Set Up Front Door to Auto-Unlock & Open Hands-Free

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As the husband of a hospital worker and father of an infant, I’m constantly disinfecting everything around our home because of the coronavirus, especially the door knobs after my wife gets home from work.

You might be doing the same thing as you and your family come and go, or after you bring in all those deliveries. One possible solution to all the disinfecting: Use a push-to-open door knob that allows you to open a door with your elbow or hip with a smart lock that automatically locks and unlocks your door. These two devices let you enter your house without touching a doorknob. 

Here, we walk you through setting things up for opening your front door hands-free. Be aware that having some familiarity with locks will make the job much easier. But as long as you closely follow the instructions that come with your knob and lock, you should be able to install these yourself. If you’re uncomfortable doing this yourself, you can hire a locksmith.

Consumer Reports doesn’t test push-to-open door knobs, but we do test smart locks. See the best models and get buying advice by reading our smart lock ratings and our door lock buying guide

Step 1: Choose a Push-to-Open Door Knob

The hands-free doorknob brand you’re likely to find at your local home improvement store, including Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Ace Hardware, is the Brink’s Push Pull Rotate.

It’s available in various configurations and finishes, from $20 to $35 for round and lever knobs to $160 for decorative handlesets for main doors. Any of these will work with a smart lock, so pick the style and finish you prefer.

Step 2: Choose a Smart Lock

There are two types of smart locks on the market: regular and retrofit. A regular smart lock replaces your entire lock, including the deadbolt, while with a retrofit smart lock, you can leave your existing deadbolt in place. Unless you want to replace the entire lock on your door, the retrofit version is the way to go.

“Retrofit locks tend to be easier to install since you don’t have to completely replace your existing deadbolt,” says Misha Kollontai, CR’s test engineer for door locks.

Keep in mind though that retrofit smart locks only work with deadbolts, not mortise locks, which combine a doorknob and locking mechanism in one unit. Most residential homes have deadbolts.

In CR’s smart lock tests, the August Smart Lock + Connect, $200, and August Smart Lock Pro + Connect, $280, are two retrofit models that perform well, receiving Excellent ratings for their ease of setup and connectivity to other smart devices (scroll down for more testing details on these locks).

The difference between them is that the Pro model also works with Apple HomeKit and Z-Wave smart home hubs. (If you want to replace your door lock entirely, check out the Yale Assure YRD256 Connected by August, $300; scroll down for more details on this model.)

You can control these locks using the August smartphone app, without ever having to put a key in your lock or touch it.

“These models come equipped with auto-unlock features that will unlock the deadbolt as you approach the door by sensing the proximity of your smartphone,” says Kollontai. “They also have a door sensor feature that can inform you if the door is left open.”

Step 3: Install the Doorknob

Remove your existing doorknob by unscrewing the knob’s rose (the collar that covers the doorknob hole) on the interior side of your door and pulling off both the front and back knobs.

Then follow the instructions for installing your Brinks Push Pull Rotate knob, lever, or handleset. It’s fairly straightforward, but as with any doorknob, it’s important to measure carefully the width of your door and the backset of the knob hole (the distance from the edge of the door to the center of the hole) so that everything fits together properly.

For the Brinks, you’ll need to measure your door’s width to see if it’s closer to 1 ⅜ inches or 1 ¾ inches (two common door widths) and adjust the knob’s retractor, which engages the latch, to that width.

You’ll also need a precise measurement of the backset of the knob hole so you can install the correct latch that’s included with your new knob—you’ll use either the 2 ⅜-inch latch or 2 ¾-inch latch, whichever is closest to the length of the backset.

Finally, make sure the sloping face of the latch faces toward the strike plate on the door frame, which is the piece of metal that the latch goes into in order to keep the door closed. Otherwise the door won’t properly latch when you close it. 

Step 4: Install the Smart Lock

The steps to putting in the August retrofit smart locks are fairly simple as well. Basically, you remove the thumb turn (the small knob you turn to lock and unlock your door from the inside) and mounting plate of your existing deadbolt (the piece of metal behind the thumb turn that covers the lock), and in its place, screw in the retrofit smart lock’s mounting plate—a rod for operating the deadbolt will be sticking out. In order for the rod to work with your new smart lock, you need to attach an adapter to it (the adapter comes with your new lock). Once the adapter is in place, attach the retrofit smart lock into it.

Some retrofit smart locks, such as the August Smart Lock pictured below, have elongated bodies that you have to be extra careful installing. “You should use a level to make sure the smart lock is perfectly straight,” says Kollontai. “It’s important for ensuring the deadbolt motor operates smoothly whenever it locks and unlocks.”

While you’re at it, we also recommend replacing your lock’s strike plate with a box strike plate, which has a housing for the lock’s bolt that makes it more secure. You’ll want to screw the box strike plate into the door frame using 3-inch screws. Our tests show that this simple upgrade makes doors much stronger against kick-ins. 

Step 5: Enable Auto Lock and Unlock

Download your smart lock’s app on your phone, create an account, and set up your new smart lock. Then, enable the auto lock and unlock feature. It uses Bluetooth and your phone’s location to automatically unlock the door when you—and your phone—arrive at home and lock the door when you leave home; all you have to do is have your phone with you.

You can also customize the feature further, such as setting it to automatically lock the door after a few minutes no matter where your phone is. With both your new knob and smart lock in place, all you have to do is push the door open with your hip or elbow each time you get home. 

High-Scoring Smart Locks From CR’s Tests

Here are two retrofit and one regular smart lock that are well suited for this project. For more options, see our complete smart lock ratings.

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