Make our house a fortress.
November 17, 2009 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Our house was broken into yesterday. I'd like to prevent this from happening again.

Yesterday, sometime between the hours of 8 AM and 6 PM, our house was broken into. There is a small window on the front of the house that opens into the master bedroom. It's one of these windows with the hinges on the bottom and it folds inward, into the house. It's secured from the inside with only a shim (a piece of wood wedged between the window and the frame). The burglar moved the porch furniture away from the window and must have tried to push the window in, but because of the resistance from the shim, the window just completely shattered. This must have caused the burglar to flee, because nothing (as it appears) was taken. The sound of the breaking glass plus the whole broad daylight in a family neighborhood thing must have sent him running.

The whole thing has gotten me and my partner pretty shook up. It was, after all, the window right above our bed - and the glass destroyed one of our aloe plants (so sad). I know that if someone wants in bad enough, they can figure out a way in - but I'd like to thwart at least the feeble attempts.

What kinds of things can we do to secure our house? There are obvious things: we don't have latches or screens on our windows, as most of our windows are out of reach, so we are going to do that - but that won't stop someone from just breaking the window. We're not really well-off enough to afford a full-fledged alarm system, so we're trying to try all the other, sort of DIY, creative avenues first, if we can.

What sorts of things do you do to make your house safe and secure? What are some unconventional things we could do? Cacti in the windows? Motion detectors? Trip wires? Other resources you can direct us to?

If it makes any difference, we live in Northeast Portland, Oregon. We don't own the house - we rent it from someone who currently lives in Europe. It's possible he would pay for a comprehensive alarm system, but that won't happen anytime in the very near future.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
One thing I've seen friends do is get "Protected by [XXX] Alarm System" stickers and place them on windows and doors, without actually purchasing the system. Sounds kind of silly, but none of them have been burgled.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:42 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You don't need an alarm, you just need to make a burglar think there is an alarm. If your house looks slightly harder to break into than other houses on the street then your house will be left alone. Remember - you don't have to outrun the bear; just your friend.

Invest in the window stickers and signs that you would normally get with an alarm system.
posted by Loto at 11:45 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pay a visit to your local hardware store and ask the staff for their advice.
posted by Carol Anne at 11:48 AM on November 17, 2009

There are a variety of thorny, spiny, scratchy plants that people often recommend as defensive landscaping, and not all of them are cacti. Natal plum is common here in San Diego, has lovely smelling flowers, and 2" spines that would be very unpleasant but not impossible to climb over. May not tolerate the slight frosts you get in Portland.
posted by slow graffiti at 11:52 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was the victim of a pretty fucked up break in. Now I have a German Shepherd.
posted by sickinthehead at 11:53 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

In addition to any security modifications, get renter's insurance.
posted by desjardins at 11:59 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

After friends were recently robbed (almost the exact same way, too, except the glass didn't break and they came in and took stuff), we made a big show of visible security. They changed their deadbolts entirely rather than rekeying them, we put a big obvious latch and padlock on the gate to the back yard, Beware of Dog signs on the back fence, and high-decibel $10 vibration sensors on the windows (much like these but with big red-eyed doberman dogs on the sticker). We also put screw-down locks on all the window rails, which doesn't sound like it would work for you, but bigger badder shims would be a good idea.

It took a few days for the actual security system to get installed, but in the meantime we wanted a message to be sent: COMING BACK FOR MORE? THINK AGAIN.

It really is just a matter of making it look like it would be easier to break into somebody else's house instead.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:02 PM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

In addition to the fake alarm stickers and signs, there are also convincing fake security cameras (basically just empty boxes with "lenses" on them). Mount one of those in a conspicuous place and I bet you'd drastically increase the paranoia of would-be intruders. Maybe a "monitored by video" sign/sticker to draw their attention to it. This might be out of place on a home though, depending on your neighborhood.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:04 PM on November 17, 2009

Get a dog :) My parents place immediately stopped getting broken into once they got a very large german shepard (who wouldn't hurt a fly, but potential buglers didn't know that). Additional bonus -- it can also be used to scare of unwelcome religious solicitations.
posted by cgg at 12:10 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Motion-sensor lights are also helpful, though when I was burgled the thieves were smart enough to unscrew the bulbs. We had the stickers on the windows too, but the place had been burgled while I was sub-letting the house, so they called our bluff on the alarm.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:24 PM on November 17, 2009

Invest in the window stickers and signs that you would normally get with an alarm system.

Enough people do this, that if I were a prospective burglar, I would look for evidence of an actual alarm, not just signs and stickers. I might also do something like "break a window, then wait to see if an alarm goes off or the cops show up immediately." So some sort of motion-activated light might be more effective than just signs.
posted by dersins at 12:24 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and FWIW, the quality of your locks is immaterial if the burglars can kick your hinges through your doorframe. After the first time we were burgled, we screwed a 2x4 along the latch side of our back door, so you couldn't kick the latch through the frame. The second time around, they kicked all 3 hinges through the other side of the door frame. Apparently they can kick really, really hard. We eventually ended up selling the house because it became such a target with 3 law students in it. It was a bad scene.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:27 PM on November 17, 2009

Actually, forcing the burglar to break the glass to get in is excellent defense. Burglars do not want to make noise. The burglar had a harder time than they expected, and they went away.

Any window that's that accessible is, to a burglar, an easy in. Any window a burglar can reach from the ground or porch (or by standing on a trashcan) is a likely entry point.

Just make sure all of these windows are difficult to force, as you did with this one, and you've decreased the odds of actually having stuff stolen. For old-style sliding windows, stick dowels in so that the windows cannot be raised. You can pull the dowels out when you want to open the windows. The dowels are also obvious to the outside.

For hinged windows like yours, I'd consider permanently sealing them, especially if they open onto your porch, or replacing them with metal-frame windows which look (and are) a lot sturdier.
posted by zippy at 12:30 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

A dog is excellent security, but may not be practical for your situation. Home alarms are now all wireless so I don't even think you would need the owner's permission to install it as you should be able to accomplish this without major modifications. I would still ask. The owner may agree to pay for it or split it with you etc.
posted by caddis at 12:33 PM on November 17, 2009

My apartment was recently broken into and we had someone from the police precinct (in Brooklyn, NY) come to our apartment to do a security assessment. He helped us understand what kind of locks we needed, where we needed bars, etc. Maybe the local police precinct could help that as well?
posted by anthropoid at 12:47 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

That last sentence made no sense. Maybe your local police precinct could help.
posted by anthropoid at 12:48 PM on November 17, 2009

We were robbed on Superbowl Sunday morning three years ago, while both I and my husband were at home. I was in the next room, in fact, and didn't hear a thing. Thief walked in, took my laptop and cell phone, and walked out, leaving our back door open for the cats to wander through.

We now have two dogs. I have never felt safer. And like cgg mentioned, no more solicitors.

Win for them (both rescued), win for us (companionship, protection, eternal gratitude).
posted by Seppaku at 12:52 PM on November 17, 2009

These wireless window alarms are actually what we were looking for when we bought the other doggy ones. They look almost exactly like the ones that are part of my (older) home security system, and from outside all you can tell is that there are window sensors, not whether they are part of a whole-house system.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:54 PM on November 17, 2009

nthing two things...

1) A dog is an excellent deterrent.

2) Sad as it is, the best thing you can do is make your home less of a target than your neighbours homes.
posted by seanyboy at 1:03 PM on November 17, 2009

slow graffiti: "There are a variety of thorny, spiny, scratchy plants that people often recommend as defensive landscaping, and not all of them are cacti. Natal plum is common here in San Diego, has lovely smelling flowers, and 2" spines that would be very unpleasant but not impossible to climb over. May not tolerate the slight frosts you get in Portland."

Maybe not, but Oregon Grape would. It's beautiful, native, and prickly.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:04 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

re Alarm Stickers

I often think about a column from Randy Cohen, The Ethicist from the NYT Magazine. Someone asked him if it was ethical to simply use those stickers rather than install an actual alarm. He argued that doing so was unethical, that it diluted the worth of the actual stickers, making people who went to the trouble and expense of installing an alarm more likely to suffer the kind of break-in (that is, one that does damage but is ultimately thwarted) that you already experienced.

I think of this column frequently because I'm not sure how I feel about it. What he says seems true, but I'm not sure that it actually is. (Would potential thieves really want to break a glass and wait around?) The question also raises for me issues of class and what kind of security it's appropriate for money to buy. In any case, I thought I'd mention it here since I've been wrestling with the issues it raised for many years. (Just rhetorically, when I didn't have an alarm I never had the stickers, now I do and I do.)
posted by OmieWise at 1:11 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

On the Discovery channel (or maybe it is TLC, I dunno) they have a show called "It Takes a Thief". The show does a pretty excellent job of showing some common places of entry and methods to patch them up against potential burglary.

I would recommend watching a couple episodes and seeing what might apply to your scenario.

Another bit that I like is a timed outlet (you buy a little dealie that plugs into the wall and acts as a timed switch). If you hook it up to a floor lamp, it looks like people are home all the time (which most crooks are not interested in dealing with). Also, lots of people have those "protected by brinks" types of signs, those wouldn't scare me nearly as much as "protected by smith and wesson". So even if you do not own a gun, I think these signs probably get you a little more utility (and if it looks like there is someone always home . . . with a gun, you are probably pretty well set).

Good luck!
posted by milqman at 1:34 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can get an un-monitored alarm system on Amazon for pretty cheap. There's no monthly fees, all it does is make a huge racket when it goes off. Some systems you can program to call your cell phone in the event that it goes off.
posted by spilon at 1:43 PM on November 17, 2009

Seconding what spilon says--the alarm that makes a racket will scare off a thief, and he has no idea whether it is being monitored or not.
posted by misha at 2:11 PM on November 17, 2009

What I do is leave a light and the TV on during the day, half so people think someone is home, half because I am weird and think the dog will be less lonely if it's not silent. The other thing I have is a dog that barks incessantly at people who come to the door. His bark sounds like it comes from a bigger dog than he actually is, so if anyone saw him, he wouldn't be much of a deterrent (although he would definitely bite any stranger in our house that tried to manhandle him).

I have lived in areas with a lot of home burglaries and have never been burgled, but I might just be lucky.
posted by ishotjr at 2:59 PM on November 17, 2009

Double glazing. It's not easy to break, keeps the house warm, reduces energy costs, etc, etc. Pays for itself eventually.
posted by wackybrit at 3:12 PM on November 17, 2009

I recommend renter's insurance, and getting an alarm.
You can get an alarm installed for around $100, with a monthly fee of like $12.
I rent, and had an alarm installed. It's completely wireless and can be taken with me when I move.

The monthly renter's insurance fee is based on how much coverage you want., but it is really cheap as well. If you go with the insurance company that handles your car, then you could get a discount, depending on the company.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 3:47 PM on November 17, 2009

We have two dogs and they're great as far as a deterrent but I wouldn't rely on them for 100% of your security. There has been a rash of burglaries in my area recently in which the dogs were killed by the intruder. So now I'm securing my house to protect my dogs from burglars.

I would recommend a combination of some of the suggestions above.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 4:41 PM on November 17, 2009

Definitely see if the police will do a security check. And do one yourself. Walk around your house thinking of ways you could in if you lost your keys. When you come up with a plan, send the owner a letter, asking for at least some payment, and noting how much, if any, it will increase the home's value & protect the home.

Get to know your neighbors if you can. When neighbors watch out for one another, neighborhoods are safer.
posted by theora55 at 4:46 PM on November 17, 2009

I don't really have any advice except I felt I needed to chime in regarding the dogs. Dogs are not a shotgun or heavy locks or bars on the windows. They are living creatures. Please do not get a dog because your house was broken into unless you were already thinking about getting a big, scary dog in the first place.

Like howrobotsaremade said, sometimes it's easier for a burglar to simply kill the dogs and that's just not cool.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:43 PM on November 17, 2009

"protected by smith and wesson" signs are a terrible idea--guns are valuable. They make you more of a target. Smart gun owners have learned that they should not advertise the fact that they have guns. Someone who is looking for guns can simply knock at the door and have a weapon ready. Then if you have a gun properly secured, it's useless, and if you don't have guns, you'll have an angry thief who will tear apart the place trying to find them.

Some gun owners solve this problem by meeting everyone at the door with a gun. You do not want to become those people.
posted by shetterly at 5:59 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I disagree regarding the suggestions of getting a dog for security. I have read far too many reports of breakins where dogs were just killed by burglars (typically by bludgeoning) to think that they really offer much in the way of security. Even a fairly big dog is no match for an adult human with a heavy crowbar or a baseball bat.

The best most dogs are going to do is bark loudly and perhaps scare someone off, but only if that someone isn't particularly determined, and even then a motion-activated alarm would do just as well. By all means get a dog if you want to get a dog (as a companion), but don't get a dog if what you want is an alarm system.

To answer your question more directly, I think you should look into stick-on glass laminates to prevent shattering. I've heard these are fairly effective (not from burglars, but from people who have attempted to break windows to get into locked-out apartments and such), although I can't recommend specific brands. I think they yellow with time though, so be sure to run it by your landlord before installing anything.

If you wanted to get more crafty, you could probably build some sort of frame that held a chickenwire barrier and went inside the window, so someone trying to get in from the outside would have to smash the glass and then cut through it. I've seen stuff like this in some shops ... the only big suggestion I'd make is, especially if you put it up in your bedroom, make sure it is quickly removable in the event of a fire from the inside. Being burglarized sucks, but burning to death inside your house because of barriers you installed on the windows would suck a lot more. (And installing such barriers is illegal in many jurisdictions anyway.)

Light timers and attaching radios or other sound-producing devices to timers is something that a lot of police-types have suggested to me over the years, although I'm not really sure exactly how effective they are. (Although I guess you can say that about most 'security' precautions; most of them seem to operate on anecdotal evidence at best.)

And if you're allowed to change the landscaping, I'll nth putting some really uninviting plants near any windows that can be reached from the ground. A lot of people use holly for this purpose, because it's both prickly (not as much as some really nasty briar-type bushes, but at least unpleasant to stand in) and reasonably inoffensive to look at. It copes with frost well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:03 PM on November 17, 2009

One low-budget thing you could do is attach metal chicken wire or mesh to the windows that are easy to access. Even if a burglar is willing to break a window, the extra effort of cutting wire might be a deterrent. This might work for your small window that doesn't lock.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:13 PM on November 17, 2009

I recently installed an InGrid system in my rental home for less than $200. I have monitoring, which is $20/month. I also have renter's insurance paired with my auto insurance through Farmer's, which was less than $200/year and can be paid in $15/month installments.

If you get an InGrid system, you own it, can tailor it however you want for alerts, you get a phone system without having to install an actual land line AND it gives you weather reports. Highly recommend. The system also comes with a bunch of stickers and yard signs, FWIW.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:30 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, I'm a very small female, own few tools, am not savvy with gadgety things for the most part and it was all done within 2 hours (installing the home-wide alarm system in every room, on each window and garage). The only things I needed were a ladder and reading comprehension, so anyone can do this without professional help. If you buy the system, you own it and can take it wherever you move without having a contract. Professionally installed alarms like Brinks usually require a 2-year contract, rewiring the house, a land line and a bunch of other BS like a city permit, so this may be your cheap, fast and dirty solution if a giant dog is not an option.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:33 PM on November 17, 2009

nthing dogs and stickers. The philosophy you need to adopt is to make it look like it's going to be a pain in the ass to burgle your place. All it took to scare this guy off is the sound of broken glass. Locks, bars, latches, wire, etc. A burglar is looking for a sure thing with no headaches. I really like the idea of a cheap, loud alarm and motion sensor as well.

It also helps if burglars cannot see valuables from your window. For instance, the t.v. etc. in your master bedroom plus an open window may have seemed pretty inviting. Leave a light and or the tv on when you leave home.
posted by xammerboy at 9:53 PM on November 17, 2009

I think that even the most dedicated Police Officer will admit that if an experienced housebreaker wants to get in they will.

What you need to do is make your home the least desirable in your area for these cruising criminals, and then do everything you can to slow them down and increase the likelihood of them making a noise.

A large dog bowl at the front door filled with fresh water (scuff the edges to give the impression of a large canine) is a deterrent as are signs/fake alarm covers etc. Your local PD should have a crime prevention specialist who will have info on shrubs with thorns etc that can be grown up to windows.

If you want to go radical think geese: a large Scotch Whisky distillery near Glasgow had a huge flock of these as an intruder deterrent. Even a couple in your garden will create a huge din if anyone approaches.
posted by cameronfromedinburgh at 4:39 AM on November 18, 2009

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