Thoughts on Home Security - Discouraging Nefarious Activity
Burglary, break-ins, squatters... oh my! These are insane times... initial indications show crime is at historically high levels in many regions, especially here in California. The goal is to NOT be a willing participant. So, homeowners need to be extra vigilant regarding their property, whether home or away. In this post we'll chat about some things to consider to hopefully deter bad actors from violating your private property and/or absconding with your stuff, whether from burglary or even takeover (i.e. squatting).
A brief note on squatting. If your home is subject to squatting, even if squatters leave before you return, often times you are left with massive expenses related to damage and/or theft. So, preventative measures can be key. With a dwindling law enforcement presence in many areas, squatting can be a real problem, especially given that in many jurisdictions squatting is generally considered a civil (not legal) matter ("Adverse Possession"). Often times squatters can get better legal representation through advocacy groups than homeowners can. So, preventing squatting in the first place by keeping your home secure, and uninvited persons out, is key. In the end, while not hard to prove a home is yours via payment of property taxes, insurance, utilities, etc., you still may spend large sums of money to remove the squatters, repair damage, and cover legal fees, as such squatters often have nothing for you to legally go after (recompensation).
Before I start listing tips... my first tip, especially for you Millennials... STOP announcing the fact your home will be unoccupied to the entire world. I know... I know... you really want to show off those bikini & banana hammock pics in real-time while on vacation, but waiting until you return is the safest bet. Posting real-time pics when you're half a world away promotes bad juju and just invites trouble. Additionally, you'll probably make better decisions about what you post when you've not consumed a half dozen margaritas. Plus, after the fact posts, often feel less braggadocious and tacky... less of "look at me", and more about celebrating the fun you had. #EndMillenialCommentary
Ok... so... below are some IMHO, FWIW, FSAG, FYI, ETC... opinions / thoughts. As usual, I have lots of thoughts on the subject, but I'll try not to go on too long. Remember, I'm not a real life professional on the topic, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night and my friends find my advice helpful, so take it all with a grain of salt... or whatever saying fits.
From passers-by and the public, your home should generally look the same whether you are actually home or have been on that 14 day Alaskan Cruise.
Utilize a good quality home alarm system. They often deter thieves from entry in the first place, or can create a premature exit upon sounding. Use an "away" mode when gone, and a "stay" mode when home... for peace of mind. I talk more about them HERE.
Utilize good quality video security (surveillance) cameras. Piece of mind comes from seeing everything is OK while away. The exterior of most homes can be covered with just four or so outdoor cameras. Plus security cameras are a great way to check-in on that special cat who constantly ignores you but coughs up hairballs into your shoes while you are away. I talk more about security cameras HERE.
As part of your security camera sitchy, doorbell cameras can be a great addition and deterrent of theft. Not only do they show you're serious about security, but alert you immediately when something is delivered.
I personally believe the combination of an alarm, doorbell cam, and surveillance camera(s) should be part of every home's security plan.
When away, have a trusted person (i.e. close family member / friend) check on your house daily, also gathering packages, mail, and even setting your garbage can out to provide the illusion that the home is regularly occupied. Consider having them stop by at the end of the day to ensure all packages are retrieved, lights on, etc., etc.. Better yet, if possible, just have someone house sit as it could even be a nice vacation for them. If you have pets, I'm sure they'd appreciate the company.
Avoid leaving packages at your door, on your stoop, or wherever delivered. Get them in your house ASAP. Besides porch pirates, it signals when you're not at home, because who'd leave a tasty Amazon box outside all night. When my camera goes off and I see a delivery of consequence, if not planning to be home for a while I know I can ping my neighbor to hold it for me.
Whether home or not, keep outside lights on. A well-lit home is a good thing. You don't need super bright floods that annoy neighbors, just a few of your normal outlets with mid-brightness LED bulbs which only cost pennies per day to operate. One in front, out back, and on sides to illuminate entry points can go a long way. Additionally, LED bulb makers like Philips make light bulbs with integrated sensors that when left on turn themselves off during the day and on at night (i.e. dusk to dawn mode).
Yard lighting, you know the kind that goes around your plants, is also a good way to make your home unfriendly to intruders. Modern LED lighting is not difficult to install and relatively inexpensive.
Don't entice those who enter your home to return uninvited. It's not out of the realm for humans that service your house or provide delivery to see something they want, then return (uninvited) to take it. So, when scheduling that next delivery be mindful of what they see, obfuscating desirable things, while promoting your surveillance cameras, alarm system, and other security methods. Don't be a dick about it, as most people are generally good, just use some common sense sprinkled with a bit of paranoia.
Make your home difficult to breach. You should utilize deadbolts on all doors with quality key locks. If an exterior door doesn't have a deadbolt, install one, handle-based spring latches are easy to defeat. Personally, I don't like smart locks and talk about them HERE. Being a technologist, I prefer good old fashioned keys. Also, solid dual pane windows are a good choice and you can even buy heavy-duty security windows that are impact resistant. There are actually lots of great window security products, which are often budget based.
Please, lock doors and windows when both away and also home. If nobody is actively using a door, why not keep it locked... it'd prevent some derelict from just walking in... it happens. Same with windows, if not open keep it locked. I've often read that this is one of the most basic, but underutilized methods of protecting your home.
Aside from just integrated locks, there are lots of creative ways to enhance the security of doors and windows. Sliding doors can be easy to defeat, but Amazon has lots of well-rated and low-priced sliding door security bars. And while shopping there, why not add a quality brace for your standard doors too. Just be sure whatever you do doesn't hamper emergency exit in case of fire or other emergency. Also, be sure your door was hung with hinges in so it can't be easily popped off. There are way too many ways to further secure doors and windows to list here, but a trip to the hardware store or a quality Google search can point you in a good direction.
Know exactly who you've given keys to and immediately rekey when one is lost or stolen. If you move in to a new home, unless the locks / keys are certified to be secure, don't make assumptions and conder a re-key. Oh, and don't be lazy and leave a key under the mat, flower pot, etc.. that's just ridiculous and invites trouble.
Everyone wants to seem like "all that and a bag of chips", but if the cost is inviting theft or trouble to your home, is it worth it. Placing tasty items or creating an environment whereby it's perceived you have nice things may make you feel good, but it also can make you a target. Act like a showy poser and you'll likely be treated the same. Secure things that are meant to be secure and be overt about your security measures. If you are "all that", you really should have a professional security consultant review your sitchy and recommend protection measures.
Be sure to fully scrutinize service companies and their respective personnel who work in / around your home. Cleaners, pest control, landscapers, etc., should all be licensed, insured, bonded, and have been background checked by their respective HR departments who can acknowledge clean backgrounds to you. Also, after each time such personnel are onsite be sure to inspect the house afterwards to ensure all windows, doors, and entry points are secured. We've all seen movies where a home helper leaves a window open for a partner criminal... lets just keep it in the movies.
If you have a safe, be sure it's hidden, securely bolted to the wall or ground, and has a motion sensor with a very loud alarm in case moved without proper unlocking. No criminal wants to be driving around with a 120 dB siren blaring... kinda akward. You should also ensure your safe protects against fire & water intrusion, and if it doesn't, safeguard sensitive items with supplementary protection inside. Also for those with "things", a decoy / honeypot safe might be worth it... essentially, a safe that's more easily found that maybe looks like you're lazy and just forgot to secure it, but has some fake jewelry that looks real and small amounts of cash, etc.. If lucky, it could just cause thieves to leave more quickly thinking they struck gold. Oh, lastly, don't forget to keep fresh desiccant / silica gel packs in your safe(s) so things don't get moldy.
Blinds & drapes are fantastic... use them. You shouldn't allow neighbors or passers-by to just see into your home. Obscure visibility with window coverings. With the smorgasbord of options available, there's no reason you can't let light in but still hamper visibility. Every window, whether standalone or part of a door, should have a covering on it. Keep your home an unworthy mystery.
Speaking of window coverings, for those with street-facing indoor Christmas Trees, do you really need to show it and everything around it to the world? The answer is no. Seems like that should have stopped with Boomers. Just decorate a yard tree and keep your inside tree a mystery to all but family. Little Jane will be pissed at Santa when her new iPad is absconded because you want to show off that gaudy Clark Griswold tree.
Your garbage can says a lot about you. When its not out on pickup day, it says you're not home. So, when on vacation, have your home caretaker put it out. Additionally, what's in it speaks volume. Those bags from LV and Tiffany... well, don't make them obvious, crush them up and put in the plastic bag with the smelly cat litter so not easily discovered. I have personally dealt with a questionable individual going through neighborhood cans on pickup day, obviously analyzing what's inside for potential break-ins. I knew what was up.
Nefarious parties looking to violate your home rely on sounds and prefer the quiet. Often times loud sounds or music puts them off. You ever wonder why some stores play very loud music outside and near entrance? Also, when not home, consider having a quality radio on with talk / news programming whereby the sound of human voices (not too loud) just breaks the silence that'd normally be present. It doesn't need to be big, just not some cheapo grainy-sounding AM radio. Speaking of noise, if you still have old-school wired telephones, be sure to unplug them so they don't ring forever... a clear sign nobody is home.
Dogs can be great home protection. Home violators just don't want to deal with unknown dogs. Just don't get one that will eat the neighbor's cat, harm children, or otherwise get you or others into trouble. Also, be sure that the dog breed you are looking at is not blacklisted by your insurance company... many are. If you don't want a dog, consider buying some dog bones & toys and leaving on your porch or in back yard to create the illusion. Just don't forget to have someone gnaw on the dog bone every once in a while so it looks used.
Entry points to your house should not be obscured from public (i.e. street) view... you want your neighbors and others to see who's entering and/or hanging around your doors / entry points. If you have a six foot tall hedge blocking a door from street view, nothing prevents others from witnessing and hopefully deterring a break-in. Also, you don't want to create criminal hiding or staging places around your home.
However, you do want good perimeter barriers around your property to prevent easy ingress onto property, especially where fencing doesn't exist or work. Tall shrubs, especially thorny varieties, do the job well at preventing property intrusion, other than via designated access points. If they have to enter via a well-lit front entrance with potential witnesses, including your cameras, hopefully intruders will think twice and move on.
Since we're talking about yards, if you plan to be gone for a while, like an Antarctic Expedition, Cannes Film Festival, or the like, be sure to have someone take care of your yards. An unkept property is a solid signal to squatters that the house is available for takeover. Remember, don't advertise to others your gone... be discreet about things.
If you have a garage, use if for the intended purpose... storing your vehicles. It's about time you eBay or NextDoor all that crap you don't need. If a car is outside every day for months, then gone one night, that's a clear signal someone's not home. Also, you'll get the benefit of protecting your car from break-ins / theft. Plus, there are many other side benefits of garaging, like a cleaner car, more paint longevity, keeping dry, less warm up time, etc.. And of course, keep your garage closed and locked. If gone for a while, consider powering off the opener and clamping your door shut. Just be sure to leave a note to unclamp before you power back on.
At least once a year take comprehensive photos of your home (inside & out) to document the state of affairs and what you have. However, because there's obviously sensitive things in the photos do NOT put those in the cloud or on unsecure devices. Put the photos, along with a ledger of what you own, on an encrypted USB drive, like a Kingston DataTraveler / Iron Key that resides in your safe deposit box, or other highly secure location.
If your neighbors are proven trustworthy and also cool peeps, they could be a great resource for helping with your home... just be sure to know what kind of spirits they enjoy consuming. However, just because the guy next door might be convenient, remember a d-bag is still a d-bag and don't trust him with your stuff just simply out of convenience.
This always seems silly, but don't let unannounced strangers into your home. I still hear accounts of people allowing salespersons and government solicitors in their house, which to me not only seems dangerous, but kinda weird given the times. Your elderly relatives probably need reminding of this.
Secure your hard-copy documents... not only from theft, but also fire / water intrusion. It's way too easy to perform identity theft with just basic information, so don't make it easy for thieves to get your entire life on paper... keep it secured. Also, shred stuff you don't need. Not with some cheapo shredder but a quality Micro-Cut shredder like those from Fellowes and other good brands.
Backup your computer... just in case the worst happens. I've written about that HERE!.
Learn about "When Smart Homes Turn Evil"... HERE!
Get deets on "Homeowner App Considerations"... HERE!
Last, but definitely not least is choosing a great realtor. You'll be trusting them with your home, not just getting you to a sale, but your actual home and all the stuff in it, so be sure they're worthy. Plugging Stocker & Watts here... but the firm has an impeccable track record in this area.
Final thoughts.... when thinking about security, I always try to think practical application, and keep in mind the hungry bear analogy. In the forest if you encounter a bear, it'll likely go for the slowest, easiest, and closest catch. So, I just make sure I'm faster than the slowest person... that's why I always invite my grandma who has a bad hip... JK. Anyways, same thinking applies for home security, simply make your home a less tempting target than those around you.
Hope this post was at least entertaining... thanks for stopping by today! 🤠 Always feel free to e-mail me comments. You can find my info on the "Team" Page.
DISCLAIMER: I'm just a guy who's been around tech and knows some stuff. I always remind others that what I say is purely FWIW, IMO, FFT, FYI, and many other acronyms... so while I strive to convey quality deets... you get no promises on accuracy or validity. I'm sure a lawyer would say; information not guaranteed, actual results may vary, and use at your own risk.