Over 2 million Americans are the victims of break-ins – burglaries – each year. A burglary is a traumatic event. Even if no one was hurt, and you don’t lose anything you can’t replace, and the insurance pays better than you’d hoped, you still have the hassle of dealing with all of it. The paperwork, the dealings with police, the replacement of broken locks or windows, even the shopping for new stuff – it becomes like a part-time job in addition to all the business of your normal routine.
In addition to whatever major steps you can take – that is, living in a low-crime area and/or having a security system – there are many easy ways to make your home seem less of an easy target to burglars.
Many of these tips will be really obvious to you homeowners who have been at this a while. But there are always new homeowners who are still learning, and I didn’t want to leave any helpful tips out. So it’s all here.
Burglar-proofing your home
It’s important to understand what burglars are looking for:
- No one’s home. Whether everyone’s away at work or school, or you’re all on vacation in another country, that’s what the burglar targets.
- Hidden access points. Burglars want a door that’s shadowed or out of view from the street and any neighbors. This gives him time to get that access point open without being seen by witnesses.
- Easy access points. Certain types of locks are easier to break into than others. Not all burglars are smart enough to look for those, but if you have a door or window that looks easy to open, that’s probably the one they’ll try.
What can you do to make your home look less tempting?
- Avoid open and unlocked windows. It is actually safe to leave a second-floor window open during the night if there is absolutely no way a burglar could climb up to it. But all other windows should be shut and locked. If your windows don’t have locks, go to a hardware store: you can buy quality locks very inexpensively, and install them yourself or hire an installer. The staff should probably be able to advise you on the best lock for your windows, but if they don’t know, ask the police. Your local precinct probably has all the answers, and they’ll be happy to give them to you.
- Some police departments will even give you a “home security inspection” with advice on what steps you need to take, if any. Their advice is good (because preventing crime reduces their workload) and shouldn’t be biased by trying to sell you on a particular product.
- Exterior lights. Make sure every door is lit when it’s dark. Cheap exterior lights can be rigged up for not much expense, and many of them are halogen or LED, so you have some very frugal and green options. Solar-powered lights are also great for illuminating walkways to the home, and those narrow sideyards that are so well-shaded. Just make sure you don’t have any lights positioned to point into anyone’s bedroom. An area light is also a good option, especially if you’re in the country and far from any neighbors. You can get the electric company to install one, and then you pay for it like any other light on your bill (they’re not as pricey as you might think). An area light can illuminate most of a big yard without lighting up any bedrooms – that makes approaching the home from any direction risky for a burglar.
- Timers for lights. Put your exterior lights on timers so they always come on and go off in the same routine whether you’re home or not. If you go on vacation and leave them on 24/7, the light burning during the day is a strong hint no one’s home.
- Doors with hinges on the inside. The easiest way to get through any door, if you have the time, is to take it off the hinges. No lock can defend against that. Make sure your exterior doors have the hinges on the inside so a burglar can’t reach them from outside.
- Install deadbolts. Deadbolts are still the hardest type to pick. Make sure your exterior doors have them. This includes patio doors, kitchen doors, garage side doors, etc.
- French doors. Those double doors with glass panes in wood frames are beautiful, but it’s so easy to knock out the glass pane next to the deadbolt and lock, unlock it and walk right in. And that amount of glass breaking doesn’t make much noise. Make sure your door positions the locks too far from the nearest glass panel for a hand to reach through and around to the locks. If not, your safest option is a new door. For more options, see here.
- Sliding glass doors pose similar problems to French doors. Make sure your doors have a good lock. Make sure they’re installed with the empty track to the inside. This makes it easy for you to simply drop a sturdy dowel stick into the track (make sure it’s long enough that you can’t open the door far enough to squeeze in without removing it, but if you want, you can leave enough room so you can open the window a little for ventilation and still have the dowel stick blocking anyone’s entry). This is such a simple, affordable trick, but now the burglar has to either break the glass – which is going to be loud and might even be heard by neighbors – or lift the door out of its track. There are pin devices you can get at hardware stores that make lifting the door impossible.
Going on vacation
When your whole house is going to be empty for a few days, that’s when you really want to get the burglars thinking someone’s home. Take care of the dead giveaways first:
- Stop the mail and newspaper. Mail bulging out of a mailbox or newspapers piling up on the porch are a clear indication no one’s home. Get them both stopped until the day you come back. Also get a neighbor you trust to make sure they actually do stop, and collect any mail or papers that arrive while you’re gone. The post office in particular is really bad about following instructions.
- Put your TV on a timer. Have your TV come on in the evenings. This creates a realistic sound illusion of someone being home.
- Car. If you normally park in a garage, no problem. But if your car isn’t in the driveway like usual, that tells burglars you’re not home. Get a neighbor to park their car in your driveway while you’re gone. Even if a burglar knows it’s a different car, he won’t feel confident no one is in the house.
- Neighbors. Notify a trusted neighbor when you’ll be out of town, asking them to keep an eye on things. Leave a contact number so they can check with you if they see anything that looks odd. You might also ask someone – or pay someone’s kid – to do some chores around your house, such as mowing the lawn. That helps disguise the fact that you’re gone.