12 August 2011

Home Security Check, part I

Burglars do not discriminate, certainly not when it comes to building styles: modern or not, any home can be burglarized. And though it is difficult to make a house burglar-proof, it is rather easy to increase your odds dramatically.

In the first of a five-part series on home security, let's start with the overall perspective.

The first step toward protecting your home from break-ins is to conduct a home security check that will show where your property is most vulnerable.

This step-by-step list, arranged according to the hierarchy of risk, is a good place to start.

Your home's appearance

Burglars want an easy target, so try to think like a burglar. Stand on the street outside your house and ask yourself: Does this property look neglected, hidden, or uninhabited? A front door or walkway obscured by shrubbery offers crooks the perfect cover they need while they break a door or window.

Consider trimming shrubs away from windows, widening front walks, and installing outdoor lighting with motion detectors. Simple motion-activated floodlights cost less than $50, and installing them is an easy DIY job if the wiring is already in place. All sides of your house should be well-lit, not just the front.

Doors: The first line of defense

Are your front and back doors vulnerable? Steel, solid wood, and impact-resistant fiberglass are all good choices for security.

Open all doors and check the strike plates, the metal fittings that catch bolts and latches. If they are fastened to the soft wood of the door jamb with two screws: you need to upgrade (details on how to upgrade and what to install in the next post “Doors”.)

Especially vulnerable are back doors and garage side doors. If you have an attached garage, secure the door by disabling the automatic opener and locking the door before you go away on a long trip. The door leading from the garage into the house should be outfitted with the same hardware as all other exterior doors and be kept locked at all times.


In order of risk, ground-floor and basement windows are more likely to be attacked than second-floor windows. The exception is second-floor windows that can be easily accessed, by a deck or other elevated structure outside the home. Make sure all windows can be opened, closed, and locked with relative ease–and then remember to lock them. The biggest problem with windows is that homeowners leave the house and leave them wide open.

Don’t ignore the doors and windows on your garage as well as an outdoor storage shed, especially if you store tools such as ladders, saws, screwdrivers, and hammers, any of which would be handy to a burglar. As with house doors, the best option is a secure deadbolt. Hasp closures are easily defeated because someone can insert a crowbar behind the hasp and snap it.

Patio doors

It's relatively easy to lift a set of older patio doors off the track, even when they are locked. Don't attempt to do this on your audit, but take time to inspect the doors and hardware. Replace any missing or broken locks, and consider installing and using locking pins to prevent them from sliding.

Consider your family's habits: Do you leave the patio doors open all summer? Locking the screen door isn't good enough; it keeps out bugs, not thieves. Get in the habit of closing and locking patio doors when they're unattended or you're not home.

Safeguarding household valuables

Thieves want easy-to-grab electronics, cash, jewelry, and other valuables, though some are not above running down the street with your flat-screen TV. Most make a beeline for the master bedroom, because that's where we're likely to hide spare cash, jewelry, even guns.

Tour each room and ask yourself: Is there anything here that I can move to a safe deposit box? Alternatively consider a home safe, bolted to your basement slab–a good spot for everything else. These safes come in various sizes, from drawer-safes to wall safes that go between wall studs to free-standing monsters, not to forget dummy can-safes. The rule: anything that costs a burglar time helps you. Run a search on amazon.com for safes, and you'll get a good overview of cost and availability.

Have you made a video inventory of other items of value in your home? Are you properly insured for theft? Understand that high-ticket items in your home office, such as computers, professional camera equipment, or other business essentials, may require an additional rider or a separate policy. And take steps to back up the personal information stored on your home computer.

In the next installment: Doors.

Based on an article series by Joseph D'Agnese for the National Association of Realtors

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