Home Security (FAQ)
We get a lot of great e-mail questions from homeowners, landlords, apartment dwellers, crime victims, and from the media. We posted some of the questions and answers here for your benefit.
Think of your home as a box and the doors and windows as being openings to that box. Burglars will enter through doors or windows accessible from the ground. Just closing and locking these accessible openings when you’re away is a basic burglary prevention step. As a rule of thumb, all doors should be made out of solid core wood or be metal-clad to prevent or delay forced entry. All exterior doors should be equipped with heavy-duty deadbolt locks supported by heavy-duty four-screw strike plates fastened with three-inch wood screws solidly into the door frame. Exterior doors should have a peep-hole viewport to see who's outside before opening. Accessible sliding glass windows and doors should have secondary security devices to prevent forced entry or lifting the window pane out if its track. See Burglary Prevention Advice for more details.
Obviously, burglars are attracted your home either because of its isolated location, your lifestyle, or the way you secure the home. Simply stated, your home has burglar curb appeal and appears to be an easy target on your block. You can change this by fortifying doors and windows (see Burglary Prevention Advice), installing an alarm system and use it, and examine your lifestyle. For example, if you are gone a lot you should set up a relationship with neighbors to watch over your home, and pick up newspapers. If you are gone at night, install light timers to turn on interior lights or the television to simulate occupancy. Don’t leave windows, doors, or garage doors open while away and lock side gates. Use alarm signs and beware of dog signs.
In a word, yes. Basic home alarm systems are designed to detect unauthorized entry and evidence of fire and report it…that’s it. It’s the fear of detection and reporting that prevents burglaries. Reporting consists of a loud bell or siren that sends most burglars running or the option of having the signal monitored by an external alarm company that will notify whomever you request. To keep burglars out, you need to warn them first of the existence of your alarm system by using a lawn sign and window decals of the alarm company. Of course, for all this to work the homeowner needs to incorporate the use of the alarm system into their everyday routine and actually use it.
The brand name doesn’t matter as long as it's good quality. Alarm systems use basic electronic components and wiring and works using a series of open and closed electonic switches. A hard-wired system is the most reliable for a newly constructed single family home. Each door and window alarm contact is supported by its own pair of wires back to the alarm panel and can be isolated as the exact point of entry. Hard-wired system wiring and door and window contacts are imbedded into the door and window frames and thereby protected from tampering. See my Home Alarm Systems webpage.
A less-expensive reto-fit solution will use wireless technology to transmit a radio-frequency signal back to the alarm panel instead of by wire. The wireless devices are battery operated and therefore are larger and mounted externally on the door or window point of entry. They are cheaper and easier to install, but suffer from issues of tampering, battery failure, and radio frequency (RF) signal interference. Budget usually dictates what system is appropriate for your home. Wireless works great in rental housing.
Alarms systems vary dramatically with add-on options much like buying a new car. For most people the basic alarm package is good enough. The basic system provides door and window alarm contacts on all openings, one or more infra-red motion sensor inside, an audible horn or siren, and a control panel with a digital dialer and keypad. Beyond the basic alarm system you can add hard-wired smoke and heat detectors, glass break detectors, ultra-sonic and infra-red motion sensors, temperature sensors, shock sensors, control panel tamper sensors, battery back-up, and cell phone signal reporting technology. I’ve seen upscale homes with sensors monitoring the temperature in wine cellars and caviar refrigerators.
No, the local horn or siren works well enough to dissuade most burglars. Program the siren to reset after 30 seconds. However, if you want the police or fire department to be called in your absence then a monitored system is the only way to go. Be advised that most insurance companies require a monitored alarm system for discounted fire insurance rates.
Besides being ugly and a radical security measure, window grills definitely work to prevent entry through accessible windows. To be effective, the grills need to be made of substantial material and fastened with non-removable screws that cut deeply into the window frame. Be aware that the US Fire Code prohibits putting bars on windows in sleeping rooms unless there is a proper release mechanism inside or two points of escape.
Metal screen doors with a deadbolt lock definitely add another layer of protection to the home. They are installed on top of the door frame and swing outward making it more difficult to force entry. These screen doors are good for homeowners who routinely leave their front door open for ventilation. These doors should not be relied upon for high security because the screen can be easily compromised and expose the deadbolt latch.
Yes, burglars hate guard dogs. Dogs are noisy and can attract unwanted attention. Large guard dogs are potentially dangerous to intruder. Because of this fear, “Beware of Dog” signs posted on a gate or fence can be very effective in keeping burglars off your property.
This is largely an urban myth, although it is technically possible. Automatic garage door openers use remote controls that send out radio frequencies (RF) to activate the garage door opener. It is possible for a burglar to read this RF code as you enter your driveway and push the transmitter button. The crook would have to be in very close proximity (right behind you) to capture this signal with the right equipment and knowledge how to use it to open your garage door in your absence. A criminal with this much talent could probably find a real job somewhere. Fortunately, most quality garage door openers now have a RF signal scrambler feature that uses a random RF signal for each opening and thereby defeats the risk of code copying and use.
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