Door Chains
Door Chains

You're sitting at home, minding your own business, when you hear a knock at the door. You're not expecting anyone, but you go to check anyway. The man outside says he's from the gas company and investigating a gas leak in the neighborhood. Well, you think, that's the oldest trick in the book. How can you make sure he's legit without opening the door? In situations like these, a door chain comes in handy. Door chains allow you to open the door wide enough to not only see the caller (which you could do more safely from a window or a peephole) but also check the caller's ID. And since door chains are easy to install and come in a variety of models and styles, it pays to go out and get one.

Types of Door Chains

There are two basic types of door chains: regular door chains and swing-type door guards. A simple door chain consists of a chain, attached to the wall or doorframe, which slides into a catch on the door. These door chains are also available with keyed locks (so you can open them from the outside) and alarms that go off when someone tries to open the door. Swing-type door guards are the kind you usually find in modern hotel rooms. Instead of a chain, a swinging metal loop or bar serves as a catch that closes over a nib on the door-so the door slides open only as far as the catch lets it. Some door guards come with an extra knob that you can twist over the bar when it's closed, thereby locking the bar in place and making the door unopenable. Door bars are usually stronger than chains, and they also scratch the doorframe less. Note: If your door is directly perpendicular to a wall-i.e., you'd have to open the door fully anyway just to see who's there-a door chain is still a viable option. Just put up a mirror on the wall opposite the opening, and you can see the person outside even through a door-chain-wide crack.

Installing a Door Chain

Door chains are among the easier security devices to install, as long as you (a) remember which side of the chain goes where and (b) put the two parts close enough together to be effective. You always want the long, movable bit (the chain or bar) on the wall or the doorframe, and the stationary bit (the catch or nib) on the door itself-and you want to make sure they reach each other. To install the chain, position it on the doorframe where you want it (as close to the edge as possible), mark spots for the screws, and drill them in. Then, line up the catch on the door with the opening facing away from the edge and do the same (again, as close to the edge as possible). If you're installing a door bar, the nib should fit snugly into the open end of the bar on the doorframe when the door is closed. Since the door chain is only as strong as its connection to the wall, you'll want to use the longest and thickest screws that will fit into the chain and your door. Naturalhandyman.com recommends minimum #10 screws at least 2 inches long, or 1/8-1/4 inch shorter than the thickness of your door. With your door chain in place, you can safely determine whether you want to let a caller all the way in, or just shut the door and call the police. One way or another, a door chain is an excellent way to boost security in your home.