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Lock Blog

A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals

How To Understand ANSI Grades For Locks

by Taylor February 23, 2022

So maybe your locks aren’t great. Maybe your house or place of business was already broken into, or you just took a look at your locks and wondered if they could be replaced with something a little safer. Maybe you devised a plan to break into your own house and then suddenly realized, with horror, that your plan might actually work.

Whatever the case, you might have reason to believe that your locks aren’t the best possible locks that they can be. Maybe your house or place of business is more “piggy bank” than “Fort Knox.” But how do you know for sure how secure your locks are?

That’s what ANSI grades for locks are for. The American National Standards Institute conducts thorough research with third parties to set standards for a large variety of products and services. For locks, it partnered with the BHMA, or Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association, to test these standards and make sure that the highest-graded products are best for your doors.

But what are the different grades, and what do they mean? What kind of quality control goes on in these tests?

Here is an overview of ANSI grades for locks

  1. Grade Types
  2. Testing
  3. Find Your Lock Grade
  4. BHMA Ratings
  5. BHMA Testing
  6. Find Your BHMA Rating
  7. What to Do With Bad Locks

FAQs

What are the ANSI grades for locks?

The American National Standards Institute, or ANSI, has set out standards for different grades of locks. There are three grades: Grade 1, the best possible lock; Grade 2, which is a very high-quality lock; and Grade 3, which is the minimum standard for locks.

What are the BHMA ratings for locks?

The BHMA has its own rating system for locks. The ratings come in three categories: security, durability, and finish, and are rated by the letters A, B, and C. For example, a lock with a CAC rating is the lowest security and finish but has good durability. A lock with an ABB rating has the highest security and decent durability and finish.

What is an AAA lock?

An AAA lock is the highest possible rating in BHMA rating standards. This means the lock performed excellently in the categories of security, durability, and finish.

What is a Grade 1 lock?

A Grade 1 lock is the highest graded lock in the standard of ANSI door lock grades. This lock withstood rigorous tests and is the highest quality lock on the market.

The Grades Themselves

Locks are graded at three numbered levels. 1 is the best possible grade, while 3 is the worst. Basically, you’re going to want a lower number rather than a higher one. Think of it like positions on a podium: 1st place is the best, and 3rd place is the lowest but is still better than anyone who didn’t make it.

This is an important thing to keep in mind. There are still standards for Grade 3 products. A lock without an ANSI grade is worse than a lock with a Grade 3 since Grade 3 products still go through ANSI-approved testing.

All of that being said, a Grade 1 lock is still ideal. A Grade 3 lock may be better than an ungraded lock or no lock at all, but generally, you’re not going to want one on your door. These are the bare-minimum security that you can have.

Grade 3 locks are not “piggy bank” levels of bad, but they’re in the realm of “old west steam train” levels of insecure: most random people will be stumped by them, but the average criminal probably won’t be. If you know your way around a lock, these can be broken.

How Grades are Tested

So what factors are tested when these grades are given out? What does ANSI consider important? The answer depends on the kind of lock that’s being tested, but there are six broad categories of tests.

  • Operational tests tell you how easy latches close and retract. The lock won’t be graded high if the lab workers need to use a lot of strength to open the latch.
  • Cycle tests include how many times a lock can be used before it’s worn out. Lab workers use locks hundreds of thousands of times in these tests and measure whether or not they show any signs of wear.
  • Strength tests are all about how much abuse the mechanisms can take. Lab workers put hundreds of pounds of pressure on the lever to the door and measure if it breaks or not.
  • Security tests tell you whether or not the lock withstands forced entry. They strike the lock with repeated heavy blows that have a similar energy to someone trying to kick down a door.
  • The material evaluation tests test how the trim holds up to probing. They jab at the trim or the metal plate on the outside of the lock, and if it’s not thick enough, it won’t be able to withstand the probing and will score poorly.
  • Finish tests test how a lock looks after environmental exposure. They spray the lock with salt spray, expose it to UV light, and apply condensation and humidity tests.

ANSI has made the details of how they grade mortise locks publicly available.

Operational, strength, and finish tests have the same requirements across all grades. All latches should close with at most 4.5 pounds of force, and the lever should be able to endure 360 pounds. The finish should hold up to reasonable environmental standards, although they haven’t clarified what these environmental standards are in practice.

  • When it comes to Grade 1 locks, they should operate for 1,000,000 cycles, withstand ten blows, and have a 1.9 mm trim.
  • Grade 2 should operate for 800,000 cycles, withstand five blows, and have a 2.5 mm trim.
  • Grade 3 should also operate for 800,000 cycles and have a 2.5 mm trim, but they’re only tested for two blows.

As stated before, this only applies to mortise locks, and other parts of a door may vary. Door knobs and deadbolts, for example, have different standards.

Door Knobs

  • Door knobs at Grade 1 must handle only 800,000 cycles, 360 lbs., and six blows.
  • At Grade 2, they need 400,000 cycles, 250 lbs., and four blows.
  • At Grade 3, they should be able to handle 200,000 cycles, 150 lbs, and two blows.
  • All grades need to be able to withstand 96 hours of salt spray.

Deadbolts

  • An ANSI 1 deadbolt must handle 250,000 cycles, 1350 lbs., and ten blows.
  • At Grade 2, they need 150,000 cycles, 1,125 lbs., and five blows.
  • At Grade 3, they must handle 100,000 cycles, 675 lbs., and two blows.
  • All grades need to withstand 96-200 hours of salt spray, 200 hours of humidity, and 144 hours of alternating UV light and humidity.

There are many more tests with other specifications. Unfortunately, they aren’t publicly available. They’re also too numerous and specific to list here.

How to Find Out Your Lock’s Grade

The grade is located on the packaging and branding of whatever lock you’re trying to buy. If you’re determining the grade of a lock you already own, you need to figure out what kind of lock it is.There are several places where brands tend to leave their names. 

First, you should check the head of the key for any kind of engraving. If there’s nothing there, check the knob, deadbolt, reinforcement plates, and door jamb. These should have a branded logo somewhere on them. Investigate the brand online to figure out which specific lock you have.

If there’s no branding, determining the type of lock you have will be next to impossible. You might also still have some trouble with the specifications of your lock, even after knowing the brand. You can call a locksmith to help with this. Locksmiths have reference materials to figure out what brand a lock is based on details on the key.

BHMA Ratings

On top of ANSI grades for locks, the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) has also created a rating system. This one gets a little more specific than the ANSI grades for locks. It has three different criteria that locks are graded on. That makes this system better at conforming to whatever you specifically need out of your lock.

Rather than going by numbers 1, 2, and 3, BHMA grades involve the letters A, B, and C. It’s the same basic principle, except it grades three different criteria: Security, Durability, and Finish. In short: CCC is the worst rating, and AAA is the best.

“Security” describes how secure the lock is in the door. A high-security rating tells you that you can put a lot of weight on the lock without it breaking open. It doesn’t say whether or not the lock is easy to pick. It does tell you that if you worry about people kicking in your door, or if you’re Superman and you’re bad at opening doors without breaking them, then you need this to be high.

“Durability” describes the lock’s functionality, both over time and over a variety of temperatures. It also tells you whether or not the lock dents easily. This is better for people who need long-lasting locks. If the lock is on a door that’s locked and unlocked frequently, like a bathroom door, this is something you’ll need.

“Finish” is all about whether or not the lock scratches easily and if it’s resistant to things like humidity and salt. If you live in an environment with a lot of water in the air, this will be important.

How BHMA Ratings are Tested

Since BHMA is the organization for testing ANSI grades for locks, the same testing is used for BHMA ratings. After ANSI testing, they can start paying a regular fee to opt for that certification, as long as it’s a residential lock.

BHMA certifications are tested regularly, even after they’re rewarded. BHMA takes a random individual lock for sale and engages in the same tests as when it gave its certification. If the lock no longer holds up to these tests, the BHMA certification is revoked. 

In short, if a company tried to be sneaky and initially gave BHMA a better lock than it was selling, BHMA will find out.

How to Find Out Your Lock’s BHMA Rating

There are two things about the BHMA rating to keep in mind: it’s only used for residential locks, and it’s pretty new. If you’re looking at a lock used in a business or high-security setting, it probably doesn’t have a BHMA rating. Likewise, if your lock is somewhat old, you shouldn’t bother checking for this rating.

But if you’re looking for some new locks on your house, you can try to check the BHMA rating. This should be visible on the packaging or branding of whatever lock you’re buying.

If you’re trying to figure out the BHMA rating of a lock that you already own and don’t have the packaging for, you can try to figure out what brand and model it is. This may be written on the key, doorknob, deadbolt, reinforcement plates, or door jamb. You might need to hire a locksmith to figure it out, though.

What to Do If Your Locks Aren’t Good Enough

So you looked at the ANSI grade for your lock and/or BHMA rating of your lock, and realized you don’t have a great lock. It doesn’t meet the standards you need for your house or place of business, and now you’re worried something will happen.

The best course of action is to call a locksmith to replace your locks for you. Now that you know what kind of locks you’re looking for when it comes to gradings and ratings, a locksmith can help you out with the installation.

Conclusion

If you’re unsure about how good your lock is, the experts at ANSI and BHMA have you covered. They’ve been innovating these tests for a long time and have gotten good at figuring out what kind of things to look out for when it comes to how secure your locks are.

If you need high-quality locks to protect yourself or your valuables, you can hire a locksmith and specify that you want Grade 1 locks or AAA BHMA-certified locks. They can set you up and make sure your locks are appropriate for what you need.

Category: How To's, Lock Types

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