Keep your home and your loved ones safe—even If you don't have an expensive home security system. Our tips will help you protect yourself with inexpensive, easy-to-install devices.
You never want to open a door unless you know who's on the other side. A peephole lets you see who's there, but entry doors don't come with peepholes, and a lot of peepholes are so tiny that they don't clearly show you who's out there. Strangers can hide slightly out of view or appear so distorted that they're hard to identify.
Avoid uncertainty by installing a wide-angle door viewer. They're available online or at hardware stores. Install it just like a standard peephole—drill a hole from each side and screw it in.
Mail theft is a growing problem since unsecured mailboxes are easy targets. One sure way to keep thieves from stealing your mail—checks, credit card offers, personal information—is to use a security mailbox.
Once the mail is dropped in a secure mailbox, you need a key to open it. Security mailboxes like the one shown here are available online or at some home centers. Just screw it to the wall or post as you would a standard mailbox.
Most burglaries occur on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. The perpetrators are usually substance abusers in their twenties looking for easy-to-pawn items to raise quick cash. They look for homes that appear unoccupied during the day, are dark at night, and display signs of wealth (such as immaculate landscaping, expensive cars and fancy decks). They prefer homes that are secluded or shielded by fences or shrubbery. And they always prefer breaking in through a ground-level side window or back door.
Most burglars don't pick locks or break glass. That takes too long, makes noise and risks personal injury. Instead, they simply kick in a door (even doors with a dead bolt) or pry open a window or sliding patio door. In many cases, they take advantage of a homeowner's carelessness by climbing in through an open window or unlocked door (window screens and storm doors offer no protection). Burglars tend to shy away from homes with dogs, and homes with an alarm system.
Once inside, burglars head right to the master bedroom looking for gold jewelry, cash, furs and guns. Next, they scoop up prescription drugs from the bathroom and finish up with laptops, tablets and smartphones. Then they hightail it out.
Your job is to make your home less target-worthy, frustrate their attempts to break in and limit your losses if they do manage to get inside.
Most of us don't need a big, heavy, expensive safe to secure our valuables. For a few hundred dollars or less, you can get a safe that will protect against thieves. Be sure to fasten it to the floor or wall so an intruder doesn't walk off with it. Safes go up in price for options such as fire protection and digital or biometric (fingerprint reading) opening systems.
Install a cylinder floor safe like the SentrySafe Waterproof Floor Safe (available through our affiliation with Amazon.com) by bolting it to the floor (most safes have holes inside for just that purpose). Hide it in the corner of a closet or other inconspicuous
area. Or mount the wall safe inside a wall and
cover it with a picture.
Or chip out a hole in your concrete slab and stick in the floor safe, then pour new concrete around it.
Keeping doors and windows locked is your first line of defense. Make wireless alarms your second. The alarms are activated by doors or windows opening. Burglars hate noises, so even a small alarm usually sends them running. The alarms are available at home centers or search online. Use the alarms for doors and windows in “hidden” areas of the house where you don't normally gather and that are often dark.
Attach the alarm to the door or window (with a screw or double-sided tape) alongside the magnetic contact strip (they don't have to be touching, but within 1/2 in.). When the door or window opens, breaking magnetic contact, the alarm shrieks. The door alarm has a delay feature, giving you time to set the alarm and leave, then open the door and deactivate the unit when you come home, without setting it off. The window unit has an on/off switch. The alarm batteries last two to three years.
The factory latches on double-hung windows are no match for a burglar with a pry bar. But they can't get past inexpensive pin locks (about $2 each). You can install a pin in just a few minutes per window. Drill a hole to lock the window closed, and a second hole a few inches up to lock the window partly open for ventilation.
Motion detector lights are a proven crime deterrent, and standard hardwired models cost as little as $15. If running a power supply would be difficult, buy ones that run on solar power (for instance, Sunforce LED Solar Motion Light , available through our affiliation with Amazon.com). Attach the lighting unit to the house or outbuilding (screws are included).Make sure the solar panel receives direct sunlight, although it still charges on cloudy days.
Police interviews with burglars prove that alarm systems are a deterrent. If burglars are convinced your home has a real alarm system, they'll move on to a more vulnerable target rather than take a risk at your home.
You can buy a professional grade wireless alarm system for about $200 from many online sources. Installing professional alarm hardware is easy, but programming the system can be a challenge. A battery-powered wireless DIY alarm system requires no wiring. Just plug the control box into your Internet router, mount the sensors and arming station, and program the unit with your computer.
For more information on installing a professional security system, check out DIY Security System.
If you don't want to tackle the programming or can't find a supplier who will program it for you, skip the professional gear and buy a consumer- style DIY wireless alarm instead (available at home centers). Starter kits come with a control unit, arming station, motion sensor and a few door/window sensors (Photo 1). But plan on buying enough extra sensors to install on each ground-level door and window.
Mount the arming station in a location where a burglar can see it from the most likely entry door or window. Then mount the sensors, connect the control box to power and your Internet router and program the system from your home computer. The system notifies you of a break-in or system failure with text messages and phone calls.
Stick yard signs by your front and back doors. Then plaster stickers on all the ground-floor windows so everyone can see them.
Patio door locks are easy to pick. Placing a heavy duty stick in the door track will bar the door closed, but it looks crude and it's inconvenient to remove every time you want to open the door. Fortunately, there's a better way to get the security you need. An Auxiliary Security Lock (available through our affiliation with Amazon.com) fastens along the bottom of the door and has a bolt that fits into a grommet to hold the door secure. Similar models are available that attach at the top of the door (for instance, Cardinal Gates Patio Door Guardian, also available through Amazon.com.
To prevent a crook from prying a door up, drive two 3-in.-long screws through the top track and into the header above the sliding door or window. Leave enough clearance to allow the sliding door or window to move, but not enough to allow a burglar to raise the door off the track.
Remove the puny 3/4-in. screws from the strike plate. Drill pilot holes into the framing behind the jamb. Then drive in 3-in. screws to anchor the strike plate to the framing.
It will keep the door from splitting from a sudden blow. Simply remove the dead bolt and screw on the guard.
Burglars can open most entry doors with a few kicks or body blows. Even with a dead bolt, the blow shatters the doorjamb and splits the door itself (even steel doors). You can dramatically increase the strength of your doorjamb by installing longer strike plate screws that anchor into the stud behind the jamb.
The first step would be to take out one of the existing screws. If it's shorter than 3 in., replace it. For even greater doorjamb security, consider installing a 6-in.-long heavy-duty strike plate. This is a much bigger job because you have to mortise a larger opening and drive in six 3-in. screws. However, if your entry door butts up to a sidelight and you can't install long screws, buy and install a 48-in.-long doorjamb reinforcement plate (available at home centers).
Next, prevent door splitting with a door edge guard. Measure the door thickness and dead bolt lock backset before you head to the home center. Then buy a guard to fit around your door and dead bolt. Installing the guard takes about 15 minutes.
A flimsy old wooden garage entry door has weak center panels that can easily be kicked in by thieves. Adding a dead bolt won't solve that problem. A down-and-dirty way to beef up the door is to add a 1/2-in. plywood reinforcement panel and then bar it with 2x4s placed in bar-holder brackets.
Immediately file a fraud alert with credit bureaus and contact your bank and credit card companies.
Identity theft is on the rise, and you may not even know you've been victimized until you apply for a loan and find out your credit has been ruined. One way to protect your identity is to shred your personal papers, including credit card offers, bank statements and bills. Shredders start at $20 at office supply stores. More-expensive models shred credit cards, CDs and multiple sheets of paper. Some even “micro-shred” documents for added security.
Place video cameras by doors and windows. Most burglars won't take the time to figure out if the camera is real—they'll just avoid the house.
Real cameras have coaxial cables, so zip-tie coaxial cable to the fake power cable that came with the camera. Drill a second hole in the mounting bracket and hot-glue the cable into place.
Burglars are increasingly aware that they're being watched, so a video camera can be a deterrent as long as the crooks believe it's real. However, you can get the same deterrent value by modifying an inexpensive fake camera so it looks real. Find fake cameras at home centers and online stores (for instance, Outdoor Dummy Security Camera , available through our affiliation with Amazon.com.). Skip the smoked glass “dome” style and get a more traditional-looking unit. Mount it near the vulnerable doors and windows, but don't activate the flashing light—real cameras don't have lights.