How to reduce risk of burglary?
March 10, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

what are good ways to secure my home?

(posting for someone else): three homes on my street were robbed last friday during the early evening. i want to make my home more secure. my front door has a deadbolt and a regular lock. The backdoor has a window (leads to a deck that has ground access). Someone could probably break that window, and unlock the deadbolt by reaching through. What are some ways to make the doors secure? Locks that you recommend? Other steps to take to make my home safer? I'm not thinking security alarm. This is pretty scary. Thanks!
posted by anya32 to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Keep the property well lit at night. I know you said evening, but even so, light and criminals do not mix.
posted by nitsuj at 3:13 PM on March 10, 2010

There are some products designed for hotel security that will help prevent opening of the back door. Another solution would be to replace the rear dead bolt with one that needs a key to open on both sides. However, this can be a fire hazard, especially for children. A more long term solution is to replace all exterior doors with solid steel core doors without windows.

More generally I would suggest motion activated flood lights on all sides, trimming landscaping back to eliminate hiding spots and, if you can make the long term commitment to a new member of the family, a dog.
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:17 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: My parents' house was burgled by someone breaking the window on the back door, reaching through and unlocking the deadbolt. Your best bet is to get a solid (preferably steel) door. Doubly-secure would be for said door to have a deadbolt lock that requires a key on both sides, and don't leave the interior key inserted when you leave the house. Usually when convicted burglars are interviewed they mention a noisy dog as a good deterrent. Quite often if they hear a dog barking when they first attempt to enter a home they'll be discouraged because the pooch might be vicious and/or his ruckus will alert the homeowner/neighbors.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:17 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless you want to put bars on all your windows, someone who REALLY wants to get in will get in. As others have said, lights are the best easy deterrent.

Also, though, make sure your insurance is up to date and take the time to take photos (video is better but stills will work) of your stuff, and make a detailed list of the expensive/valuable/hard to replace stuff. Then store it somewhere secure and off site.
posted by anastasiav at 3:32 PM on March 10, 2010

There's a great book by a brilliant former criminal named Jack MacLean called Secrets of a Superthief - I think it may be out of print now, but check your library and try to pick up a copy. I read this book from cover to cover - and then read it again - because it's that useful. He wrote it while he was in prison and he goes into detail about his methods and countermeasures to those methods.

One thing that I can think of off the top of my head is to buy or acquire a set of stickers or signs from a security system company. Much of the value of a security system is the psychological deterrent that it provides - if a criminal sees your sticker, do they really want to take a chance on whether or not there's an actual system installed when the house next door looks unprotected?

Another thing: don't keep valuables inside your house if at all possible, and don't hide money under the bed or in other commonly suggested places - that's the first place most thieves check. Get creative with your hiding spots.
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 3:39 PM on March 10, 2010

Just as an anti-dog as theft deterrent -- my neighbors with a loud-ass yellow lab were burglarized twice in a two month span. (I love the furry beasts, just not a good return on investment for home security).

As a temporary measure for the back door, I think there's a laminate that can provide a fair amount of additional impact resistance. Like this. I've never used it, but it could be an option depending on your approach.

Another, more low tech approach would be to install a simple latch low down on the door, where it couldn't be reached from the [hypothetically broken] window.
posted by mercredi at 3:46 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: Make sure your insurance is for full-replacement value, and that you have documented all your belongings and the list is up to date. The best advice I've heard is to walk around with a video camera and narrate all your possessions. Yeah, getting robbed sucks, but knowing that you easily replace the TV or golf clubs or computer helps a lot.

And make sure all the data on your computer is backed up and your computer uses good account management (real passwords, encrypted disks, etc). Nowadays everyone has laptops, but they're also very easy to steal & fence.

When I was growing up in AK, thieves would back up a moving truck to the house, cut a hole in the wall with a chainsaw, and clean out the house. There's really no defense against that except for a security system & insurance. And a good thief would know what the response time of a security system is - if they can get in & out in 5min, they won't get caught.
posted by jpeacock at 3:53 PM on March 10, 2010

OK, this solution isn't for everyone, but, if you have time and resource enuf in your life, get a dog. If you don't have much time, get two dogs, because they'll keep each other company while you're gone and exercise each other as they play. Small dogs are every bit as good as bigger dogs for the purpose of being burglar alarms.

This second solution is appropriate for even fewer people, because owning a bird (especially a sensitive and genius-level bird like a parrot) is a big deal in terms of time, money, commitment, education, etc., but our African Grey (Spike) actually "caught" a burglar in our home. We have a three-story house, and our dogs were on the top level sleeping with us, so they did not hear a man breaking open our back door in the middle of the nite. Spike's cage sits in the kitchen right next to the back door, and it is his habit to say "Hello" to anyone who comes into the room (including other animals, which I just think is sooooo cute, but then, I'm prejudiced).

Though our dogs didn't hear the the guy actually come in, they (and we) heard him crashing crazily around in the dark, hitting furniture and tables and lamps, etc. He later told police that he had gone through the kitchen and was headed toward thte living room when he heard a man behind him say (nicely enuf) "Hello!" He was trying to go through the house and out the front door, but because it (the front door) has two complicated locks on it (my husband is also very security-conscious), he couldn't get out before our dogs sort of "cornered" him. I say "sort of", because, although big, both of them are dopey and friendly and would have hurt him only to the extent of getting dog spit on his best burglar clothes. The police were there very quickly, and said it was probably a first (at least in our city, San Francisco) to have a parrot "catch" a burglar. They said they would deputize Spike, but, sadly, nothing came of it, and Spike is still jobless.

Anyway, as I say, not everyone can bring a pet into their life, but, if you ever do decide to get a parrot, make sure it is one that can talk in a deep, man's voice. Although it only took one word (Spike had him at "hello" hahahah) to get the guy who broke into our home, my husband is now trying to teach Spike some threatening phrases ("Get outta here, ya bastid", etc.). I think there's a big down side to this, however, because I certainly don't want Spike to start saying "Get outta here", instead of "Hello", when we come into the room.
posted by cookiesncream at 3:54 PM on March 10, 2010 [11 favorites]

Best answer: Someone mentioned a dog, and I second that from two experiences. First, a friend was in her house with her baby and she heard people along the side of her house near the outdoor shower, at night. Fortunately her dog heard them too and started barking its ass off. She heard one of the people say, "Oh shit, they have a dog!" and they ran away.

Second, my sister has dogs and they live above me and not even my FRIENDS want to come over because they're afraid of her dogs! I can't imagine someone wanting to steal a DVD player would want to deal with that either.
posted by thorny at 4:06 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: For the love of dog, please do not get a dog as a security system. Get a dog because you want a dog. Dogs are creatures, not tools. Do not treat them as such.

posted by InsanePenguin at 4:12 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your local police may be available to come out, look around and give you crime prevention pointers. Depends on your locality, of course. They may be more motivated if they know there are recent trends in the neighborhood. I'd check their website first, then maybe call.
posted by gimonca at 4:30 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: Doors with glass need double-cylinder deadbolts.

Replace all the hinge screws with 3 inch screws, that way the door will be secured to the house, not just the flimsy frame.

Motion lights can help, but if they are in an already hidden place, all they do is give the thieves light to work by.

Make sure your insurance is accurate and up to date.

Don't keep valuable papers (e.g., those useful for ID theft) lying in a desk drawer. Get a safe properly installed and use it.

Consider getting your neighbors together for a Neighborhood Watch.

Fake security signs can be used, but don't get the ones they sell at the hardware store in town, chances are your thief has seen them.

Is your backyard fenced? Can it be? If it is, do you have an actual gate, or one with a string for easy opening?

A lot of towns have a police program where they will come out and walk-through your property with you. Take advantage of it if you can.

Lastly, I know it totally sucks, but don't get super-paranoid, unless you live in an already shady neighborhood, chances are the thieve will hit a bunch of houses then move on.
posted by madajb at 4:30 PM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

posted by Lutoslawski at 4:34 PM on March 10, 2010

For the back door - I have a similar situation, but with the front door (has window). I bought a Medeco Maxum Captive Double Cylinder lock. I actually consulted with a top locksmith - the Medeco is the best American lock there is as far as bumping, picking and drill resistance. You can get it for under $200. There are more exotic solutions, but realistically, no thief is going to waste time trying to get through a Medeco. Of course, if a thief is determined enough they'll get into a bank vault, so nothing is fool-proof, but you can secure yourself against all but the most unlikely circumstances.
posted by VikingSword at 5:02 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: Oh, and a dog is an insane - I said insane - idea. Unless a dog is specifically trained as a guard dog, you are playing a lottery. You have no idea whatsoever if the dog you get is going to be of any use as a security measure. Even breeds that were specifically developed as guard dogs, unless trained, can be useless. I have a friend who has one of those guard-dog breeds - the dog sleeps so soundly that when a drunk was banging on the door in the middle of the night, the dog slept while the owner went to the door to deal with the drunk. A supposedly ferocious guard dog breed - sound asleep through the whole commotion. You are buying a pig in a poke - maybe a random mutt will be a great alarm dog, but maybe not. Meanwhile, training a dog is expensive and a hassle. Get a dog for a pet, fine, but as a guard - that's just crazy.
posted by VikingSword at 5:10 PM on March 10, 2010

There is one room of a house, more than any other room, where it's most likely for the light to be on when someone really is at home, and not just faking it with a timer. It's also the room where it's plausible that someone is awake, with the lights on, at odd hours for odd lengths of time.

The bathroom.

In addition to everything else you elect to do, leave the bathroom lights on.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:23 PM on March 10, 2010

Get a dremel or engraver, and engrave your valuables, like tv, etc. Sometimes the cops recover stolen stuff.
Have a good hiding place for jewelry, silver, etc., perhaps a hollow book, or oatmeal container. A pro will find your stuff, but a a smash-n-grabber won't.
Stand outside your house, and pretend you lost your keys - try to get in.
Go outside your house at night and sneak around; what windows need extra protection?
You might be able to replace that glass in the back door with heavy plexi.

Make friends with your neighbors, especially people who are at home during the day. If they know you, they're more likely to notice if a person walking around your house isn't you, and call the police.
posted by theora55 at 5:53 PM on March 10, 2010

I've run a home office for 15 years and am very proactive about security issues. No problems yet. Unless you get a bona fide security alarm, my suggestions are this:

- Put a "NO SOLICITING" sign on the door, as many burglars will knock under false pretenses just to see if someone or a dog is home. A No Soliciting sign helps give the impression that someone is inside but is intentionally avoiding the door.

- Enlist the help of the neighbors a couple of houses around you to keep an eye on each others' place, and somehow encourage them to not be cocooned inside. Years ago my friend's wife in a middle-class Dallas suburb broke her ankle on the sidewalk and no one heard her cries for help... the more experienced burglars are aware of oblivious neighborhoods like this and use it to their advantage.

- Three homes burgled sounds like the work of a young person in the neighborhood... you may want to give some thought to who might be doing it and be aware of whether they can case your place from where they live.

- Get the police reports for those burglaries and see what patterns emerge, especially the times they occurred. This gives you a reference point for increasing your guard... maybe you can go home for an early lunch around this time for a few weeks at slightly different times to get a rest and make it look like random stuff is going on at your house.

- My point of view is getting a watchdog + pet door is a somewhat effective option.. no burglar will mess with becoming the principal from Ferris Bueller unless there's something they want inside.

- Cheap electronic option: get an Optex motion detector and put the sensors under the eaves, preferably on the front porch and at the side gate. The receiver is capable of putting out a very loud chirping noise that can be heard from outside. This will put anyone skulking around on notice that there are sensors of some kind in the house.

- Permanently keep a car on the driveway somehow if at all possible... this gives you another card to play to make it look like someone is home.

three homes on my street were robbed last friday during the early evening.

When you say this, it means a home invasion. If the homes were just broken into without anyone noticing, that's a burglary. Some areas do experience problems with actual residential robberies, so it's a distinction to be careful about when seeking a solution.
posted by crapmatic at 7:41 PM on March 10, 2010

When do they burgle? If it's during the day, you might consider lots of timers -- lights on timers, radio on timers, etc., to create the perception you're around.
posted by salvia at 8:14 PM on March 10, 2010

Marc MacYoung's website "No Nonsense Self-Defense" has an excellent home security section.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:06 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: If a determined burgular has really selected your specific house as their target, there's not a lot you can do. But most of the time these crimes are done by people who cruise around looking for an easy target, and there are things you can do to make your house a less attractive target. Most of these things are mentioned above: outdoor lighting, a double-cyliner deadbolt on the back door, a secondary lock on the back door that is out of reach from the window, security stickers and signs, etc. I'll also add that fencing in your yard is a good deterrent, because an open gate attracts attention and a closed gate slows down the getaway. If you are a dog person, then having a dog helps, even if the dog is not trained to actually do anything. As long as they bark, and most dogs do, that will be sufficient to serve as a deterrent. But I do agree that if security is the only reason you want a dog, that isn't fair to the dog. If you have a nice TV or something like that in your front room, keep the curtains closed so that it isn't visible from the outside.

Now, I know you said you didn't want an alarm system. If the reason is cost, you can get a very simple system for not much money, and if you shop around, you can probably find inexpensive monitoring. But even if you don't want to go that far, you can buy a DIY un-monitored system off of Amazon for about $100 that, if nothing else, will make a big racket if someone breaks in. It might be enough to scare them away before they go any further, and it also might be enough to wake you up and give you a little more time to react than you otherwise would have. At a minimum, try to get a security sign in your yard, and some stickers on windows, etc.

And lastly, get to know your neighbors, keep an eye out for them, and they'll keep an eye out for you. Don't be shy about calling the cops if you see something that doesn't seem right.
posted by spilon at 9:52 PM on March 10, 2010

I was going to link to the same site Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey did.

I don't have any expertise in the area, but that website appears to really cut through all the bullshit and "security theater" to get to genuine security.

As for the door near the window, you could replace the lock with one that requires a key to open both inside and outside and keep the key out of reach. Note that this makes it harder (and perhaps impossible, if e.g. you drop and lose the key) to exit that door in an emergency.
posted by callmejay at 7:11 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm sorry, but I must respond to the notion that it is "insane" to expect a dog to act as an effective alarm system. I think there is some confusion between "alarm" and "protection" or "attack".

I have been training dogs in all sorts of disciplines, including police, guard and protection work, for over 40 years. I would never, ever, ever recommend that a person get a dog trained to act as a formal, police-type protection dog, or get a dog and try to train it in this manner, except in very very few, specialized situations. Getting, or training, a dog in this manner is like owning an automatic weapon (it actually is an automatic weapon), with a great possibility of causing more damage than it prevents. It is also often unfair to the dog; a dog suitable for protection/guard work, who is then trained to do this work, generally needs to have a job - to be challenged with being responsible for the important tasks he's been trained for.

However, I firmly restate my position that a dog(s) is one of the best possible alarm systems - that is alarm, not attack. I have no idea what happened to Viking's friend's dog, but, unless a dog is deaf, or essentially barklesss (e.g., a Basenji), or unless it has been abused and is very very fearful, it will bark when it hears a noise outside the home. In fact, in most cases, it is difficult if not impossible to train a dog not to bark in this situation, because the instict to give a warning that something threatens (or at least approaches) the "pack" is so strong. And, again, a small dog is every bit as good as a big dog for sounding the alarm. The benefit that a barking dog provides is, simply, that all the noise will most likely scare a "bad guy" away - at least, away from your home.

Unfortunately, nothing is perfect - there are a couple of situations in which the dogs' natural alarm systems break down. I have heard of instances where the burgler was a "friend" of the family, or someone from the neighborhood - in other words, someone known to the dog. And for some sweet dogs, such as labs, "know" is synonymous with "best friend in the world". Also, in the case of dogs that bark all the time, the barking becomes a background noise, and doesn't really serve as an alarm at all. However, the dogs may still be of benefit at night, when outside sounds and sights and scents aren't stimulating them to bark constantly. Certainly, if you are home, as we were when a guy broke in, the sudden sound of barking dogs is likely to cause a burglar to reconsider his primary objective.

Again: If you have a dog, you want this dog only only only to sound the alarm - not to attack, any more than you'd expect your burglar alarm to jump off the wall and bite a burglar. I'm reluctant to find myself agreeing with some of the above comments, but anyone who wants or tries to obtain or to create an attack dog of any kind is, if not actually insane, deeply misguided, and almost certainly set to cause potentially serious problems for himself, the dog, or others (again, except in very few, specialized situations). These are the people who are responsible for the horrendous events we occasionally hear about, where a dog attacks neighbors, or even the owner.

Lastly, I agree that no one should bring a dog (or any animal) into the family for the primary purpose of using it as a tool. If a person has the time, resource, commitment, space, appropriate knowledge, and loving intention, and decides to bring home a dog(s), the free alarm system is just one of the uncountable blessings that come along with the dog. However, since the dog is a living creature - an individual deserving of a full place in the family, not in the back yard, it is altogether inappropriate and unfair, to dog and owner both, to consider a dog to be the equivalent of a piece of machinery.
posted by cookiesncream at 10:47 AM on March 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Four steps to better secure your home:

1. Deter the burglar before they break in. You do this with fences, floodlights, alarm company stickers, a barking dog, thorny bushes under the windows.

2. Deter the burglar after they break in. Dog, alarm system, gun.

3. Secure doors. Replace hollow doors with steel or solid wood doors. Get a high-security lock from a local locksmith. You also need to reinforce the door jamb with a product like Doorjamb Armor, because most thieves don't pick locks - they kick the door in. Replace the screws attaching the door to the hinges and the hinges to the frame with 3-inch screws.

4. Secure windows. Window locks. Security laminate films. Bars as a last resort.

If you're looking for an economy method, I suggest (1) replacing your single-sided deadbolts with double-sided ones, so that the burglar can't break the glass and reach inside to unlock the door; (2) installing Doorjamb Armor or similar products on all exterior doors; and (3) putting up some stickers/yard signs that indicate that you have an alarm system.
posted by halfguard at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2010

04-8-2009 Boyton Beach Burglary caught on Hidden Camera

I'm at work so I don't know if this is the one that includes the audio of the 911 call or not. Note that the dogs did nothing to discourage the robbers. What did work, though, was having a webcam on that forwarded video that could be seen while she was at her job, and recording apparently, so that she could call 911 as it was happening.

I'm not saying you should replicate this, but it's something to keep in mind.
posted by MesoFilter at 12:42 PM on March 11, 2010

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