It’s often on the coldest days of winter that you really appreciate the comforts of home. That’s assuming you’re able to get in the front door! In this instalment of Tips & Tricks, we’ll run down a few tricks for removing a key that’s broken off in a lock, and tell you how to “un-freeze” locks, windows and doors.


Broken key: tips and tricks

Say you’ve broken your key in the lock while trying to unlock the front door. What to do? If it’s an emergency, i.e., there’s no way for you to get into the house, your best bet is to call a locksmith. On the other hand, if you can gain entry some other way, you can try a few things before resorting to a professional.

Remember: CAA-Quebec members, in this situation, are entitled to reimbursement of locksmith’s fees. The coverage amount varies depending on your membership option.

If the key is sticking out of the lock

Try pulling the key out with electrician’s pliers (strippers), which have small, strong jaws. You can also try a pair of tweezers.

If the key is completely pushed into the lock

  • Arm yourself with a screwdriver and a length of steel wire. No wire handy? Grab a large metal paper clip and unfold it.
  • If you have any lubricant at home, squirt a little into the lock; this will help with the next steps.
  • Unscrew the decorative plate and the interior thumb-turn to gain access to the back of the cylinder.
  • Slide the end of the wire in from the back side of the cylinder and push on the key (photos 1 and 2). A note of caution: some types of cylinders are too hard to disassemble (photo 3) or don’t offer any access from the back (photo 4).

Tip: If you have a well-stocked toolbox at home, you can also use a coping saw blade to pull the key out of the lock. Slide the blade along the edge of the key. Then turn the toothed edge toward the key to grab it and pull it out.


Frozen locks, doors or windows: beat the cold

It’s the dead of winter, and you’re suddenly faced with a door that refuses to open or a window that’s similarly stuck. Here are a few tricks to “break the ice.”

Thaw a door or a window

The lock works, but the door won’t open… it’s stuck in the ice. Use a hair dryer (borrow one from a neighbour if you can’t get to yours) to melt the ice around the door opening.

This method should also work for sliding patio doors and most windows. If you have casement windows, though, don’t try to force the issue: you run the risk of breaking the crank mechanism. As a preventive measure, be sure that the opening is free of ice before closing the windows.

Note: If you find that ice is regularly forming around your doors and windows, your house may have a ventilation issue caused by insufficient compensating air.


Preventing the problem: a few ideas

When the cold weather arrives, there are a few things you can do to prevent locks and doors from freezing:

  • Keep a small bottle of de-icing liquid handy (in your purse or briefcase, for example).  This way, if you find yourself stuck outside your car or your house, you will be able to de-ice a lock.
  • Lubricate a troublesome lock with graphite
    If you find a lock is getting harder and harder to open, especially when it’s cold out, take the time to lubricate it with graphite powder. Sold in hardware stores, this product is ideal for locks: the fine powder penetrates into all parts of the mechanism. It will stop moisture from sticking to the metal and in turn keep ice from forming. Plus, unlike oil or grease, it won’t thicken or seize in very cold weather.

A piece of advice: Graphite powder can be messy, so use it in moderation and with precision. Cover the lock with facial tissue and inject the power with the tip of the bottle.

  • Lubricate weatherstripping with silicone
    To reduce the likelihood of ice sticking to your front door or garage door’s weatherstripping, lubricate it with a silicone-based product at the beginning of the winter season. Avoid petroleum-based lubricants, which can damage rubber weatherstripping.

Now that you’ve unlocked the mystery of keeping doors and windows in good working order, coming home will be that much more enjoyable!