Vacations can be a time of joy, laughter … and burglaries. Yes, unfortunately, burglaries are more common than we’d imagine. Even daylight hours won’t deter some bolder burglars. To avoid becoming another crime statistic, follow these home security tips to make your home less attractive to burglars, thieves and other uninvited guests.
Crime experts agree that a well-lit home is much less likely to be broken into. Keep the exterior of your home illuminated on all sides. One of the best ways to burglar proof your home is to install motion-detector spot lights. They have built-in sensors that automatically turn the lights on when movement is detected in the area. Nothing is more surprising to a thief than to have spot lights fire up in his face – before he gets within 50 feet of the house.
To make the indoors burglar proof, use timer switches on lights. These simple devices cost only a few dollars each, yet can create the appearance of activity inside your house 24 hours a day. Use at least one timer per floor, usually in the living room and bedroom. Set the living room light to stay on from dusk until about midnight. In the bedroom, set the timer to keep the light on from about 9pm until 1 or 2 in the morning. Any criminal watching your home will think twice about breaking into a house that looks occupied.
Dark houses surrounded by tall trees or high bushes give burglars plenty of cover to do their dirty work. To burglar proof your landscape, keep trees cut away from the house and make sure the bushes are trimmed low. Thugs can hide in bushes while breaking in or even lie-in-wait, ready to attack the first person to get home.
The cost of installing a good quality alarm system has come down in recent years due to increased competition and technology that makes installations simpler and quicker. In fact, some companies even offer to install “free” systems if you hire them to do monthly monitoring. Most home security systems connect your telephone to the company’s central monitoring station. If the alarm goes off, the station can alert police or fire officials.
One of the most common complaints about home security systems is excessive false alarms caused by malfunctions. If your alarm goes off all the time, neighbors and police may not take the alarm seriously if a real emergency exists. So, be careful when selecting alarm companies and check references carefully.
Making your doors as strong as possible can deter break-ins by violent criminals. There are several simple improvements to burglar proof your home:
- First, install a good quality dead-bolt. Doors with handle locks can be broken into with only a plastic credit card. Dead bolts, on the other hand, require hammer force to break in. Make sure you buy a dead bolt with a key on the outside and a thumb-latch on the inside. Locks that require keys to be used on the inside can be dangerous. If the house were on fire, for example, it could be difficult to find the key in time to get out safely.
- Next, remember that no matter which lock you choose, the lock is only as strong as the door itself. The weakest part of a door is usually the area around the lock. Wooden doors are especially vulnerable. But, decorative door reinforcement plates are available for about $10, and can make this area more secure and burglar proof.
- Sliding patio doors need special protection against break-ins. These doors are usually in the rear (less visible) areas of the building, making the door an attractive entry point for thieves. Patio door locks are weak and older doors can even be “lifted” out of their track and right off of your house. Purchase a specially made patio bar (about $25) to secure the inside door from being slid open or pried off if the lock is broken. If your door is newer, you may be able to get away with a 2 x 4 piece of wood cut to fit in the track between the sliding door and the wall. Newer doors can’t be lifted out of their tracks and the wood blocks will keep the door from opening if the lock is pried off by a burglar.
- Finally, be a “Peeping Tom” by installing a peep hole in your front door. Purchase a wide angle (200 degree) peep hole to check who’s knocking before opening the door.
Windows are usually the weakest link in home security. While there are many security devices to choose from, it is important to always keep in mind that windows must be easily opened by occupants for emergency exit in the event of a fire. Therefore, the security device you choose should not lock you in the building, but only keep burglars out.
Sash locks come installed on most new windows. These can be improved by drilling a hole from front to back where the top and bottom windows overlap and installing a long nail in the hole. If a thief breaks the lock, the nail will stop the windows from sliding open. The nails can be easily removed if you need to get out quickly. Sash locks are sometimes replaced with key operated locks, but these can be very dangerous. Like with the double-keyed dead bolts, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to find these seldom-used keys in an emergency.
Security bars installed over windows can also prevent intruder access. But, these must be fitted with quick-release mechanisms to allow them to be opened if someone in the building needs to get out quickly. In 1995, several members of a Florida family were burned alive when they became trapped inside their home because of window security bars. Fire officials later described the home as a “burning cage” and cautioned area home owners to use these bars only when necessary and ONLY if they are fitted with quick-release mechanisms.
Piles of mail or newspapers around your front door are a sure sign that no one is watching the house. To keep your home burglarproof, make arrangements for deliveries to be discontinued for the time you’re away or ask a neighbor to collect your mail and papers. Also, ask a neighbor to keep an eye on things and even check the house periodically. Also, many police departments maintain what they call a “vacant house list”.
If you plan to be away for more than a day or so, especially during the holidays, check with your local police about such a list. In my town, the police will drive by and take a walk around the house almost every day to make sure the home is secure. They’ll also ask who has keys to the house and what cars should be in the driveway. If anything unusual shows up, they’ll know to go looking for an explanation. Also, make sure your house numbers are visible. Police and other emergency personnel can waste precious minutes trying to find your house if the number is not easily spotted.
Plan a Retreat
If all else fails in the attempt to make your home burglar proof, plan a spot in the house to retreat to in the event your house is broken into while you’re home. Keep an extra cordless or cell phone in the room so you can easily contact authorities should the unthinkable ever occur.