Let’s face it, most homes are not built with security in mind and are relatively easy to get into. But that doesn’t mean they need to stay that way! In this article, I’ll give you some tips on making your home look like a harder target, actually make it harder to breach and give some general things to keep in mind about security.
Things to Keep in Mind
My local police captain said that most theft is drug related; people either breaking in looking for drugs, prescription or otherwise, or people breaking in to steal things they can trade or sell to get drugs. He also said that most of the crime in my city comes from Minneapolis, which is twenty miles away. I think those two things hold true in any area. Most theft is probably drug related and most criminals don’t steal from the area they live. They travel to another neighborhood or city.
Why is this important? It means that often times the criminals would have to “case” a residence to see if it is worth breaking into. The term “curb appeal” usually means how aesthetically pleasing your home is from the curb. One often wants curb appeal when they’re selling their home.
But does your home have curb appeal to Joe Dirtbag and his criminal friends? Are there any expensive items in view from the street that might advertise other valuable items that might be inside? In my neighborhood, it’s not uncommon for people to leave their garage door open until they lock up for the night. Anyone passing by can get a good idea of where they may want to come back to later. They might not want the items in the garage, but if you have expensive tools or other items, that can be a sign that other valuables are inside.
One thing I recommend is to walk around the outside of your home and look for ways that Joe Dirtbag may try to gain access. Do you have any tall shrubs near windows or doors that could give Joe Dirtbag a place to hide while he tries to gain access to your home?
Have you heard this one? “Two friends were hiking and came upon a mother bear and her cub. The bear gave chase and the two friends began running. One friend said to another, there is no way we can outrun this bear. The other friend responded with, “I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you”.
Many times the same theory applies; you don’t need to be able to make your home impenetrable, you just need to make it look like a harder target than your neighbors.
All of that being said, if someone wants to get into your house, you’re not going to keep them out. The items I’ll cover have two purposes; to make your home a harder target and to slow down Joe Dirtbag once he does gain access to your home.
Some things to keep in mind about Joe Dirtbag and his friends are that, in general, they are lazy and not sophisticated. Yes there are some criminals who might use lock picks, subvert alarm systems and use devices that disarm cell phones. But for the most part, the criminals that break into the average homes use brute force and go for easy pickings.
There are two types of security that will be covered; active and passive. “Active” means that it is something you will have to do, like locking a door or putting a door brace in place. “Passive” is something that you just have to install once. This would be something like putting longer screws in a door jamb.
Security systems are a good option if they fit your lifestyle and the monthly payments are not prohibitive. The following are things you can do on top of or instead of a security system.
I covered a bit of this above. None of these, by themselves, will deter someone, but if you have multiple things to make possible detection too risky, they may go elsewhere. Do you have bushes or hedges that could conceal someone trying to gain access to a door or window? Do you have a tree that could be climbed to give access to a second story window? Motion sensor lights are a great item to have. They only light up once something has passed in front of the sensor. One option is to use thorny bushes such as Pyracantha and Barberry in front of windows.
Home alarms are a great option and having a sign in your yard that advertises the alarm is a good idea as well. It, by itself, won’t stop anyone but adds one more item to the list of reasons why your house might not be the best choice is the objective. If you don’t have an alarm system, you can buy alarm company signs on eBay and Amazon.
The goal for this section is to make it take as long as possible for Joe Dirtbag to get through the front door to you and your family. As with the exterior, the interior of most homes is not set up with security in mind. It is set up for the ease of use and comfort of the family. However, having a way to lock a teenager in their room until they’re 30 does sound appealing. But I digress; the average home has a front door or windows that a criminal can gain access from, and a bedroom door that is often hollow core with a simplistic lock. If we can add another layer or two of security, we can add to the length of time it takes Mr. Dirtbag to get to the family, giving us more time to gather the family, arm ourselves and call police.
I think everyone should have a room in their house they consider a “safe room”. I don’t mean a room that is commercially fortified and has its own air filtration system. I mean a room that you might reinforce, that is the “go to” spot if there is an intruder. If you have children, you might choose one of their rooms. If you have multiple small children, you might first go to the smallest child’s room and carry them to the largest child’s room and make that the safe room.
This info applies to both exterior and interior doors. If you chose to make one of the rooms in your home a safe room, doing the following things to the door of that room will greatly increase the time it takes to get to you. Before I go further, let me give a brief description of the parts of a doorway. The door frame is the opening in the wall, reinforced by studs. The door jamb is what is attached to the door frame, which the door is then mounted to via the hinges. It is possible to reinforce many parts of the door so I’ll cover them individually.
There are usually county or city codes on the exterior door, so I’ll not cover that. I do recommend that the interior door of the safe room be solid and not a hollow core door. A door that has three hinges is preferable over a door that has only two hinges.
Door Jamb and Hinges
While expensive, it is possible to replace a wooden door jamb with a metal one. Most of the time, the screws that are used to attach the door jamb through the hinges to the door frame are 1”-2” long, which is not long enough to go into the studs of the door frame. Replacing them with 3” screws will allow the screw to go into the door frame. This is beneficial as the impact from a kick is then displaced over the door frame as well. Now, instead of a kick only needing to tear the screw out of the door jamb, it is needing to break through the stud as well.
The striker plate usually is only two inches or so and attaches with two screws. It is possible to get one that is 4”, the full length of the door, and attaches with multiple screws. Replacing the short screws with 3” screws that will go into the door frame is also a good idea. Adding a longer strike plate that has more screws will displace a kick over a greater area, making it harder to kick the door in.
Most exterior doors have a deadbolt and a lock on the handle. Here is a video that shows how you can reinforce the deadbolt with a metal pipe. Most bedroom doors have flimsy locks on the handles, if any lock is there at all. Replacing it with a lock that cannot be picked with a paper clip is one option. Adding a deadbolt that is reinforced with a pipe is another.
There are several types of door braces, all of which are active security, so you’ll need to put them in place for them to work. Some will mount on the floor. If you have carpet or wood, this might be an option. If you have tile or would rather not have something mounted to the floor, there are braces that slide under the door knob and have a pole that extends to the floor. I’m not endorsing the following products, as I have never used them but I wanted to show a visual example. On a side note, these two types of door braces make lock picks useless.
Here is a video of a floor based system called Nightlock. It shows two men, each trying to kick in a door, one with Nightlock and one without. In the video, the gentleman trying to kick in the door never gets through. In fact, the door jamb begins to separate from the doorframe before he gets in. Now I don’t know if they did anything else to make that door more secure, but if not, this is pretty impressive.
Here is a video on a door brace that slides under the door knob. I tried to find a video of this type being tested but couldn’t find one. This type can also double as a sliding glass door stop and can be taken with you to be used when travelling. If you don’t want to mount the floor based systems, this might be the best option. I like the idea of this for the safe room. It could be next to the door, waiting to be used.
Windows are a bit trickier to protect but there are still a couple options. The first is the more expensive option, which is a film you can place over the window to make it more resistant to breaking. While I am sure there are more companies that sell this type of film, here are three 3M, Solar Guard and Burglar Guard. The only one that listed prices that I could find was Burglar Guard. Their price was $319 for a 36in by 25ft piece of film. As you can see in the video below, this stuff works.
Another, less expensive, option is window alarms. These won’t prevent glass breakage but it will alert two different ways; on vibration or if a magnetic contact is broken. They range in price from $7.00-$15.00 per alarm or you can buy a full window alarm system for under $200 on Amazon.com
Doing many of the above mentioned things can add precious seconds to the time it takes you to respond and act on your plan. Having a firearm and phone in your safe room is also a good idea but know how to use both! Wait for the dispatcher to tell you the scene is clear, not the “officer” on the other side of the door!
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