A Guide to Changing the Locks on Your House

Rekeying lock cylinder
Changing out the pins in a lock cylinder means a new key will be needed to open the lock.

Most people don’t think about changing the locks on their house unless they’ve just moved in or have had an acrimonious divorce. But changing your locks, whether by rekeying or replacing them, is a good idea in many situations and for many reasons. It’s also not as hard as you think, and you may even be able to do without the services of a residential locksmith (although we always recommend you bring in a professional when possible).

What Does It Mean to Change Your House’s Locks?

The phrase “changing the locks” is an imprecise term, and people use it to refer both to replacing a house’s locks and to rekeying them. 

Replacing locks involves taking out the entire lock system from a door, including the door hardware, and replacing it. This means replacing the deadbolt and latch as well as the doorknob or handle, if you have an upper and lower lock on the same door. 

Rekeying locks involves replacing or simply moving around the pins inside the locks themselves so that they no longer open using the old key. This involves taking apart the door locks to get at the lock cylinder and then putting them back together after replacing the pins. It allows you to keep your existing door hardware. A new key will need to be cut to fit the newly rekeyed locks.

When to Change the Locks

The most common reason people choose to change their locks is when they buy a new home. While the former owner will turn over their keys to the new owner at closing, copies of a home’s keys are often made over the years and lost, lent out, or given to friends, family members, and contractors. It’s a good idea, then, to rekey or replace the locks of a new home to ensure no one has access except you. Other good reasons to change your locks on your house are:

  • After a break-in
  • When a renter has moved out
  • When a key has been lost or stolen
  • When an employee has been fired or laid off
  • When the home has changed owners frequently over the years without having the locks changed
Replacing your locks requires new hardware.

Changing the locks on your home, whether by rekeying them or replacing them, is the most basic way to improve your home’s security. Think of it as the first rung on the ladder to a safer home. You can install the highest-quality home security system there is, but if working copies of your keys are in the wrong hands, your security system won’t do you much good.

How to Rekey or Replace Your Locks

1. Replacing your locks: It may sound complex, but replacing your home’s locks isn’t too difficult, as many locks and door handle assemblies are designed to be interchangeable. To be on the safe side, buy new hardware that is the same make and style as what you’re replacing. Unless you have an unusual style of door hardware, you should be able to simply unscrew the deadbolt assembly and doorknob or handle, pull off the front and back assembly, and replace them with the new hardware, which should also screw in, no fancy tools or hardware needed except a flathead or Phillips head screwdriver.

Keep in mind that if you’re replacing several exterior locks at the same time and you want to be able to use the same key on all of them, you’ll have to buy locks with the same code number on the package. This isn’t hard to do if you’re just buying two of the same type of exterior lock at the same time. But if you have more than two locks to change and a variety of types of door hardware (such as a lever-type door handle and a keyed entry doorknob), you may need to have your new locks rekeyed to ensure they work with a single master key.

If you’re buying locks from a big box store, keep in mind that your locks will be keyed exactly like other homeowners all over your town. A local locksmith is able to supply you with locks that are uniquely keyed-alike.

2. Rekeying your locks: Rekeying is a good way to change the locks on your house without having to replace the hardware, and can sometimes be an easier way to make sure all your locks work with the same key than buying new locks for all your exterior doors. However, if you want all of your locks to be able to open with the same key, make sure they are all made by the same manufacturer and all have the same keyway. It is possible to rekey your locks yourself using a rekeying kit that matches the manufacturer and type of lock that you wish to rekey. To rekey a lock yourself, you’ll need to:

  • Take apart the lock
  • Remove the lock cylinder from the housing
  • Unscrew the cylinder cap
  • Slide the cylinder out of the plug using a follower
  • Remove the pins from the lock cylinder
  • Replace the pins according to the instructions in the kit

Hiring a Professional Residential Locksmith

Replacement door locks
Changing your locks instead of rekeying allows you to update your hardware.

While replacing or rekeying one or two locks on your home isn’t too difficult, there are plenty of good reasons to call on the services of a professional residential locksmith. If you have many exterior locks of different styles and brands that need to be changed, a professional locksmith can install new locks as necessary to ensure all locks are the same brand and then rekey them all to work with the same key. While it’s possible to do this yourself, a good residential locksmith will be able to take care of this for you much more quickly and easily.

You’ll also want to hire a professional if you think your locks have ever been master keyed; that is, if your locks have been set up so that some keys operate some locks on your home or building, while a single master key can open every lock. 

This configuration is often used in apartment and office buildings so tenants can access only certain areas, while the landlord or building supervisor retains a master key that can open any lock. Rekeying a master keyed lock is more complex than rekeying a regular lock, and it’s a good idea to have a professional ensure that it is rekeyed properly and no old keys are still compatible. A residential locksmith will also be able to make copies of your new house key once you’ve changed or rekeyed the locks.

Using a Directory to Find a Locksmith

There are lots of fraudulent listings for locksmiths online. Before you let someone work on the locks on your home, make sure they are trustworthy, licensed, insured, and certified. 1-800-Unlocks is a directory of local locksmiths who are verified and highly rated, so you know you’re hiring someone you can trust with your home’s security. Call 1-800-865-6257 to have your call directed to a verified locksmith near you or type your ZIP code in the search field at the top of this page.

Call A Verified Locksmith Today

1-800-Unlocks is a peer-reviewed directory of professional locksmiths. When you call, you’ll be connected with a vetted locksmith in your area.

Sam Wilson
Author: Sam Wilson

I am a licensed locksmith and the owner of 1-800-Unlocks. The goal of our locksmith directory is to provide a safe place for customers to find a local legitimate locksmith and avoid the pitfalls of being a victim of scamming locksmiths.

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