10 ways to secure your home

Nov. 6, 2008
Authorities offer tips on safeguarding your home and family

With daily comings and goings, we don't always pay attention to home security.

Big mistake, experts say. Because the crooks are paying very close attention. And they love strict schedules.

"Burglars are generally smart," said Jim Polak, deputy police chief in Independence, Ohio. "They're going to wait and watch, because they don't want to run into anyone in the house."

The quicker they get in the house and out with your stuff, the less likely it is that they'll get caught, he said.

Every 15 seconds, a home in the United States is broken into, said Angela Mickalide, director of education and outreach for the National Home Safety Council. People are often surprised to learn that two-thirds of home burglaries happen during daytime hours, she said. But it only makes sense that burglars wait for the times residents are away from home.

Most burglaries are crimes of opportunity, said Mickalide.

"They wait for an opportunity an unlocked door, an open window," she said. "Burglars are going to pick the easiest house."

Although there's no way to guarantee you won't be a victim, there are ways to minimize your risk. Here are 10 ways to make your home unattractive to burglars:

1. Think like a crook. Look for places that get dark at night, that have access or aren't easily visible to neighbors or from the street. These are places where a burglar might lurk.

2. Trim shrubbery. Overgrown landscaping appeals to a burglar, who can lurk behind shrubbery and slip into a first-story or basement window without being seen by a neighbor, Polak said. Trim and thin out shrubbery to the point where no one can hide behind it.

3. Shine a light. Don't give burglars a dark place to lurk, Polak said. Landscape and path lighting and motion-detecting floodlights can work together so crooks have nowhere to hide. Pay attention to lighting indoors, too. Set lights on a timer, and change the timing frequently to keep burglars from detecting your daily routines.

4. Be alarming. A security system is one of the best ways to protect your home, Polak said. The presence of one makes burglars think twice before trying to break in.

5. Keep 'em guessing. "Don't establish any patterns," Polak said. "If a burglar can't be sure of when you're coming or going, they're less likely to strike your house." A dog or cat moving around the home may confuse a burglar. A home-automation system, which can be integrated with a security system, can automate everything from lights and televisions to blinds. If you're going away, even for a weekend, don't let mail, packages, circulars or newspapers accumulate. Ask a relative, friend or neighbor to drop by at different times.

6. Be a good neighbor. Get acquainted with your neighbors, and offer to keep an eye on their homes while they're away. Know where they're going and when they'll be back, and get a contact phone number. If something doesn't look right while you're keeping an eye on things, if someone who appears to be in a utility-company uniform doesn't seem legit, trust your gut and don't be afraid to call the police, Polak said.

7. Look out below. Basement windows are a vulnerable point for older homes, Polak said. They're often single-pane glass with flimsy metal frames, and the opening is big enough for an average-sized adult to slip through. Polak recommends replacing those old windows with glass block for better security. Glass block also offers better privacy and energy efficiency.

8. Deny access. Make sure the locks on doors and windows are secure, and check them before leaving the house. The most common mistake people make is leaving the door to the house from the attached garage unlocked, Mickalide said. "They figure the garage door is locked, no point in locking the inside door," she said. "But if the garage door is breached or left open, a burglar can waltz right in."

9. Go around the back. The back of the house isn't visible from the street and can offer some tantalizing ways for a burglar to get in. Sliding doors are the easiest way to gain entry, so make sure they're always locked. Some people put boards or rods at the base of the slider to keep it from being opened. Don't ever leave a ladder outdoors a burglar can climb up one to an unlocked second-story window.

10. Think safety, as well as security. Although a deadbolt lock that opens with a key from the inside may be the most secure, a turning deadbolt is better, because it permits a quick exit in the event of a fire or other emergency, Mickalide said. Bars on your windows may keep burglars out, but they can keep you in, too. If you must have bars, get the ones that allow you to open them easily from the inside, and practice doing it so you don't panic in an emergency. "Don't ever impede your exit from the house," Mickalide said.