15 ways to make your
home more secure
Your home may be your castle, but just how deep is
the moat? Tighter security is always a concern, but you don't need
a "panic room" to feel safe and sound at home, sweet home.
All it takes is a little common sense and maybe some elbow grease.
So here are 15 tips to make your home more secure:
1. Be your own burglar. Go outside and pretend
you're a crook. How would you get in?
Repeat this exercise at night. What parts of the yard
are dark or hidden enough to act as cover for an intruder? These
are areas you want to eliminate or illuminate with outdoor lighting.
If you don't want the lights on all the time, you can put them on
a timer or install motion detectors.
Ask the experts. Local police are usually happy to
examine your home and offer you tips for shoring up your defenses.
2. Network with neighbors. Believe it or not,
that nosy woman across the street could be your "best weapon
against crime," according to Jean F. O'Neil, director of research
and evaluation for the National Crime Prevention Council. Informed
neighbors who know each other and know who doesn't belong in an
area can stop crime before it starts with a quick call to the cops.
If you want a more structured setup, more than 90 percent of police
departments will help you establish a Neighborhood Watch program,
says O'Neil, and the groups are a proven crime deterrent.
3. Call the cops. If you see something that
strikes you as odd, trust your instinct and dial 911. "If you
see something you think is suspicious," says O'Neil, "it
4. Create an illusion. Most felons want to
come and go without anyone around. So make it look like someone
is home. If you're away, put an incandescent lamp on a timer so
that it goes on in the evening. (Skip the halogen lights, since
they can be a fire hazard.) Leave on the TV or a radio. Turn down
the ringer on the phone. An unanswered phone is a great advertisement
that no one is around.
5. Lock and key. Forty percent of all successful
break-ins happen without force, according to O'Neil. That means
the door or window was unlocked or they had a key. Use the locks
It's common sense to keep doors and windows closed
and locked, but "the basics are the things that people mess
up the most," says Seattle Police Officer Duane Fish. His department
recently arrested two burglars with more than 100 break-ins between
them. "Their primary method of getting into the home was an
open door or window," Fish says.
When you move into a new place, make sure you get
new locks. Don't hide keys outside. And, as much as you love your
neighbors, friends and relatives, don't give them a key to your
home, says Los Angeles Police Officer Jack Richter. "Nobody's
going to be as careful with your property as you," he says.
6. Put on a peep show. Install a wide-angle
peephole, and use it every time you open the door. Make sure it
allows you to see all around your front door. Set up good lighting
so that you can see visitors. If you have kids, consider installing
a second hole at a lower height. And if you aren't expecting anyone,
don't know the person on the other side of the door or can't see
because your porch light has mysteriously "burned out,"
don't open it.
7. Hide the garage-door opener. When you go
into the house, close the garage door and take the remote control
with you. If he can open the garage door, a thief can "take
bigger equipment or steal the car altogether," says Chicago
Police Department Officer Raimond Ranne.
And if you're out for the day, especially in venues
like office parks or movie theaters, keep your remote hidden, says
Richter. An enterprising thief could get your home address from
your auto registration or even from mail left in the car. Once a
thief is in your garage, he can close the door and have time and
privacy to break into your home.
And if you're going on vacation and leaving an empty
house, you can deactivate the garage door opener and put a padlock
through the tracks, effectively locking the door.
8. The doors. Outside doors need to be solid
wood or metal, with hinges on the inside and deadbolts that extend
at least 1½ inches to 2 inches into the frames. Secure a sliding
door with a snugly fitting dowel in the track.
"I'm not a big fan of windows in the door, unless
they are high enough that you can't reach the handle," says
Fish. "French doors are the most difficult things to secure."
Options: vertical deadbolts at the top and bottom of the doors.
If you don't need the door as a fire exit, consider a double-barreled
deadbolt, which has a key lock on both sides. Keep the key near
the door but out of sight and reach from the outside. Otherwise,
outfit the door with an alarm or motion sensor.
9. Get alarmed. Get a monitored security alarm.
And you want one that rings at your home as well as at the monitoring
station, says Philadelphia Police Corporal Jim Pauley. "You
want the person to know there's a system. As a homeowner, you want
them out of there."
10. Windows 2002. When it comes to ground floor
windows, you might consider something stronger than the usual thumb
locks, according to O'Neil. If you can afford a locksmith, you can
get keyed window locks -- the kind that uses a deadbolt. Two warnings:
always keep the key in the same place (near the window, but not
visible from the outside) so you can find it in the dark in an emergency.
This is a better option for first-story windows that you won't need
as exits in a fire. And it's not a great idea in homes with kids
or people with impaired dexterity, since they might not be able
to remember where the key is in an emergency or be able to work
the lock quickly if they need to escape a fire.
If you don't want to spring for a locksmith, you can
drill a thin hole at a 45-degree angle in each window sash and drop
a small-headed nail snugly in the opening, says O'Neil. Leave enough
of the nail sticking up that you can pull it out easily in case
of a fire. As with other window locks, you don't want to use them
on windows you'll need for an exit -- or if you have people in the
house who couldn't easily pull out the nail.
11. Lock up ladders. If you, or a neighbor,
leave a ladder lying around, you're giving thieves an invitation
to try the usually less-well-guarded upstairs windows. Either put
ladders away or chain them securely to something heavy. If you're
having work done on your home, treat windows near scaffolding as
if they were on the ground floor for the duration of the project.
12. Super cuts. Trim bushes and trees so that
all your doors and windows can be seen from the street. If thieves
have no place to hide, your home becomes a less attractive target.
And a mowed lawn or shoveled walkway is a sign that people are home.
13. Hide your toys. When you get that new 50-inch
flat-screen TV, don't leave the box out at the curb for a week,
says Ranne. Instead, take it just before the trash collectors come.
Better still: carry it to a nearby dumpster.
14. Ssssshhhhh! You want to tell the world
about the great deal you got on that two-week cruise to the Caymans,
but save the crowing until you return. Otherwise, you might come
home to an empty house. While your co-worker or postal carrier is
probably totally trustworthy, you never know whom they'll tell,
says Richter. Instead of putting the mail and newspaper on hold,
arrange with a friend or relative to pick up newspapers and mail
in your absence.
15. Look out for yourself. "Don't be paranoid,
but have a general sense of what's going on around you," says
Pauley. You might be mentally preoccupied with what's going on at
work or with a family situation. But being aware of your physical
surroundings is a great security habit, and a good lesson to teach
"Be aware of your lifestyle, what you're doing
and who you are," says Richter. "Look at it from the outside,
and do everything you can to minimize being a victim."
Dana Dratch is a freelance writer
based in Atlanta.
-- Posted: Sept. 4, 2002