There are dozens of highly effective yet surprisingly inexpensive ways to secure your new home, upgrade current security, or even prepare your house during a vacation. In this article, ConsumerAffairs brings you the tips and tricks that would-be burglars don't want you to know to make sure your property and family are protected.
1. Secure your doors
The door is the easiest point of entry for a thief, so it’s vital you make sure your doors are secured. A hollow door, which burglars can kick in, is not as reliable as a solid-core door made of metal or wood. If you have a mail slot, make sure someone can’t reach inside with their hand or a tool to unlock the door. You can secure your door using deadbolts, strike plates and smart locks. A video camera and other home security gadgets are excellent decisions and can provide additional security.
- Front doors: Did you know that 34% of burglars break in through the front door? It’s usually the first place they try. A great way to start improving your front door security is installing a peephole — it gives you a way to see unexpected visitors and is far more secure than a glass window or smaller opening. Although most 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 doorjamb reinforcement kit. These two kits are simple enough to DIY with basic home tools and a little bit of time.
- Sliding doors: Burglar love bypassing 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 break open the door. Keep sliding doors secured with a safety bar to the interior floor track. We also recommend you also add a floor bolt or a foot lock for additional peace of mind.
2. Reinforce the windows
Burglars are always searching for “windows of opportunity”, but your home’s windows are another easy entry point for burglars. First of all, make sure your windows are locked, and make a habit of locking them every time you leave and before you go to bed. However, a locked window won’t always do the trick — window latches are typically weak and don’t hold up against blunt force. Try these other tips as well:
- Install window pin locks to keep windows partially open but still secure. Advanced pinless models are also available.
- Install sensors that sound off when the window breaks.
- Put up curtains over basement and garage windows. This provides privacy and keeps valuables out of sight.
- Plant prickly or thorny bushes beneath first-story windows.
- In extreme cases, install safety glass. This can work well for small windows that you don’t often open.
3. Secure your garage
The garage is another popular entry point for burglars because of the weakness of the door — it can be relatively easy for the latch to be jimmied open and the door lifted, punched or kicked in. If you have an attached garage and the interior door is unlocked, you're creating a more disastrous situation. Make sure you always keep the garage door down, the latch locked and your interior door secured.
- Use a home automation system so the garage door always closes after you open it.
- Unplug the garage opener when you go on vacation. Even better, lock the door itself so burglars can’t lift it up. 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.
4. Vanguard your Wi-Fi
It's easy to forget your WiFi 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 a “smart house” that relies on your smartphone and Internet connection.
- Set up a firewall
- Give your home network an unintuitive name and complex password
- Make sure your antivirus protection is up to date.
- Enable WPA2 for additional protection
5. Secure the most common targets for burglars
Some common burglar targets include AC units, mailboxes, sheds and cars; but 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 miscreants from stealing your AC 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 it - thieves love to break into cars. First, park your car in the 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 sight. Roll up the windows and, above all else, lock your car.
6. Keep your 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/insufficient lighting are significant benefits for potential thieves. Lights, wherever you can put them, and especially in dark corners, will ward off intruders. Think about lighting both in the front and back yard as well as along paths.
- Automated lights with infrared motion sensors are excellent deterrents to cat burglars. These are especially useful while you are away on vacation.
- Use solar-powered lights for a greener option.
- Build a fence or gate. Chain link fences might not offer as much privacy, but they are more difficult for burglars to climb than a solid fence. You can buy a padlock to keep a gate or fence entrance locked for extra security.
- Ask your neighborhood association to see if they can add more lights to the street as they will benefit the entire community.
7. Out with the old locks, in with the new
If you’re moving into a new home, it’s vital you 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.
8. 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 security cameras, whether or not they are part of a more extensive security system. Cameras with mobile apps are even better as they allow viewing the footage from your phone at any time. Wireless security systems are also available if you prefer to avoid any hard line installations.
9. Won't you be my neighbor?
Take a page from Mr. Rogers’ book and get to know your neighbors. Not only is it fun to make a few new friends, but you can also 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 if you know everyone around you, it's far easier to notice a stranger in your neighborhood.
- 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 inform you about 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!
10. Get a (fake) dog
Ordinary, law-abiding people love dogs; on the other hand, thieves hate them. If you don't have a dog already, or you are allergic or otherwise incapable of housing a dog, you can still harness a criminal's natural fear of dogs. A simple lifehack 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 chain for your back porch.
11. Enlist the boys in blue
Don’t wait until the burglars break in. Call the cops now. 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 all free, and their recommendations are often low-cost, so there’s nothing to lose. Remember to call them on your local police department's non-emergency line and not 911.
12. Have a plan
If you have a family, it’s good to design a safety plan to make sure you are all on the same page. It’s best to set up a routine that everyone can follow. If you’re really looking to have fun, you can even stage a burglary, where someone acts like they’re a burglar and scouts out the house for vulnerabilities. A good safety plan might include:
- Locking the doors and windows every night and every time you leave or go outside
- Not letting strangers into the house
- Make sure everyone understands how the alarm system works
13. Beware of door-to-door scams
It’s a fairly common scam for wannabe cat burglars to pose as either a salesperson or a worker, like an electrician or plumber. This scheme is an easy way for criminals to scout the home for a future burglary, or even snatch some items while they are in the house. Sometimes there may be two of them working in tandem — one will distract you by discussing their services, while another steals items from the house. In summary, be careful who you let in.
14. Hide your keys in the right spot
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 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. Instead, keep them in a concealed drawer.
15. Keep thieves at bay while you’re away
When you're on vacation, you have to be extra careful; however, it just takes a little bit of prep to make sure your home is ready for your absence. That way, you only need to worry about your vacation plans, not your home security.
- Don’t broadcast your trip on social media until after you return. Remember, the whole world can see what you’re posting.
- 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 to go 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.
16. Be safe and get a safe
It might feel like something from a spy movie, but a safe is an affordable way to keep your valuables secure. These valuables might include jewelry, important documents and other sensitive information. You can choose either a portable safe or one bolted 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 as well. You can also pay a bit more for a safe with fingerprint-reading systems.
- Use a safe with two locks on it. In the business, those locks are called “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.