How to secure your home
17 ways to make your home more secure
There are many effective ways to protect your home from burglars. 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.
Secure all entry points
The most vulnerable entry points to your home are the windows and doors. Strong deadbolt locks and window bars can deter forcible entry. You might consider surveillance cameras and motion sensors to help you keep an eye on common entry points while you're away from home.
1. Check all doors
The door is the easiest point of entry for a thief. In fact, about 34% of burglars break in through the front door — it’s usually the first place they try. If you have a mail slot, make sure someone can’t reach inside with their hand or a tool to unlock the door. Another great way to improve your front door security is to install a peephole — it gives you a way to see unexpected visitors and is far more secure than a glass window or smaller opening.
You can further secure your door using deadbolts, strike plates and smart locks. Smart locks, a video doorbell and other home security gadgets are excellent ways to provide additional security.
- Exterior front doors: A hollow door, which burglars can kick in, is not as reliable as a solid-core door made of metal or wood. Although most people imagine burglars carefully using lock picks to gain entrance through a door, they usually just knock it down using brute force; therefore, you should also reinforce your front door using both 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.
- 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 a floor bolt or a foot lock for additional security.
2. Reinforce the windows
Burglars are always searching for windows of opportunity. Make sure your windows are secure and make a habit of locking them every time you leave your home and before you go to bed.
Unfortunately, a lock on a window won’t always do the trick — latches are typically weak and don’t hold up against blunt force. You can reinforce the glass with window security film and install window bars or dowels. Here are some tips for burglar-proofing your windows:
- Window sensors: Install window sensors that sound an alert when the window breaks. Some sensors automatically send you a notification through your phone if a motion or glass break is detected.
- Pin locks: Installing pin locks keeps windows partially open but still secure. Advanced pinless models are also available.
- Put up curtains: This provides privacy and keeps valuables out of sight.
- Natural defenses: Plant prickly or thorny bushes beneath first-story windows.
- Sturdier glass: In extreme cases, install impact-resistant safety glass. This can work well for small windows that you don’t often open.
3. Keep your garage secured
The garage is another vulnerable entry point for burglars because of the weakness of the door — 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 the simple press of a button.
Consider investing in a home automation system that automatically shuts your garage door after you open it. Motion-activated flood lights 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.
Security tips for new homes
Evidence suggests that fake security decals are a way to deter burglars, but we suggest looking into the real deal as well.
1. Replace old locks
If you’re moving into a new home, it’s crucial to replace all the locks. Previous owners — plus their family, friends and people who worked in the house on repairs — all might have copies of the keys. If you’re a renter, you can ask the landlord if they’ve already replaced the locks. While you’re at it, replace any low-quality locks with ones that can withstand picking or kicking.
2. Install a security system
Once you have the best practices of home security covered, it’s time to install a security system. The best home security systems are simple to install and shouldn't break the bank. You can also install a security camera as part of a more extensive security system or on its own.
Cameras with mobile apps are ideal — they let you view real-time footage through an app on your phone at any time. If your system incorporates smart home automation features, you can set a timer to turn on lights around the house at various points in the day so your house won’t ever appear unoccupied from the outside.
Some home alarm systems require professional installation. Wireless security systems are also available if you prefer to avoid hard-wired installations.
3. Keep the yard clean and bright
Although you may not know it, bad landscaping doesn't just annoy your neighbors — dense trees, thick shrubs and burnt-out or insufficient lighting are significant benefits for potential thieves. Lights, especially in dark corners, help ward off intruders. Think about adding lighting in your yards — front and back — and along paths.
- Yard lighting: 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.
- Street lighting: In general, burglars prefer to work on dimly lit streets. Ask your neighborhood association to see if they can add more lights to the street. This increases visibility, which benefits you and your neighbors.
- Fence or gate: A tall, solid fence offers more privacy and is more difficult to climb than a chain-link fence. You can buy a padlock to keep a gate or fence entrance locked for extra security.
4. Introduce yourself to the neighbors
Not only is it fun to make new friends, but you can help each other keep an eye out for suspicious activity. You can even trade turns watching each other’s homes while you’re 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!
5. 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 that comes 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. With tamper-proof screws, you can foil their plans.
- Cars: We all know thieves love to break into cars. 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 in places visible from outside. Roll up the windows and, above all else, lock your car.
6. Beware of door-to-door scams
It’s fairly common for burglars to pose as either salespeople or workers, like electricians or plumbers. This scheme is an easy way for criminals to scout homes for future burglaries or snatch some items while they're 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. 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 making sure everyone in the family understands how your alarm system works if you have one.
As an exercise, you could attempt to burglarize yourself. Some homeowners find this to be the quickest way to understand weak spots.
8. Don’t broadcast when you’re out of town
Be extra careful when you plan your next vacation. About three-fourths of burglaries take place when the resident isn't home. 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, especially in the late summer. July and August see the highest number of residential break-ins, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
- 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.
- Keep all your valuables locked in a safe and hidden from view.
Easy home security tips
Some easy ways to tighten up home security include getting a dog (or an imposter), communicating with your local police department and bolstering your cybersecurity.
1. Get a dog (or a fake)
Law-abiding people typically love dogs, but thieves hate them. If you don't have a dog or are allergic or otherwise incapable of housing a dog, you can still harness 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 really want to go the extra mile, you can also 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 login 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
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 if you live in a location far from the next house, you can use a combination lockbox — just make sure it’s in an out-of-the-way place in your yard. Check out some additional tips below.
- Don’t keep your garage clicker in your car if it’s parked in the driveway. Keep it inside your home and out of sight so it’s difficult to find.
- Don’t place keys in view of a window or door. Keep them in a concealed drawer.
- Don’t put keys under a rock by the door. Investing in a fake drain cap or faucet head is less conspicuous.
4. Get a safe
It might feel like something from a spy movie, but a safe is an affordable way to keep your valuables secure. A safe is a great place to store valuables like jewelry, guns, cash, important documents and other sensitive information.
You can choose a portable safe or one that bolts to the wall or floor. Just remember that a portable safe can be picked up by a thief, so it’s better to have one that’s heavy and clunky. Make sure the safe is fireproof and waterproof too. You can also pay a bit more for a safe with fingerprint-reading systems. Here are some tips for buying a safe:
- Use a safe with two locks on it — these are often referred to as redundant locks.
- Write your driver’s license number somewhere hidden on valuables 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 the case of an emergency.
5. Call the cops
Did you know many police departments will send an officer to your home, inspect it and let you know how it can be fortified? This is a free service, and their recommendations are often low in cost, so there’s nothing to lose. Don’t wait until the burglars break in — call the cops now. Just use your local police department's non-emergency line, not 911.
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 certain fliers or stickers near a house they believe to be unguarded and vulnerable. Additional signs a burglar could be casing your home include:
- Unsolicited knocking on doors
- Strangers taking pictures of homes
- Markings on the sidewalk near certain houses
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