How do I keep someone from breaking into my house tonight?
July 29, 2012 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How can I protect my house from thieves tonight? I own a vacant house that is under construction. It just got broken into by thieves to steal the copper piping. I expect they'll try to finish the job tonight.

They broke in by using a crowbar to break the door frame. They broke in yesterday, but apparently something disturbed them because they didn't get all the copper. They're persistent because we'd barricaded one door, and they still tried really hard to break that door before moving on to a more exposed door.

I really want to protect the rest of the plumbing. All the places that will install security doors for you are closed on Sundays. I'm probably not going to manage to install metal security grates on all six door before nightfall. Is there a way to get a guard out here tonight? What does that kind of thing cost? Can I rent guard dogs? There's no electricity, so I don't think a home alarm company could install something. Could I install a loud battery-powered door and window alarm system? The police are understaffed. I've already boarded up one door and all the windows on each floor from the inside. (It's hard to barricade them from the outside because the house is stucco; there's nothing to nail to.) Should I get all Home Alone with some lights on timers? What else?

And what about after this weekend? Aside from putting up metal security doors, what can I do?

Budget is the limiting factor.
posted by slidell to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
i'd put a couple of lights on and play a radio. might help scare them off.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 4:46 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are inexpensive, battery operated window alarms that are pretty loud when breached. You can get them, or something like them, at any big home store (The Despot, Lowe's, Sears, etc).

Maybe the police helping you with the case, if they can't keep watch themselves, can recommend someone to be on the look out. (Even an off-duty officer for extra cash.)
posted by dayintoday at 4:48 PM on July 29, 2012

Grab a sleeping bag and stay there.
posted by jon1270 at 4:48 PM on July 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm assuming you've called the police and reported yesterday's theft? They aren't going to actually guard your house for you (unless you're in a really small town and this is literally the most excitement they've had all month or something), but if you ask, they can probably notify the patrol officers in the area and ask them to keep an extra eye out. Worst case is they do nothing special, but the best case is they actually do notice something suspicious and take action.

If you really want a guard, you can start calling security guard companies in your area and ask for quotes. It's unlikely to make a lot of economic sense to have a security guard on site for very long, but if you think tonight is going to be the night, it might make sense.

Don't attempt to get guard dogs unless you happen to be a trained handler (at which point you'd probably know how to get them). It's hard not to see that approach ending badly, and you're taking on a lot of personal liability of the dogs bite someone (yes, even the thieves).
posted by zachlipton at 4:55 PM on July 29, 2012

There are definitely guard services in the area. When I was living in a warehouse in Richmond there was an armed guard who patrolled the street, weekends and nights.

A couple things you can do:

Motion activated lights (cheap).
LOUD alarms on the doors (also cheap/battery powered)
A camera to record them like the foscam (I have six of these in my workshop , and they will do motion alerts to your email address).

Not really kidding... park outside with a shotgun or weapons-grade pepper spray. In Richmond thieves trashed the aircon units on the roof, taking the coils over a weekend and destroying everything in their path. I've never wanted to own a gun until I was inside that space over the following holiday. These people are terrifying and ruthless.
posted by fake at 4:56 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you have a lot of friends and family in the area? If so, is it too late to throw together a into-the-night backyard party? Have folks BYO food, beverages, twinkle lights, lawn chairs, guitars, and keep the party noise level manageable for the neighbors. Then, once you get into the week hours, some of the more adventurous could keep a smaller party going and camp out until you make it to day light. Maybe this could be a way to meet a few neighbors where you explain your situation?

This is as cheap as I could imagine. Sort of a fun and edgy pre-house housewarming. If I had friends invite me to a keep-the-boogey-man away party, I'd go. Even last minute.
posted by rumposinc at 5:11 PM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

*wee hours
posted by rumposinc at 5:11 PM on July 29, 2012

Get a friend with a dog to spend the night. Big dog.
posted by Kazimirovna at 5:16 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the advice so far. If anyone can find those battery powered alarms in stock anywhere, I'd buy them right now, but the Home Depot near me doesn't have it. (You can see a lot of them say "online exclusive.") I'm going to see if Lowes is still open next. The option of sitting on the porch all night is not one I look forward to but not off the table.
posted by slidell at 7:11 PM on July 29, 2012

Instead of sitting on your porch, sit in your car across the street in a position where you can see the house. If you see someone try to go onto the property, you call the police. Have a camera ready so that you can take photo's if needed. You can try to get the license plate number off of their car too. You might even put a walkie talkie or baby monitor inside the house, so you can hear from your car if there is any noise inside.

Do not confront the thieves, they may be armed and willing to seriously hurt or kill you in order to not be caught.

If you sit on the porch to deter them, you'd better be prepared to do the same thing every night until the house is finished, otherwise they'll just wait until the night you aren't there and do the same thing.
posted by markblasco at 7:17 PM on July 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

hang a couple dozen fish hooks at eye level (62 and 68 inches from the ground) throughout the property--porch ceiling, the door frame, and the ceiling inside

Use very large treble hooks, and 20 to 40lb clear fishing line
posted by BadgerDoctor at 7:41 PM on July 29, 2012

No, don't do that. If you rig booby traps on your property, and they maim a trespasser, you may well be legally liable.

As someone in the earlier thread put it, quoting a legal decision on the issue: "the law has always placed a higher value upon human safety than upon mere rights of property."
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:00 PM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

BadgerDoctor's suggestion seems an excellent way to either be sued or have the thieves come after you personally for revenge.
posted by winna at 8:01 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup, don't booby-trap your property unless you want a lawsuit on your hands (yes, even people engaged in criminal activity can sue if you try to hurt them when you're not being threatened). Also, if I were a thief and a homeowner tried to take out my eyes, I'd consider torching the place to send him a message (hey, what do you expect? I'm a thief).
posted by Dasein at 8:02 PM on July 29, 2012

As a precaution, install one of those wildlife night vision cameras?
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:43 PM on July 29, 2012

Those game cameras are getting really cheap and common- I would guess the hunting section of your local super walmart would even have them.
posted by rockindata at 9:04 PM on July 29, 2012

It's late for tonight, but unfortunately copper theft is an endemic problem for vacant houses.

The very best thing would be to have someone living there, maybe in a tent or RV. There should be lighting so that it looks more occupied.

Just having a camera won't keep them from removing the piping, and even if they get caught you still have to buy more pipes, have them installed, and repair any damage the thieves caused. What you can do will depend on what things are like where you are -- if there are a lot of other targets around, making your house less attractive might make them move on. OTOH, if this is a large house in an isolated area, installing metal security doors on a vacant house might only result in a larger haul for the thieves. If this is an isolated rural area you need to find someone to live onsite -- doesn't have to be an actual guard.

hang a couple dozen fish hooks at eye level (62 and 68 inches from the ground) throughout the property--porch ceiling, the door frame, and the ceiling inside

Much as I hate metal thieves, this is just evil. Your construction crew won't like it either. Any police who happen to catch the thieves in the act will like it so little they may call it assaulting an officer.
posted by yohko at 11:09 PM on July 29, 2012

It's a little late now, but when you reinstall the pipes, consider using PEX. There really isn't any resale value to it.
posted by Marky at 11:19 PM on July 29, 2012

Thanks everyone. I just got back from adding some more motion sensor lights and those door alarms (finally found them after trying a few big box stores). I think in a few minutes, my buddy and I are going to go back out and sit in his car for a couple of hours see if we hear the alarm go off. But this guy got car-jacked at gunpoint a couple months back while sitting parked in what's probably a safer neighborhood, so we're not convinced that sitting in a parked car is all that smart either.

To answer your question about location, yohko, the house is in a mostly residential part of West Oakland. And no, like everyone said, no booby traps. I wouldn't want to hurt one of the contractor's guys.
posted by slidell at 1:03 AM on July 30, 2012

And thank you to all of you for the good advice.
posted by slidell at 1:05 AM on July 30, 2012

Update: We were out there until 2:30 or so. As of this morning, nothing new was stolen. We're now talking to all of the security door installers. Thanks again!
posted by slidell at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

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