’re like me, you may try to keep them locked at all times. But, in the off chance there was a mild, breezy day and you just so happened to open your windows, this slight overlook may be your saving grace.
Go ahead and try to open each accessible window from the outside. Again, don’t break a window. If it doesn’t open, keep working down this list.
3. Ask Neighbors for Help
When locked out of your house, it’s very unlikely that you’ll miraculously have a professional lock-picking set in your pocket. However, your neighbors may have one, or at least they may own the tools you need to get into your home, such as a ladder, crowbar or a small paperclip.
They may also have some tips to help you break back into your home. Listen to their advice, and thank them for their help when all is said and done.
4. Find the Pinhole
Many doorknobs feature a small hole, roughly the size of a pinhole. If you can find the right sized tool to insert into this hole, you can deactivate the lock and open the door.
While not all doors have this hole, many older knobs have one located on the side of the unit. Locate the hole, and find a paperclip or watch screwdriver (again, a neighbor is “key” here.) Strongly push the small object straight through the hole until you hear a click. Keep in mind that you may have the jiggle the clip a bit until you find the release.
5. Remove the Doorknob
If none of these methods worked, then it’s time to remove the doorknob. However, this is only possible if you don’t have an extra latch engaged, such as a bar latch or deadbolt.
You’ll need your neighbor’s tools for this task as well.
- Phillips screwdriver
- Flathead screwdriver
Many exterior doorknobs don’t have exposed screws. In this case, find the small latch at the side of the knob and push on it with the flathead screwdriver until you hear the click. At this point, you can remove the knob. To take the doorknob trim off, find another small latch on the side and, using the flathead again, use leverage to pry it off. From here, you can use the Phillips screwdriver to remove the internal screws.
Finally, push the interior side of the doorknob through, and then use a finger or the screwdriver to pull the passage latch inward.
This method may take a while, but you won’t damage your property in the process.
6. Call the Locksmith
If none of the tips above get you through that door, then it’s time to call the locksmith.
Locksmith costs vary depending on where you live and the services you need. For example, A1-Locksmith in Tennessee charges $65-$120 for a residential lockout service call. Whereas, Frog Lock in New York City charges an emergency house opening fee of $150.
Costs tend to rise if you lose your house keys and need a full replacement.
Despite the price, a locksmith will definitely get you into your home in a timely manner.
4 Ways to Avoid or Prevent a Future Lockout
Now that you’re in your house, it’s time to plan ahead and make sure you don't get locked out again.
Prepare for the future by taking some preventative measures as soon as you move into a new house. By following the four tips below, you can save yourself from losing precious time and even money in the event of an untimely lockout.
1. Give a Neighbor or Nearby Relative a Copy of Your Key
The next time you’re at a hardware store, make a few extra copies of your key. Then, give them to people who you trust and who live nearby.
Should you get locked out again, you can easily call on your neighbor or local relative and, if all goes well, you should be back inside your home in no time flat. In return, you may offer to carry a copy of their house key in the event they are locked out.
2. Hide a Copy of Your Key Around Your Yard
If you don’t have anyone around that you trust with a copy of your house key, or you want another backup method, hide one of those spare keys you just made in a secret, secure spot.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of putting your spare key in common places like under your doormat or in an obviously fake decorative rock. If you do this, your property is liable to be broken into.
Instead, find creative places that a burglar wouldn’t know to access. I’ve hidden keys in potted plants, under stepping stones in the garden, the grill, and even in my garage freezer.
You can also think outside the box and hide a key somewhere besides your home, such as at your workplace.
3. Install a Keyless Lock on Your Door
Nowadays, key locks aren’t the only way to secure your property. In fact, there are many options available for keyless door locks, which offer a high-level of security along with advanced technology. And guess what? They’re not as expensive as you’d think.
Keyless door locks come with many features, such as fingerprint recognition, door code access, and cell phone compatibility.
These locks are available at hardware, home improvement stores, and locksmiths. Since installation can be tricky, consider hiring a professional to complete the install.
By installing a keyless door lock, you’re getting a big jump on the latest in home security features, and you’re less likely to get locked out of the house down the road.
4. Make a Habit
Chances are, you have a lot on your mind. As you gear up to leave your home, you’re probably thinking about what’s going on at work, your children, pets, what to make for dinner, and whether or not you recently called your grandmother.
That’s a lot to handle.
So when you leave the house, make a habit to help remind yourself to grab the keys. Place them near the front door or in a specific place in your purse or briefcase. Every time you're getting ready to leave the house, either say, or mentally list all the things that you need to gather before you exit the door. Make sure that your door key is one of them!
Before I close and lock the front door, I repeat these words: “Backpacks, lunches, coffee, keys, and wallet.” And if I happen to forget, my children remind me!
Life is hard enough, without dealing with getting locked out. If you find yourself in a pickle and unable to get inside your own home, follow the six steps listed above. Then, when you’re ready, prepare for the inevitable future lockout.
There’s no need to panic! You’ve got this.