Living with the Yale Linus smartlock

Living with the Yale Linus smartlock

After a nice vacation this summer, we were able to move to our new house in early August. I’ve written about the design phase of the home previously. Also, I have a few pictures of building the house here. Now the house is 99.1 % finished. The remainder is mostly detailing here and there.

One of the elements of the new house was that I’d like it to be smart, but not too smart. I mean this: I ditched the plan to go with a KNX-based home automation system. Mainly because that was excessively expensive, cumbersome, and not worth the investment. I’m relying on good enough smart appliances and Home Assistant to build the smartness. I’ve yet to build the latter, so more on that sometime later.

Door locks

I have several entrances to the house. When I ordered the actual doors, I went with regular Abloy-branded locks that require a traditional (security) key. Why Abloy? Why not something like Unifi Access? Well, someone wiser than me once said that Finland is an Abloy country. Everything you purchase off the shelf is fitted for Abloy and Abloy only. After two years of designing and building the house, I wanted to go for something standard to make things easier: less worrying, less cost, less fitting, and fewer future headaches.

Once the doors were fitted, I knew I wanted something more advanced for the locks. The kids sometimes forget the keys at home. I might have someone visit the house – perhaps a cleaner or a builder to finish something around here – who needs ad hoc controlled access to the garage, for example.

The options are a bit limited, which isn’t necessarily bad. I get to choose from the Yale Doorman, and the Yale Linus locks.

This is the Yale Linus:

This is the Yale Doorman:

The Doorman has a built-in keypad, while the Linus lacks one. I opted for the Yale Doorman, as I have the same lock installed in another building I sometimes visit. Sadly, it didn’t fit the specific door we had already installed. As the Doorman comes with its door handle, the door we had already had one, and the dimensions did not match the Doorman.

Thus, the Yale Linus was the chosen lock. Let’s take a look at the features first.

Yale Linus features

The lock itself costs about 215 € before taxes. The idea is to bring some intelligence to the locking mechanism. It’s battery operated, and the battery compartment is within the lock, installed inside the house – not on the exterior side. This allows the door to be opened – from the outside – with a standard key if needed. The upside is that no wiring is necessary. The downside is that once the lock notifies you that it’s time to change the batteries, you must find the time to do it.

The lock has a Door Sense magnetic strip to detect the door’s position. Once the lock is operational, you can open the door through a mobile app, a pin code, and a key. The pin code pad is sold separately – more on that soon.

It works via Bluetooth, which is suboptimal. But obviously, Yale sells a Wi-Fi bridge, which connects the lock via Bluetooth to your internal Wi-Fi network – thus allowing you to open or lock the door from afar, as long as you can connect via Wi-Fi.

Finally, the mobile app allows you to configure the lock by setting guest access codes, family access codes, an emergency code that always works, and how the lock operates. For example, the lock should auto-lock automatically after a minute. Also, the app outputs a neat little log of the door states.

Installing and configuring the Yale Linus lock

I called several locksmiths to query for pricing for the locks and the physical installation. Prices range from 150 € to 300 €, excluding the lock. I could have perhaps installed it myself, but I knew I would be traveling and very busy with everything else in the house – such as installing the kitchen top and the HVAC systems. I went with a reputable local locksmith company. We agreed on 150 € per lock for installation, and they sold me the locks for 215 € each.

Installation was a breeze – just a couple of hours for three doors. I was away, so I couldn’t try out the locks remotely, as the Wi-Fi bridge was something I had to purchase and install separately. I like to do everything IT-related myself, to learn how things work.

Once I got back home, I tried configuring the locks. The Yale Access app asks you to scan the unique QR code of the lock. It’s hidden in the battery compartment. Once scanned, I couldn’t go past the adoption phase, as the lock was locked (pun intended) to the original installer’s Yale Access app. And that guy – from the reputable locksmith company – was on a super long vacation. How this works is that Yale maintains a database of the locks and also of the owners. And if you want to adopt a lock, the database must get a release request from the owner’s mobile app.

So, I called the company and asked them to release the locks. While waiting for them to figure out what to do, I did try a factory reset of one lock.

There’s a little red button inside the lock, and the owner’s guide is a bit outdated in this portion. You’ll need a super tiny Torx screwdriver and a regular screwdriver to access that. A pocket knife is helpful to release the lock from the door.

Once reset, the lock operated the same, but the ownership information was not released from the database.

Finally, someone from the company got a hold of a phone with access to the owner information of my locks. This is poor security. I could see four people who had access to my locks while I was away. The explanation was that if the owner is not present when the locks are being fitted, they have to add several people (?) to try out the locks. I understand this. But they should have released the ownership afterward, which they didn’t.

It’s not a massive problem for me, but I can see specific challenges here

Once the locks were released, I created a new virtual home in the app and adopted the locks. Each lock must be visited physically to bind them to the app’s virtual home and verify they work mechanically.

The Wi-Fi bridge

The problem is that I cannot do anything with the locks unless I’m physically next to the lock. What if I’m away from home, and my kids call me to say they’ve locked themselves out? Nothing I can do, even if I can Tailscale home remotely.

I ordered the Yale Wi-Fi Bridge. It’s a small Wi-Fi to Bluetooth adapter that you put in a power socket close enough to the lock. And yes, you need one adapter per physical lock. It’s about 65 € (before taxes), so not prohibitively expensive but just expensive enough that I only got one for the main entrance.

Configuring this was a masterclass between frustration and wanting to hurl the bridge with increasing velocity towards the sky. First, you plug it in. It initializes for a while. Then you press the physical button and start adopting the bridge and bonding it with the lock. And each time, at the last step of the “figuring out the connection” phase, it fails with an incomprehensive and undocumented error code. I tried this at least ten times. The distance between the bridge and the lock was 1.2 meters.

Finally, I had a cup of coffee and relocated the bridge to another power socket 3 meters away. And it worked on the first try! I actively dislike Bluetooth for reasons like this.

Once the Wi-Fi bridge is adopted, it thankfully just works. You never need to touch or reconfigure it again. I’d say this is a must-have for anyone opting to get the Yale Linus lock in the first place.

The pin keypad

Again, if I’m away and the kids get locked out, there’s a way for them to access the house with the Yale Access app. Which they first have to install. An easier way – especially for my youngest kid, who turns five soon – is to have a pin keypad. This is another additional purchase, and it goes by the official name of Yale Linus Smart Keypad. There is nothing smart about this tiny keypad.

The price for this again is about 65 € before taxes. If you’re keeping count, the total cost for the Yale Linus installation, Wi-Fi bridge, and the keypad is 530 € before taxes. It sure isn’t cheap to get an intelligent locking mechanism. At this point, it’s too late to turn back, so I decided to commit fully and see how this turns out.

The keypad is battery-operated and easy to install. It connects via the dreaded Bluetooth, but this time it just works. Perhaps the distance to the lock is short enough that I had no trouble getting it adopted and connected. I’ve installed this on the other side of the door, but it could also be on the side of the door.

Once installed, you can create custom pin codes for your family and guests. It’s pretty neat. After a month, I’m trustful enough that I leave my keys at home and utilize the pin code when I need to open the door.

Overall experience

How the system works is pretty seamless. When exiting the house, I turn the physical dial to unlock the door. The door then locks automatically after a minute, and you hear the dial physically rotate when that happens. It’s silent enough, though. When returning home, you either use a physical key (and bypass the Yale system altogether) or use the pin pad. One option is to use the Yale Access mobile app, but that’s a bit cumbersome – opening the app, waiting for it to connect to the system (via the Wi-Fi bridge, or Bluetooth if you’re close enough), selecting the lock, and finally clicking unlock. Lastly, the app allows me to geofence the system so that the lock will automatically unlock when I’m approaching the house. I’ve yet to try this out.

Overall, I’m semi-satisfied with the setup. It seems to be robust enough. It isn’t cheap by any means, and someone pointed to me – rightly so – that if I run out of batteries, it’s almost impossible to exit my house without breaking the lock first. I’m thinking of simply scheduling the battery change operation for twice a year and treat it as regular maintenance.