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Neighbourhood Watch :: How Does Your Home Measure Up?

How Does Your Home Measure Up?

It doesn't matter if you've been away for a few hours, for the day, for the weekend, or for an extended holiday. It takes burglars only a few moments to smash their way into your home, check the predictable places for valuables, and be on their way again. You are left not only with the physical loss and inconvenience, but also with a sense that your privacy and your home have been violated by strangers.

The following dialogue represents comments by a "burglar" discussing a typical home. After you read the burglar's comments, there is a security quiz regarding your home.

It's not my fault if people make it easy for me to earn my living. This house was just asking to be burglarized. Let me tell you what I saw when I checked the house out as a potential target.

The first thing I noticed, even from the street, was that the front door did not have a secure lock. There was nothing reinforcing the area around the lock, and that told me that the homeowner probably hadn't done anything to strengthen the rest of the door frame. One common way of breaking into a house is simply to kick in the front door. When you think about it, there's really very little chance of being heard or seen - a lot less than if I went creeping around the house for a few minutes looking for an open window.

What a homeowner can do is start with a good deadbolt lock, but recognize that's not enough. The frame, door and lock must work together to resist physical attack. For example, a strong lock is not effective if the frame is not reinforced around the strike plate. Without reinforcing, the lock can be pried open by bending the frame, or the door can be simply kicked in. Remember, a burglar isn't concerned about damage and will be a lot more physical than you will be when you are testing your doors.

There are many different types of locks that will discourage a burglar. A locksmith should be able to provide you with several options and explain their proper installation.

Of course, if the front door is secure, there are always other doors. Areas of glass in or beside a door are easy to smash. Then, all I have to do is reach through and undo the lock. A door with glass should have burglar-resistant glazing. Hinges are another weak point of many doors.

There are other doors that also need attention. Unprotected patio doors can be easily lifted out of their tracks and unlocked garage doors give access to tools and ladders that can help a burglar. If there is a door from the garage to the house, a crook can enter the garage, close the door, and gain entry to the house without worrying about being detected.

When I was looking over this house the first time, I noticed that there were other ways of getting in that were almost as easy as kicking in the front door. The windows on the ground floor were ordinary window glass, and they'd been left open an inch or two. The upstairs windows, which I could reach from the porch roof or using the ladder that was thoughtfully left in the garage for me, were even easier. And if anyone saw me they'd probably just think I was a window washer.

If you want to leave your windows open, there are secure ways to do it. The simplest way is to drill holes through both window frames and insert a double-headed nail. You can even drill a couple of holes allowing a window to be fixed in different open positions. Just don't leave the opening large enough, or position the nail, so crooks can stick their hands in and remove it!

Basement windows are usually pretty easy to open. Not many people bother to install burglar-resistant glazing materials or use proper latches. These windows are often hidden by fences, shrubs, or other obstacles.

Strengthening the frame, using break-resistant materials instead of ordinary window glass, installing pins as described for the above-grade windows - these all help discourage burglars. And while bars on windows are an option, they must be equipped with a quick release device so they can be easily removed from the inside in case you need to use the window as an emergency escape route.

One of the features that makes a house very attractive to me is when a family obviously likes its privacy. The solid fences and high bushes, especially around the windows, are designed to keep people from seeing into the house and property. That also means that once someone like me gets behind the fences or bushes, I can't be seen either! I always worry that some nosy neighbour will interrupt me while I'm at work, but with a setup like this, I feel a lot more secure. Privacy is fine, but try to leave good sight lines to the doors and windows, to make it more likely that a suspicious activity will be noticed.

I really dislike lights that are hooked up to motion detectors. Interior lights on timers also can give a home an occupied look when it's empty, but I'm pretty good at spotting the patterns when lights go on and off at the same time every night.

Good exterior lighting is also important; it helps eliminate that unoccupied look. It should illuminate all of the potential entry points, and it should be installed so that it's difficult for someone to disable it by removing or breaking the bulbs. And be careful not to create areas of sharp contrast and deep shadows - they make detection difficult. Some of the newer systems provide two levels of illumination - a low level which is activated at dusk by a light sensitive photocell and stays on all night; a high level that is triggered by a motion detector.

Other Things You Can Do

There are other ways you can deter a would-be burglar. One of the best ways is making it clear that all the valuables in the home have identifying marks. You can use your driver's licence number as one way of doing this. It's most effective if the number is right out in the open where anyone can see it - that really reduces the value on the black market!

You should also make a record of all valuables. Photographs are good for hard-to-describe items such as artwork and jewelry. A narrated videotape of your home and valuables is a great idea. Just don't store the video or other records with any valuables, or both may disappear at the same time. It's a good idea to store these items off-site, in a safety deposit box for example.

It's also true that a burglar will try to avoid communities that are actively monitored by Neighbourhood Watch or similar programs such as Citizens on Phone Patrol. There are lots of other neighbourhoods with excellent targets for breaking into, without running such a high risk of being spotted.

While residential alarms should not be considered as replacements for the other measures, you may want to integrate an alarm system into the residential security program. If so, choose a system with flashing lights and loud alarms that attracts immediate attention to the fact that someone is trying to break into your home. If the alarm system is monitored, consider choosing one that can distinguish between real and false alarms. Any alarm systems used in combination with other measures increase the level of security for your home. Consult with your local police service for more information and any local requirements for noise emitting/audible devices, before talking to an alarm company.

 

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