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Keys to Home Security
Copyright 2004 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Wichita Eagle
May 11, 2004, Tuesday

"Burglars don't like to work hard; that's why they're burglars," police officer Joe Seitz says as he instructs homeowners on how to secure their houses.

He has the same advice for people trying to step up security as he would for people dressing for changeable weather: layers. The more obstacles you put in the path of an intruder, the less likely he is to break into your house, Seitz says.

Another thing about burglars: They want to blend in. Most of them don't go to the back yard, Seitz says. Staying out front avoids arousing suspicion in neighbors. Seitz advises homeowners to start their evaluation at the street and move inward.

Most houses were not built for security, Seitz said. When many of our houses were built, people didn't even lock their doors. Many locks are passive, meaning that they may keep a child from turning a knob to get out but aren't strong enough to keep an intruder from getting in.

Burglars aren't in it for social contact, Seitz said; they seek to avoid people. They may knock on the door to see if anybody's home before trying to get in. So if a stranger does knock at your door, acknowledge the knock. Don't open the door, but yell through it. Threaten to call the police and do so if you continue to be suspicious.

Do all you can to discourage burglars, Seitz says. For example, if your inner windows aren't open to let the breeze in, keep storm windows down, too.

But always remember, Seitz says: Don't secure doors and windows so well that children as well as adults aren't able to get out in case of a fire.

Here are basic solutions to security problems that Seitz sees in the houses he visits. Don't expect to be able to do everything at once. Prioritize and take it in steps.

DOOR LOCKS
Entry to a house is often obtained through a kicked-in door, so locks should serve to integrate the door into the frame of the house. Install dead bolts with cylinders that extend 1 inch innetworks.html Do not choose a double-key cylinder if children live in the house. (These are the kind that require a key to open the lock both inside and outside.) Children need to be able to turn a knob to get out of the house in case of fire.

Install security strike plates that have two screws at the top and two at the bottom. The screws should be 3 inches long so that they extend into the 2-by-4 stud.

Don't render all your locks worthless by opening the door to strangers. Yell through the door.
Hollow-core doors should be replaced with solid-core or metal doors. Doors that open out rather than in are much less likely to be kicked in.
DOOR WINDOWS
Have a peephole or a window in the door to see through, but keep glass at least 18 inches from the dead bolt.
SLIDING-GLASS DOORS AND SLIDING WINDOWS
To keep someone from lifting the door out of the tracks, open the active door and install wood screws in the top track so that they stick down ] to 1/2 inch or so. Make sure that the door can close freely but that if you try to lift the door, the screws keep it from clearing the bottom track.

Install an auxiliary lock in the form of a "Charlie bar" or dowel such as a broom handle placed in the bottom track to keep the door from being opened. The dowel should be cut so that it fits snugly. If ventilation is needed, you can cut another dowel a few inches shorter so that the door can be opened no more than 6 inches. Commercial locking systems also are available.
Use the same measures for sliding windows.
CASEMENT WINDOWS
A casement window that cranks open and closed is one of the most secure types of windows, as long as it's closed and locked top and bottom. But when it's open, you can't secure it.
DOUBLE-HUNG WINDOWS
These windows are fairly secure when storm windows are also in place. They can be secured very well _ both open and closed _ with pins. This involves drilling holes through the sashes or into the window frame to hold 2- or 3-inch machine screws or hinge pins. Make the holes slightly larger than the pins so that you can pull the pins in and out.

If you put the pins into the frame, let the heads stick out so that they catch the top of the window as it's opened. If you pin the sashes together, you'll have to remove the pins and replace them as you open and close the window. Don't place pins any higher than 6 inches.
BASEMENT WINDOWS
Even small basement windows can be entered by a small intruder. Window-well covers add a layer of protection. Curtains on the windows prevent the intruder from knowing what he's stepping into if he tries to get in.
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OUTDOOR LIGHTS
Floodlights aren't necessary and can be annoying to neighbors and wasteful if left on all night. (Having one attached to a switch that you can flip on and off allows you to use such light when you need it.) Any low-wattage decorative or landscaping lights that let you see across the yard are fine. It's best to have closed fixtures that don't allow someone to reach in and unscrew the bulb.

Lights left on 24 hours a day might signal that you're gone. You can buy a photocell that screws into a light fixture so that the light will come on automatically at twilight and turn off at dawn. Motion sensors are another option.

White light is better than yellow light.
INDOOR LIGHTS
Put timers on lights throughout the house so that the all parts of the house look occupied whether people are there _ or in only one part _ or not.
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TREES
Canopies of large trees that block the view of the house should be no lower than 7 feet. Trees that nestle against a balcony or
SHRUBS
Bushes around house, driveway, sidewalks, doors and gates should not be taller than 3 feet. Be especially careful if you have a long driveway. Be sure no shrubbery at your house or a neighbor's blocks the view or allows someone to hide behind it.

Plant thorny plants under windows, especially as a deterrent to peeping toms. Some ideas: pyracantha, barberry, holly, rose (especially rugosa rose), quince, raspberry. Choose dwarf varieties and don't allow them to get taller than the windowsills.
OUTDOOR MAINTENANCE
Whether you're home or away, keep the lawn mowed in summer and the driveway shoveled in winter (or have someone drive in and out of the drive several times to make it look as if the drive has been used). Be sure to have your newspapers and mail picked up when you're not home. Don't leave ladders outside.
ALARM SYSTEMS
Alarm systems can be a deterrent if you decide you want to make the commitment, but don't get one just in reaction to the latest news. Decide it's something you want for the long term. Alarm systems have to be functional for everyone in the household, including pets.

Be sure you deal with a reputable company that is well established and has a verifiable record. And don't rely solely on an alarm system _ or a sign advertising one _ for security. It's only a piece of the pie.
BATTERY-POWERED ALARMS AND REMOTE CONTROLS
You can buy portable battery-powered alarms that attach to a window or a door and emit loud noises when motion or opening is detected. These can cost as little as $5 to $20. You can also buy remote controls that allow you to turn lights on and off from a location such as your bedside.

If these increase your peace of mind, they will be effective, but be careful not to overspend on gadgets.
DOGS
Dogs can be an alert to trouble as well as a deterrent. But don't rely solely on them. Also, you have to make the commitment to treat them as pets.
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH
If your block doesn't have a Neighborhood Watch, start one. Seniors who are home during the day and keep their eyes on the comings and goings of the block are particularly invaluable to the effort.
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FOR RENTERS
If you're concerned about the security of a house, duplex or apartment you're renting, contact your landlord or property company. Apartment complexes sometimes have security measures such as a guard. Most newer complexes have deadbolt locks.

If you'd like new locks or other security enhancements, ask. Landlords are not required to provide them. If they won't do what you ask, offer to make the improvements yourself if you're willing. But sometimes your only option is to move.

Also consider getting renter's insurance in case you're burglarized.