Some smart locks maintain the metal key as an outside-access option, while others don’t have this ability, often being marketed as “keyless or key-free”. The keyless smart-lock setups use external power as a fail-over means of allowing user access if the smart lock’s batteries fail. This is facilitated through 9V battery terminals or a USB power-only socket on the outside of the lock.
The limitation here is that you need to have or acquire the correct external-power means to operate the smart lock if it has dead batteries. This also doesn’t work around logic failures or configuration errors that can affect a smart lock or problems associated with balky smartphones that frustrate user access.
Why traditional keys
There are two obvious cases where the traditional key is valued for a smart lock. One is for rental or other managed-building setups where a landlord, estate agent or property manager need access to your premises at all times. This is typically part of your conditions of occupancy set out in documents like leases. Some of these situations require that the lock be part of a traditional master-key setup that encompasses the building, often with the keying system being a restricted-key setup.
The other is where there are people who reside at or visit your premises who are more comfortable handling traditional keys rather than cards, fobs, codes or smartphones as a means of access. This can be something associated with older generations who are still familiar with this access technique and don’t want to learn a new approach.
A smart lock equipped with a traditional-key cylinder is designed so that there is mechanical linking between the cylinder and the bolt independent of the electronic and electromechanical aspects that it has. This allows for sure-fire secure fail-over access with the traditional key that is something most users would be familiar with.
It works around both the dead-battery situation and other situations that can occur with computer-based devices like general hardware and software failure. As well, if you use your smartphone as the access means for your smart lock and your phone’s battery dies or a software failure occurs within your phone, your keys can be used as a failover measure.
Some manufacturers even establish a “privacy” or “security” operation mode with these locks that disable electronic access and only allow access with the traditional key. The use case outlined with this operating mode is to give a copy of the metal key to those who really need access to your premises at all times such as a close relative or friend. Then you disable the smart-lock functionality with the codes or cards given to other people who don’t always need access to your premises when you want surefire privacy.
How is this being delivered?
The retrofit kits that convert existing bore-through deadbolts or Euro-profile mortice locks to smart locks are designed to maintain use of the traditional key that is associated with the lockset that is being converted.
But there are some new-install smart locks on the market that are designed to be able to work with a traditional key from the outside. This is in addition to the electronic access means that the typical smart lock will offer. Most of these come as a deadbolt or key-in-lever entrance set designed for “bore-through” installation. Let’s not forget the Gainsbourough FreeStyle TriLock smart lock that is intended to be able to replace an existing Gainsborough TriLock “bore-through” entrance set or be installed anew.
What this may entail
If you need to maintain the existing key that you were using or have to have the traditional-key-capable smart lock part of your building’s master-key or restricted-key environment, you would need to have a locksmith perform the necessary modifications. This job may be about “transferring” the keying setup from your existing lock to the mew smart lock.
But also be aware if your traditional-key-capable smart lock has a standard interchangeable cylinder part, something that is common with the Euro-profile retrofit kits. Here, you can supply the key or outside cylinder from your existing lockset as a reference for this transfer operation.
How could it be improved on
A major way that traditional-key support in a smart lock can be augmented is for activity relating to the metal-key cylinder being treated in the same way as use of codes, cards or smartphones. That is in the same context as having the internal thumbturn that you use to manually operate the smart lock from inside treated in the same way.
Here, using the traditional key to open the door or locking the door from the inside using the thumbturn could be logged as an access instance or seen as an event in the context of your smart home technology. This could be about letting you know if someone who normally uses the traditional key has arrived. Or it could be about enabling your home in to “occupied” mode thus having the lighting come on or the heating / air-conditioning come on to a comfortable temperature.
The traditional metal key is still important when it comes to the newer smart locks. Here, it is more so as a secure surefire failover access solution or to maintain as a means of access for people who are comfortable with these keys.