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Hi-Tech Locks Not Hot Sellers

A few years ago, articles started appearing in the national press about the exploding popularity of keyless locks and sophisticated entry systems for homes. Digital technology had unlocked a myriad of options for homeowners, from keypads and card readers to remote controlled push-buttons and biometric systems that recognize fingerprints.

You can buy systems that control who can enter your home and when, allowing your housekeeper to come at 10 a.m., but not 10 p.m. A swipe of your gardener's fingerprint will let him into the garage at noon, but not at midnight. You can buy systems that let you open your garage door, lock your car, unlock your house, and turn on the lights with the same key fob.

While it may be true that interest in these systems has exploded, it is not true that they are exploding in popularity, at least at the residential level.

In the Rogue Valley, locksmiths and security companies are well aware of the products and possibilities that exist, but consumer demand hasn't caught up with the technology, they say.

"Nobody in the valley really wants to pay for it," says Bill Hamilton, a locksmith with Bear Creek Lock, Safe and Alarm company. "We carry three or four different kinds (of keyless entry systems), but they're used more for commercial than residential."

Push-button handsets and hard-wired keypads start around $100. Wireless remote deadbolts that will also open garage doors and some newer cars can be installed for $150 to $250. Proximity card readers and fingerprint readers run from $200 to $2,000.

Aladdin Lock and Safe, which has been operating in the Rogue Valley for 49 years, installs a fair number of mechanical, keypad-style entry systems every year, but the high-tech electronic systems have remained in the hands of businesses with a need to track the comings and goings of employees and vendors, says Aladdin owner Bruce McNeal.

"There are so many varieties and manufacturers out there, you can buy one to do anything you want," says Mike Oar, owner of Elmer's Lock and Safe. "Your imagination is the only limit, depending on how much you want to spend."

You can control everything from your lighting, garage and spa to the shades on your windows, and run it all through your computer, Oar says.

Some locksmiths are leery of electronic lock systems, fearing breakdowns. Oar isn't one of them, however. "Electronic systems have fewer moving parts than mechanical ones. I've been installing electronic locks for four or five years and have had just one break."

Like other locksmiths and security companies in the area, however, most of Oar's electronic customers have been businesses rather than homeowners.

"The only time we run into that is when it's a government agency with money to burn that isn't theirs," jokes Don Trader, owner of Audio Visual Security in Medford. "In our valley, we've never had anyone use a biometric or card swipe system for their home."

The story is the same nationally, says Jim Lee, president of JLM Wholesale in Charlotte, North Carolina, which distributes entry systems to locksmiths and security companies around the country, including the Rogue Valley.

"The interest is exploding, but when it comes to implementation, cost is a barrier," Lee says. "We're starting to see it in some of the multi-million dollar homes, but it's not really popular in the residential market. A fair number of people are using push-button locks, pin codes, and stand-alone, battery operated systems, but homebuilders and contractors really aren't up to speed on the computerized end of it, and it's not something the average locksmith can do."

Fingerprint locks are available for homes, but homeowners are sticking with old-fashioned keys and slightly more modern keypads.