Prevention is the best way to protect your home
Prevention is the best course of action when it comes to protecting your home, your property, yourself and your loved ones.
The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services offers a Home Security Audit Guide that provides general information about keeping your home secure.
Is Your Home Likely to Attract a Burglar?
Answer these 10 simple questions to see if your home is vulnerable. Is your home a target? Are there clear views of all windows and doors (i.e. not obscured by high fences, bushes etc.?)
Do you make sure newspapers and flyers are collected, the driveway is shovelled and the grass is cut when you are away?
Do you leave lights on timers, both inside and outside the home when you are away? Do all of your doors have a deadbolt lock? Do the strike plates (the piece of metal on the door frame that accepts the deadbolt) on your exterior door locks have four screws securing them to the frame?
Do all the windows with a single locking device have a second security feature?
Do you store your valuables in a safety deposit box or an isolated area of your home?
Are your valuables marked with your personal identification number?
Do you store your car keys in a location that is out of sight within your house?
Know your neighbours
Do you know your neighbours across the street and on all three sides of you?
Is Your Home at Risk?
What is the most important thing you can do to protect your property against burglary?
If your answer was making your home less appealing to a burglar, you’re on the right track!
To safeguard your property, always make sure it has a “lived-in” look. Criminals are less likely to target a property where someone is obviously at home.
Our natural instinct is to think about ways to keep the burglar out, such as upgrading our locks or installing an alarm system. But when assessing a home, most thieves don’t focus on the type of lock or alarm system. Instead, criminals look for opportunities that improve chances for success. In the case of residential properties, burglars look for:
landscaping and solid wood fences that help them hide from your neighbours, indications that you aren’t home, such as uncollected flyers or newspapers, unshovelled driveways, uncut lawns, no car in the driveway, absence of outdoor lighting.
Even the design of your house and its location can have an influence on the criminal’s decision to burglarize your home. It’s important that you take a fresh look your property – from a prospective burglar’s view. Reduce any opportunity for his/her success by making any necessary changes. Make sure the property looks lived in, especially when no one is home.
Remember, your best defence is to present your property in such a way that it does not appeal to a criminal walking the street. Burglars look for priva- cy -- homes that are concealed from neighbours or passersby. Overgrown landscaping and high fences offer them the best opportunity.
If a burglar targets your property, your chances for loss could be greatly reduced if you’ve taken precautions to secure your home, but the first step is to reduce your chances of becoming a victim in the first place.
Getting the Big Picture
Reduce your risk and safeguard your property - think of what attracts a thief!
Look at the big picture items such as landscaping, fencing, lighting and property maintenance.
Pay close attention to your landscaping. Landscaping has a greater potential for attracting a thief onto your property than other security factor. Trees and shrubs can obscure windows and doors and provide cover for thieves.
Find out the mature size of the tree or shrub before you plant, then select accordingly. Large trees or excessive shrubs provide spots where adults can hide.
Avoid fast growing species in favour of slower growing ones that require less aggressive maintenance.
Perform an annual spring inspection of the landscaping on your property. Pay special attention to the amount of cover your property provides relative to your neighbours.
Trim/remove excessive landscaping especially around doors and windows.
Make sure more than one neighbour can see your house. When planting trees/shrubs or putting up a fence, make sure your neighbours can see your property from different angles. Regularly prune trees and shrubs. Don’t over-plant. Don’t disregard security in favour of privacy.
When choosing fencing material, remember that the more private the area, the more appealing it is to the criminal.
A closed six-foot high fence, while providing ample privacy, may also provide private space for a burglar.
Try and balance the need for privacy with the need for security by limiting the amount of “privacy fencing” only to areas where you need it. “Privacy fencing” can also prevent you from getting to know your neighbours – not good if you’re going to be looking out for each other!
Lighting or the lack of lighting can draw attention to your residence. For maximum safety and security, your home should have a lived-in look that is consistent from one day to the next. This is best achieved by using timers to maintain at least two visible lights from the front of the house during dark hours when you would normally be home and awake.
Burglars interviewed by police routinely comment on the presence of motion-activated lights. Motion activated lights are capable of creating a dynamic lighting environment that’s effective against trespassers and helps to alert homeowners.
The installation of motion-activated lights also sends a message that you are security conscious.
We’ve all come across a house with flyers hanging out of the mailbox and newspapers piled on the front porch. These, along with other obvious signs such as unshovelled snow, uncut lawns, porch lights left on or window blinds that are drawn during the day are tell-tale signs that a home is empty. This makes a criminal’s job of selecting a target especially easy. Regular maintenance is important to discourage criminal activity.
For added comfort and to deter mail fraud, use a locked mailbox and avoid a build-up of mail.
The Nuts & Bolts
Doors, frames and locks are the interrelated basics of home security and are of equal importance when securing your home.
Remember, prevention is key. Keep the criminal out of your house and your property secure.
Making outside access doors secure is an important step in protecting your home. Good, solid doors improve your chances in keeping burglars out. When buying a door, ask what the door is made of and how heavy it is. Look for doors without windows or doors that don’t have windows within arms reach of the inside lockset. If you already have solid doors, consider installing a peephole so you can look out to see who is at the door.
Sliding glass patio doors that are not protected can be lifted out of their tracks for an easy entrance.
The following can prevent the door from being lifted out of place:
A hockey stick or other piece of wood can be placed in the frame to prevent the door from sliding open.
A “pin” lock can be attached to the door that goes into the frame.
Screws can be fastened into the track above the sliding door (when in a closed position.)
For Added Protection
For added protection, consider installing a U-shaped escutcheon plate around the lock set at the door’s edge. This will help to prevent entry from prolonged kicking or extreme pressure.
For maximum effectiveness, the plate should be secured from the inside with 1.9 cm (3/4 inch) screws that cannot be removed from the outside. This will likely require re-drilling the screw holes found on the escutcheon plate.
Charlie bars are designed to prevent lateral movement of patio doors. They are installed at a convenient height and create a visible deterrent to burglars. Charlie bars are available at most hardware and home improvement centres and are an excellent security option.
A secure lock is an important step in keeping a burglar out of your home. A deadbolt lock should be placed on all outside access doors including the door in from the garage. Here are a few important features you should consider when choosing deadbolt (check with your local hardware store or locksmith for more information.) Locks should be: pick-resistant, drill-resistant, saw resistant, twist-resistant, with tapered hardened steel, or free spinning cylinder guard, a minimum of 2.5 cm (1 inch) long when thrown, inter-locking bolts should be a minimum of 5.6 cm (2 1/4 inches).
Deadbolt locks that require a key from both sides are not recommended – they don’t allow for a quick exit in case of fire.
The door frame is a critical yet often overlooked component of home security. Even the best locks are ineffective if the door frame is weak. To make sure that your frame provides adequate security a security strike plate should be installed with screws that are at least 2 1/2 inches long. (Note: Security strike plates can be distinguished from conventional strike plates by the fact that they have four or more screw holes.)
A door frame, door and lock work together to resist physical attack. A properly secured strike plate secures the frame and transmits the force of any attack to the door. Without reinforcement the door can be pried open by bending the frame or the door can be kicked in. A burglar is not concerned about damage and will use as much force as is necessary to open a door quickly.
Sometimes a space exists between the door jamb (the piece of wood that the strike plate is screwed into) and the wall stud that supports the frame. For added protection, reinforce your door frame with a filler plate so that your lock cannot be pried open.
Windows can be smashed, pried open and lifted off their tracks. Deadbolt locks that can be reached from a window can give a burglar access to a home. The following measures are necessary to ensure that you have adequate window security.
Slider-style windows are those that slide side-to-side on a track. They can also be lifted up and out for installation and routine maintenance – a feature that leaves them vulnerable to break ins. To prevent windows from being moved side-to-side: Cut a piece of wood the size of a broom handle or hockey stick to fit snugly between the outer window frame and the edge of the sliding portion of the window, or add a second lock to the sliding portion of the window. This type of lock can be found at hardware stores or installed by a locksmith/contractor.
To prevent the window from being lifted up and out:
Cut a piece of wood to fill the gap between the top of the slider and the track above. The wood should be slightly smaller (about 1/8 inch) than the actual gap and be as long as the sliding portion of the window. Alternatively, two or three screws can be inserted into the portion of the upper track above the window that is used for ventilation (the window behind the screen).
Double Hung Windows
Double hung windows slide up and down on a track. They can be forced open by applying pressure to the lock area. The security of these types of windows can be greatly improved by adding a second lock and/or installing a metal pin or nail through both sides of the window. Specialized security pins designed specifically for this purpose can be found at hardware stores.
Casement/Awning Style Windows
Casement and awning-style windows are those that are opened by the operation of a roller-style (crank) handle. These windows are generally quite secure when properly locked with the factory installed locks. To improve the security, remove the handle and store it out of sight.
Sidelights are those windows commonly found next to doors. Any window within 100 cm (40 inches) of a door handle should be reinforced.
For added protection consider strengthening the glass.
Thieves often break windows to get at locks. This is particularly true of basement windows and the glass in and around doors.
Bars are sometimes used to secure windows and doors. If you choose bars as a security measure, make sure that:
the bars are equipped with a quick release mechanism – consult your fire department for more information.
the screws used to install the bars are not accessible from the outside.
To increase the strength of your window glass, contact a professional to install a security laminate film.
Polycarbonate (a rubberized, clear, unbreakable plastic) can also be used as a substitute for bars, provided that it is properly installed. Polycarbonate is available at home renovation centres and is listed under Plastics in the Yellow Pages of your phone book.
Protect Your Valuables
You can limit the overall impact of a burglary taking the following steps.
Don’t Advertise Your New Purchases
If you’ve purchased big-ticket items, (e.g. TVs, stereos or computer equipment,) fold the cardboard box inside out before putting it in the recycling bin. This keeps the identity of your purchases private and doesn’t alert would-be burglars. Where Do You Keep Items of Sentimental Value? Make a list of the items in your home that are irreplaceable and keep them in a safe place. When not in use, these items should be stored in a place no one would suspect. For example, valuables should not be kept in a jewellery box – this is the first location a burglar will look. A safety deposit box or a permanent safe within your home could be used. If you have a safe in your home, it should be kept in an isolated location – away from the main traffic areas. If you have a garage, use it! Always keep your garage locked.
Can You Identify Your Property?
Each year, police auction thousands of unmarked property items that were either lost or stolen. Engrave your valuables with a personalized identifying mark. These markings should be in plain view and easy to spot. Items with identifiers are less valuable on the black market and burglars are less inclined to take them. The police use these unique markings to identify the owner of stolen property they retrieve. To mark your valuables, create your own unique identifier of at least eight characters (e.g., a phone number.)
If a theft does occur and your property is located by the authorities, you will want to be able to identify and claim what is yours. To simplify this process, you should:
Take an inventory of the items in your home, garage and tool shed.
Take photos or video recordings to show what you own. Write down the serial numbers. Keep receipts for the more expensive items. Keep this information and a record of your identifying number in a safe location separate from the actual property, preferably in a fire resistant safe or a safety deposit box. This information will be useful when making a claim to your insurance company as well!
Items Most Frequently Stolen
Thieves prefer to take smaller items that can be easily pocketed. Favourite items taken by thieves include jewellery, cash, camera equipment, DVD/CD players, TV/VCR/DVD recorders.
Remember: thieves prefer to take small items that can be easily pocketed!
Going Away on Vacation?
Your home is most vulnerable when you are away for an extended period of time.
Most residential burglaries happen during the day when you are not home.
Chain locks offer little protection against the threat of forced entry and can result in a false sense of security when a superior lock is disengaged.
A peephole on your door is a better option because it lets you see who is outside your door while preventing that person from seeing inside your home.
Residential alarm systems offer an increased level of security and some deterrence to the criminal. However, they should not be considered as exclusive replacements for other home security measures but should be used in conjunction with them.
Most alarms will alert the alarm company through your phone line.
Be sure second-storey windows are closed and locked when you are not at home. Patio furniture has been used as a stepladder to gain access to upper levels of the home.