Almost without exception, the word "home" evokes images of sanctuary and security. For the typical American family, it is a place where loving memories are created and families are raised.
Unfortunately, however, a home burglary occurs every 13 seconds. By the time you finish reading this guide, about 50 homes will have been broken into.
So, will one of them be yours?
2014 State of Burglary
More than two million burglaries occur each year, a number that increased in 2012 and again in 2013.
According to the most recent statistics, the property crime rate was
2,859 offenses per 100,000 homes.
While three percent doesn't sound like much, this data doesn't take into account the 40 percent of property crimes that aren't reported to law enforcement.
"Why would someone not report a crime?"
There are two main reasons:
The theft is personal.
They don't believe the police can help.
Estranged family members, ostensible friends, or ex-lovers might take something they think belongs to them or steal out of anger and spite.
Some people question the likelihood of ever getting their property back. They feel like calling the police would be a futile effort.
Both of these instances are more likely to occur when the theft is minor.
With personal property crime on the rise, the need to take precautions and even invest in home security systems is even more important than ever. While a break-in takes a financial toll, the psychological damage is much worse. Your home is your castle. When an intruder breaks in, he or she also steals your sense of peace and safety. In this guide, you'll learn ways to prevent break-ins from happening and different methods for turning your castle into a fortress without feeling like you live in a prison.
"What are the different types of burglary?"
Before we discuss the different ways you can protect yourself against break-ins, we need to review the different terminology associated with burglary.
Attempted Forcible Entry
A burglary attempt where force is used to gain entry. This occurs when an intruder breaks in, but he or she is caught or scared off by an alarm.
The burglary is completed with the use of force. This happens when the burglar breaks a window or kicks down the door.
Unlawful Entry Without Force
The burglary is completed by someone who has no legal right to be on the property. No force is used, meaning the thief could have found an open door or window.
Whether with force or without, the burglary was completed.
Of these, unlawful entry without force is the easiest to prevent, but you can take preventative measures against all four types. We'll break down the different steps you can take to protect yourself against all four of these crimes.
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Avoiding your neighborhood entirely
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In addition to the DIY tips that we'll discuss in this guide, we'll also review which security systems are right for your family and your house. That way, even if criminals do break in, they'll be easily caught.
"What can you do right now?"
If you're reading this from the comfort of your house, there are a few steps you can take immediately to make your home look less appealing to passing thieves and to give yourself more control over the situation.
Here's what we recommend:
Talk to Your Children
Photograph and Document Your Valuables
Make sure your kids know not to open the door for strangers or let them in. Often, a burglar will go door to door to case a neighborhood, acting as a contractor or repairman looking for work. Then the burglar will come back to the most vulnerable houses, enter them, and steal whatever he or she can.
Create an inventory of your valuables. Upload this list and email it to yourself or otherwise store it in the cloud. It's useless if you have it saved on a Word Doc and your laptop is stolen. If you're robbed, you can access the inventory to determine what valuables were stolen and have pictures, serial numbers, and brand names (for determining market value) to present to the police and the insurance company.
Don't Leave Keys Hidden Outside the House
Lock Doors and Windows When You Leave
If you keep keys hidden under mats, on top of the door sill, or under fake rocks in case you get locked out, then you might as well leave your front door open to criminals. Instead, keep a spare set in your car or give a set to a neighbor or relative that you trust.
Windows are left unlocked significantly more often than doors, especially during the summer months. Given this, it really comes as no surprise that more burglaries occur in the summer. When you're home, make sure windows are only open between 4-6 inches to keep people from reaching in.
Remember Your Trash and Mail
Make it Look Like You're at Home
Your house looks unattended if you leave your trash cans out for a few days or don't collect your mail and newspaper. Also, remember to hold your newspaper and mail delivery or have a neighbor collect it when you're gone.
Criminals don't like occupied homes; 72 percent of all break-ins occur when the house is vacant. If you're going on vacation or even leaving for work during the day, make it look like you're still home. Leave a few lights on that look natural. A kitchen light and an activated radio or TV will set a normal scene, but turning on every light in the house is overkill.
Don't make it easy for criminals to walk right into your home when you leave. These small steps are a good start and will have a big impact in your personal security and home protection. Of course, we will cover more advanced DIY techniques further in this guide.
Choosing a Security System
Homes without alarm systems are 300% more likely to be broken into.
Using alarms increases the probability of the burglar being caught if the neighbors hear the siren or if he's caught on camera.
While it's typical to go through a home security service, it's possible to install an alarm system by yourself.
Some DIY alarm kits cost as little as $10 and don't require drilling or installing complex wiring.
Most of the sensors stick to the wall and are battery operated, like a fire alarm.
However, more advanced DIY alarm kits can cost up to $700.
The cost tends to increase with the number of windows and doors that need protecting.
Consider your family's daily habits and security needs when you choose from these options.
Front Door Locks
If you're expecting contractors to come and work on your home, or if you're having someone stop by and take care of the house while you're away, consider a more advanced front door lock. Some of the more basic options let you set a code that you can give out and then change at a later time, while the advanced options connect to the Internet and let you unlock the door remotely. They also notify you by text and email when someone uses the code. This is significantly safer than leaving a key under the welcome mat.
Window and Door Sensors
Sensors are possibly the most common and the most practical method of security. Whenever a door or window is opened, it triggers the alarm. Not only does this protect you if you accidentally leave something unlocked, but it responds immediately to attempt forced entry or damage to the door and window.
Consider buying a few small cameras that sit on shelves or get mounted outside. Some models only pick up video, but others pick up sound as well. The $200 models are motion activated and send text notifications when they've been triggered.
Another option is to use your webcam on your computer. Some software will take pictures when it senses motion and text it to you. Others will store video footage online that can be accessed anywhere. Since criminals usually head for gadgets and valuables, there's a good chance the webcam will snap a clear image of the intruder's face. Video footage and images are invaluable to the police when catching a criminal.
The problem with outdoor sensors is the probability of false alarms. A deer or raccoon could trigger the alarm, and your neighbors would constantly hear unnecessary sirens. Instead, consider motion sensor flood lights that kick on outside of the house. Light deters criminals, and you'll be alerted to the window immediately when it kicks on.
Indoor home sensors also have challenges. You don't want an alarm going off if you get up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. Fortunately, most sensors are either easily disabled or advanced enough to prevent false alarms by pets. The benefit of adding motion sensors indoors (whether with sound or light) is that you'll have double the security on the off-chance an intruder makes it past your door and window locks.
At the end of the day, choosing which systems you want to invest in and assemble yourself depends on your personal preferences and needs. You might need to try out a few different cheap options (lights, window alarms, webcams, etc.) and then invest in the expensive method that works best for you.
If you don't feel comfortable investing in your own home security system just yet, there are several DIY options to deter criminals from entering your home or keeping your belongings safe if they do.
Here's a breakdown of what you can do in each part of the house:
SPECIFIC SECURITY NEEDS BY ZONE
Front of the House
Remember, criminals like to case neighborhoods and homes before they break in. They have a mental checklist of various pros and cons when it comes to targeting a particular house. These are a few ways to make intruders decide that your home isn't worth the risk.
Put Up a Home Security Sign
Display Your House Number
Even if you don't have a system, adding a home security sign to your front yard at least makes them think that you're protected.
If you've delayed repainting your address or re-hanging your numbers, make it a priority. This way, the police can easily find you in an emergency.
Close Your Garage Door
Look Around Your Neighborhood
Get into the habit of closing your garage door when you're home. It's an easy access point, and some burglars won't bother entering your home if they can just break into your car. Also, if you have a nice car, you'll be telling criminals that you have a lot of money and are worth breaking into.
You don't need to have to look completely break-in proof; your home should just be less attractive (from a robber's perspective) than your neighbors' houses. Compare what other houses are doing so you don't stand out as an easy target.
Back of the House
The front and back doors are the most common locations for break-ins. Criminals prefer the back of the house because there's no passing traffic and it's more private than the front or side. Don't make the back of your house an easy access point for criminals.
Add a Second Decal
Tear Down That Fence
Criminals that go through the back might not see your (possibly fake) home security sign in the front yard. Don't forget to put one in the back, too.
If you've installed a privacy fence so you and your neighbor won't have to see each other, you're losing a crucial set of eyes. If you're not home, your neighbor can keep an eye out for suspicious activity.
Trim Your Bushes
Manage Your Garden
Don't give criminals places to hide. Growing large hedges – especially near your doors and windows – invites them to crouch down out of sight. Consider planting a flower garden instead.
Speaking of gardens, make sure all of your plants are neatly attended to. An overgrown yard is a sign that you're not home enough to take care of it. If you're traveling for long periods of time, ask someone to mow your lawn to keep it neat.
Put Away Your Ladder
Add Extra Security to Doors
Most homeowners make the mistake of only securing the bottom floor. An intruder dressed as a painter can use your ladder against you and come in through an upstairs window.
The back of the home tends to have sliding glass doors or weaker doors that lead to a screened in area. Both of these still need to be secure. Criminals will use screwdrivers, pliers, or hammers to break in, but they can be deterred with the same deadbolts that you use on the front door. This can also be achieved if you have secure door tracks for sliding-glass points of entry.
In the previous section, we briefly mentioned burglars using ladders to break into the second floor with the unlocked windows. Here's why and how you should keep your higher floors safe:
Don't Neglect Windows
Lock Away Important Documents
Remember to close and lock your windows when you aren't home. Also, if you're considering an alarm system, consider arming them with sensors too.
Whether you keep your home's documents in your office or in your bedroom, you need to lock them away. These include tax forms, social security cards, passports, and bank information. You don't want to risk identity theft, as well.
Keep Jewelry in a Safe
Consider Installing a Safe Room
While jewelry accounts for some of the most physically valuable items in your home, these items often are the most emotionally valuable, too. Don't lose a family heirloom or jewelry from your significant other because you didn't lock it away.
Twenty-eight percent of break-ins occur when people are at home, and 33 percent of residential assaults are because of a burglary. Don't risk your life fighting an intruder. A safe room is bulletproof and can be equipped to contact the police when used. It gives you some place that's safe to hide until the burglar is gone.
When you walk around your home, try to think like a criminal. Where would you go that's easy to get into? Where is it dark and easy to hide? Where are the weak links? The answers to these questions almost inevitably lie in your basement.
Consider Adding Security Bars
Use Security Film
Bars on the windows may be a major turnoff for homeowners – no one wants to feel like they're locked in or lower their property value – but they might be worth adding to the basement. It's possible to create a gate that adds fashion to your home and keeps you safe.
Security film is a layer that holds onto the glass in case it gets broken. Rather than shattering onto the floor, the glass will stay in place. This decreases the clean-up risk, as well.
Make Sure it's Well Lit
Make Sure You Can Hear Upstairs
While you might not go into your basement often, make sure you can light the entire space easily. That way, if you suspect an intruder, you won't have to go downstairs with a flashlight.
Many people set up home entertainment systems in the basement because there aren't many windows; however, it's important that you can still hear the doorbell or someone yelling from upstairs. Burglars like to ring the doorbell to test if someone answers, and they might try to break in if you can't hear them from the basement.
We mentioned the importance of keeping your garage door closed earlier, but a closed door never outright stopped a thief. Follow these tips to maintain garage security.
Use a Remote Key Chain
Lock the Door Inside
Don't leave your garage door opener in your car. Instead, invest in a garage remote key chain. If your car is parked outside or in the street, a burglar can reach in and take it, then come back when you're not home.
Most people keep the door inside the garage unlocked. This makes it easy for intruders to get inside once they get the garage door open.
Frost Your Garage Windows
Add Zip Ties to the Safety Latch
All it takes is an intruder checking to see if your car is there to decide whether it's worth the break-in. Looking through clear windows into an empty garage is a blatant green light.
Criminals can break through a manual or automatic garage door in a matter of seconds with just a coat hanger. You can prevent this by adding zip ties to the emergency latch.
You can see videos explaining the ease of garage break-ins
Miscellaneous Protection Tips
Even if your home is locked and your alarms are set, there are still signs that give burglars the OK to attempt a robbery. Follow these unconventional ideas to keep your home from looking too tempting.
Keep Your Phone Volume on Low
Don't Post Travel Plans to Social Media
A blaring, unanswered phone tells burglars that you're not home - or at least not able to hear or answer it. This means they can also get away with breaking a window, as well.
This one isn't directly correlated to the house, but a quick local search of the vacation and airport hashtags lets criminals know who is away.
Keep Door Hinges on the Inside of Your House
Close Off Unused Parts of the House During a Party
This prevents intruders from popping the door off entirely.
This keeps guests from wandering throughout your house during a get-together, which reduces the risk of a "friend of a friend" going through your bank information or jewelry.
"The key to successful home security is layers."
Don't just rely on locked doors and windows to stay safe; get an alarm system, too. Don't just keep your front porch bright; light your home inside, as well. Even if you think intruders can't make it inside, keep your valuables hidden and secure just in case
You have 13 seconds until another home is broken into; now you have the tools to make sure it's not yours.