If you've ever had your home broken into, you know the sense of violation it leaves behind. Homes are private spaces, and they're supposed to be free of public intrusion. And quite often these days, they're work spaces too, crammed with computers, scanners and fax machines alongside all the expensive equipment and pricey toys that define our leisure hours–just the things that turn your home into a target.
So how do you safeguard against intrusion and theft? There are two common approaches–high-tech and low-tech–and both start with the understanding that if a professional thief really wants to get in, it will probably happen. So protection in the real world is a matter of degree.
The reasonable assumption is that most thieves are opportunists, and they'll choose an easier target over a more difficult one most of the time. If it takes too long to gain entry, if breaking in will create too much noise, and if once inside, there are still further obstacles such as motion sensors and alarms, then the chances of getting caught increase. If you do enough of the right things to raise the risk factor sufficiently, the balance begins to shift in your favor.
High-Tech Vs. Low-Tech Solutions
If your home's been burglarized before, or if it houses an expensive hobby collection or lots of business equipment, you may wish to consider a professionally designed, installed and monitored security system. These systems have sensor and alarm components wired to a control panel that is connected to a central monitoring station via phone lines. Any breach of the system is investigated immediately, either by the security company or the police.
The problem with these systems is that they're costly to install and you'll pay a hefty monthly monitoring fee as well. So unless you feel especially vulnerable, a simpler, low-tech approach may work about as well. The strategies we've chosen are based on affordable products you'll find at your neighborhood home center or building supplies dealer. And, you can install them yourself in a weekend or two with common household tools.
Begin With Door Locks
If your locksets appear worn or have a sloppy feel to them, your first step is to replace them with new, quality units. The difference between a flimsy lockset and a good one is only about $10, and this first line of defense is no place to skimp.
Each exterior door should also have a deadbolt lock. There are two types: double-cylinder locks, keyed on both sides, and single-cylinder versions where the inside is controlled by a latch knob. Double-cylinder locks offer better security, but many codes don't allow them because they can interfere with escape in case of fire. We installed a deadbolt that's keyed on just one side (Weiser No. NDC-9470, about $17, Weiser Lock, 6700 Weiser Lock Dr., Tucson, AZ 85746).
Most new doors are steel-clad with either wood or steel-clad edge trims. If yours has a wooden edge, install the lock as you would in a wooden door. If it has steel-clad edges, like ours, look for a plastic insert covering the lock area.
The insert has score marks, corresponding to different bolt plate sizes. Pick the size you need and cut through the insert with a utility knife. Then break out that part of the insert. If you find a steel plate with machined screwholes, use these holes to dictate the placement of the bolt. With the paper template supplied by the manufacturer, mark the centers of the bolt and the lock. Using these marks, bore through the face of the door with a 1 1/2-in. holesaw. When the pilot bit just pokes through, finish the hole from the opposite side. Bore into the door's edge with a 1-in. spade bit. To accommodate the throw of the bolt, bore 1/2 in. past the far edge of the lock hole.
Insert the bolt into the edge hole and screw the plate in place. Then, slide the latch side of the lock in so it engages the bolt mechanism, and install the cylinder half of the lock. Secure these components with the provided screws.
Look for a raised nub on the end of the bolt. Color this nub with lipstick or a crayon, close the door and operate the bolt to leave a spot of color on the jamb. With the spot as a center mark, hold the lock's strike plate against the jamb and trace around it with a sharp utility knife. Then, bore into the jamb with a 1-in. spade bit. Chisel out the strike-plate area to about 1/16 in. deep, and secure the plate with the supplied mounting screws.
If you have a sliding door, its lock is the weak link in your perimeter defense. The simplest and most effective solution is to bar the sliding half against the jamb of the stationary half. To do the job, we chose a Patio Security Bar (about $26, Master Lock, 2600 N. 32nd St., Milwaukee, WI 53210).
The bar fits openings between 29 1/8 in. and 43 7/8 in. Just lift the handle and extend the bar until it fits the frame, then lock the pin in place and lower the lever.
Secure Your Windows
Locks for double-hung windows are a problem, because most work only with the window closed. If you'd like a little ventilation, you have to surrender your security. To resolve this problem, we installed a Fortress sash lock (about $8.50, VSI Donner, 12930 Bradley Ave., Sylmar, CA 91342). The lock comes with two plates so the sash can be secured in two positions. To install this lock, first screw a lock plate to the lower corner of the upper sash with the lower sash closed. Then, insert the lock's bolt through this plate and screw the lock to the top of the lower sash. Finally, install a second lock plate several inches above the first, allowing the window to be locked in a slightly open position.
We opted for a PIR motion-sensing Wireless Ceiling Alarm (about $30, Homewatch Security, Lamson Home Products, 25701 Science Park Dr., Cleveland, OH 44122). This device senses heat movement within 20 ft. and sounds a 100 dB alarm. It's activated by a compact remote that fits a key ring. To install it, pick a spot above a traffic area and screw the metal mounting bracket to the ceiling. Then, attach the sensor and secure it with two side screws.
Install A Security Light
Breaking and entering is a lot easier in the dark, so a motion-sensing flood light is a good idea. Because a new light will require some new wiring and an indoor switch, check with local code authorities before starting the work.
While the light we installed (Intelectron, No. BC9000R) is no longer in production, you still may find it on store shelves. Similar units are available, such as the model SL541ZWA (about $25) made by Heath Zenith, P.O. Box 90004, Bowling Green, KY 42102.
We wired the new light to an underutilized 15-amp circuit, through an existing ceiling fixture. We then installed it on the gable end of the house, about 12 ft. off the ground.
Begin by shutting off power to the circuit and dropping the existing ceiling fixture. Then, go into the attic and bore down into the interior wall that will house the new switch. Feed two 14/2 w/g cables into the wall cavity. Staple both cables to a nearby joist and run one to the existing ceiling box and the other to the security light location. Staple both cables every 4 ft. and within 8 in. of their respective box connections.
To install the switch, hold a plastic cut-in type box against the wall, 44 in. off the floor, trace around it and cut the opening. Pull the two cables from the wall cavity into the back of the box. Strip the sheathing from the ends of the cables, press the box into its wall opening and secure it by tightening its screws.
Join white wires in one twist connector, ground wires to a grounding pigtail attached to the switch's grounding screw and black wires to the switch terminals.
Our ceiling fixture contained two white wires, two black wires and two bare ground wires. One of the white wires is coded with black tape to indicate that it's the hot feed to the existing switch. The remaining white wire is the neutral side of the lighting circuit.
To bring power to the new switch, remove the twist connector from the coded white wire and black hot wire and join the black wire from the switch to these wires. Then join the white wire from the switch to the existing white wires.
Using a 1-in. spade bit, bore into the gable end of the attic at the location of the new light, and feed the cable from the new switch through this opening. Thread a short, galvanized nipple into the back of an exterior weather box and pull the cable into the box through this nipple. Fasten the box to the siding with galvanized deck screws and strip the sheathing from the exposed cable.
Join the black switch loop wire with the black fixture leads and the white wire with the white fixture leads. Attach the ground wire to the fixture's mounting strap, or as local codes dictate. After installing the fixture, aim the sensor and caulk between the box and the siding and the box and fixture cover.
- For a steel-clad door with steel-clad edges, find the plastic cover at the lock area. Follow the scored marks to cut away the cover.
- Use the lock's template to mark the hole center on the door face. Then, cut the hole with a 1 1/2-in. holesaw.
- Bore the hole for the bolt with a 1-in. spade bit. Bore past the far edge of the face hole to provide room for the bolt.
- Slide the bolt in and screw the plate to the door. Make sure the bolt hub, visible in the face hole, is oriented down.
- Apply lipstick or crayon to the nub on the bolt end. Operate the bolt with the door closed to mark the strike plate location.
- To install the Patio Security Bar, adjust its length to fit between the sash and the jamb, then lower the tension lever.
- To install a Fortress window lock, screw the first lock plate to the lower corner of the upper sash with the window closed.
- Position the lock on the lower sash so its bolt fits the hole in the first lock plate. Then, screw the lock in place.
- Finally, install the second lock plate a few inches higher. This allows the window to be locked in an open position.
- To install a ceiling-mounted motion sensor, use plastic anchors to screw the metal bracket to the ceiling.
- Attach the sensor to the bracket, using two side screws. This unit is powered by two C batteries.
- After choosing the switch location on an interior wall, move to the attic and bore a hole through the wall's top plate.
- Feed two cables into the wall–one to bring power and one to feed the new fixture. Anchor the cables with staples.
- At the switch, join white wires and secure black wires to switch terminals. Attach grounds to the grounding screw.
- Join the black wire from new switch to coded white and black hot wires. Join all white wires with twist connector.
- At the new fixture, join black and white switch wires to black and white leads. Attach ground wire to grounding strap.
- Attach the fixture to the box with its fastening nut, caulk all seams and aim the sensor out and slightly downward.