The Ultimate Guide to Home Security
A burglary can leave you with a broken home, vandalized property, and stolen possessions. They can also leave you with a sense of being violated and vulnerable. Unfortunately, most home burglaries are crimes of opportunity that occur when home owners are not vigilant about securing their homes. That's why it's important to understand the details of strong home security.
In our guide, you'll learn why home security is so important as well as signs that you might be at risk for burglary. We'll explain steps you can take to protect your home and family from burglars and intruders, and offer a comprehensive guide to home security system features that can make a difference in your safety. Read on, and prepare to make your home a safer, more secure place to live.
Why You Need Home Security
Everyone wants to feel safe at home and have the security of knowing that you, your family, and your important possessions are safe. But burglaries happen all the time. What are the odds that your home will be burglarized? According to the FBI, a burglary happens every 3.7 seconds in the United States. Are you at risk? Consider these facts from FBI crime statistics:
- In 2013, burglary resulted in $4.5 billion in property losses, with burglaries of residential properties accounting for 74% of the total.
- Though crime has decreased since 2012, there were still an estimated 1,928,465 burglaries in 2013 throughout the United States.
- The average burglary takes just three to five minutes.
- On average, each burglary costs home owners about $2,322.
- In 2013, 59.2% of burglaries involved forcible entry, and 34.3% were unlawful entries. That means 34.3% of the time, burglars are able to simply let themselves in, thanks to an unlocked door or window.
- Attempted forcible entry accounts for 6.4% of burglaries. This is good news: often, attempted forcible entry incidents happen when a burglar tries to break in, but is caught by an alarm or scared off.
- In 27.6% of all household burglaries, a household member was present. Of those present during a burglary, 26% became the victim of violent crime. Of all household burglaries, 7.2% involved household members who became the victim of a violent crime. In most cases, 65.1%, household members who became the victim of violent crimes in household burglaries knew the offender.
- Most, 85% of break ins are not from professionals, but rather, nonprofessional criminals who may be more desperate -- and dangerous.
The Top 35 Cities for Burglary Crime
According to 2013 FBI data these are the cities with the most reported burglary crimes. Is your city on this list?
- Houston, Texas: 23,733
- Chicago, Illinois: 17,775
- Phoenix, Arizona: 16,747
- New York, New York: 16,606
- Los Angeles, California: 15,728
- San Antonio, Texas: 14,850
- Las Vegas, Nevada: 14,785
- Dallas, Texas: 14,516
- Indianapolis, Indiana: 13,445
- Memphis, Tennessee: 11,825
- Detroit, Michigan: 11,754
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 10,408
- Fort Worth, Texas: 8,316
- Cleveland, Ohio: 8,259
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: 8,016
- Baltimore, Maryland: 7,391
- Jacksonville, Florida: 7,069
- Austin, Texas: 6,550
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 6,491
- Charlotte, North Carolina: 6,439
- Kansas City, Missouri: 6,412
- San Diego, California: 6,355
- Atlanta, Georgia: 5,938
- Tulksa, Oklahoma: 5,935
- San Francisco, California: 5,931
- Nashville, Tennessee: 5,613
- Cincinnati, Ohio: 5,467
- Fresno, California 5,223
- San Jose, California: 5,173
- Oakland, California: 5,058
- Tucson, Arizona: 4,957
- Denver, Colorado: 4,918
- Bakersfield, California: 4,605
- Minneapolis, Minnesota: 4,601
- Saint Louis, Missouri: 4,305
There are a few interesting entries on this list. First and foremost is Houston, Texas. Though it's a large city (the fourth largest in the United States), it is not as large as New York, Los Angeles, or Chigaco. Yet, Houston ranked at the top -- by far -- for burglary crimes in the U.S. And Phoenix, Arizona, only sixth by population, is ranked third for crime. But San Diego seems to be doing a good job. Ranked eighth for population, the city is just 22nd for burglary crimes.
Though Louisiana has no cities in the top 35 for burglary, don't be fooled into thinking that the state is immune to property crimes. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. Hammond, Louisiana and Lake Charles, Louisiana lead the nation for the highest rates of burglary per 100,000 inhabitants, with rates of 1,949 and 1,813 respectively. That means adjusted for population, Hammond and Lake Charles are the most likely cities to experience a home burglary.
No matter where your city ends up on this list -- if it is there at all -- you could still be at risk of a home burglary at any time, so it's best to be prepared.
Are You at Risk for Home Burglary?
Residential burglaries often happen during the day while household occupants are at school or work. Of the 1,402,214 residential burglaries that happened in 2013, 722,231 occurred during the day. Only 389,910 happened at night. Additionally, household burglary happens 11% more often in the summer than in the winter. Is your home at risk?
Burglars break in to homes for all kinds of reasons, and there is no one typical motivation for burglars, except that often, they are in need of money. Reasons burglars break into homes include gang activity, as well as quick cash for drugs or alcohol. Usually, they break in using simple, easily accessible tools including pliers, crowbars, screwdrivers, and small hammers. Burglars often target easy to move property, including:
- Small electronics, such as phones, laptops, and tablets
- Television sets
- Prescription drugs
- Guns and firearms
- Personal papers -- for identity theft
Homes Often Targeted by Burglars
Through a burglar's eyes, some homes are just ripe for picking. Unlocked doors, easily scaled fences, and vacant homes are at the top of their wish list. Don't hand your home over on a silver platter. Here's what burglars are looking for:
- Homes without security systems, as they are 300% more likely to be broken into
- Homes close to where they live
- Homes on a single block or specific neighborhood
- Previously targeted houses for more property left behind or replacement property. They may also tell other burglars about houses they've broken into
- Homes with new residents, as most home owners don't immediately install a home security system
- Homes where they have already gained access as a contractor, painter, or delivery driver
- Homes that are vacant for extended periods of time, looking for signs such as accumulated mail or newspapers, overgrown lawns, or open garage doors
- Homes with cover over doors and windows. Trees, shrubs, walls, fences, and other features that obscure the view of the front or back door, as well as first story windows, make it easy for burglars to reduce their risk of being seen as they break in or leave
- Secluded homes that are isolated from view to reduce the risk that neighbors will see or hear them
- Homes with poor lighting around entry points
- Homes with accessibility through side or back doors or windows, as well as limited visibility alleyways
- Homes near major roads with more vehicle and pedestrian traffic
- Homes with weak entry points, often due to age with rusting hardware, old locks, or decaying window or door frames
- Homes with open or unlocked doors and windows
- Homes without security devices. Research shows that burglars are less likely to gain entry to a home when it has two or more security devices in use, including deadbolts, security lights, window locks, and alarms
- Homes with visible valuables, such as a TV you can see through the window
- Homes without dogs that may alert neighbors to their presence
- Snowy homes without car or foot tracks
How to Reduce Your Risk of Home Burglary
How can you protect yourself? Simple precautions like locking your doors and turning on lights can make a big difference. Follow these tips to make your home a safer place to live:
- Report suspicious activity to the police immediately. Contact 911 if you observe a threat to life or property. Call the non-emergency number if you do not see an immediate threat, but call 911 if you're not sure
- Install a home security system, especially if you've been targeted by burglars before
- Never post about travel plans on social media, as this can alert criminals to the fact that you'll be away from home
- Make your home appear occupied with visible activity, lights, on and a vehicle in the driveway
- Be especially vigilant after you've had strangers in your home such as contractors, painters, and delivery people
- Respond to visitors at the door, as burglars may ring doorbells to confirm no one is home. You do not have to answer the door, however: simply telling them you're not interested through the door will alert them that someone is home
- Maintain your lawn, as some burglars take an overgrown lawn as a sign that the home is vacant
- Check your mail, take in trash cans, remove flyers from your door, take in packages, and take in your paper. This is another sign of vacancy that burglars look for
- If you're on vacation, ask a neighbor to take care of mail, packages, papers, flyers, and other signals for you. Or, ask for a house sitter
- Trim trees and shrubbery that may obscure the view of your doors or first floor windows, as this provides cover for burglars
- Don't leave tools or ladders outside that can make it easier for burglars to break into your home
- Add motion lighting near all entry points
- Set lights and appliances on timers to give the appearance of use in your home
- Upgrade doors and locks, including frames, as well as window frames. Burglars may look for older or cheaply made doors and windows that can't stand up to force
- Secure your back door as well as your front door. Don't make it easy for a burglar to gain access through a sliding glass door or weaker security from the back. Use a deadbolt, chain, and other door level security features
- Do not leave keys or garage door openers in your vehicles if they're parked outside
- Always lock doors and windows, especially in the summer months. Remember, 34.3% of burglaries do not require forcible entry, meaning, burglars let themselves in using unlocked doors or windows. This includes garage doors and interior garage doors as well as second or third floor windows
- Add frosting to your garage door windows. Burglars may simply look inside your garage to see if a vehicle or other valuables are present, making it worthwhile to break in
- Install additional security devices, as studies show that alarms, combined with other security devices, will reduce burglaries
- Change your locks if your keys are lost or stolen
- Never leave a note on the door for family members or deliveries that may indicate you're gone
- Never hide house keys in obvious places. Most often, home owners leave keys in flower pots or under the doormat. Instead, simply give a key to a neighbor you can trust
- Lock your gates. Don't make it easy for burglars to get access to your concealed back door
- Conceal valuables with window coverings, or move valuables out of the sight of windows
- Consider burglar bars. If you live in a high risk neighborhood, or have been targeted by burglars in the past, bars on the windows, particularly at easy break in points like basement windows, may be a good idea
- Add security film to windows, which holds glass together if it's broken instead of allowing it to shatter
- Install door hinges on the inside of your house, preventing burglars from popping your door off
- Store outdoor valuables out of sight, including lawn mowers, bicycles, and barbeques
- Consider getting a dog for security. While dogs may not deter all thieves, the presence of security animals may make it more difficult and less appealing to break into your home
- Cover miscellaneous openings including dog doors, crawl spaces, skylights, and window air conditioners
- Ask a neighbor to make car and foot tracks for you if you're not home
- Install security plants with prickly leaves or thorns that cover fences or block windows
- Use your alarm system. Remember, alarm systems are only useful if they're activated
Avoid Becoming a Victim
Unfortunately, most criminals are not charged with home burglaries, and instead, walk free to continue to target home owners time and time again. Only 13% of all reported burglary cases are cleared, often due to a lack of witnesses or physical evidence. Additionally, a household member is present in 27.6% of all household burglaries, putting your family members at risk for becoming a victim of violent crime. Take these steps to protect yourself from violence and help police and your home owner's insurance company recover your lost property and peace of mind:
- Inventory your valuables and store your inventory in a fire safe container: You should have serial numbers, make and model, and fair market value to give police the information they need to recover your items. This will also assist your insurance company when making a claim. In addition to on-site storage, it's a good idea to upload a list of your valuables to the cloud, just in case your safe and computer are stolen. If valuables don't have a serial number, mark them with your driver's license number or last four digits of your social security number.
- Secure your identity: Store your documents in a secure area that's locked and has theft deterrent features. Your tax forms, social security numbers and cards, bank statements, and passports should not be easy to access. Allowing criminals to get to your personal information puts you at risk for identity theft -- on top of burglary.
- Secure small valuables: Burglars love to go after small valuables, such as jewelry. Lock up family heirlooms and prized small possessions in a difficult to access safe, or simply don't leave them at home.
- Bolt down safes: Burglars may not have time to crack your safe, but they can take it with them. Secure your safe with strong bolts that make it difficult to run off with your valuables and documents.
- Keep your cell phone charged: If you're home during a burglary, you may not be able to reach a land line, and your cell phone can come in handy.
- Get involved in a neighborhood watch: Start or join a neighborhood watch for your area to encourage reporting of suspicious activity and crime prevention strategies.
- Get a safe room: High tech safe rooms are an option, but you don't have to involve extensive features to add a measure of security to your home. A safe room can be as simple as a closet that you can add an interior lock to. This gives you and your family a place to hide and call the police if you're home during a burglary.
- Establish a signal with your alarm company: A burglar may allow you to answer the phone if a home alarm company calls, expecting you to tell them everything is fine. But if you work out a signal phrase such as, "No thanks, we just got home," you can ask for help without angering the burglar in your home.
- Display your house number: Make it easy for police to find your home in case of an emergency by hanging house numbers on your home and painting numbers on your curb.
- Don't open the door for strangers: Burglars may go door to door to case neighborhoods under the guize of solicitation or official business. They'll identify the most vulnerable and valuable houses, then come back to break in when you're not home. Sometimes, home invasions happen this way, too. It's best to simply not open the door, but alert visitors to your presence by telling them you're not interested. Be sure to tell children not to open the door for strangers as well. Of course, you should install a peephole to view your front porch if you don't have one already. Don't be fooled into thinking you'll be protected by a door chain, as they are easily broken.
- Add a camera: Even if you're burglarized, the criminal is more likely to be caught if he or she is seen on camera.
- Stay safe if you're inside: If you're home during a burglary, first, try to escape. If that's not possible, go to your safe room, or hide out of sight in a closet. Do not turn on the lights. Call 911 immediately and wait quietly for help. If you can, get your car's remote entry device and press the panic button to alert neighbors that you need help, and potentially scare the burglar away.
- If you plan to use a gun, be prepared to shoot: Most experts recommend not confronting intruders, but if you plan to use a gun to scare of an intruder, you should be ready to use it. Guns are often not enough to scare off a burglar, who may have a gun of his or her own. Don't let a burglar call your bluff, and be prepared to shoot first.
- Talk about false alarms: If you've had trouble with a faulty alarm that goes off, be sure to get it fixed right away. Once the problem is solved, make sure you tell your neighbors that it's been fixed so that they will continue to pay attention if your alarm is tripped. Otherwise, they may eventually ignore it.
What to do if You're Burglarized
The unthinkable has happened: your home has been broken into. What now? Take these steps to stay safe, recover what you can, and protect yourself for the future:
- Report burglaries to the police immediately: If the crime is in progress, call 911, otherwise, call the non-emergency line.
- Do not enter your home: If you come home to a broken door or window, do not enter, as the burglar may still be inside.
- Don't touch anything: Don't clean up, inspect, or touch anything until the police have had a chance to inspect for evidence.
- Share details of the crime: If you observed the suspects, write down details including clothing, height, and race, as well as any vehicles used in the crime, with license plates. Write these details down so you'll remember them.
- Call your insurance company: Submit all necessary documentation to your insurance company so that your claim can be processed and you can recoup losses.
- Tell your neighbors: Burglars may target certain blocks or neighborhoods, so it's important to warn your neighbors that they may be at risk. They may also be able to give you additional information about the crime to share with the police or your insurance company.
- File charges: If police are able to arrest the burglar, pursue charges to deter future crime.
- Involve police if you locate stolen property: If you're able to find your stolen property at a garage sale, online, or in a pawn shop, call the police to request assistance. Be prepared to provide information that establishes your ownership of the property.
- Clean up and move on: Get your home back in order, cleaning and repairing any parts of your home that may show signs of a break in. You'll also need to come to terms with the break in emotionally, as you may feel violated and vulnerable.
- Improve your home security: Learn from your burglary incident and consider what went wrong. Upgrade your security measures so that you can better avoid future intruders.
How Home Security Systems Can Help Keep Your Home Safe
With a home security system, your home becomes a more difficult target for burglars. Most criminals are looking for easy targets, and with a security system, you have an added line of defense that makes their job more difficult. The presence of a home security system typically deters criminals who would prefer to break into homes that do not have security measures in place. In fact, homes without security systems are 300% more likely to be broken into.
Security system alarms are loud and are likely to scare off burglars. In fact, attempted forcible entry accounts for 6.4% of burglaries. This is typically when a burglar tries to break in, but flees the scene after an alarm is tripped.
Security systems can alert police to the scene of the crime, potentially catching the burglar before he or she gets away with your property, or commits a violent act on you or a member of your household. Additionally, most insurance companies offer discounts of up to 20% for insurance with a home security system installed.
Choosing Home Security Features
Home security systems come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of protection. Consider which features are important to you in home security by learning more about what many home security companies have to offer:
- Home security sign: Often, just the presence of a home security system is enough to scare off a would be burglar, as homes without security measures make for easier targets. However, be careful not to use a fake sign, as most burglars are familiar with them, and they can alert a criminal to the fact that your home is not genuinely protected.
- Advanced door locks: The front line of defense against burglars is your front door. Consider an advanced door lock with tougher to beat hardware such as a deadbolt, reinforcing latch, door reinforcer, and features that let you set an access code, unlock your door remotely, or even get a text when your door is opened.
- Alarm siren: Most security systems will come with an alarm that alerts you and neighbors to the presence of a problem. You should also have an interior siren that can notify you if there's an issue.
- Security camera surveillance: Using a security camera is a proven way not just to deter criminals, but to catch them in the act if they attempt to break into your home. Install one or more small mounted outdoor cameras. Some models offer sound and video, or motion activated surveillance. Others may also have live feed views, or send text notifications when triggered.
- Window and door sensors: The most common security tool used in homes today, sensors will sound an alarm any time a window or door is opened.
- Motion sensor lights: Burglars breaking into your home at night would prefer to stay in the dark, but a motion sensor activated floodlight puts them in the spotlight and can alert you or your neighbors to their activity.
- Wireless access: Some home security systems offer wireless technology, using radio signals to communicate. These systems are typically easy to install, and can often be controlled remotely with a smart phone.
- Backup power system: This ensures that your security system will continue to work even during a power outage.
- Key chain remote: With a wireless remote, you can instantly arm or disarm your alarm system.
- Automated appliance control: With automated controls, you can have lamps and other appliances turn on to give the appearance that someone is home.
- Fire, smoke, flood, and carbon monoxide detection: While fire and smoke detection features won't stop an intruder, they can protect your family and your home in case of a fire or other emergency. They may also quickly alert the fire department to a problem in your home.
- Panic buttons or codes: In case of an emergency, a panic button or code can alert the authorities that you need help.
- Remote monitoring: This ties your home security to a call center that will be alerted any time an alarm is triggered. Typically, they will call your home to make sure everything is OK. If you don't answer, they'll send for help.
- Glass break detection: These detectors listen for the sound of glass breaking, and will set off an alarm if heard.
- Pressure mats: Placed under rugs, these devices set off an alarm when activated.
Protect Your Home with a Home Security System
Want to feel more secure in your home? Research home security systems to find the right features to protect your home today.