How to know if it's safe to leave windows open?
August 29, 2012 7:33 AM   Subscribe

How do I gauge whether it is safe in my neighborhood to leave the windows in my house open/unlocked (a) when we are asleep, and (b) when we're not home?

I know, ask my neighbors. Which I will. But I'd also like to make my own decision as this decision will effect our energy usage and we may not see eye-to-eye with our neighbors about how severe that usage is.

We've lived here about a year and no inkling of a problem. My neighbors all use the air conditioning even on temperate nights, and it just clicked with me that maybe that's cause they don't want to leave their windows open.

I live in a somewhat close-to-the-city suburb (moving here from an outer neighborhood which was quite crime-free).

Are there any crime stat guidelines (or any other statistics) that you would use as a guide (i.e., # of burglaries per 100,000, etc.)?

We have no kids, not sure whether that makes a difference. Also, no firearms.
posted by anonymous_account to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps Spotcrime might help.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:38 AM on August 29, 2012

The biggest factor for me would actually be how accessible the windows are - if they are very accesible on foot (ground floor, nothing blocking access), I'd be very hesitant to leave them open while asleep or not home.

If they're on the second floor or higher, or for some other reason less accessible, I'd be much more likely to leave them open. It's possible to bring a ladder and climb in a second floor window, but it's a whole lot more obvious than sneaking in a first floor window.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:39 AM on August 29, 2012

Can you go back to your old neighborhood at night and see how many people keep their windows open at night? That could allay your fears (as I know many people do not open their windows-- when I bought my house all the windows were painted shut).
posted by sandmanwv at 7:39 AM on August 29, 2012

When I moved into my neighborhood, our front door got damaged around the lock (careless handling + soft wood). I called the police department and they sent someone around, and we figured out the actual cause (had thought it was a jimmying attempt). The officer they sent had been in the area for years and had the actual crime stats on tap. Additionally, I believe our local paper keeps a running report of crime stats in the area.

As a general rule of thumb, I would not leave street-facing windows open when you are not home, and when you are home, fit a discreet window jammer type thing that prevents someone from easily/quietly popping the window open further.

If you do work close to home, you might make a habit of popping back home during the day, both to check on the windows (and start a crock pot?) and/or to close them on stormy days.

Leaving a window open might affect your insurance rates/payout in case of a break in, but I really know pretty much nothing about homeowner's/property insurance. All I know is that my company gives me a discount on having a managed alarm system.
posted by tilde at 7:40 AM on August 29, 2012

Here is a link to the FBI's Uniform Crime Statistics search tool, which enables you to access current and historical data for communities with over >10,000 people. Since you live in a small suburb (as opposed to a large community with many different neighborhoods), you may find it instructive. You could compare the figures to other places, like your previous community, where you felt safe.
posted by carmicha at 7:40 AM on August 29, 2012

I grew up in the kind of outer suburbs/rural areas that had little to no crime and people never left their windows open. Hell, I was 18 before I ever had a house window open for any reason other than to clean it. I'm not sure other people's air conditioner habits mean much here.

If I were making this decision, it would have a lot more to do with accessibility than crime stats. Even the worst neighborhood is unlikely to have too many guys walking around with ladders to reach third story windows to break in. Similarly, I wouldn't leave a ground story window on the side of the house open while I wasn't there and awake even if I lived in Mayberry.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:43 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't care how safe you feel in your neighborhood, you shouldn't leave your windows open when you are not in the house.

Our neighborhood is adorable, and when my friend came to visit, she had a problem with her door locks. I assured her that we were in a great neighborhood, so she left the doors unlocked.

Overnight, someone opened her door, dumped the contents of her daughter's backpack and took the backpack. Random. Sure. Weird, a bit. But things happen.

Why tempt the neighbors?

On pretty nights, I leave our 2nd floor windows open, but that's as far as it goes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:44 AM on August 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

I leave windows open at night while i'm asleep if they are not accessible from the Street. (living in Central London). When i go out during the day I used to lock everything when living on the ground floor, but now that I live on the first floor I leave the windows open. If I'm only out for a few hours.

The problem is actually more that whenever I go out after leaving the windows open it tends to start to rain so I have to rush home to close them.

Based on your Air-Con comment though I guess you live in the USA so perhaps my advice is not so useful.
posted by mary8nne at 7:50 AM on August 29, 2012

Walk around your neighborhood during the day and night for a few weeks. You'll soon know how safe you feel and if you can leave the windows open.

Personally, I not only leave the windows open but also the doors unlocked when I leave. Car too. Never had a problem in over 10 years.
posted by DU at 7:53 AM on August 29, 2012

In my (urban) neighborhood the recent trend was for ground floor burglaries where the burglars just pushed the window A/C units in and got access to the apartments that way. Most of my neighbors also seem to be running their A/C all the time, too, even though it's been lovely out lately. I, on the other hand, the second floor I leave everything open all the time.

So I'd agree that you might look at crime stats, but accessibility is the biggest issue for me. After all, if they could simply Break a closed window and gain easy access, how much help is closing everything up?
posted by ldthomps at 7:55 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hear your line of thinking all the time and it is easy to understand why you think that way.

It goes like this:

You: I have never had a speeding ticket in my life, cops just don't write many tickets in this town.
Me: Do you speed?
You: No.
Me: So why would you ever get a ticket?

Same with crime. Property crime is mostly opportunistic. If you don't leave windows open, doors open with only the screen door keeping it shut, car windows rolled down, a completely dark house for longer than a couple days, an unlocked bike on the porch overnight, etc etc... then you will not notice property crime, because you do the normal stuff to keep crime away from your house.

I promise that once you are a victim of a property crime, you start to notice the security signs, barred windows, broken locks, cracked garage doors, etc.

It is very rare to have a street in a city where people don't come by and check the locks to see if they are open. Or if they see a window open, they won't find a way to jump in and make a quick jog through your house looking for jewelry and small electronics.

In my former neighborhood, cute as a button for visitors, a home owner didn't fix their hail-broken second window for a couple weeks (understandable). Some one helped themselves to a ladder from their unlocked garage window, took out their ladder and helped themselves into their house while they were sleeping.
posted by LeanGreen at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Any accessible window that I leave open only has an open space that is smaller than the average teenage or adult head. Some windows have anti-theft bits on the frames, others I installed after the fact. For air conditioners, I usually jam the window closed on the a/c unit with a board or something - although in that case I'm usually more worried about the window opening and the a/c falling down than about theft per se.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:05 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I live in a nice mellow neighborhood, and I was burgled of two computers and all of my family's ID and financial paperwork because we left our bedroom window open on a hot day, with just a screen in the way.

So, no.
posted by Danf at 8:18 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my small city there is a semi-monthly police report, listed in the paper. It is also on-line at the city website. I can review this list of crimes, and decide if I can take certain risks.

For instance, it is rare to hear of an instance when someone has entered a house while it is occupied. On the other hand, it is common to hear of the loss of an item in an open garage or unlocked car. Personal crimes, as opposed to property crimes, don't happen very often at all.

With this information, I have decided to lock the doors at night, but not when we are at home during the day. I have no problem with windows open for a cross-breeze, however, if we are at home and sleeping. I lock the cars at night, but not during the day, if there is also nothing interesting in them. I have no reason not to go for a walk at night, or for my wife to walk unaccompanied, based on the crime statistics.

There are exceptions, too. After a drifter committed a heinous murder some 15 years ago, half a mile from our house, we did not feel safe for several years.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:40 AM on August 29, 2012

Many police departments have adopted a "community policing" mindset in which there will be an officer who sort of responsible for your neighborhood. He'll be able to give you the "scoop" on what really happens. Not all crime ends up as "reported" crime. The community officer will be able to tell you how often they get calls, whether it is for prowlers (a problem for you) or domestic violence (not really an issue for you). So call the nearest police station and ask if there is any such person you can talk to.
posted by COD at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Really? So many of you keep all of your windows closed all the time? I find this so interesting and bizarre. The upstairs windows in our house stay open all the time when the weather is decent. We will close them if we think rain is on the way, or if we are going out for an extended period of time. Until it gets freezing cold they are always open upstairs at night. I keep the basement and ground floor windows closed if I'm going out and I do lock the doors when we are out, though often not when we are in. I know one set of neighbours who were robbed about 5 years ago. I'm sure it happens occasionally. I guess I just hate a stuffy house & my area is reasonably low on crime. I suppose my tune would change quickly if there was an increase in property crime.

I live in a suburb of a major Canadian city.
posted by Cuke at 8:43 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you know any of your neighbors? I know most of mine and we look out for each other in our borderline neighborhood. Several of us work unusual hours, and that helps.

I'm with you on opening the windows instead of using AC. Some of my neighbors never open any windows, some, like me, use AC very sparingly.

If you're on the ground floor and have double-hung windows see if the top sash opens. If it does it will let heat out better than the lower sash. Use any number of window locks as described in this previous post.
posted by mareli at 8:43 AM on August 29, 2012

Regarding air conditioning at night: it might not be solely motivated by preventing intruders. In the past couple weeks we've been turning on the AC in our bedroom, despite the cooler temperatures at night, because it's still humid enough to make sleeping uncomfortable. Not to mention that AC can be sort of addictive: once you turn it on, you get used to it quickly.

Regarding security: we lived in a first-floor apartment for a while. We left the windows open most of the time with no problem, and after about two years of this we got burgled while we were running an errand. There were reports that the burglars were checking out the neighborhood before they struck, and our open windows were likely a huge factor in their decision to target us. (That and one side of our building wasn't well lit or neighboring another house.) We moved to a second floor apartment so we could leave the windows open.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:45 AM on August 29, 2012

Response by poster: I should have added this info: our basement is half below ground, making our first floor windows about 5 feet above the ground. We are close to our neighbors, one of who is unemployed and home much of the time and the other of whom is always home, in a wheelchair, which he unemployed son and various helpers at different times of the day. Neighbor 2 has a terrorizing rat terrier running around in their backyard.
posted by anonymous_account at 8:51 AM on August 29, 2012

Response by poster: which he unemployed son => with her unemployed son
posted by anonymous_account at 8:52 AM on August 29, 2012

There are a bunch of retrofit lock sets that allow you to lock your window 4" open. Lets you keep the window open, but still somewhat secure.
posted by circleofconfusion at 9:16 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I live in a relatively rural area. I leave my windows throughout my home open when I leave during the day, and at night when I sleep. Reading that some people never open their windows blows me away -- who doesn't like fresh air in the house? (Seriously, wow.)

That said, I also have an alarm system with motion detectors, and a 70lb mountain cur who prowls the house.
posted by ellF at 9:20 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wow, I guess I do live in a small town, because it never occurred to me to leave my second floor windows closed, either at night or while I was out.
posted by peacheater at 9:37 AM on August 29, 2012

We open the windows throughout the house at night. If someone is home during the day, they stay open. If no one is going to be home, the windows are closed.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:42 AM on August 29, 2012

I don't bother keeping the 2nd floor windows locked in a partially closed state, except the ones that are easily accessible from ground level (there's a stairway up the back to the back porch, which makes the windows there pretty accessible).

The way I view the risk assessment is this: I figure if someone was willing to bring a ladder and set it up to get to the windows that are not easily accessible, then they're also probably motivated enough to be willing to break the windows that *are* accessible. Or on a more skilled side, even pick the lock on my house. So the threat I'm protecting against isn't an experienced thief who is specifically targeting *my* home, it's a crime of opportunity where a would-be thief sees an open window and targets that house. Which seems reasonable to me: I read the local police blotter and almost all of the house thefts around here (a city near boston, ma, usa) generally happen to people who leave windows accessible and unlocked. I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun the other people around me, as it were, and be a harder target.

In my house, I do keep some particularly valuable things secured in a bolted-in-place lockbox, so even if someone gets all eager and breaks the windows to get in my house, they may be able to steal my 36" tube TV off the third floor (which would actually be kind of impressive) or my big jar of quarters, but they can't steal the title to my car or my small stash of emergency cash.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:55 AM on August 29, 2012

I have friends who live in not so great part of Los Angeles and never lock their doors or windows. The only problem they’ve had is an ex girlfriend coming in and taking some DVD’s.
posted by bongo_x at 10:14 AM on August 29, 2012

Back to how to judge, I use City Data and it is reliable.

In a city with <300/100,000 burglaries, I would personally feel safe about leaving my window open at night while sleeping.

I have had a burglary at night while my window was unlocked (unbeknownst to me). The contractors left it accidentally unlocked after they had painted the interior of my house. Some neighborhood kids came in and helped themselves to my liquor, PS3 and games. They got caught later that month entering some other unlocked house during the day light.

So, my personal gauge is broken, since I don't think criminals are created equally (some bored teens, some homeless, some professionals, etc), but the end result of feeling violated in the same, regardless of who did the burglarizing. I prefer to be ultra safe and not tempt.
posted by LeanGreen at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2012

This question would never have occurred to me. When I feel safe I open the windows. When I feel spooked (I've been watching scary movies or there are loud people outside etc.) I shut and lock them. But it's not something I've ever made a standard out of. I mostly keep my windows shut now because my landlord hassles me otherwise, but honestly I think she's being silly.

I live in a suburb of toronto. I used to live in downtown toronto and I would sometimes leave my door unlocked while I ran to the store or whatever. I've never had a problem. On the other hand, I've never had anything worth stealing.
posted by windykites at 11:02 AM on August 29, 2012

I would side with the better safe than sorry crowd, and leave just my 2nd story windows open if I were you. I used to be far more free about leaving things unlocked just because I couldn't quite conceive of anybody really taking my stuff (because, hey, it's my stuff!) - but losing a big fat container of CDs out of my unlocked car in a suburban parking lot got me thinking otherwise, and having an unsecured bike stolen right off my 2nd story staircase (while I was home!) pretty much sealed the deal. Sure, it's possible that you'll be fine leaving everything unlocked, but why tempt fate?
posted by DingoMutt at 11:24 AM on August 29, 2012

I leave my windows closed at all time but crime has nothing to do with it; I live in a loud city and windows let noise in. Even in the suburbs street noise can be a factor. My fiancee once lived in a leafy area and says the crickets were very loud.
posted by massysett at 11:52 AM on August 29, 2012

Talk to your local police and find out if there have been small-potatoes burglaries, eg people taking stuff out of unlocked cars. Try to gauge how much foot traffic there is in your area from people who might like to quickly grab something they could sell.

I would keep the ground-floor windows closed and locked when you are asleep or not home. (Unless you are in a severe heatwave and you absolutely need the ventilation at night.) Similarly, I would remove anything tempting like an iPod or GPS from your car when it's parked overnight.

Both of these measures are very low effort, and can save a lot of heartache and hassle if someone opens the unlocked window or decides to break into the car. These are crimes of opportunity, spur of the moment things. They happen - they've happened to me in two different places I've lived, including rural places, and have happened to family members in safe fancy suburbs.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:18 PM on August 29, 2012

In addition to likelihood of occurrence, you might consider thinking of it in terms of Nassim Taleb's "Black Swan."

Consider not only the statistics regarding whether or not it'll happen, but also the consequences if something does happen. If it's a huge deal for whatever reason, don't take the chance even if a problem is highly unlikely. All it takes is that one time to cause major problems. On the other hand, if it seems unlikely AND the consequences of a break-in are small, it seems less important to lock up.

Whenever your personal physical safety is involved, I'd say the consequences are high but I might just be a worrywart.
posted by powpow at 3:17 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I leave my (second storey) windows all open, all the time, in a large Canadian city. But I also have a very large, very loud housemate who barks at all and sunder. That probably keeps the looky-loos from trying too hard to get in.
posted by Pomo at 6:40 PM on August 29, 2012

Does your neighborhood have a blog? That's kind of in vogue on the west coast right now for many communities. They can be a bit gossipy but you will definitely hear about patterns of local burglary.

In general I think it's a good idea to block ground-accessible windows from opening more than a few inches, and put fans in upper level windows to keep those levels tolerably cool.
posted by SakuraK at 10:10 PM on August 29, 2012

« Older It's raining, it's pouring, the drip drip is...   |   Sorry, but we can't actually have penetrative sex.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.