Estate Agents And Lockouts

We’ve attended a spate – well, three in a fortnight – of customers who’ve been locked out by an estate agent (“realtor” to any kind readers from North America). What happens is that soon-to-be-departing occupants leave for the day without the deadlock key. Either they were never given it by said estate agent when they moved in, or they’ve just got into the habit of not using it. Then the estate agent shows a prospective new occupant around and deadlocks the door, with they key they forgot to give you or that you forgot to take out with you.

Of course when you return and discover that you can’t get in, it’s probably past closing time and there is no reply from the agent’s office.

A typical deadlock key is heavier than a flat rim cylinder key (and moderately rare outside the UK), and one or two customers have said that that’s why they don’t put them in their pocket/purse.

So, if there’s a deadlock on your door and you don’t have a key for it, don’t assume that no-one has a key for it. And don’t let your door be the only one in your block or street that is closed only on the latch lock; get your pocket reinforced or a bigger handbag.

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Photo ID

Anyone can lock themselves out. I’ve certainly managed it myself – more than once.

But if you’ve locked yourself out and suspect that it might just happen again, then as well as finding a (not next door) neighbour to leave a spare latch key with, how about taking a picture of your lock(s) – from the inside that is. Then if you call a locksmith, and I mean a proper locksmith and not just a baboon with nothing but a drill, and you can’t remember the make and model of your lock, you have a picture that might well make all the difference.

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Woeful And Lackadaisical

I hope (no really; I don’t need all that much work) that you don’t live in a block built by woefully stupid and incompetent builders; and “looked after” by lackadaisical management company.

I’ve just finished securing three flats in a newish block. It was designed and built with break-ins in mind. There are only half a dozen flats per corridor, and they were marketed to young professionals so the chances are the not one of the flats will be occupied during the days. The corridors are nice and secluded so thieves can work without danger of being interrupted. The corridors are just wide enough, and the doors staggered enough that you can nicely brace yourself against a wall whilst kicking in a door. And there’s a door at the end of the corridor so that if you need a nice run up in order to batter a door in, you’ve got it.

And of course the doors are powder board so you don’t need to be Bruce Lee to punch your way through them. And the locks are “contract” quality, which is a euphemism for cheap.

And the agents managed to butcher the security doors so they don’t work properly.

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Wooden Doors And Locking Strips

Don’t. Don’t have a “modern”, multi-point locking strip (MPL) in a wooden door. MPLs are commonly found in uPVC doors. MPLs can usually be identified by their handle being operated in an upwards direction in order to lock the door. And if you watch the edge of an open door as you operate said handle, you will usually see several bolts, hooks or mushrooms operated. (Don’t forget to retract the bolts before you shut the door again.)

PVC doors are difficult to fit ordinary rim and dead locks to, so it’s understandable that they have something else; although not necessarily forgiveable in that they offer reduced security as they have a single point of vulnerability: the lock cylinder. But they aren’t going to change any time soon.

If you get locked out by a failure of the strip or gearbox in a PVC door’s MPL, it will be brutal to get you back in but it will be doable. If you get the same lockout when an MPL has been fitted in a wooden door, there aren’t the flex or de-glazing options for getting you back in. There’s a very strong chance the door will become wood for the fire. Wooden doors can expand as the seasons change; and whereas failures of traditional locks can be dealt with in a jammed and locked wooden door, MPL failures typically can’t.

What about a composite door? One that looks like wood perhaps, but is of a manufactured material. Well, they shouldn’t change shape or expand, unlike a wooden door. So if they were originally fitted with the correct gap between door and frame, then they shouldn’t jam up.

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Belt, Braces And A Key In Every Pocket

I’ve just cut myself three copies of my front door latch key. One for the little pocket of my regular jeans, one for my other jeans (SWMBO won’t let me wear blue jeans with a blue shirt), and one for my dressing gown pocket.

The senior moments are getting more frequent. It’s embarassing enough locking yourself out when you’re a locksmith (and all your tools are inside); it’s even worse to lock yourself outside in your pyjamas and dressing gown. (Mental note: must remember to put my dressing gown on.)

And do you know the name of the little pocket in jeans? Today it’s called the fifth pocket, but it used to be called the watch pocket. And apparently modern jeans have a fifth pocket big enough for an iPod (Classic).

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Why Is A Bi-Fold Door Like A 50 YO Car?

Are you old enough to have owned a car that was manufactured more than two decades ago? Do you remember how they had to be cossetted? Today you can expect to run a car for many tens of thousands of miles without too much attention to upkeep. But not back then. Back then you drove around in your British Leyland car wondering what would go wrong next.

Well bi-fold doors are like fifty year old cars. They need monthly servicing. And if they go wrong it will be very expensive to put right. Clear debris out of the track. Follow the manufacturer’s lubrication suggestions; and if they don’t have any lubrication suggestions, be a bit suspicious. If handles start to waggle loosely, get them seen to. If the key gets harder and harder to turn, get it seen to.

And don’t leave the key in the middle lock. And if you have, and it’s snapped off, please don’t poke at it before you call the locksmith. If you absolutely have to leave a key in the middle lock (if there is one), hand an enormous bright red flag on it.

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Rimlatches With Locking Handles

It’s time to warn folks again about the perils of a rim latch locks where there is a keyway in the handle as well as there being a keyway on the ouside, in the barrel (or cylinder).

It’s quite reasonable to assume that this keyway in the inside handle has something to do with making the lock secure. And in a sense it does. But probably not in the sense you think.

The main purpose of the inside keyway is to lock the handle so that you can’t get out. Locks that come with keyways on the inside normally automatically deadlock the bolt without your having to anything other than shut the door. The Yale PBS locks and the top-of-the-range ERAs do this.

Althought it’s rarely the case in London, there might be main doors with only one lock. Long, long ago in less paranoid times this one lock may well have been a simple “night latch”. And if someone has broken in the back, they can then simply walk out of the front, with your television. However, if you’ve locked this lock’s handle then they can’t. Many doors today, however, have a deadlock as well as a latch lock; and that makes a locking handle redundant. In fact, they are usually more of a menace than a help.

A client the other day had just moved into a new flat and assumed that to make the door secure they had to use their key on the inside handle of the latch lock. It didn’t help that the deadlock wasn’t working*. The previous occupants hadn’t ever done this and the new occupants didn’t know that their poor key copy happened to be capable of locking the handle, but incapable of unlcocking it again. So they got locked in. And on the third storey that’s no fun; in fact it’s downright dangerous.

* It’s depressingly common for landlords to say of the deadlock – the “second lock” – ‘Oh, that’s never worked’. Well you shouldn’t leave it at that. Get them to fix it. Without a second, dead lock, you can’t properly secure the door when you go out, you probably aren’t covered by your insurance, and you may be tempted to lock yourself in.

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Locksmith Or Carpenter

I know one or two locksmiths who began their careers as carpenters (and I am sure they are great at both carpentry and locksmithing). That’s not how I got into locksmithing, however. And while I can mortise in a deadlock and chisel a good fit for a rimlatch, that’s about as far as my mobile carpentry skills go.

Now, perhaps it’s easier to find locksmiths than to find carpenters; all I know is that I get a significant number of calls to repair great big holes in doors and in frames. And as far as I can see, the only thing making them anything to do with locks is that the holes are somewhere near the locks. I’m talking now about when the lock itself turns out to be working perfectly well.

Unless the lock isn’t actually working, my advice would be to call a carpenter if your problem concerns missing or smashed lumps of wood no matter how near the lock they are.

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It’s Nice Out Here Anyway

Believe it or not, we like to take the right tools to the job. And the bag of lock picks weighs a lot – to this old codger at least – so I don’t take it out unless it’s needed. And it’s quite valuable, and I (and the police) would be quite unhappy if it got nicked from an unattended van. (OK, some locksmiths only open locks with drills. But that’s too hit and miss for me; and too expensive for the customer).

So it’s quite important that when ringing up because you’re locked out, that you actually say so. Two different people rang up at two different times about a problem with the same door (the occupant and the landlord) and both described the job as “replacing the barrel”. Now barrels are replaced pretty frequently; either because someone has obtained a key they shouldn’t, or because copies have been made of copies so many times that the keys no longer open the lock. And barrel replacement requires a modest tool bag plus stock covering all the different barrels in all the different lengths and finishes.

I turned up thusly accoutred but found the client waiting outside. “We can’t get in. Can you change the barrel please.” Luckily a neightbour with a more boisterous coiffure than mine was able to lend a hairgrip.

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