Low Cost DIY Home Security
Let’s be honest, unless you have a fortified compound, and perhaps even then, if someone REALLY wants to get into your home, with a bit of time… they will, unless they are deterred by whatever measures you already have in place. But that’s what security is all about: time and deterrence! The good news is that some of the best security solutions are actually either free or relatively inexpensive, and they are things you can usually do or install yourself.
Generally, only two types of individuals will attempt to enter your home uninvited. Some might suggest that anyone who enters your home uninvited is a problem, this is true, but I make a distinction for a particular reason. Most criminals know that when someone is in the house when they enter it, it changes the crime classification. This means that if someone enters the home while you are there, the entire game has changed, and they are “all in.” This is why we should consider the motivations for their entry and how we address them and prepare for them.
The first is the burglar: this person wants the “low hanging fruit” or, better said, whatever you have that’s worth something. The good news here is that, statistically speaking, these people are typical male teens from your neighborhood and are usually unwilling to spend more than 60 seconds breaking into your home. These guys typically strike when it is believed you are not home, or at the very least, when it looks like you are not home.
The second is the “motivated intruder.” This person wants you, a family member, or a specific item(s) they already know about. The scariest part about this kind of intruder is that they are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they are after.
Sometimes the target could also be something specific the perpetrator has decided they need from you or someone in your house. An excellent example of this might be the Wichita Massacre, where the Carr brothers committed a series of crimes, including multiple counts of kidnapping, robbery, rape, and four counts of capital murder. Granted, whether or not they strike when you are home depends on the perpetrator’s motivation, but the chance is significantly higher that you will have a scary close encounter with this type of intruder.
But for the most part, both groups can be deterred if it is felt that the risk outweighs any potential benefit. Both groups will give up and try to get away if they think it is too much trouble. So how do we create that “trouble”? What follows are some no-to-low-cost options to help secure your home a little more. These solutions might work well as a deterrent for a burglar or as a way to provide you with extra critical minutes to either arm yourself and defend or possibly flee if you find yourself in the home when it falls under attack.
A Plan – Having a plan can make all the difference. This plan should be about more than just making sure your mail or paper is picked up. You can include things you need to do or have done while you are away, but this plan also needs to address what happens when you are home. It should include 1st, 2nd, and 3rd options regarding getting out of the house and just as many options for self-defense throughout the home (if not more). This plan should be reviewed and practiced at least several times a year, and the locations of your tools for self-defense should remain in place so that when or if something does happen, you will not have to suddenly remember that you moved them and no longer know where they are.
Doors – Rule #1 is “lock your doors.” Whether you are home or not, you should get into the habit of locking the door behind you. More than 90% of detected burglary attempts are deemed successful, and most are done without forced entry. This means they could walk or crawl through an open door or window. Similarly, and something to be aware of, is that the most significant number of these “breaches” occur through the front door (Fischer, Halibozek, & Walters, 2014). LOCK IT!
I would also encourage you to give some attention to your door construction. One of the easiest things you can do is to replace your 1-inch hinge screws with 3-inch screws. It would also be wise to ensure you have a deadbolt. Also, be sure to screw the bolt plate into the frame with longer screws. The idea is to get the metal attached to the studs instead of just the door’s frame. This adds substantial strength to the door and could buy you some crucial time when someone has to use multiple kicks rather than just one.
Windows – As mentioned before, you should lock these as well, especially your first-level windows or any window that an outsider would have clear, easy access to. Many are quick to dismiss window protection because of the glass element, thinking it doesn’t matter anyway because someone could always just break the glass and get in. Perhaps, but only to a point. Remember the spirit of what we are trying to accomplish: 1) deter or 2) buy time. Locks buy time and deter, and loud noises may deter or buy time. So what can we do to further this mission along? Let me suggest to you something called polyester window films. This is sometimes called “safety film.” There are varying levels of protection and different brands, but the ultimate goal is that instead of just shattering the glass everywhere, it holds the glass together in the event of a break-in. This may deter a would-be burglar because they can see right off the bat that you have invested in some security, or it might provide you a few extra moments from an intruder, which can make all the difference.
Plants and Shrubs – If you have shrubs near the house, they should be short, trimmed, and thorny. This is especially true if they are under or near a window. You want to reduce or eliminate places for someone to hide, and the bushes that remain should be considered part of your home defense – if someone goes through them, they need to pay for it. If you have trees, see about getting branches near the roof or a window cut down. Some trees and shrubs can make great natural ladders.
Lighting – there are two basic rules when it comes to lighting – 1) Bright and 2) Automatic. For the same reason you don’t want to have a property full of hiding spaces, the idea of lighting up the area when someone enters your property is good. And there is nothing wrong with going obnoxiously bright either, especially when you are not home – because you want your neighbors to be aware. The second rule is “automatic.” For instance, if your rear porch light is on all the time, and that is the only deterrence you really have, that’s a red flag for a burglar. Automatic, motion detection type lights work great and keep people guessing. They are not on all the time and come on when someone gets within range. Place your lighting where it will illuminate shadowed areas and direct some lighting at probable intrusion routes. You might also consider attempting to overlap lighting to prevent dark areas around the home.
Garage – The garage can be a perilous place when you think about it. Still, the same rules apply here. Lock your windows, lock your doors, and if the garage is connected to the house, treat the joint door the same as any other exterior door (dead-bold and longer screws). The garage is a great place to hide and can sometimes be surprisingly easy to get into because so many people treat it as though it were just an oversized shed. But think about it like this: it’s a great place to hide with lots of valuables and a gateway to more.
Valuables – The first place most burglars visit is the master bedroom. This is because the homeowner will keep their valuables near them. Just a thought, but you could switch this up a bit. If you are doing it right, the entire home should be just as secure as the master bedroom. Sometimes the safest place for something is in plain sight or a spot someone would never think to look… or have the time to look.
Regarding burglars, all you need to do is protect your things for a short period. Another fun tip is to make some of your valuables easily identifiable. Let’s say your bright orange lawnmower says “Property of Stan Smith,” and the person trying to sell it is not “Stan Smith.” You might have just saved your mower. Crooks don’t like easily identifiable things; they are harder to sell.
Cameras and Alarms – Cameras are great, and alarm systems are great – when they are used and functioning. According to the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association, burglars break into homes without an alarm system three times more often than homes with an alarm system. Other stats from different organizations vary on this, but it makes sense. Cameras capture the intruder for identification purposes. Crooks don’t like that. Unfortunately, these systems can get expensive, and there are some inherent problems with these systems.
For starters, beyond being expensive, the alarm systems add a couple of extra minutes to response times from law enforcement once an alarm is determined to be legitimate. As I have stressed, time is of the essence in these kinds of situations. This is actually made worse when you factor in the motivation of law enforcement or even the alarm company because roughly 80% of the calls are false alarms. The systems don’t always work accurately, and many people don’t use them correctly or consistently in the first place. However, there may still be a reason to consider getting one. One might be getting a discount on your insurance – which some insurance companies provide. Sometimes the discount on insurance outweighs the cost of the alarm system. The second might be the signage that comes with the system. The signage alone may be worth its weight in gold.
Signage – Signage is a funny thing. The right sign can cause doubt, leading to deterrence, while another sign can embolden. For instance, which of the following signs might encourage a mass shooter: a “gun-free zone” sign or a “we are armed” sign? This is basic stuff. So, just like you wouldn’t want to post a sign stating that your home is an “Alarm Free Zone,” you could do the opposite and post a sign that suggests that you have an alarm. Statistics suggest that occupants that display a sign in the front yard indicating that they have an alarm system are 90% less likely to be broken into. It’s that doubt factor. Pick up some signage – and FYI, “beware of dog” signs help too.
Law Enforcement – We really need to understand that if you are actually faced with the threat, you will probably need to deal with the threat yourself. In big cities like New York, Atlanta, and Chicago, the response time for law enforcement can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. In smaller towns, response times are significantly shorter, with an expected arrival of six to eight minutes. But in some towns, response times can be an hour or even longer. And that is, of course, if you actually had an opportunity to call in the first place, if your alarm system was functioning properly and armed consistently. Scary, right?
I don’t want to push anything on you here, but there is a reason why we call the police to help when faced with violent criminals. What I want you to understand is that there is no reason why you cannot or should not equip yourself with the same tools they use in an effort to be able to address the security issues as they occur. Not only is it your Right, but considering the statistics and response times, it’s probably the responsible thing to do.
Following these basic tips could increase your personal and home security. I want to encourage you to sit down and make a plan that includes many of the elements provided, as well as a plan of action on how you are going to implement more. Security doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be functional.
You might also like my article titled, “Performing a Risk Analysis.”
Fischer, R. J., Halibozek, E. P., & Walters, D. (2014). Introduction to security.