What Are Electric Door Locks and How Do They Work?

Ever wondered what it would be like to live in a world where you’d never have to worry about losing your house keys, ever again? The electric door lock is a dream come true for those of us who are a little “forgetful,” but there’s something even better about these new gadgets: They could make your home safer.

What are electric door locks?

An electric door lock is a lock powered by electric. But how are they keyless? And how the heck do you get inside?

Most traditional locks on entry doors are made with a mechanism known as a pin and tumbler. Inside the lock are pins and spring-loaded cylinders, which are only activated when the correct key is slid into the keyhole. Slide the wrong in there, and the lock won’t turn, which means the door won’t open.

An electric lock, on the other hand, isn’t that different from the power door locks on a car. They’ve got a small motor buried in the lock which is activated by an electrical impulse. It’s similar to the impulse set off when you hit the button on a car key fob to unlock a door, but unlike a car, you don’t necessarily need the fob to make it happen. Even better, today’s electric locks for homes have sophisticated locking options, from timers that will unlock or lock the doors at particular times of the day to the ability to use your smartphone to open a door from anywhere.

What types of electric door locks are out there?

Coded entry — One of the most common types of electric locks is the coded entry. A keypad is placed outside the door, and all you need to do is enter a few numbers to get inside.

Smartphone-operated lock — Add locking and unlocking your doors to the list of things you can do with a smartphone these days. Smartphone-operated locks can be activated from anywhere, so all you need to get into your house is your phone.

But that’s not all. They also offer the ability to check in from the office to see if you forgot to lock the door, or unlock the back door while you’re away on vacation so that the painters can get into the house to spiffy up your kitchen. With a smart lock app, you can pre-set lock and unlock times,  and some smart locks also include monitoring, so you can get alerts if someone tries to break into your home or just to let you know the kids have gotten home safe after school.

Biometric — You’ve seen those “your fingerprint is your password” door locks on TV, but did you know you could have one at your house? Most biometric door locks store a picture of your fingerprint, so all you have to do is place your finger on the lock to gain entry to your home. There are other options too — including voice-activated and eye scanners (although the latter may be prohibitively expensive for home purchase).

Key fob — Don’t have a smartphone, or don’t want your front door tied to it? There are locks on the market powered by a special key fob that can be touched to the lock (think of the way you touch your phone to the point of sale terminal to pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay) to open the door.


  • You don’t have to remember your keys — Unless you opt for a key fob-only option, most electric door locks mean never having to remember (or make copies of) keys again. For forgetful folks, that’s enough of a reason to make the switch and never go back.
  • It’s easy to share access — A coded entry means you don’t have to make extra housekeys … or worry about who else is making copies of your house key. You can share a code with your kids, a contractor, or anyone else, so they can get it. Smartphone enable access is easy to share too, as family members can share the app, and you can remotely unlock and re-lock your doors for just about anyone.
  • It’s easy to revoke access — Physical keys are easy to copy, which makes it hard to really know who’s used a key to your house and truly returned it. But codes can be changed, and some locks even allow for one-time access codes, so you don’t have to worry that the plumber is returning to your house when you’re not aware. If you’re remotely unlocking your door for someone (and re-locking when they leave), they never even have to have a key or code at all.
  • Harder to “pick” — Picking a lock is easy for people who are adept at the skill, but electric locks add a number of extra hurdles for thieves … enough that they may just give up and look for another house to hit.


  • Power outages — If your door lock is powered by electric, what happens when the power goes out? With many electric door locks, the answer is you either can’t get into your house, or your house may suddenly be unlocked … and at risk of thieves.

If you’re worried about power outages, you may want to invest in an electric door lock that has a traditional keyed entry back-up, such as the Kwikset Kevo 2.0 Touch-to-Open Smart Lock.

Kwikset - Kevo 99250-202 Kevo 2nd Gen Bluetooth Touch-to-Open Smart Keyless Entry Electronic Deadbolt Door Lock Featuring SmartKey Security, Satin Nickel
  • Your smartphone is now your key touch to open convenience with the 2nd generation. If you wish to perform a system reset, press and hold the...
  • Kevo 2nd gen now works with Alexa voice commands (requires Kevo Plus hub, sold separately for $99 via Kevo App)
  • Remote lock access & monitoring requires Kevo Plus hub, sold separately for $99 via Kevo App
  • 3rd Gen Kevo App provides faster and more reliable connection. Smaller and sleeker metal interior with improved install experience. Now get...
  • Compatible with iPhone 4S or higher and select Android 5.0 or higher devices
  • Hacking — Like much of the so-called “Internet of things,” smart locks are attractive to hackers who like to mess with folks … sometimes just for the fun of it.
  • Forgetfulness — If your kids are prone to forgetting their keys, what are the chances they’ll forget the code to your home or lose that key fob? Hey, it can happen, and it’s wise to have a back-up just in case.
  • Fingerprint issues — If you’ve ever fought with a smartphone’s fingerprint access to get it to open up, you know that this technology isn’t exactly failsafe. You may find yourself standing with a bag of groceries at your front door, fighting to get inside because the lock won’t recognize the same thumb you’ve always had. To avoid this, look for a lock with a low false rejection rate (FRR). Fingerprints are also surprisingly easy to fake if someone can get hold of a copy of your print, so be wary.
  • Extra fees — Although you can install your own electric door lock, some features may require monthly fees, such as monitoring services or app access. On the other hand, that extra monitoring could provide peace of mind.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.

Officer James Banta

Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.

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