How to secure your home
Prevent your home from being an easy target for intruders
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There are many effective ways to protect your home from burglars, from high-tech solutions to low-cost, easy-to-do hacks. In this article, the ConsumerAffairs Research Team explains tips and tricks that would-be intruders don't want you to know. Keep reading to make sure your property and family are protected.
- Your home’s windows and doors are the most vulnerable entry points — take extra precaution when securing them.
- Natural landscaping and yard lighting can be used to deter burglars and make it more difficult to break into your home.
- Getting to know your neighbors and setting up a neighborhood watch program are effective ways to create a safer community.
Get a security system
Adding a security system to your home is a good way to make sure thieves don’t even try to enter. In fact, a study from The University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that the presence of a security system would lead about 6 in 10 would-be burglars to choose a different target. Evidence suggests that fake security decals are a way to deter burglars, but we suggest looking into the real deal as well.
Even if it doesn’t deter the intruder, a system will alert you to an intruder and call for emergency services. If you don’t want to go all in on a security system, however, security cameras may be the answer.
“Security cameras can provide an extra set (or more) of eyes around your property, as well as much-needed peace of mind,” said Abhi Bhatt, senior vice president of product and innovation at Vivint. “You can check your security cameras from your phone and then act, if needed.”
» DISCOVER: Best home security cameras
Secure all entry points
The most vulnerable entry points to your home are the windows and doors. Your first step to a more secure home is shoring up these areas.
Lock your doors and windows
Did you know that, according to ADT, 34% of burglars use an unlocked front door and 23% use a first-floor window to break into your home? Locking your doors and windows seems simple, but many people don’t do it because they feel safe in their neighborhood. They don’t realize the danger until someone breaks in.
If you have a family member or roommate who consistently forgets to lock the door, install a smart lock that automatically locks when the door is closed. Many smart locks have this as a standard feature.
Fortify your doors and windows
Now that you’re locked up, it’s time to make sure the thieves can't make it through the locks. Here are some ways to make your doors and windows stronger.
- Change your locks
- There are likely multiple sets of keys to your doors floating around, especially if you just moved into your home. You have no way of knowing to whom the previous homeowners gave spare keys.
“Many people focus on the front doors, but make sure you change the locks on all your exterior doors as well,” Bhatt said. “Also, by upgrading to a smart lock, securing your doors and changing your locks is much easier.”
With smart locks, you can quickly lock or unlock your door via a code on a keypad or remotely with your smartphone. Because they eliminate the need for a physical key, smart locks make changing your locks as easy as programming a new code.
- Keep a barrier between you and the outside
- Check to see who is at your door without unlocking it to prevent a forced entry. Improve your front door security by installing a peephole or video doorbell. They allow you to see unexpected visitors and are far more secure than a glass window or smaller opening.
- Fortify your doors
- Although most people imagine burglars carefully using lock picks to gain entrance through a door, they usually just knock it down using brute force. You can help defend against this by reinforcing your front door with a door reinforcement plate and a door jamb reinforcement kit.
These two kits are simple enough for do-it-yourself installation with basic home tools and a little bit of time. Also, replace hollow exterior doors with solid-core doors made of metal or wood for additional protection.
- Reinforce sliding glass doors
- Keep sliding doors secured with a safety bar to the interior floor track. Burglars love sliding doors because they typically have a flimsy latch that isn't enough to keep them firmly in place. With a simple yet forceful kick to the bottom of the slider, criminals can gain leverage and open the door.
We also recommend you use a floor bolt or a foot lock for additional security.
- Use pin locks
- Installing pin locks keeps windows partially open but still secure. Advanced pinless models are also available.
- Employ natural defenses
- Use your landscaping to make it more difficult for intruders to hide or break into your home. Avoiding landscaping that creates shadows near your home helps increase visibility, and planting prickly bushes or shrubs under windows creates a barrier for anyone trying to enter your home.
- Install sturdier glass
- Use impact-resistant safety glass in windows and doors — this is particularly a good idea for windows that are right next to door locks. The sturdier glass will make it harder for someone to break the window, reach in and unlock the door.
If installing new glass isn’t in your budget, consider using security window film. It makes your windows stronger and harder to break.
“In the event of breakage, safety film creates a safe shatter that bonds glass shards together, much like a car windshield,” said Brent Windsor of Window Genie.
» DISCOVER: Best window and door companies
Keep your garage secured
The garage is another vulnerable entry point for burglars because of the door’s weakness — it can be relatively easy for intruders to jimmy a latch and lift, punch or kick the door in. Make sure you always keep the garage door down, the latch locked and your interior door secured.
Whatever you do, don’t leave your garage door opener clipped inside your car if you keep your car outside. It’s too easy for thieves to smash your window and gain access to your garage with a simple button press.
Consider investing in a home automation system that automatically shuts your garage door after you open it. Motion-activated floodlights in the garage could also help deter intruders.
Try to unplug the garage opener when you go on vacation. Even better, lock the door itself so burglars can’t lift it. For an inexpensive DIY project, you can just drill a hole in the track right above a roller and use a padlock to lock it.
Some security systems have what are called “tilt sensors.” They let you know when the garage door has been opened. They’re a smart buy to reinforce the security of your garage doors.
10 additional easy home security tips
Now that you know about security systems and how to secure your home’s entry points, let’s dig into some more smart ways to secure your home.
1. Get a dog (or a fake)
Dogs are one of the best companion animals, but they can also help to deter burglars. If you don't have a dog, are allergic or are incapable of housing a dog, you can still take advantage of a criminal's natural fear of dogs.
A simple hack is to put up a "Beware of dog" sign on your gate or back door — that's usually enough to turn away a majority of would-be criminals. If you want to go the extra mile, you can get a dog bowl and leash for your back porch.
2. Safeguard your Wi-Fi
It's easy to forget your Wi-Fi needs security beyond your password, but you can take a few steps to ensure your virtual world is as safe as your physical one. This is especially important if you have smart home automation systems that rely on your smartphone and internet connection.
Any device connected to the internet can be hacked. An internet security threat can become a home security threat if a criminal uses the data to better target an invasion. Here are some tips for homeowners to minimize cyber threats:
- Give your home network an unintuitive name and complex password
- Make sure your antivirus protection is up to date
- Set up a firewall
- Enable WPA2 for additional protection
» LEARN: Identity theft statistics
3. Hide your keys in a smart place
No, not under your doormat or in the mailbox. And, no, not under that fake rock, either. It’s better to leave a key with a trusted neighbor. If you aren’t friendly with the neighbors or don’t have neighbors who live close by, you can use a combination lockbox — just make sure it’s in an out-of-the-way place in your yard.
Better yet, invest in a smart door lock with a code or biometric locks so you don’t need keys. Many of these locks let you set up temporary codes to give to the dog walker or the babysitter. When you don’t want that person to have access to your home, you can revoke access to the code using the device’s app.
4. Know the most common targets for burglars
Some common burglar targets include air conditioning units, mailboxes, sheds and cars. With a little bit of forward thinking, you can thwart even the most experienced criminals.
- Air conditioners: Use sliding window locks or corner braces to keep criminals from stealing your cooling unit.
- Mailboxes: If you’re worried about thieves stealing your mail, get a security mailbox with a key. Mount it to the wall, and you’re good to go.
- Sheds: A determined criminal can use a screwdriver to remove the screws from a shed door. Using tamper-proof screws helps foil their plans.
- Cars: Car break-ins are a big problem. First, park your car in a garage, if possible. If you don’t have a garage, make sure to park your vehicle in a well-lit area. Don’t leave any valuables inside, especially out in the open. Roll up the windows and, above all else, lock your car.
5. Get a safe
It might feel like something from a spy movie, but a safe is an affordable way to keep your valuables and important documents secure. You can choose a portable safe or one that bolts to the wall or floor.
Just remember that a thief can pick up a portable safe, so it’s better to have one that’s heavy and clunky or one that bolts to the floor. Make sure the safe is fireproof and waterproof.
Here are some tips for buying a safe:
- Use a safe with two locks on it, often referred to as redundant locks.
- Write your driver’s license number on valuables in a discreet location so they can be identified if stolen.
- If the safe has a passcode, you can give it to a trusted friend or family member in case of an emergency.
6. Look out for markers and signs of casing
Signs that someone is casing your house can be very subtle. You might see unfamiliar vehicles or strangers walking around on your neighborhood streets; they could be taking an afternoon stroll or casing houses — you have to trust your gut.
Sometimes, a network of thieves will leave flyers or stickers near a house they believe to be unguarded and vulnerable.
Also, beware of door-to-door scams. It’s fairly common for burglars to pose as salespeople or workers, like electricians or plumbers. This scheme is an easy way for criminals to case homes for future burglaries or snatch items while in the house.
Sometimes there may be two people working in tandem — one will distract you by discussing their services while another steals items from the house. Be careful who you let in.
7. Introduce yourself to the neighbors
There are many benefits to getting to know your neighbors.
“Not only is it nice to have friends living so close by, but an extra set of trusted eyes on your home while you’re away is always useful,” Bhatt said.
You can even trade turns watching each other’s homes while on vacation. Another positive is it's far easier to notice a stranger in your neighborhood if you know everyone around you.
- Set up a neighborhood watch program: This can significantly help reduce the amount of crime in your neighborhood. You can even get a local police officer to attend a meeting and tell you the best ways to keep your community safe.
- Clean up the neighborhood together: A street with litter or abandoned houses is a magnet for criminal activity. If your area has this problem, suggest a cleanup to your neighborhood association. Your community will be safer and a more beautiful place to live, so everybody wins — except for the burglars!
8. Plan for the worst
If you have a family, it’s good to design a safety plan to ensure everyone is on the same page. Set up a routine that everyone can follow. A good safety plan includes a routine for locking doors and windows, rules about not letting strangers in and ensuring everyone in the family understands how your alarm system works.
As an exercise, you could attempt to burglarize yourself. Some homeowners find this to be the quickest way to understand weak spots.
9. Don’t broadcast when you’re out of town
Be extra careful when you plan your next vacation. Remember, the whole world (or at least friends of friends) can see what you’re posting on social media. Don’t broadcast your trip on social media until after you return.
- If you’re friendly with your neighbors, let them know you’ll be gone so they can be a little more watchful than usual.
- Use timed lights that turn on and off at regular intervals so it looks like somebody’s home, or install smart bulbs that you can turn on and off remotely using an app on your phone.
- Keep all your valuables locked in a safe and hidden from view.
10. Keep your yard well-lit
Well-lit homes are a deterrent to potential criminals who prefer to lurk unseen, Bhatt said. Motion-sensor floodlights, porch and garage lights that turn on automatically at dusk and landscape lighting can all brighten your home’s exterior, making it more secure and visually appealing.
Lights, especially in dark corners, help ward off intruders.
“Think about adding lighting in your yards — front and back — and along paths,” Bhatt said. “Automated lights with infrared motion sensors are excellent deterrents. These are especially useful while you're away on vacation. Use solar-powered lights for a greener option.”
Some security cameras come with spotlights or floodlights that come on when sensing motion.
» DISCOVER: Best home security cameras
- Article sources
- ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
- ADT, “How Do Burglars Break into Houses?” Accessed May 11, 2023.
- The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, "Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender's Perspective." Accessed May 11, 2023.
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