Thursday, July 13, 2006

Making an entrance....

A reader on Kims site asked, how would you go about picking out a secure door, or making an existing doorway more secure?

This is an issue on MANY folks houses; they may have hollow core doors fom the 70s, or old checked and split doors; or just not very good quality doors in general. Even with a well cosntructed home, with a good door, how can you be sure your door is secure? A good, secure entryway is one of your first lines of defense, especially against a dynamic home invasion.

So how DO you go about securing your entryways?

The first step is to choose a secure door itself. I personally prefer a solid hardwood paneled door, but a solid core metal skinned door works as well, or better (if properly constructed, like a 30 minute rated fire door). Hollow core doors of any type (other than security and firedoors) are an iffy security proposition, though if they are properly constructed they may be adequate. Do not choose any main entry door with a large amount of glass, or any glass at all below eye level.

If you are purchasing a prehung door unit with attached door jamb, you want to pick one with very solid jamb construction, including reinforcing strapping around the miter joints, and if possible screwed, or otherwise mechanically reinforced joints. Also, if the option is available, pick out a three or four hinge door with VERY SOLID, heavy hinges, rather than a two hinge door.

Next, the strongest door in the world won’t help you if the door frame could be kicked in by a 12 year old in a wheel chair (like most apartment complexes for example).

When you kick or ram a deadbolted door in, most often it isn’t the door that breaks, it’s the door frame. A man with a 5 pound sledge can usually take out your door jamb with one to three blows; and it makes surprisingly little noise to your neighbors.

Note: A good improvised door buster is a 10-20lb exposed metal dumb bell. You swing it in the normal arc for your arm and make a good solid hit, and most door frames will splinter; plus it's not as suspicious as a sledge hammer,

The best way to deal with this, is to reinforce the door frame as much as possible. This is a bit easier if you are installing a new door and jamb; but for a existing doorjamb the only way to do this without tearing out your door trim, drywall, or plaster, is with screws.

Note: If you have standard framing that’s up to code, this will work out just fine; unfortunatley sometimes contracters skimp and the screws wont have much to bite into. Even then, this will help, but not as much.

First thing, get yourself a about 3 dozen 4” (or 6” if you have a house built before the 70s) countersunk flathead screws.

On the hinge side, you are going to place 2 screws above and below each hinge (if you have a 3 hinge door, so much the better). Drill the pilot holes approximately 1/3 the way in from each edge of the wood, and 1/2” to 1” from the hinge. If you have the room to slightly vertically stagger them (1/2” to 1"), so much the better, because it will reduce the tendency for the wood to check or split. Oh and it’s important that you not tighten the screws down so much that you crush the wood, or warp the frame.

On the top of the frame, put 2 screws 4” in from either side, and 2 more in the center of the jamb.

On the entry side, you will want to put two screws somewhere about 4” below the top edge of the door frame, two about four inches above the bottom, two about 2” above your deadbolt strike plate, two about 2” below your door pull strike plate. and if there is enough room to do so without weakening the wood, two in between your dead bolt and door pull.

Note: you may need to use a stud finder to find where jackstuds and doublers are. Screw into doublers where possible, but avoid screwing into the endgrain of jackstuds (it can cause the wood to split).

Next, check the strike plates of your deadbolt and door pull, and the hinges themselves. On the deadbolt they should be at least 1/8” thick, and secured with 4” screws; or if they are decorative brass, they should have a thick hardedned steel underplate secured with the aforementioned long screws. The hinges should be secured to the jamb side with at least two 4” screws per hinge, one at the top and bottom of each hinge (some hinge plates have up to six screw points, it’s not necessary they all be long screws)

Also, your deadbolts should be secured through the door with long sturdy screws, and they should have a cut/drill shield. It’s preferable that your door pulls also have these features, but not absolutely necessary.

Alright, now that your doorframe is at least halfway reinforced (more on this later), you need to spread the load a bit. Enough force directed at the deadbolt area, and it’s going to splinter, no matter how well it’s reinforced, because by default, the deadbolt and the door pull are the only points of contact on the entry side of the door; and all the force of a blow gets focused onto that 1” bar. The next best thing you can do to keep your door secure, is to add locking bars on the top and bottom to spread that load out. Vertical bars extending into the floor and top jamb are better, but harder to install and less attractive. Horizontal are weaker, and require more reinforcing, but generally easier to install. You can also install a bar on the top of the door, and then place a security cleat into the floor. Bars that are mounted on the walls and slide into pockets or loops on the door can be more attractive, and also are often stronger. Look for types that anchor entirely through the door, with a decorative screw head showing on the outside skin of the door.

If you’re REALLY serious, you can add another pair of deadbolts to the top and bottom of the door, lockable from the outside (they can all be keyed the same), or add blind or keyed yale locks to the same spots; but at that point your door is more secure than your wall, so really what’s the point.

If you are installing a new door and jamb, or are going to be doing any kind of trim, paint, drywall, or plaster work around your door frame, you should take this opportunity to screw in (not nail in) metal strapping to the door jams and framing. Strong hinges and a good deadbolt secured as described above go a long way, but metal strapping really seals the deal, in terms of keeping your door jamb attached to your house.

The first step here, is to pull the door jamb trim from the jamb, and then nail in some thin galvanized sheetmetal strapping vertically along the edges of the jamb. This will go a HUGE way towards keeping your door in place, even if they take a sledge to your deadbolt area. For extra security, then screw in a relatively thin piece of angle iron or plate extending 4” above the deadbolt, to 4” below the door pull. Depending on how thick you go, you may have to slightly relieve the back edge of the door trim. Even if you dont use the plate, screw the strapping down in the same locations you would the plate, and this will help immensely.

NOTE: Be careful in your screw placement, not to weaken the wood. Screws should always be at least 3/4” from each other, and preferably further.

If you are going further and replacing drywall around the door frame, do the above PLUS, take the opportunity to install some frame doublers (standard studs cut to go up against the existing framing, thus doubling the thickness) in the spaces around your door jamb; and drill into the doublers through the door jamb using the longest screws you can (in some areas this is standard building practice, and may be code, in others it may not be). Then, in the same spots you’ll be extending the reinforcing plate to, take strapping material, and use it to literally strap the jamb to the house framing.

If you do all this reinforcing, the only way someone can get into your house is through a window, or a wall; and if your exterior walls are concrete block like mine… It’s kinda hard to move quickly through a window carrying your stereo.

Finally, get a 120 or 160 degree wide angle lens door viewer; and put a decent light in front of your door. Also trim back any foliage or remove and obstructions from around your door that could conceal an assailant. You’d be amazed at just how far to the sides you can see with a good wide angle door viewer. THis is also why I didnt mention a chain lock; I strongly recommend against them. Even the best chainlock can be broken with a good kick. A good viewer should let you know whether to open the door or not; but if you must have an entry limiting device (if you want to pass mail through a locked door or summat), I recommend getting a hotel bar, and anchoring it completely through the door; and through the door frame with 2” or longer screws.

The best part about all this though? Its CHEAP. The screws are about $5 a box, and the metal strapping is only a few cents per foot. You can fully secure an existing door for under $50, including the cost of the door viewer (about $20) and locking bars (about $10 each), assuming you already have a decent dead bolt lockset (add $30 to $50 if you don’t).

Of course that still leaves your windows as security holes, but breaking a window makes a lot of noise, and as I said before, it’s kind of hard to move through a window quickly. Put screamer alarms on all your windows, and keep a phone, and a loaded weapon at your bedside, and you should have enough time to defend yourself appropriately.