Many people are convinced that their home is safe from intruders and even disasters. Of course, no one ever wants to believe that their property and their loved ones may be at risk. The truth is that most people take home security for granted. They either rely on outdated systems or assume that they are just not going to be a target. Many people never think it will happen to them.
Those of us that do think about home security may not really understand how easy it is to let things slide and form habits that put us at risk. Statistics show that over half of the burglaries in the US involve some type of forced entry. This means that the old standards, door locks, locked windows, and even deadbolts may not offer the right level of security to protect what is yours.
When it comes to keeping your home and valuables safe, we all take different steps to secure our homes. How do you know if the steps you are taking are doing any good or if those attempts are futile? In this article, we will uncover some of the most common mistakes that, unfortunately, many people make. Don’t worry though, we’ll help you avoid making this same mistake by explaining how to fix them.
What is Home Security?
You may automatically think of home security like an alarm system or something similar that electronically monitors your home through cameras, motion sensors, etc. While these can be a very important part of home security, it is much more involved than simply punching in a code on a keypad.
Home security includes all of the steps that we take to secure our home, property, and belongings when we are both at home and away. This includes locking the doors, as well as many other things such as making it difficult for a ‘would-be thief’ to easily access your home without being seen. We’ll go through many of the aspects of home security that some people tend to overlook.
Not Using Monitored Security Systems
Speaking of alarm systems, a surprising number of people have systems installed in their homes but fail to use them efficiently or even at all. While it has been shown that houses that have alarm systems and advertise, with yard signs or window stickers, are slightly less likely to be burglarized than a home with none, a system that is not in use can often be easily detected by thieves.
First, if you have a security system, use it! It may be very easy to run out the door and assume that the locks and security signs will be enough. However, all too often that is not the case. Unfortunately, as high as 15% of burglaries occurs when someone is home. Protect yourself and your loved ones by arming your system when you are at home.
Second, upgrade a self-monitored system to a 24/7 monitoring system. Using security systems that are linked to your cell phone or laptop for easy monitoring is a great option. BUT you are not going to spend all of your time away from home monitoring that data for signs of breaches in your security. When possible, hiring a company to monitor your home will give the freedom to not have to worry about regularly checking on your home while you are away.
Trusting Weak Doors
Everyone has seen some movie where a cop or bad guy kicks in a door. You may be surprised how easy it can be to force open a door that is not made for security. Deadbolts only truly work to prevent less motivated criminals from getting to your valuable.
Improving the strength of an existing door can be done by using longer steel screws (3 to 4 inches) through the door mounts and strike plates into the solid frame around the door. This inexpensive upgrade will help to deter most intruders.
If your door is older or made of wood, you may want to consider upgrading to a reinforced steel door. A steel door will not give way and distributes any force applied to it across the entire door. Steel doors often come with reinforced casing as well. Secure the casing into the door frame with long screws and you have done everything possible to prevent someone from breaking down your door.
Hiding a Spare Key
Gone are the days that it is safe to keep a spare key somewhere outside your home. Criminals know all of the tricks and will not be fooled by that ridiculous fake rock or fail to look under your doormat. Even DIY tricks like gluing a rock to the top of a medicine bottle and placing it near the door are so widely known that thieves are definitely aware of them. Just don’t do it.
Having a spare key around is to prevent you from locking yourself out of your home, or allowing access to someone who does not carry a key, like a child or a friend. There are several ways to improve your door lock that will not only increase security but give you instant control over who can enter your home.
One option is to upgrade to a digital door lock system. Users enter a code to lock and unlock the door. The advantage of digital locks is that the codes can be easily changed if someone gets the code that you do not want in your home. Some models can even be programmed with different codes for each member of your family. This is a great option for families that want to monitor when children return home.
Not Securing Second Floor
One area of home security often overlooked is second (or third) story windows or doors that may not seem as easily accessible. Motivated thieves will take whatever steps necessary to get into a house they have targeted, including a climb to a second-story window, using a ladder left unsecured (see the next mistake), or even climbing a drainpipe or tree. Window air conditioners also become a target for entry. They can easily be pulled from the window and allow access.
The solution is to make sure to secure every window or door on your home when you leave. Just because it seems difficult to access, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. If you use a security system, consider using motion sensors at each window.
Homes that utilize window air conditioners on any floor should make sure to properly secure the air conditioner to the window casing to prevent it from being removed from the exterior of the home. If you are going to be away from home for some time, taking the air conditioner out of the window is your best bet.
Leaving a Ladder Available
A surprising number of people actually leave a ladder laying alongside their house, fence, or in an unlocked garage or shed. Thieves love it when you make their job easier. This goes with the previous mistake about not securing second-story windows. A ladder allows easy access to these areas with the added likelihood that your neighbors may assume that they are supposed to be there since they are using your ladder.
The way to fix this one is simple, put your ladder away and lock it up. If you do not have storage space for your ladder, you may want to consider using a lock to secure the ladder to a fence, or something away from the side of your house, or at least a side that cannot be easily entered even with a ladder. The idea is to make it harder for a thief to access your home and valuables.
Using Fake Security Signs and Equipment
We’ve all seen security signs in yards, and are probably familiar with what security pads. You may or may not be aware that these things can be purchased separately. Many people think that they gain security just by advertising that they have a security system, even when they do not.
Admittedly, these false signs and equipment have been shown to slightly decrease break-ins over not using any security. However, further investigation has discovered when former thieves are asked about the use of such signs and equipment, they are more likely to want the property closely for signals the system is real. They are also very familiar with the fake stuff.
Another simple solution; avoid using fake security signs and things that make it appear your property is more secure. Discovering fake signage may even convince a burglar that you have something valuable worth risking.
Visible Items of Worth
These days we have several items in and around our homes that are targets for thieves. Take a moment and look around where you are right now. How many easily carried items can you see that may be easily sold for some cash? We often think about things like expensive jewelry and even our smartphones, but fail to remember the value in everyday items that can easily be seen from a window or door that is left uncovered.
There are a few options for decreasing the visibility of your valuables.
- Organize and Put Away – putting away things that you can, or at least put them outside the line of sight from main windows and doors.
Some common things to consider as common targets include:
- smart home devices
- gaming systems
- Cell Phones
- Non-electronic items too
- Designer apparel
- Shoes (especially name brand)
- Using Window Coverings
- Mini Blinds
- Opaque Windows
- Custom Stained Glass
- Protect Ground Floor Bedrooms
- Don’t leave valuables on bedside tables or dressers
- Store Jewelry and money out of site
- Don’t leave out prescription medications
- Just because you know the medicine may not have any street value, a burglar may take the chance if they think it may be pain medication or other prescriptions.
Advertising Travel Plans on Social Media
The increase in people using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share their plans, including location has led to a drastic increase in break-ins while people are traveling. While it is understandable that you may be very excited to share your adventures, do so knowing that the wrong person may see the information and know that your home is empty.
Not only will eliminating or at least limiting posting your location when away from home help to discourage thieves, but there are also a few other things you can do that can help protect your property while you are away.
Ask a trusted neighbor, family, or close friend, to check on your house while you are away. Hiring someone to take care of your plants and animals while you are away is an excellent way to monitor your home. This works especially well if they are able to check at random times. In most cases, thieves will often watch a property for a short time, or even longer, before making their move. If a would-be intruder notices that people are coming and going, they will be less likely to make the attempt.
Another great option is to upgrade some of the lighting and electronics in your home to smart technology. These devices offer scheduling options allowing you to have lights turn on and off at several different times. Making it at least appear that someone is in your home. Many of these devices can also be controlled via apps when you are away from your home for even more customization.
Bonus tip: Purchase a smart plug and use it to plug in a cheap (non-digital) radio that is left on and the volume turned up. You can schedule the plug to power on and off at various times. One report shared that burglars would “absolutely not” break into a home if they heard a radio or TV from fear that someone might be home.
Leaving Garage or Sheds Unlocked
You make sure to lock up your home, even use a security system, but disregard locking your garage or shed. Many people do not realize that we often store some valuable things in our garages and sheds, including tools, collectibles, and family treasures. Even worse is leaving your garage or shed door completely open for a period of time. This allows the chance for someone to notice what you have. Things stored in these places can also be a signal to valuables in your home. Discarded or reused packaging for electronics, even the type of power tools you have can be a signal to the worth of potential items in your home.
Simple solution: lock them up and keep them closed as much as possible. Sure, it may be a pain to open a garage door to put up your lawnmower, but it is better than giving a would-be thief a clear view of the contents of your garage.
Mail Piling Up
One of the most common mistakes that people make when traveling is to either stop their mail delivery or arrange for someone to collect it in their absence. This applies to all families, including homes that have street-side mailboxes and house mount mailboxes. The one exception may be if you have a mail slot. Even a couple of days of mail can be a significant amount of mail these days, thanks to all the junk mail we are subjected to, so it adds up fast. A sure sign that the home is likely empty.
Most post offices will easily suspend your delivery for any length of time. Depending on the size of your post office, you may be able to set a date for delivery to resume and they will deliver everything held upon your return. In larger cities and metropolitan areas, you will likely have to visit the post office when you return to resume delivery and pick up anything that was held.
When you are planning on being away from home also be sure to check that you have no scheduled deliveries while you away. Deliveries made from companies other the United States Post Office are not likely to have the option for holding the items. Or worse, they may leave it on your doorstep regardless of any instructions you may have given them. If you have expected deliveries, arrange for someone to gather the deliveries for you.
Hiding Spots (Fences, Overgrown Bushes)
We all love our privacy and beautifying our homes. We install beautiful six-foot privacy fences and line our homes with large bushes and shrubs. The problem with these things is that in not only do they add privacy and curb appeal they offer places for people to hide while they are attempting to access your home.
Depending on the areas that you have that may be especially vulnerable, the solution may be a bit different, so we’ll take them separately.
We would never suggest removing an existing privacy fence. However, if you are planning to install a privacy fence you may want to consider designing your fence to allow for increased visibility to your home’s primary entrances. If this is not a possibility then you can upgrade you fence closures to keyed entry, or secure them from the inside with a lock before you leave. While this will not guarantee that a burglar will not attempt to climb your fence, it will make them take that step if they want to enter your home from that direction. Climbing a fence or even breaking through a wooden fence can attract unwanted attention.
When it comes to landscaping and the ways that thieves may use them to hide, you can either remove them, keep them trimmed enough that someone cannot hide in them, or erase the hiding spot by highlighting it. Add some decorative lighting between shrubs and your home to illuminate areas where a burglar may be tempted to lay in wait. Lighting can be controlled remotely according to a schedule or even operated automatically using dusk to dawn sensors. You can even use lights that are run using a solar panel that requires no electricity.
How you light your home inside and out can influence how attractive your home may be to an intruder. We’ll cover a couple of mistakes specifically related to lighting here.
Leaving Lights On
While we definitely recommend leaving lights on in your home, you should consider the lights carefully. Leaving a light on continuously while you are away can easily become a sign your home is empty. Think about it this way, if you drove by a home several times, saw no movement in or around the home and the same light was on all day and all night, would you notice something a bit off? When a thief is scoping out a potential target, they notice things like that.
This is the reason we suggest using some type of timer for lighting different areas of your home. Smart bulbs can easily be scheduled to turn on and off are multiple different times and even different from day to day. Consider the way you normally use lights and use that as a guide. Do you read for a bit before going to bed? Do you turn off all the lights each night as you walk toward your bedroom? Remember, you want it to appear as if a real person is in your home.
Dawn to Dusk Lights
Automatic lights that have sensors that detect the sun and come on after the sun sets and stays on until the sun rises again are a common option for many homeowners. And they can be useful in many areas around your home. However, dawn to dusk lights are often very bright and as a result, can cast long shadows between where they are focused and just outside the range of the light. This creates blind spots for thieves to hide.
Eliminate these spaces using motion sensor lights, either in place of or in addition to your dawn to dusk lights. Not only do motion-activated lights increase the risk for an intruder, but they can also be used to alert you to occurrences that trigger the motion sensors. Motions sensors can work during nighttime, and some also work during the daytime for added security while you are at work. As an added bonus, if you choose to replace dawn to dusk lights with motion-activated lighting you will be using less power and may even notice a change in your electricity bill.
Locations of Lamps and Other Lighting in Your Home
One aspect of lighting that many people fail to pay attention to is the placement of lighting in reference to the windows and doors. If you use a lamp away from a window or an overhead fixture for lighting, then it would be reasonable to expect a shadow to move across the window at some point. Adding a lack of visible movement to any of the mistakes in this list and it will be easy to assume no one is at home.
The solution for this is simple, use lamps located close to windows or doors to light your home when you are away. These lights will not only eliminate the expectation of visual movement, but they will also likely be brighter against the window than a light on the opposite side of the room.
Finally, Kenneling Your Pets
We’ve saved this mistake for last because many people may not like the idea of leaving their pets home when they are away. The cost of kenneling your pets, including dogs and cats, can be significantly more expensive than hiring someone to stop by and check on them while you are away. The advantage of having your pets in your home can be significant.
First, time and time again when convicted burglars are asked, they state that a barking dog is nearly always a deterrent to them entering a home. Many people will assume that someone may be home or returning very soon. If you must keep your dog confined while you are away and between visits from a dog walker, place their kennel close to the front door, but out of the line of sight, this will allow them to be alerted easier and sound louder to an intruder.
Cats are the vacationer’s best friend. Cats often make their way through every part of your home and their movements are almost always completely random, or at least appear to be to us mere humans. Whether they are perched on a windowsill or brushing against curtains, a cat’s movement makes a home seem less empty. From the outside, a cat can easily help a home appear like someone is home. For added security help from your cat place a few motion sensors lights throughout your home. The cat will set them off easily. For these lights, we suggest a simple battery operated motion lights, like the type used to light hallways or closets. These models are very inexpensive, and the idea is as effective as it is imaginative.
We’ve covered many of the most common mistakes that regular people make every day regarding their home security. We’ve also offered several ways to solve these common mistakes to increase your home’s security and provide you with added peace of mind knowing that you are more protected. We hope you have found this helpful and wish you the best in securing your property and loved ones.