Times have changed since the days when Americans left their doors and windows unlocked while away from home. The FBI reported in 2017 that there are an average of 160 burglaries per hour, or 3,840 burglaries per day. You can call the nearest alarm company and hand them your credit card—or you can read on.
In fact, even if you do call the alarm company, remember that when it comes to burglaries, their main purposes are to alert the authorities, sound an alarm that will hopefully scare the burglars away (and not simply signal them to start their stopwatch and grab as much as they can before the police arrive), and record video footage of the event for potential prosecution later.
Prevention is the best method. Your home may be your castle, but the zoning department isn’t going to let you dig a moat. Something as simple as placing dowels in window tracks so they can’t be opened from the outside can make a huge difference. And speaking of windows and doors …
Key and thumbscrew locks are simply small security clamps that attach along the window frame at the position where you want it to stop opening.(Nick Beer/Shutterstock)
Entry Points: Windows
Even the best windows and doors can be made better. Key and thumbscrew locks are simply small security clamps that attach along the window frame at the position where you want it to stop opening—from an inch or two open for ventilation to completely closed.
Inexpensive dowels cut to size can serve the same purpose for single-hung, double-hung, and horizontal roller windows, as well as sliding glass doors, or can be used as reinforcement for key and thumbscrew locks.
If you’re purchasing new windows, consider shatterproof glass. It’s pricey, but just ask anyone in Florida who had hurricane-impact windows installed how snuggly safe they feel now. A significantly less expensive, yet still beefy alternative is to apply window safety glass film that prevents glass from shattering upon impact. It’s available in various sizes and for sliding glass doors, too.
Even in this day and age, most sliding doors have flimsy locks. In addition, they can be easily lifted off the tracks. The solution is a double-bolt sliding glass door lock that secures the door at both the top and bottom to hold the door firmly in place; as a bonus, it doubles as a handy child lock.
While doors aren’t as easily kicked in as seen in the movies, they can be split at weak points. A door reinforcement kit bucks up the frame, hinge, and lock area with a jamb shield to strengthen the weakest point of the door frame. A door shield protects wood or hollow metal doors from bending or splitting when kicked, while hinge shields help keep the wood around the hinges from splitting upon impact. These are all straightforward, do-it-yourself projects. Kits are also available for door sidelight windows.
While you’ve got the drill out, consider installing a peephole not just in your front door, but also at other access points such as exterior laundry room doors or other entrances where you can’t see out.
Most garage door openers have an emergency release cord in case of power outages or equipment malfunctions. Criminals sometimes use a clothes hanger to fish around for the cord and release it, allowing them to open the garage door to steal items and then possibly break into the house. The solution is to use the door’s slide locks located on right and left rails, and cut the release cord to a shorter length that can’t be reached from the garage door opening.
While on the subject of garages, don’t leave the door open all day, tempting thieves by flaunting your tools and other high-value items. Keep the garage door closed so the bad guys can’t make an inventory of what is inside, and use the side locks to keep it secured.
Exterior lighting discourages burglars from approaching the house at night.(alexandre zveiger/Shutterstock)
Landscaping and Lighting
Burglars like cozy, dark spots, so don’t give them any. Trimming back trees and bushes that would otherwise hide their nefarious behavior is an easy task with big benefits. This is particularly important around doors and windows and, as a bonus, it will give your property a facelift.
Exterior lighting is the next step, with a wide variety of prices and options. Start by looking at your existing lighting, and replace any burned-out bulbs. Consider upgrading the bulb wattage in all fixtures (the light fixture should indicate the allowed maximum bulb wattage).
Perhaps it’s time to change out the fixture entirely; dawn-to-dusk lights activate automatically each evening, while motion sensor lights are best for areas where you don’t want light constantly, but do want to surprise an intruder. Solar lights are well-suited for areas where you don’t want to, or otherwise can’t, install hard-wired lights. The downside is that most solar lights don’t have the sufficient battery life to keep a dusk-to-dawn light on all night, particularly in winter when days are shorter and thus not allowing for a full recharge, making motion-detecting lights a better choice.
Out of Town
Put some lights inside the house on a timer to make it look like someone is home. Never leave a message on your voicemail saying you’re on vacation; don’t post vacation photos on social media while you’re away, either. Let your neighbor’s kid who has to park down the block use your driveway. If it’s winter, hire someone to shovel your sidewalk and driveway. You get the idea—make it look like someone is home.
Thwarting Thieves 101
Get to know your neighbors; it’ll make strangers even more obvious, and you’ll stay informed about any irregular happenings.
Raise a Ruckus
Consider getting a dog. Statistics show that neighborhoods with large dog populations experience less crime. There are plenty of rescue animals waiting to be your bodyguard. If you live in a no-pets building, hang a travel door alarm on the front door knob each night.
Guard the Goodies
Place high-ticket items away from windows. Better yet, keep your curtains and blinds closed, because thieves like to map a house based on what they can see through the windows. If you keep large amounts of cash or have valuable jewelry, invest in and use a high-quality safe.
Sleep with your car remote next to you. If you hear a noise in the garage, press the panic button to scare the potential intruder away. Never hang your garage door remote from the car visor. It can be stolen, along with your vehicle registration with your address on it—and, you’ve just given a thief a “key” to your house.
Sandy Lindsey is an award-winning writer who covers home, gardening, DIY projects, pets, and boating. She has two books with McGraw-Hill.