We all like to think of our home as our castle. It’s a fortress that protects us and our family from all the troubles and strife in the world. Once we’re inside we feel safe and secure. Sadly, try as we might, it isn’t possible to shut out the world and all its ills completely.
Real life, and its associated dangers and problems, has a habit of creeping in around the periphery and disrupting all our best laid plans. In an ideal world many of us would choose to build a moat around our property to keep out all the villains and the ne’er-do-wells. That might have worked back in the day, but we have to move with the times and live in the real 21st Century world.
So, if you can’t build a moat or put battlements around your home, what can you do to improve your home security? How do you keep your home, your family and your property safe from those who would do you harm or steal your most treasured possessions?
Well, you could, of course, spend a small fortune and invest in all the latest home security protection gadgets and gizmos. You could install an alarm and a host of CCTV cameras and have your home professionally monitored 24 hours a day. But, to do that you’ll need a very healthy bank balance.
So, if your budget won’t stretch that far, is there anything else you can do?
Can you improve the security of your property and guard your possessions without breaking the bank?
Well, the answer is, yes, you can.
Start by taking an analytical look at your property from both the outside and the inside. With an objective eye look at your home and seek out its strengths and weaknesses. Identify areas that are vulnerable and you will be able to target your hard earned finances where they are most needed.
Why should everyone have a home security checklist?
It’s often difficult to look at your home with an analytical eye. There’s usually too much emotional investment to be truly objective. That’s why it’s often the wisest course to rely on the wisdom of experienced security professionals and police know-how. Both will tell you that the best way to assess the adequacy of your property’s security is with the help of a home security checklist, so that’s what we’ve done. Here’s our home security checklist. Work your way through the list and decide which areas in and around your home need strengthening. Once you’ve done that, you can target your resources on the areas where they are most needed.
The perimeter of your property
By perimeter, what we mean is the boundary line where your property joins the street or road or the neighbouring property.
Stand in the street/road and take a good look at your house. Be objective, and don’t be tempted to justify or make excuses for any failings you notice. Be methodical and make sure you work your way through every check point. If you find fault or think improvements could be made, then note these down.
- As you look at the front of the house is the front door clearly visible?
- Are there bushes, shrubs, trees or walls that can hide or shield from view someone trying to prise open your front door?
- Can all the windows be seen clearly, or are some obscured from neighbouring properties by garden plants or outbuildings?
- Does the house look cared for and loved, or is it looking tatty and dishevelled?
- Do doors to the house and garage look secure and sturdy?
After looking at the house from the street, now walk around the whole boundary as far as you can:
- Are there any gaps and holes in the boundary fencing?
- Are there any places where burglars could easily slip through or climb over?
- Are there any hiding places where burglars could lurk unseen?
- How many entrances are there, and are all these secure?
The boundary lines at the front of the house should be wide and low. This will help neighbours and any passers- by see the front of the house clearly. Boundaries at the sides and rear of the house should be tall. You are allowed to construct perimeters walls up to 1.8 metres high (6 ft) before you need planning permission/consent.
- If the boundary wall or fence looks like it is easy to scale, consider the following:
- For walls, try growing prickly bushes or climbing plants like berberis and cotoneaster on the ground below the wall and up the wall to deter intruders.
- For fences, trelliswork on top of the fence makes them difficult to climb: combine this with thorny plants are you’ll be well-protected.
If it is a shared boundary with a neighbour or your neighbour’s responsibility, speak to them before you start taking any unilateral action. You may well both benefit from any remedial work undertaken: security will be improved for both of you, and they may agree to split the cost of the work with you.
Look at your house and ask yourself this simple question: if you arrived home without your keys, how would you get into the house? If a neighbour keeps a spare set for you, then forget about that for now. Just simple consider how would gain entry without a key:
- Are there spare keys hidden somewhere on the property?
- Is there a door or window that you know is flimsy and easy to open?
- Could you get in through the garage?
- Could you get into the property without making any noise or being seen by a neighbour or passer-by?
- Could you get into he property without causing any or too-much damage?
Why is this so important? Well, if you calculate that it would be easy to get into the house without keys, then a burglar will be thinking the same thoughts. If you’d find it easy to break in, just imagine how easy a professional burglar would find it.
Look at the building and answer these questions objectively:
- Are there drainpipes that can obviously be climbed? [cast iron drainpipes can be: plastic drainpipes less so. Cast iron drainpipes can be covered with anti-climb paint to prevent climbing.]
- Are there scalable flat roofs that give access to other windows?
- Are there walls, bins, trees or other items, even ladders to assist climbing?
- Where there is easy access to upper floor windows, have you taken any remedial security precautions to prevent intruders?
- Is there loose brickwork, woodwork or items left lying about which a burglar could use to break a window?
- Can a burglar easily get into a shed or other outbuilding to find something to help them break in?
Carry out the same inspection after it gets dark, and take a long look at the property, focusing particularly on the back and the sides of the house. Answer these questions:
- Is it very dark?
- Are there any security lights?
- Can someone approach the house and get quite close without being seen?
- Would someone be able to spend time trying to break into the house without being seen?
- Are there more hiding places now it’s dark – areas which weren’t immediately obvious during daylight?
Good external lighting outside a property is an excellent and effective deterrent against burglars. Lights fitted to a photo-electric cell which come on as it gets dark and stay on until it gets light – commonly known as ‘Dusk to Dawn’ lights – are very good. They’ll keep the exterior of your home lit, but because they use low energy or energy efficient light bulbs will help to keep the running costs down. Motion sensor lights can be also be effective deterrents, but they are often inadvertently triggered by pets and wild animals. What’s more, the beam of motion sensor lights can be quite strong, so care needs to be taken that you aim them away from neighbours to avoid annoyance.
Look at the doors and entrances to your property and consider the following questions:
- Are the door frames stron and free from rot, and do they fit snuggly to the building without any gaps?
- What is the thickness of the door?
- Does the door look sturdy and does it fit properly in the frame?
- Does the door have wooden or glass panels?
- Are these resistant to kicking or breaking, and are they fitted with toughened or safety glass?
Wooden doors should ideally be a minimum thickness of 44cm (1 3/4”). Glass panels should be fitted with laminated safety glass. Weak wooden panels should be reinforced with plywood or other strong wood. PVCu doors are usually good if installed to manufacturer’s specifications. If you want to add extra locks or security, you should seek advice from the installer or manufacturer rather than doing it yourself.
Take a closer look at any locks, hinges and extra bolts on the doors:
- How many locks are there on the door?
- Do the doors open inwards or outwards?
- Can the locks be double locked from inside the house?
- If there are bolts fitted, do they fit well, and do you use them?
Wooden doors should have 2 locks (at least one of which conforms to British Standard 3621 or other relevant national standard). Ideally doors should be secured with a 5-lever mortice lock and a cylinder rim lock, ideally one which can be double locked from inside with a key. If you’re unsure about the suitability of your door locks and would like further advice, then consult a locksmith who is a member of a Master Locksmiths Association.
Hinges must be securely fastened to the frame and capable of taking the weight of the door. Where a door opens outwards and the hinges are exposed to the outside, hinge bolts should be fitted to prevent the door being removed by slipping out the hinge pin.
Next take a thorough look at the letterbox and the area directly around the front door:
- Can you see inside the hall from any windows by the front door?
- Is the interior of the hall visible through the letterbox?
- How far can you get your arm through the letterbox?
- Can you reach the door locks through the letterbox?
Letterboxes should ideally be situated at least 16 inches from any door lock. Letterbox baskets fitted inside the front door will help to stop the stray arm of any burglar reaching the locks. There have been reported cases of canes with magnets on the end being poked through letterboxes and car keys being stolen. It’s imperative to remember that all keys should always be kept out of sight at all times.
There are various new letterbox products on the market which incorporate a solid piece of metal fitted over the back that ensure anything poked through them is forced downwards towards the floor.
Patio doors and French windows
- Can the patio door be lifted out of the frame?
- What kind of glass is fitted?
- Do the doors open outwards?
Patio doors and French windows should be fitted with toughened glass, which, granted is more for safety than security, but still add a layer of extra security in the event of a break in. Laminated glass is not cost effective for such large areas.
Patio doors often need at least one more lock in addition to the one supplied by the manufacturer. There should also be anti-lift device fitted for extra security: either a bar in the top channel or locks positioned so that the door cannot be lifted.
If French doors open outwards, then hinges will be on the outside so hinge bolts need to be fitted.
Look at your windows and answer the following questions honestly:
- Are the frames in good condition?
- Are there any gaps between the frame and the building, which burglars could force?
- Does the glass fit properly and snuggly?
- Is the glass cracked or compromised in any way?
- Is the putty or glazing beading sound?
All ground floor windows and those capable of being reached by climbing should be lockable with a key. When leaving the house all windows should be closed – even those that you think a burglar cannot reach. Vulnerable windows should always be locked. For information about which locks are right for your windows, seek advice from a reputable locksmith. For additional locks for PVCU double glazed windows, consult the window manufacturer.
If you have already undertaken some home security improvement work, it may be necessary to re-evaluate your fire security planning. Certain improvements might improve the security of your property but could have inadvertently compromised your capability in relation to fire safety. If in doubt, remember what the fire service always says: security provisions should take priority when the home is unoccupied – fire safety provisions should take priority when the home is occupied.
- Do you have a smoke alarm, on each level of your property, and do you check it is working every week?
You should always check the functionality of your smoke alarms. It only takes one faulty alarm for disaster to strike. Change the battery in your smoke alarm every year. Replace your smoke alarm every ten years.
If you have an alarm fitted, answer the following questions:
- When was it last serviced?
- If you have extended the house, does the alarm cover the extension?
- Is the key holder’s list up to date?
Alarms should be fitted to British Standard BS 4737; DIY systems should conform to British Standard BS 6707. In all other countries alarms must comply and be fitted in accordance with the relevant regulatory framework. Before fitting an alarm always seek advice from a reputable company or consult your insurance company to see which companies they recommend.
When carrying out security checks householders often overlook outbuildings, garages and sheds. They may be an afterthought for many, but they are probably more vulnerable and likely to be burgled than many homes. So, answer these questions:
- Are the buildings themselves sturdy and sound?
- Are they capable of being securely locked?
- Are they in fact regularly locked when not in use?
- Are the doors sound?
- Are the windows sound?
- Are there visible hinges on doors?
- Is there access to the house from one of these buildings?
- Is anything of value kept in there?
- Is anything kept in there that may assist someone to break into the house?
Obviously in an ideal world homeowners would try to make their sheds and garages every bit as safe and secure as their houses, but that isn’t always possible for one reason or other. Therefore, if you can’t properly secure your outbuildings, then make sure you don’t keep anything of value in there. You might not consider garden tools and children’s toys valuable in themselves, but if you add up the collective costs of bikes, mowers, strimmers, drills and other electric tools, you’ll quickly realise that they don’t come cheap. So, look after them and keep them out of sight of burglars.
What simple precautions can you take to make your home more secure?
Make forced entry as hard as possible for burglars
Burglars may prowl the streets at night looking for properties to steal from, but they’re essentially lazy. They’ll look for the easiest targets and will always take the path of least resistance. So, make their life more difficult:
- Re-enforce all entrance doors with additional locks. Fix window locks on all points of entry on all floors, and fix additional window stops, so that if they do manage to break the glass, (which they would prefer not to) the movement of the remaining window frame is severely restricted. You can even add safety glass film to windows for extra protection as long as it doesn’t look too bad or interfere with the aesthetics.
Windows & Doors
- All windows, upstairs and downstairs, should be fitted with at least one appropriate lock. and be always kept locked when you are not at home. It’s important to always lock your doors and windows, even when you’re at home or in the garden, as research shows 60 per cent of domestic burglaries occur via entry through the front door. It only takes a minute for a burglar to sneak in, but it only takes you seconds to secure your door.
- Timber doors should be secured using a mortice lock and/or night latch that meets British Standard BS3621 or other relevant national standards
- PVCu or composite doors with a multipoint lock should feature a British Standard TS007 3* Kitemarked euro profile cylinder
- If you’ve recently moved to a new house you should always change the locks, as you don’t know who could still have access to your property
- Invest in a door viewer/peephole to see who is at your property and reduce the risk of distraction burglaries
- Purchase a door chain and letterbox restrictor
You might consider some of that advice a little overboard, but it’s worth remembering that Home insurance premiums can be reduced by 5 per cent if correct security measures are in place, so discuss this with your insurance provider.
Put gates at entrances to drives and pathways
Is it better to deal with someone once they’ve entered your property, or to stop them entering in the first place until you can verify their identity? The answer’s simple. Don’t let them in until you can be sure of their intentions. So:
- Install gates on pathways and drives. If they want to come onto your property, they’ll have to come through the gates, and someone, somewhere, will see them doing this.
Gates & Sheds
- Secure garden gates with weatherproof padlocks
- Secure sheds with a padlock and heavy-duty hasp
- Fit additional strong locks to sheds and garage doors to bolster security.
- Consider placing a stand-alone alarm in your shed or garage to alert you to any intruders
- Sheds are not designed for secure storage. However, if you must store valuable tools or toys, or items which might assist burglars in breaking into your home in outbuildings, then secure these with anchors and cables to prevent these being used to assist a break-in
- Use security lighting and trim hedges to prevent potential thieves hiding in or around your property
- Invest in CCTV cameras and alarm systems to deter burglars and alert you to a potential threat
Property marking and inventories
- Make sure all your personal valuable items are security marked? Valuables protected by, and clearly listed as being protected by, security marking are statistically up to five times less likely to be burgled
- Keep a record of all your personal/valuable items and make a list of serial numbers and take photographic evidence of items for future reference. Keep that document somewhere safe. Ideally email a copy of that document to yourself and maybe send a copy of the document to one or two other people who you trust implicitly.
Make a secure storage area within the home but out of sight
- If you have to keep valuable possessions or documents on the premises, it’s probably worth investing in a safe, or a safe store. You can keep your treasures here, but make sure the safe store is well hidden.
If you have to leave a spare key, don’t leave it in obvious places
Before any thief attempts to break into a property they’ll first look for a spare key. Leaving a spare outside is wrong on so many levels, but we’re all guilty of doing it. We hide keys under doormats, within reach on a string through the letterbox, under rocks near the entrance or over the door, and these are exactly the sort of places a burglar is going to look at first. So:
- If you absolutely have to leave a spare key in or around the property, hide it somewhere an intruder won’t automatically look. Hide it somewhere that blends into the background or hide it around the side of the property or behind the shed.
- Better still, invest in a key vault with a code like lots of professional agents do. They’re not fool-proof and can be unlocked by seasoned professionals, but it’s yet another obstacle placed in their paths before they get entry to your home, and that must be a good thing.
If you do undertake security improvement work to your property or call in tradesmen to do it for you, then remember any work carried out must comply with local planning regulations, health and safety laws and current building regulations. It’s also worth remembering that whatever improvement work you do carry out shouldn’t make it more difficult for you to escape safely in the event of a fire. Another word of warning for those people living in rental property: if you do want to undertake any work to improve household security, then make sure you have the landlord’s explicit permission before you start any work.