It’s bad enough to lose something of value and importance to you, but it’s nothing short of tragic for you or members of your family to be traumatized or harmed. Much as we like to protect our belongings, this is the real purpose of home security—to keep safe those precious lives that can never be replaced. This makes the security of the inside of your home of absolute utmost importance.
Interior Lighting Essentials
Yes, we’re back to lighting but only because it is one of the simplest and most important factors in home security. Lighting is essential for free viewing and for convincing a thief that he’d be better off elsewhere. Here are the essentials to know in regards to interior lighting for home safety.
- Evaluate your lighting and switch circuit, and be sure that you have appropriate lighting in all areas of your home. Also, make sure that your circuit for that lighting “makes sense”—as in, that you can quickly and easily flip a switch upon entering or leaving a room, and not have to cross a room to turn on a light and see who or what is there. If your system is not ideal, you should work toward having some rewiring done to make it so.
- Program a light in a main location to turn off and on for the overnight, but not for the day. This ensures the safety of people waking in the house, but also makes it easier to move around if you need to inspect something or find a phone to call for help. It also ensures you are not coming home to a dark house (the same should be done for an exterior light for the same assurance).
- Evaluate your lighting from the outside looking in. Turn on lights and walk outside to see if they are lighting up empty accesses or providing visuals into the home that you don’t want. Likewise, consider sheers or shades to obscure inside views and grant you more privacy.
- Make sure there is good lighting inside at doorways so that you have a clear view when you go to answer a door or check a peephole. Don’t leave yourself in the dark!
- Install timers for vacation and long-term (overnight or more) absences. These range from small, simple, standard timers with limited programming ability to wall switch timers for setting exterior lights and heavy-duty timers that can control a variety of appliances and lights (TV’s, electronics…) with more randomization.
Timers are of course one of the most well-known and advisable tools for home security, particularly for when you are going to be away. Timers can easily create the illusion that you are home without any of the tell-tale signals that no one is there; for example, a light left on all night long or all day long in the same room, or no lights on at night. You need to take care to use timers intuitively, though. Think about the lighting that really is used in your house at night and when, and work to recreate your presence. To add to the effect, it helps to keep a station tuned to talk radio on (preferably on a timer) and, as mentioned, to accompany that if possible with some strategic electronics use.
Locks are your defense against the world. But that defense is only as good as the lock. That means, as we said before, using the right lock for the right purpose, but also ensuring that that lock is of high quality.
If you think all locks are alike, they are not. Cheap locks made of inferior materials or locks used improperly are sure to invite trouble. On the other hand, a quality lock used appropriately will make life so difficult for the would-be thief that he or she will simply move on to easier turf. While it is true that no lock is impenetrable, it is also true that good locks are harder to force or pick than cheap locks. Sure, given enough time a thief can and will find a way into your house, but criminals are into quick and easy in and out with as little muss, fuss, and risk of being caught as possible. According to the National Crime Prevention Institute, the typical burglar will not spend more than a minute trying to pry or pick a lock; so in the end, you made need to replace that lock, but if it is strong enough to hold him or her off for a minute then quite likely your home is in the clear.
So the first order of business is to make sure that all locks you buy and install are of highest quality. While we are on the subject, we should also point out that it is a good idea to install new locks or have new locks professionally installed whenever you move into a new home—even if you bought the home, as you still have no way to be sure the previous owners didn’t leave keys in the hands of old friends, neighbors, or family (or misplaced a key that can be traced back to your home).
Of equal importance is knowing the major types of locks and knowing where and when to use them.
- Deadbolt locks. Deadbolt locks are those that have an internal “bolt” that slides into the door’s interior into a lock plate. These are the locks that are key-operated that would be installed in addition to a knob or knob lock. Deadbolts will always open by key from the outside and may open by key or small knob from the interior. A good quality lock will secure by at least one inch into the door plate—less than that is too easy to force open. Deadbolt locks should be on all exterior doors, and/or on doors leading inside from a garage or attached building.
- Vertical deadbolt locks. Vertical deadbolts do not rely on security into the door frame, but rather lock into themselves into “fingers” on a partnering metal lock. This makes them almost impossible to pry the door open from the frame with a pry bar (a common entry tactic). They are for use on exterior doors as well and may take the place of a regular deadbolt. They are larger and a little less attractive than plain deadbolts, hence their more limited use.
- Knob locks. We are all pretty familiar with the door knob lock idea—the lock mechanism is installed into the door knob and a key is used to open it. These are the least secure locks for exterior doors. Something as simple as the clichéd credit card can be used to open them. The only uses for a door knob lock are for interior doors (primarily for privacy) or as an added layer of lock security for exterior doors. DO NOT rely on door knob locks as your only exterior door defense, no matter how good you think the lock is!
- Chain locks. Chain locks are also familiar sites to homeowners. Very simply, one side (the retainer) is mounted into the door jamb and the other is mounted on the door to secure the chain. They allow the door to open only a few inches for line of sight and to see who is at the door. The key with these locks is to make sure the lock and chain are strong, and that the retainer is screwed deep into a strong wooden wall. Chain locks are very easy to force open once the door is ajar, so you still need to take care with them. They are also only to be used as additional security, and not as first-line exterior defenses. Chain locks should be installed only with a strong deadbolt as a primary lock.
- Bar locks. Bar locks are very secure and nearly “pick” proof, but are very unattractive so are not commonly used home locks. Bar locks have two bars that hinge from the middle, each extending to a side of the door into a lock plate in the jamb. They are usually used only for locations with high risk or valuables, or for doors that will not be seen (such as a basement door).
- Keyless locks. Keyless locks are door locks that use a keypad and combination in place of a set of keys to open. They are as good as their quality and the locking mechanism behind them. You will not need keys, but all residents will need to know your combination. There is a chance someone could learn the combination, but it can be reset as necessary. Depending on the lock quality, keyless locks can be used on almost any type of door.
These are but a few of the most common types of door locks. There are many other variations and options. Talk to a locksmith or your security company for more suggestions and opinions, and a custom-tailored lock defense for your home.
On that subject, no lock is any good if the door that it is installed on is weak. All exterior doors should be of strong construction—solid construction, not ever a hollow door—and must be maintained in good condition with no loose panels or other potential points for breakage. Glass doors for exteriors need to be well-rated, but always pose a risk for breakage, so discuss the options and risk with your security company and/or manufacturers.
What is most alarming are the facts about home invasions. On average you have nearly a 17% chance of your home being burglarized. Obviously, tight home security is more of a concern than many people think it to be. A good home security alarm is a part of a comprehensive home security system.
Maybe a home alarm system is not in your budget yet, or maybe that is what brought you here. Either way, eventually this is the standard for home security that every homeowner should be striving for, and so you should know the basics before you start shopping.
- Hard wired systems. Hard wired systems are those that are physically connected to the alarm panel, which is usually located in the basement. This is the best option in home alarm security, but it may not be appropriate or possible for certain occupants (for example, for those who do not own their homes or live in older homes that make wiring difficult). If you are building a home but are not ready to invest in a hard wired system, it may be possible for your builder to pre-wire the house for a future alarm system, which would usually net a discount from the security company.
- Wireless systems. Wireless alarm systems are just what they sound to be—the various devices are not hard-wired physically to the panel, but send a signal from their remote location that triggers the alarm and appropriate emergency services if that is part of the package or service.
- Hybrid systems. A hybrid system has components that are both hard-wired and wireless. These systems lend added flexibility and capitalize on the best features of each option. There are various uses and combinations for hybrid systems and ways to utilize them to customize your home security package.
These are only the most basic of home alarm options. There are many additional services and backup security options that can enhance these services. You also have the option of starting small with the most important parts of your property and expanding later on. The only way to know what is really best for your home is to research and start talking to reputable home security companies.
All of these options and many more are available to both the DIY homeowner and through reputable security companies. Before you decide on one avenue or another, do some due diligence to really determine your needs and to determine affordability. With the many options and programs available, good home alarm systems are often much more affordable than you might think—it may not be something that you need to put off into the future at all. Similarly, depending on your abilities and the professionals you may need to hire, a DIY home alarm system may or may not turn out to be the most economical of your options. It pays to take a little time to really learn the total cost and needs for your home so that you can weigh the pros and cons of each.
Securing Your Goods & Valuables
The point of home security is first and foremost to keep the people in your home safe and out of harm’s way. However, your valuables and possessions and important documents are understandably important to you, too, and so you should also consider the safety of the most valuable and meaningful of those possessions, especially those that are irreplaceable.
One of the best ways to secure your possessions is to have a home safe. Identity theft is one of the most pervasive and fastest-growing crimes, so securing your essential documents is of utmost importance in terms of all-around personal protection.
There are three basic options in safes for the home. They are wall mounted, floor safes, and freestanding safes. There are mechanical and electronic versions of each. What you really want if possible is a mounted version, either the wall-mounted or floor safe that mounts into the floor. Those are much more difficult to remove, while a freestanding safe is much simpler to take away and find a way into later at a remote location. You also want a safe that is UL rated; unrated safes are cheap and easy to break into—much like cheap and accessible home locks, they are hardly worth your time and investment. UL ratings refer to fire resistance, but also can be used as an indication of quality and integrity. UL ratings are either A, B, or C, with A being the best and B or C typically offering enough protection for important papers and documents.