Is there still a viable reason to specify and select 5-pin cylinders?

On the face of it, five pins in a lock cylinder sounds impressive. With a bit of clever marketing thrown in, it’s easy to see why buyers think they’ll be getting good security, and in the past, they would have been. But things have moved on a lot in the last few years, and it’s high time those still promoting 5-pin cylinders came clean. It really is time to consign an obsolete, inferior product to the bin.

5-pin cylinders are almost always sold on cost, but like many supposed bargains, the true cost of a small saving can be enormous. If you replace the lock cylinder in your house and your insurance policy requires you to meet a certain specification, you could invalidate your cover. An easy mistake to make – after all, who reads all the small print on the insurance documents?

Insurers, of course, set their premiums to reflect their risk. In the case of lock cylinders, they often specify BS3621. Under this standard, cylinders must be 6-pin models to achieve the minimum specification. Insurers are well aware that the 5-pin versions are more vulnerable to attack.

Unfortunately, the layman isn’t familiar with standards and Building Regulations for security and can be swayed by vendors putting a positive spin on what an inferior cylinder has to offer. Suppliers big-up the 5-pin features, forgetting to mention that by current standards, they’re just not up to the job.

In 2015, a new requirement, Approved Document Q, dealing with the security of dwellings, was added to English Building Regulations. For the first time, new dwellings were required to be able to resist unauthorised entry by casual or opportunist burglars. Manufacturers rushed to ensure their products reached the required standards. PAS24 is often-quoted as the standard for door security, and let’s be absolutely clear: to meet PAS24, a 6-pin cylinder is required as a minimum necessity.

Away from the domestic market, the limitations of 5-pin cylinders really become apparent. Their construction allows for fewer differ cylinders than a 6-pin design, often rendering them unsuitable for complex masterkey systems such as those used in hospitals and schools.  Specifiers who have selected 5-pin cylinders, can find themselves at a dead end when trying to cater for the keying needs of their client. Cylinders specified at the start of a project can often fail to deliver the client’s master key system which is usually only finalised and approved towards the end of a project. As a result, the master key system is changed to a 6-pin alternative which can cater for the complexity, however the resulting increase in cost needs to be accounted for.

With fewer chambers in a 5-pin cylinder, the options for enhanced security features are limited. For example, construction keying isn’t usually a possibility. Also – with implications that most consumers will understand – fewer chambers means no anti-bump features. If you don’t have anti-bump capability the cylinder cannot be considered for use on entrance doors to dwellings – again as part of Approved Document Q. Furthermore, without anti-bump it’s not possible to achieve the much publicised 3-star security rating. The result – properties are more vulnerable to attack.

The good news is that, overall, both in the domestic and commercial markets, standards of security are increasing. Lock cylinders are better designed and built, more door manufacturers are choosing 3-star products and there is an increased understanding that for total security, key systems need patent protection.

The bad news is, however, that some vendors continue to push 5-pin cylinders onto unsuspecting buyers. Surely, it is time this stopped.