Most burglars allow themselves one to two minutes to get into a home. Beyond that, the risk of detection becomes too great. A good security strategy slows burglars down and pushes them past these time limits.
The fear of crime and its associated victimization causes some people to purchase home security alarms. But, for an alarm system to be truly effective, a homeowner must first address the physical security of their home.
Invest in quality security hardware and ensure it is properly installed. Unfortunately, homeowners cannot always assume a new or expensive home contains quality security hardware.
Several areas of the house should be evaluated for optimal safety including:
Lighting can serve as an effective deterrent to burglars. Lighting is often the most prescribed, yet misunderstood, security recommendation.
In general, a residence will benefit from leaving the lights on during hours of darkness. Lighting assists the police with identification of street addresses and gives the entire neighborhood a more secure feeling. The sides and rear of the home are different. Motion-sensitive lighting is preferred for several reasons:
- It increases the potential for witnesses by suddenly illuminating the environment. The human eye is naturally attracted to light.
- It saves on light-bulb maintenance costs, because lights are activated only when motion is detected and they cycle off when no activity is detected.
- It may create a "fight or flight" response in the perpetrator.
In a report conducted by three major universities, motion activated-lighting was listed as a significant deterrent.
Very few windows are manufactured with security in mind. Most windows are designed for aesthetics and energy efficiency.
Basement windows are extremely vulnerable and offer virtually no resistance to forced entry. The typical basement window is held in place by two spring-latches. Applying small amounts of direct force to this type of window will cause it to fall out of its frame.
Security can be improved by installing bars or glass blocks in basement windows. While increasing the security of the residence, bars and glass blocks can restrict occupants from escaping the residence during a house fire. This should be considered prior to installation.
Single or double-hung windows are also difficult to secure. Casement windows offer a better form of security. When considering windows as replacements or during construction of a new home, ask whether the window unit meets or exceeds the American Standard for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F 588-85. Windows meeting or exceeding this standard have been tested for their ability to resist forced entry and are a step up from the typical builders-grade window unit and may be expensive.
Laminated glass should also be considered to enhance the overall security of these window units. This type of window will not sacrifice aesthetics to enhance the overall security of the home. The ability to get out of the house in the event of fire is not compromised for security purposes.
Patio or sliding doors are becoming more common. While patio doors contain a large glass area, breaking glass is one of the least desirable ways a burglar uses to gain entry. The amount of noise involved in breaking the glass and the potential for suffering an injury, ensures most burglars will look for an easier and safer mode of entry.
Measures should still be enacted to protect the glass areaagainst breakage. The application of an impact-resistant material, such as security film, can be considered. Security film has limitations, but a superior glazing product would be laminated glass, similar to a car windshield. It offers a penetrating resistance other glass products do not possess.
Patio doors can also be defeated by prying the lock, sliding the door open or by lifting the door out of the track. Fortunately, these types of attacks can be prevented. Secondary-locking devices such as pins or "charlie bars" can be used to prevent forcing the door open. Available at most hardware stores, these devices are inexpensive and easily installed.
To prevent the patio door from being lifted out, it is recommended a homeowner use evenly-spaced screws inserted in the upper track of the sliding door. The head of the screws should protrude just enough to allow free movement of the door, but prevent the door from being lifted out of it's tracks.
An exterior door is only as strong as its weakest component. A high quality lock installed in a door attached to a weak frame remains vulnerable to forced entry, and is equivalent to putting a padlock on a paper bag.
For an exterior door to be an effective barrier between the burglar and their target, three aspects of a door assembly must be addressed and secured: the door, the door frame, and the lock.
When choosing a deadbolt, have these minimum specifications:
- Minimum 3" interlocking bolts to hold the cylinder halves together.
- Tapered cylinder guard.
- Hardened steel bolt with a 1" throw and a saw-resistant feature.
- Bolt encased in a single piece housing.
- Bolt constructed so as to limit internal movement or "play" when bolt is fully extended.
Not all deadbolts are created equal. They appear similar on the exterior, but the internal components are critical to the overall integrity of the lock. Install a deadbolt that meets or exceeds ANSI grade 2.
Exterior doors are often constructed of soft-wood products filled with insulating material and covered by veneer or metal sheeting. To improve security, all exterior doors should be solid-core and include a method to eliminate susceptibility to edge splitting.
All exterior doors should be solid. Steel doors should be a minimum of 24 gauge. Regardless of their type, most residential doors have wood-framed edges, which need to be protected from splitting at the deadbolt.
To counter door splitting during an attack, the door should be equipped with an escutcheon plate, or door reinforcer. Escutcheon plates are found in most hardware stores and are easy to install. They significantly increase the rigidity of a door edge and reduce the chance of a door splitting around the deadbolt. Some steel-edge doors are adequately protected without an escutcheon plate.
The Door Frame
The door frame is often referred to as the door jamb, and it is inherently weak. In most cases the frame is weakest component of the door assembly. Usually constructed of soft wood, they offer little or no resistance to splitting. The most important point of any door security system is the place where the deadbolt lock meets the frame.
Some ways to increase door-frame security:
- Adequately anchor the strike plate to the wall structure of the house. A strike plate is a piece of metal, usually brass or steel, that attaches to the door frame and receives the bolt. Standard strike plates are secured with two screws, which offer little or no protection against door-frame failure. All exterior door frames need high-security strike plates. High-security strike plates have four or six offset screws and are usually constructed of heavy gauge brass or steel.
- The strike plate should be secured with at least 3" screws with a solid-wood filler inserted between the door jamb and wall structure (studs). The solid-wood filler should extend a minimum of 12" above and below the strike plate. Security products exist for metal or aluminum plates to be installed behind the door frame and out of sight. This type of reinforcement method has proven to be very effective while maintaining aesthetics.
- All door hinges should be secured with at least 3" screws. While less likely an occurrence, the possibility exists a burglar could attack the door from its hinge side.
Entryways with side lights on one or both sides of the exterior door are prevalent in residential subdivisions. While these types of doors are aesthetically pleasing, without proper security, they offer a minimal level of protection.