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14 ways to make your home more secure

Boosting residential security doesn’t have to be a big-budget project

Published: June 21, 2014 06:00 AM
A simple sign could provide some deterrence.

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More than 2.1 million burglaries were reported in the United States in 2012. That’s one every 15 seconds, according to the FBI, proving just how easy it is for burglars to gain entry. But before you make a big purchase on a security system, take a good hard look around your home. A few simple, low- or no-cost measures will significantly deter a would-be thief from targeting your home.

“The goal in home security is to make it so that the casual burglar will be deterred,” Chris McGoey, an independent security consultant in the Los Angeles area, said. “It’s impossible to make your house perfectly secure, but there are low-tech measures that will do 90 percent of the job.”

Choose a coming weekend and go over these 14 steps—which range from low-effort, no-cost chores to more-involved, pricier projects—to improve your home’s security.

1. Hold a household meeting

Make home security a habit, with every member of the household—including kids—agreeing to a routine that should include such simple rules as:

  • Use door and window locks. It costs nothing and takes little energy. Make it a habit to lock every door and window when leaving, after entering, and before bedtime.
  • Do not open the door to uninvited or unwelcome visitors.
  • Close and lock the garage door.
  • Secure your home even if you’re doing work around the house and yard.
  • Use your alarm system all the time, even when you take a quick trip to the store or visit next-door neighbors. (Learn about important alarm contract clauses.)

2. Call on the police

Many municipal police departments offer complimentary home inspections. An officer walks through your home and recommends simple, cost-effective changes to tighten security.

3. Organize a burglary

This is a fun, useful exercise to do with a trusted neighbor or friend: Allow your neighbor to roam through your house for three minutes, find as many small valuables as possible, and remove them from your house. Let the ersatz burglar demonstrate how easy it is to find valuables. Then hide them from real burglars. That might mean buying a small safe that bolts to the floor, renting an off-premises safe-deposit box, or stashing jewelry and cash in unorthodox places. You can return the favor for your neighbor.

Be smart with your keys.

4. Remove the 'hidden' house key

The key under the mat, inside the mailbox, beneath a rock—everybody hides a house key. Problem is, burglars know your hiding places. Instead, give it to a trusted neighbor.

5. Place keys and garage-door remotes in a smart spot

Don’t leave car and house keys and remotes near the door or otherwise visible inside your house. Secure them inside a cabinet or a drawer to keep them hidden.

6. Add foreboding signs

Post security-company signs or window stickers near all entryways—whether you have a security system or not. Maybe you have signs/stickers on hand from a previous contract with a security firm, or maybe you can get some from a friend. In addition, post a few “Beware of Dog” signs in visible spots, say at the front of the house or on a gate to the backyard.

7. Lock up the ladder

Don’t store a ladder outside. A burglar, perhaps posing as a handyman or contractor, could use it to gain access to a second-floor window or balcony.

Check our buying guides for entry doorsdoor locks, and windows. And find the best homeowners insurance policy.

8. Light up the outdoors

If you don’t have them already, buy and install outdoor lighting with infrared motion sensors and install one near each point of entry. Replace any burned-out lightbulbs and put your porch lights on timers. Find the best bulbs for outdoor uses.

9. Install timers

When you leave for work or appointments or go on vacation, you can create a “someone’s at home” look using timers on lights and TVs. No surprise, there are lots of gadgets available. Fake TV, for instance, simulates the flickering lights of a television, and from outside, it appears that someone is watching TV.

10. Secure air conditioning units

Unsecured window air conditioners could provide an easy entry point for a crook. Use an air conditioner bracket, sliding window lock, or corner braces.

11. Eliminate hiding spots

If your shrubbery is too tall, bushy, or not well spaced, you’re providing a nice hiding spot for a potential burglar. Trim and prune plantings.

12. Check windows

Are the window locks operable? If not, get them fixed or replace them. Also consider installing aftermarket window locks, which let you open the window a few inches while still keeping it secure. Another alternative is to use inexpensive window-break alarms. Check our home window buying guide.

13. Assess doors

Okay, so you’re probably not going to be able to install new doors by yourself over a weekend. But you can inspect your front, side, and back doors. Replace hollow (read: low-quality and easy-to-breach) doors with solid-core (made of wood or metal) or metal-clad doors. Check our buying guide for entry doors.

Sliding-glass doors have a latch to close them but are often an easy point of entry for burglars. To make one more secure, place a wood dowel cut to size or an adjustable safety bar in the interior floor track, or consider adding a floor bolt.

Electric garage doors are not a common point of entry—as long as they are closed. “I can drive you down almost any street in America and find a garage door that is open and the inner door is unlocked,” McGoey says. “Homeowners have to treat all the doors like the front door and close it.”

14. Replace weak locks

Locks are the weakest point on a door. Make sure you have a grade 1 or grade 2 dead-bolt lock that penetrates the door frame. It’s not necessary to get one at a specialty locksmith; these can be purchased at a big-box home store. The strike plate—the stationary piece that the bolt enters—must be heavy duty, made of solid metal or brass, with six three-inch-long screws that penetrate the door jamb and the door frame. Check out our door lock buying guide and read about the $10 part that will make your door lock safer.

—Susan Feinstein

Alarming clauses

If you decide to buy an alarm system, be aware of the following contract clauses:


Early-termination charges: These can leave you liable for up to 80 percent of the costs of the contract's term, even if you move.


Exclusions: Some contracts stipulate that promises made by sales staff or in ads are not binding if they're not in the contract.


Limited liability: If you suffer a break-in, even due to the alarm company's negligence or failure of the equipment or service, the company isn't responsible and won't reimburse beyond a specific amount. You might also forfeit the right to sue the company for additional money.


   

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