One potential cost of living in an age in which the nightly news frequently carries stories of home invasions and burglaries can include accidental lockouts. When locking the door behind you becomes an unconscious habit, you may find yourself staring back at a closed door after stepping out to grab the newspaper or corral an escaping pet. You'll then be faced with the difficult decision whether to call an emergency locksmith or attempt to access your home yourself by smashing a window or breaking down a door. Fortunately, in many cases you may be able to sneak back into your home without leaving a mark. Read on for some emergency access tips and tricks that should help you avoid the cost of a broken window or door (as well as assess your overall level of home security).

What are the least damaging ways to gain access to your home during a lockout?

You'll first want to check your home's windows, as gaining access through an unlocked window is usually the simplest option when locked out of your home. Ground-level windows that aren't locked can often be pried up from the outside using a flat-head screwdriver or small crowbar. If you're able to gain access to your vehicle, you'll likely find an appropriate tool for this process in your trunk. Be careful when inserting the tip of the screwdriver or lever into the space between your window and frame, as doing this roughly could chip or scratch your frame. 

For situations in which only your knob (not the deadbolt) is locked, you may be able to use a credit card or other thin, flexible piece of plastic to trick the door into unlocking. If you can peer into the door frame and see a small, triangular piece of the lock's "tongue" exposed, you may be able to unlock the door by placing the edge of the credit card in front of this triangle and bending the card away from the doorknob, forcing this thin piece of plastic to push the lock inward. 

If your home is thoroughly locked but your outer garage door isn't, you may be able to use an electric or battery-powered drill to remove the screws holding your doorknob in place. While doing so will render your doorknob inoperable, the cost of a replacement knob or deadbolt should be much cheaper than the cost to replace a broken window or damaged door. 

What are your options if you can't get back inside without causing damage? 

If you've run through the gamut of available access options only to be met with a dead end, you do have the small consolation of knowing that your home is completely and thoroughly burglar-proofed. 

You'll then need to run through a cost-benefit analysis of your remaining options. Most cities (and even smaller towns) have an emergency locksmith service that can help you at any time of the day or night when you find yourself locked out. This service usually includes a call-out fee (which may be higher on nights, weekends, or holidays), and you'll then pay to have the locksmith unlock your door, have a new key made, or re-key or replace your existing lock. While costs can vary widely, you'll usually pay between $35 and $150 for these services. 

Meanwhile, the average cost of purchase and installation of a new double-pane window can range from $450 to $600, while a new steel exterior door can cost you $1,300 or more. As a result, enlisting the assistance of an emergency locksmith is almost always a more cost-effective option than bludgeoning your way into your home yourself.