When it comes to protecting your home from thieves or burglars, there is no such thing as “complete protection” or “total security.”
There will always be some level of risk that you cannot avoid.
In order for a crime to occur, a criminal must have motive, means (tools, skills, etc.), and the opportunity to commit it.
A burglar’s motive for committing criminal acts is beyond your control.
While certain security measures may require criminals to have greater means to commit a crime, you cannot completely control that either.
The one factor you can control is their opportunity to commit a crime.
In this article, we are going to explore the top 10 ways to do just that: limit a criminal's opportunity.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, where Trek Warrior makes a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Most perpetrators of home invasions prefer low-risk environments to avoid being caught.
They often strike when you are not at home, because this is when your residence is most vulnerable.
Some operate during the daytime because they know the majority of the people in your neighborhood will be at work.
Others are active at night because there are fewer people awake. Low light conditions make it easier for their activities to go unnoticed.
Regardless of what time of day they conduct their illicit acts, the overwhelming majority of criminals choose “soft targets.”
A soft target is a location with few visible security measures and owners who are not security-conscious.
Windows and doors left open or unlocked, a house with no lights on, no car in the driveway, or a mailbox full of letters that have not been picked up in days are all indicators of a low-risk environment.
These present criminals with the third component of the crime equation: opportunity.
The best way to protect your home from criminal activity is to minimize that opportunity by making it a “hard target.”
This is done by employing concentric layers of security around your home, which will limit a criminal’s opportunity to commit a crime successfully.
The following are ten measures that you can take to bolster your home’s security without breaking the bank.
Your home’s first layer of security is at the perimeter. If you live in a house, the perimeter would be your property line, with emphasis on points of access from the street.
For those who live in apartments, your perimeter is any entry point into your home, including the front door, windows, and the deck or patio if you have one.
The perimeter layer should contain passive measures that will make criminals think twice before ever approaching your residence.
1. Security Signage
Security signage is an excellent way to deter a casual thief or burglar.
Many types of signage can be used.
One example is a yard sign or sticker provided by a home security company like ADT or Guardian.
It tells criminals “sure, you can break in, but the police will be here soon afterward.”
Many will take one look at a home security sign and simply write off that home as a hard target.
Even if you do not own a home security system, you can buy signage and stickers online to install on your property.
Other available security signs have different messages on them, such as “Beware of Dog,” “This property is protected by video surveillance,” or “Neighborhood Watch.”
Each sends its own signal of deterrence to would-be criminals, letting them know that the homeowners take their personal security seriously.
There are some signs with tongue-in-cheek sayings such as “Trespassers will be shot; survivors will be shot again.”
While these use humor to imply a physical security presence, they also advertise to would-be criminals that there are firearms in your home.
Guns are a big target for thieves. They may choose to target a higher-risk location when the homeowner is away if they suspect it contains firearms.
Consequently, posting signage that implies ownership of firearms or other valuables should be avoided.
2. Motion-Activated Lighting
Another component of your perimeter security is motion-activated lighting.
With this type of security measure, any moving object detected by the motion sensor will activate the fixture and bathe a would-be intruder in bright lights.
This is a great way to deter burglars that operate at night.
Motion lighting should be used to cover the fronts of garages, yards, and other areas that are near points of entry.
Just remember that any motion detected by the sensor will trip the lights, so vehicles, animals, and even objects being blown by the wind may activate them.
To get the best performance out of your motion lighting, angle the sensor so that it picks up as little background activity as possible.
These lights should be checked regularly to ensure the bulbs have not burned out. Spare bulbs should be kept on hand to change them when they go out.
3. Exterior surveillance cameras
Surveillance cameras are a strong, visible deterrent for most criminals. You can order a DIY surveillance system for less than $200.
This package typically includes a recording device and multiple cameras that you install yourself. Installation is not particularly challenging.
Some of these kits include wireless cameras, so you do not have to worry about running wires throughout your house.
Before installing your kit, spend some time determining the best placement for every camera in your system.
Each camera should be mounted to perform a specific task and programmed for that purpose.
For example, a camera covering your front door should be focused to provide a clear image of anyone approaching it within a relatively short distance.
A camera covering a wide area such as a driveway or yard should be adjusted to get the sharpest picture possible at the furthest points in its field of view.
When placing multiple cameras with wide-area coverage, there should be minimal overlap between camera views.
Cameras should also be angled to limit the amount of background activity visible in each frame.
This can cause your cameras to record unnecessarily. Image quality should be tested both during the day and at night to ensure that your image is not washed out by the sun or blinded by light from nearby fixtures.
Cameras with strong infrared capability are preferred for recording activity at night. If you use both cameras and motion lighting, you will need to experiment with camera positioning to ensure the lights do not impact image quality.
Security at Points of Entry
The next layer in your security strategy should protect the various points of entry into your home, including doors, windows, and garages.
This strategy employs physical barriers, audible alarms, or both. For those who live in an apartment, this is your perimeter security layer.
4. Upgraded Door Locks
Low-quality door locks can be defeated easily by a marginally skilled thief.
While your front door may have a decent lock and deadbolt, some people forget that their back door is just as important from a security perspective.
At a minimum, each point of entry to your home should have both a locking doorknob and a deadbolt.
Both should be higher-quality devices made by reputable manufacturers, such as Schlage or Kwikset.
5. Doors And Door Frame Reinforcements
Both the deadbolt and door knob of each exterior door should have strike plates installed.
These are metal plates set into the door jamb that connect the locking mechanism.
However, most strike plates are attached to the door jamb with short one-inch screws. While they work perfectly well for day-to-day use, they may not withstand a few strong kicks by a criminal.
You can increase their strength by replacing the existing screws with 3-inch wood screws.
These will go straight through the door frame and embed in a stud or structural support making it more difficult for your door to be kicked in by a thief.
If you have an exterior door or frame with windows installed, take a closer look at the placement of those windows.
Could you reach the door’s lock if you broke the window from the outside?
If so, you should strongly consider replacing your door or frame with something that does not provide an intruder with potential access to the locking mechanism.
A solid-core wood or metal door is recommended for exterior use, as they can withstand a lot more than your average paneled door.
Windowed door frames can be augmented with wrought iron panels that are decorative, but also provide enhanced security.
6. Peep Holes
If your front door does not have a window, it probably has a peep hole. Other exterior doors may not.
This is a simple fix that you can do in under an hour with just a drill and less than $10 in parts from your neighborhood hardware store.
Also, if you find it difficult to see out of an existing peep hole, replace it with a higher-quality model.
7. Blocks And Pins For Sliding Doors And Windows
Latches on sliding glass doors or windows are notoriously easy for most criminals to defeat, but blocks and pins are much harder to overcome without breaking the glass.
A block can be made by purchasing a long wooden dowel from the nearest hardware store, measuring the width of the rail between the closed window and the opposite frame, and cutting the dowel to fit that length.
You can also buy a handy premade one where you can adjust the size for your door.
This creates a physical barrier that prevents a criminal from opening your door or window.
Security pins are another popular, unobtrusive physical barrier.
To install this type of security device, you will have to drill two holes (a slightly larger diameter than the pins) completely through the frame that holds the glass in place on the sliding section of window and halfway through the frame of the fixed pane.
If your window slides upward to open, the holes should be in the top corners of the pane.
If it slides open from right to left, drill the holes in the top and bottom left corners. The holes should go all the way through the sliding pane and halfway into the fixed pane.
The pins can then be inserted into the holes and should fit snugly in place to prevent the window from opening.
If you like to leave your windows slightly ajar during warmer weather, a second set of holes can be drilled in the fixed pane just above the sliding pane.
This will allow the windows to lock in place while still permitting airflow. Before drilling this second set of holes, first slide open the window the desired amount.
Be sure that the opening is not large enough for someone to reach through and remove the pins from the outside, but is wide enough to permit the desired amount of ventilation.
Then, using the existing holes in the sliding pane as a guide, drill the second set in the fixed pane.
8. Alarms And Security Systems
When it comes to alarms and home security systems, many people have the misconception that the only way to have that kind of protection is to sign a long-term contract with a large-scale home security company like ADT.
Fortunately, there are a number of options available that can alert you when someone enters your home and not break your bank in the process.
For the person who just wants an alarm system, but does not want a home monitoring service, the best bang for the buck is to get some battery-powered standalone sensors.
The most basic models include entry sensors, motion sensors, and glass break sensors. All of these are easy to install.
When the alarm is triggered, it emits a 100+ decibel noise to alert you to the intrusion. These devices are fairly low-tech. Most have to be turned on or off manually.
They are not able to notify you via phone if they are triggered. However, they are a highly effective security measure to use when you are at home.
These systems may scare away a burglar if they trigger it while you are away.
Complete DIY home security systems by SkyLink, IDEAL, Sabre, Fortress, and others are typically less than $200.
Because you are not paying for home monitoring, these types of systems will not call the police for you.
However, these systems will alert you via phone when an alarm is triggered. Some systems can be controlled via a smart phone app.
In order to receive notifications from this type of system, you will need to have an active home telephone line.
So, you will need to factor the monthly cost of a landline into your alarm system budget.
If you are looking for a security system that will call the police for you when something happens at your residence, then you should look into a home monitoring service.
Fortunately, companies like SimpliSafe or LiveWatch offer reasonably-priced alarm systems, have low monthly rates for home monitoring, and do not require a contract.
Internal Security Measures
Regardless of all the security measures you employ, a determined thief may still decide that breaking into your home is worth the risk.
The third layer of your home security strategy is used to mitigate the damage caused by a break-in and help capture those responsible.
9. Safes And Vaults
Keeping important documents and valuables secured is critical, especially if you will be away from your home for more than three days.
Storing these items in a safe or vault make them a little harder for a thief to access.
While safes can be expensive, there are a number of concealment vaults (lockboxes that look like a set of books, a clock, or a globe) on the market at reasonable prices.
By hiding your valuables in plain sight, the average criminal will have a hard time identifying it as a vault unless he or she knows what to look for.
Concealment furniture and wall safes can be used in this manner as well. They are a little more expensive; however, these options tend to be very well-built and extremely hard to identify as a hiding place for your valuables.
We have a rundown of the top hidden storage options for you.
10. Interior Surveillance Cameras
If thieves do gain access to your home, having video evidence of the crime being committed can help apprehend the perpetrators.
Unfortunately, traditional security cameras not only clash with your home’s decor, but they also alert the burglar that they are being watched.
As soon as they realize a home has interior cameras, experienced thieves will promptly look for the video recorder so that they can erase the footage or steal it.
Consequently, if you intend to install surveillance cameras inside your home, hidden cameras are the best choice.
They come in a variety of unassuming forms, so criminals will not be alerted to their presence. They will not clash with your living room’s color palate.
If somehow a criminal is able to get past all of these security measures, you should consider having forms of self defense as a last ditch option in case you are home at the time of the break in.
However, just having a weapon isn't the same thing as being able to effectively use it. Therefore, you should only consider getting a weapon that you are comfortable with and practice with often.
Some great examples for home defense are shotguns, knives, and even pepper spray. If you have children in the home, you need to consider their safety before you get weapons in the home. Also, consider the laws in your area for these items.
About the Author: Brad
Brad Steenrod is a professional security consultant for both individuals and businesses, specializing in physical security, operational security, information protection, threat analysis, and vulnerability assessment.
In addition to consulting, he also operates PrepSense, a blog that covers a range of security-related topics including personal security and emergency preparedness.
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