“Where did I put my keys???!!!” Those are words often cried with painful frustration as homeowners retrace steps, check pants pockets, dump purses, rummage through drawers… look everywhere for the magic ring that holds security and mobility. Even in this age of electronic everything, the simple mechanical key remains the most common tool for locking and unlocking our cars, offices and homes. Despite our dependence on keys to navigate through each day, we still find new and amazing ways to lose them. Whether you have just purchased a new home or want to simplify how you keep and find all your keys, here are ten simple key management tips that will make your home more secure and your keys easier to find. If you’re a property manager with keys for multiple properties, these tips apply, too.
Tip 1: Change or re-key locks. This is the first thing any new home owner should do upon closing escrow. If you’re handy with a screwdriver, you may want to change the entire lock and doorknob set on each door yourself, both for security and to upgrade the hardware for durability and appearance.
Tip 2: Use a secure key box for storing spare keys. There are many types of key boxes on the market, from lockable boxes that can be secured to a wall in a hidden location to soft cover books that fit in a drawer. My preference is the $1.98 clear plastic fishing tackle box that has movable dividers. I can make the individual storage spaces small (for padlock keys) or large (for spare garage door openers). I secure my key boxes in a safe.
Tip 3: Set aside master keys. Set aside original keys that come with the lock set or keys that are in the best condition and make them master keys. Use them only for copying additional keys as needed. All keys wear out eventually, better to wear out a copy and keep the master in pristine condition to ensure good copies in the future.
Tip 4: Keep like keys on a ring and label it. Rather than labeling each key in your box, keep multiple copies of spare keys for the same lock on one key ring and label that ring.
Tip 5: Write down key codes. Keys that come packaged with a new door lock set are cut to a code, usually five digits, which are stamped on each key. That code defines the actual shape of the cuts on the key and can be used to make a new key if you ever lose the original and all your copies. Write down those key code numbers and keep them in a safe place. If you have keys with no code stamped on them or have had the locks re-keyed, locksmiths have a tool that can read the shape and determine the code numbers for you. The diagram below illustrates the specifications used to cut Schlage keys.
Tip 6: Hide lock boxes in your yard. Hiding a spare key in a fake garden rock is one way to make sure you’re never locked out, but I prefer a lock box that can be secured to a pipe or other immovable object in a hidden place. Lock boxes that have changeable combinations cost about $30.
Tip 7: Don’t carry every key on one ring. I’m a relative minimalist compared to those who carry keys to every lock in their lives on one key ring so that it looks like a little metal porcupine. I carry only three keys on my ring: front door, primary car, gas cap on primary car. If I’m home and want to drive the other car, that key is on another ring that also has copies of the other keys I normally carry. Work keys are kept on another ring and carried only when working, although I do keep a spare set in a small safe locked in trunk of the car.
Tip 8: Keep keys in the same place. Find a secure and convenient place that works for you and develop a habit of putting your keys there every time you arrive home.
Tip 9: Keep spare sets of your daily use rings. OK, you put your keys down somewhere – not in the usual place – and you can’t find them. Your son-in-law just called and he and your daughter are on their way to the hospital to deliver your first grandchild. No time to search, you’ve got to leave NOW! No worries, having a spare set of your daily use keys in your key box gets you out the door fast. You can look for the primary set later as you fret over how to set up a college fund for that new little bundle of joy.
Tip 10: Change locks regularly. If you have a housekeeper, gardener, carpet cleaner, painter, temporary house guest, or anyone else who has access to your driveway gate code or front door key, you may want to change the code and have those locks re-keyed on a regular basis (see my article: When Homeowners Should Change Locks).