What's the best way to prevent a thief from entering your home?

The best way to prevent thieves from entering your home? Locking your doors and windows. See more lock images.[
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Sometimes the best answer is also the most obvious one. When it comes to keeping burglars out of your house, the basics make the biggest difference: Lock your doors and windows.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 27.8 percent of the total burglaries committed in the United States in 2006 were no-force entries. This means that in more than 607,000 burglaries that year, the thieves simply opened an unlocked door or window and went right in.

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The more than 2.2 million burglaries in the United States in 2006 accounted for $4 billion in lost property, and the average loss amounted to more than $1,800 per victim. While the FBI takes into account businesses and homes alike for their statistics, residential burglaries made up more than 66 percent of all burglaries in 2006. Notably, 63 percent of residential burglaries took place during the day [source: FBI].

So what does all of this tell the average homeowner about the average burglar? For one, it points out that most thieves prefer to work when no one is around. Since you can't very well quit your job, arm yourself with a shotgun and lay in wait day after day for a burglar, you're going to have to take steps to reinforce your home's defenses.

It's commonly held that if a determined burglar wants to get inside your house, he or she eventually will. But you can make it an uncomfortable and dangerous experience. To do this, you have to think like a criminal. Walk around your house, inside and out, and "case the joint." Look for signs of weakness, where a burglar could most easily gain entry.

Begin with your locks. It's recommended that your door have at least one deadbolt lock, with a one-inch or longer throw (meaning the bolt passes one inch into the door frame). Ideally, the deadbolt lock should be a double cylinder lock, one that requires a key on either side of the door. This is especially the case with doors that have glass panes within 40 inches of the door knob. In this situation, a burglar can easily break the glass and reach in to unlock the dead bolt if it has a turn knob rather than a keyhole.

In some areas, however, double cylinder dead bolts are a violation of the fire code, since they can trap a person inside his or her burning home. If double cylinders are unlawful in your town, you can solve the problem by simply replacing your glass-paned door with a solid one.

Solid metal doors or solid wood doors with metal sheathing outside, along with a peephole, are optimal. But your door is only as good as the frame that holds it. Investing in a solid metal frame with at least one three-inch screw for each hinge plate can make it difficult for a burglar to kick your door frame right off the surrounding wall.

Make sure to secure sliding glass doors and windows. This can be as simple as placing a length of wood in the track of your sliding doors or windows to prevent them from being opened from the outside. You can also invest in keyed locks for sliding doors and windows, making them even more difficult to open.

Making your house a hard target for burglars doesn't begin and end with simply locking your doors, however. After all, while a sliding glass door may be locked, it can also be broken. Read the next page to learn about other ways to make your home less attractive to burglars.

Securing Your Home

No need to trade in Fido for a large guard dog. Even little dogs can alert the neighbors that someone is prowling near your house.
No need to trade in Fido for a large guard dog. Even little dogs can alert the neighbors that someone is prowling near your house.
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Since almost 30 percent of burglaries in 2006 were no-force entries, simply locking your doors and windows is a great first place to start. But it also means that the other 70 percent of burglaries that year were forced (or attempts that resulted in the burglar being caught in the act).

The National Neighborhood Watch Association suggests that homeowners looking to burglar-proof their homes should take a three-fold approach: deter, detect and delay.

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Deterring burglars begins with ensuring you have good locks and solid entry points. But it also includes things like posting a sign, which tells potential burglars that you have an alarm system. Burglars may find the thought of an alarm enough of a deterrent to continue searching for a home that doesn't have one.

Creating the impression that someone is always at home is another way to deter burglars. Leave your television or radio on, and install an automatic timer to some of the lights in your house to make it appear as if the house is occupied. As we've seen, most burglars aren't interested in coming in if they think someone's home. If you leave your curtains open, be careful what's in view. If your car is there and would-be burglars can see the keys within easy reach, that may be the incentive they need to break in, grab the keys and steal your car.

Having a dog may also be a deterrent, but be warned that a good professional burglar comes into your home with the knowledge of how to deal with a guard dog. This can be as simple as feeding your dog treats or luring him or her into a room and shutting the door. Instead, a dog acts much more effectively as a detection device.

Detection is one of the best ways to keep burglaries down. A barking dog can alert an entire block that something is awry. To do this even more effectively, though, most people turn to alarm systems.

Alarm systems have a wide range in price, usually depending on the kinds of features. Regardless of your price range, your system should include sensors at entry points, motion detectors within your house, and a very loud outdoor alarm which alerts the neighborhood that someone has entered your home. While alarm systems won't actually stop a burglar from entering, it will re-frame the crime. With an alarm blaring, the burglary will turn into a smash and grab -- a harried scurry through your home looking for the most easily stolen valuables, followed by a quick exit.

While it's a good idea to advertise that you have an alarm system, it may not be the best idea to tell burglars what kind of alarm system you have. If your system can be shut off with a remote control or key fob, robbers using computer technology may be able to duplicate the signal given by your remote control and shut your alarm off from the street.

Installing motion-sensitive flood lights outdoors will also help to deter burglars working at night. For daytime, make sure that your shrubs are trimmed to allow a good view of your home from the street. Burglars, after all, are looking for cover, and trimmed shrubs take that away. It also doesn't hurt to consider planting thorny shrubs beneath your windows to make it an even less attractive place to hide.

Delaying criminals is another important aspect of keeping burglars out. The longer it takes to get into your home, the more likely a burglar is to give up and move on. The National Neighborhood Watch Association suggests that a four-minute delay will protect your house in most cases [NNWA].

Along with locking doors and windows, delaying a burglar includes keeping unusual entry points from being accessible. Keep branches trimmed so that upper floor windows aren't easy to get into. Make sure basement windows are secure, and keep your garage doors locked.

Presenting a burglar with few options for entry into your home, along with the threat of an alarm sounding when he or she does, can go a long way to deterring him or her. And don't forget your locks; none of the other precautions amount to much when your doors or windows are unlocked.

For more information on home security and related topics, visit the next page.

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Sources

  • Bendall, Lisa. "Theft-Proof Your Home." Reader's Digest Canada. http://www.readersdigest.ca/mag/2005/08/proof_home.php
  • Plowright, Matthew. "Nine Ways to Stop Thieves Burgling Your Home." MSN. July 31, 2006. http://money.uk.msn.com/Insurance/Insight/Special_Features/ Insurance_Tips/article.aspx?cp-documentid=4752392
  • "Keeping Your Home Safe: Preventing Theft." MetLife. http://www.metlife.com/Applications/Corporate/WPS/CDA/PageGenerator/
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  • "Preventing Burglaries: How to Protect Your Home." National Neighborhood Watch Association. http://www.keysso.net/commrelations/ccw/preventing_burglaries.pdf
  • "Burglary - Crime in the United States 2006." U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2006/offenses/property_crime/burglary.html