Because most burglars enter homes by simply opening unlocked doors or windowsor
pushing and kicking locked ones until they openeven the most basic protective
measures will improve your security. Several ways of securing your home
are more effectiveand much less costlythan alarm systems: Secure all
doors with good deadbolt locks; secure all windows that are accessible
from the outside; set up lighting systems that deter burglars; and improve
your own home security habits.
While an alarm system will also improve the security of your home, it may
not be worth the price if
You live in a very low-crime neighborhood.
Your house is well secured physically (with locks and other measures).
Someone is almost always at home.
Your neighbors keep an eye on your house and call the police if they notice
You possess little of substantial value that could be stolen and have good
Children, houseguests, or others are likely to frequently trigger false
The hassle of setting the alarm and avoiding false alarms would deter you
from using it regularly.
If you decide you want an alarm system, choosing a good installer is essential
to ensuring that the system is effective, convenient, and unobtrusive;
minimizing false alarms; and controlling costs. Our Ratings Tables
show ratings of area alarm system installation companies, most of which
serve all or large portions of the area. Some companies are twice as likely
as others to receive top service-quality ratings from their surveyed customers.
Have several companies come to your home to propose system designs and
quote prices. Some will be much better than others at designing a system
that meets your needs conveniently for a reasonable price. Even for the
same basic design, you will find substantial price differences.
Read the contract before you sign it. Check especially for the following:
Some companies make it very difficult for customers to inexpensively switch
monitoring services to another provider by refusing to provide programming
codes or refusing to reset systems to their default modes. We advise you
to give extra consideration to companies willing to contractually agree
to provide programming codes either upfront or if you request them later
The contracts used by some alarm installersspecifically, many of ADTs
contractsstate that, unless otherwise agreed to, installed equipment remains
the property of the installation company. If you cancel the monitoring
service contract, the company can opt to remove the systemand isnt required
to do so in a tidy manner. Although these companies rarely (if ever) rip
out systems in residences upon cancellation of monitoring services, we
advise that you deal with a company that will sell you a system youll
Some companies include auto-renewal provisions in their monitoring contracts.
This is also a bad deal for consumers because some companies frequently
increase their monitoring ratesif you fail to cancel these monitoring
services, the company will automatically renew it.
Dont agree to pay more than half of the price of a system installation
before the work begins. Ideally, arrange to hold back at least half of
the payment until two weeks or a month after the system is up and running.
Do you have good deadbolts on all your doors? Strong latches on your windows?
Do you always lock your doors and windows? Have a barky dog?
If you can answer yes to the first three questions, youre way ahead
when it comes to home security (and get extra credit for the dog). Because
most burglars enter homes by simply opening unlocked doors or windowsor
pushing and kicking locked ones until they openeven the most basic measures
of protection will improve your security.
While it doesnt take a genius to get at your stuff, the good news is that
the incidence of burglaries is fairly slim: Only about one in 50 U.S. homes
get broken into each year. Over time, however, the odds turn against you.
And given the financial, physical, and psychological damage that can result
from a burglary, it makes sense to do what you can to become more secure.
For millions of American households, one component of a home security plan
is an alarm system, and there is evidence that these systems do make a
difference: It is estimated that homes with security systems are one-third
as likely to be burglarized as homes without them. Although part of the
difference no doubt has something to do with location and other protections
alarmed homes have in place, electronic alarm systems clearly matter. In
addition, these systems help prevent fire damage, and some alert you (or
a central monitoring agency) to power outages, water leaks, and other problems.
The discounts homeowners insurance companies offer households equipped
with alarm systems are one indication of their value. Many insurers discount
policies by two to 10 percent (most typically five percent) for homes with
systems that have central station monitoring.
This article evaluates alarm system installers for quality and price, describes
alarm system features, and provides advice on hiring the right installer
and monitoring service. It also discusses many possibly more effective,
and much less expensive, measures you can take. A report on locks and locksmiths
is available here.
Before investing in an alarm system, take a step back to evaluateand improveyour
homes overall security. You can do many things to enhance protections
that cost much less than an alarm system but do just as much good.
It doesnt take much brainpower to be a thief. Professionals capable of
picking locks and circumventing alarm systems commit a very small portion
of burglaries. Most burglars enter homes by simply opening unlocked doors
or windows, lifting sliding glass doors off their tracks, prying open locked
doors and windows, or unauthorized use of a key. The most common points
of entry are exterior doors and ground-level windows, sliding glass doors,
doors to an attached garage, and basement windows. Few intruders break
windows to enter homes if they cant get in through unlocked doors or other
methods. They prefer visual obscurity, silence, easy entry, and quick exits.
Almost all intruders are male, and more than one-third are in their teens
or early twenties. Although it is commonly believed that illegal intrusions
are primarily a risk during summer, rates actually vary by less than 10
percent from month to month. It is also widely presumed that most intrusions
occur at night, but about half occur during the day.
Your primary objective when planning security for your home, then, is to
beef up its locks and latches and maintain good security habits. More on
Despite the best precautions, your home might still be penetrated. Make
sure you maintain adequate insurance. Our article on homeowners insurance
will help you identify the best companies to buy from.
Homeowners and renters insurance policies do not provide reimbursement
for personal injuries suffered during assaults, but they do cover property
losses due to burglaries. The coverage limit for personal possessions is
usually 50 to 75 percent of the amount of coverage purchased for the dwelling,
but certain items (jewelry, silver, cash, computers, and guns) usually
are covered at low limits.
In addition, unless you purchase a replacement cost provision, homeowners
insurance policies cover only the market value of personal property,
not replacement value. Market value is defined as the replacement cost
minus depreciation. Insurance companies offer the option of covering the
full replacement cost (with no deduction for depreciation) for about 10
percent more than the standard policy. If burglars clean out your home,
coverage for full replacement cost could save you thousands of dollars.
Most companies also offer riders that increase coverage on jewelry and
other items covered at low limits under standard policies.
If you suffer a major loss from burglary or fire, an inventory list will
help you get compensated. Ideally, the inventory should include a brief
description of each possession, its purchase date, and price. Unless you
have taken a vow of poverty, preparing a list like that will take days.
An alternative is to list expensive items, and record the number of smaller
itemsfor example, 12 miscellaneous cooking utensils. If you do have
to file a claim, the list could jog your memory for the additional details
that your insurance company might request. Or make a video of possessions,
with a voiceover providing details about each item.
If you own antiques, expensive jewelry, original paintings, or other items
of substantial value that require authentication to establish value, get
written appraisalsbut first make sure your appraiser is acceptable to
your insurance company. Because some appraisers are also dealers, specifically
tell the appraiser that you want the evaluation for insurance purposes.
If they think you want to sell the items, they might lowball the estimate
of their value.
Keep copies of the inventory, videos, and appraisals in a secure place
outside your home, such as a safe deposit box or a friends house. Because
appraisals indicate your name and address, in the wrong hands they can
invite burglary. Update your inventory every couple of years.
A home security audit is a good start in the battle against intruders.
Most police departments provide such services. Call your local police department
and ask for the crime prevention or community services unit. Ask for an
officer to come to your home to assess its vulnerabilities and recommend
additional security measures. There is no charge for the service, and evening
appointments usually can be arranged.
Many experts recommend participating in Operation Identification, which
involves engraving an ID number on your valuables and putting a decal in
your window. The decal will deter some potential intruders because clearly
marked items are harder to sell. Although only about 10 percent of burglarized
homes recover any stolen items, positive identification improves your chances.
Most police departments recommend engraving your drivers license number.
Metal engravers cost from $8 to $25. Some police departments lend them
out; call yours to see if one is available.
There are also various ways to fingerprint fine art, jewelry, and other
items without damaging them. An appraiser or jeweler can provide more information.
Households often open their front doors to strangers and near-strangersthe
pizza delivery guy, Jehovahs Witnesses, the sketchy home improvement salesman
whose people are already doing work in the neighborhood, and others.
So it makes sense to place articles of ostensible value out of the view
of anyone at your front door.
The layout of some houses makes it easy for strangers on the sidewalk to
look through windows. Keep your valuables out of their line of sight.
Tradespeople working in your home also represent some risk. While they
are unlikely to steal anything youre likely to notice right away, they
might grab a single piece of jewelry from a full box. Always hide away
One of the most effective and least costly ways to protect all the homes
in the neighborhood is for community members to get involved in crime prevention.
Involvement can range from making sure neighbors keep an eye out for suspicious
activity to setting up shifts for foot patrols.
Neighborhood watch groups can be organized to cover a single block of 10
or 12 houses or dozens of blocks with 1,000 houses.
Neighborhood watch groups usually set up a system for members to exchange
information. Typically, leaders (or block captains) work with police
and neighbors to compile activity occurring in the neighborhood and distribute
the information to members via newsletters, emails, or online groups.
Neighborhood watch groups get started when police officers train neighborhood
residents on security measures, ways to spot suspicious activity, and
ways to keep in contact with the police. Neighbors also are asked to define
the geographical boundaries of their neighborhood. After these initial
steps, block captains and residents take responsibility for keeping the
Some neighborhoods even form citizen patrols, a cadre of volunteers who
walk or drive a designated area looking for suspicious activity that they
report to the police.
Most burglars strike when no one is home, so make sure your house appears
to be occupied.
When You Are Away During the Day or Evening
Leave music or a TV on.
Dont let your phone ring for a long time. Either turn down the volume
of ringers, or lower the number of rings before voicemail or your answering
machine picks up. A long-ringing phone tells passersby and prowlers that
Consider removing your address from phone listings. There is no extra charge,
and if you have this type of listing potential thieves who dial random
numbers looking for unoccupied homes wont find out your address. Similarly,
someone who cases the neighborhood and learns your name from the mailbox
wont be able to obtain your phone number. An alternative is having an
unlisted or non-published phone number.
Always leave your garage door closed. An open door to a car-less garage
indicates that at least some occupants are away.
Plug a light or two into timers. The timers should turn lights on at dusk,
and off at bedtime.
When You Are on Vacation
Dont let mail, packages, and newspapers pile up. Have a neighbor every
day pick up mail, newspapers, and anything left on the porch. You could
have mail and newspaper deliveries stopped, but be aware that these stops
reveal your absence to several people at the post office and the newspaper.
Arrange for your lawn to be mowed during the summer and your sidewalk shoveled
during the winter. After new snowfalls, have a neighbor traipse from the
street to your front door a couple of times. Also arrange for someone to
water your yard, if thats likely to be necessary.
Park a car in your driveway.
Leave blinds, shades, and curtains closed unless that departs from your
normal pattern. Even then, close off windows that are particularly vulnerable
to observation and leave other curtains open.
Do not let more people than necessary know you are leaving.
Consider hiring a trusted house sitter.
Doors and windows hidden by garages, bushes, fences, and trees are attractive
targets for intruders who prefer to invade unseen. Keep areas around your
doors and windows visible from the streetto your neighbors and from within
If its impractical or unattractive to hack back your homes jungle, consider
planting thorny varieties close to the house so prowlers wont hide behind
them. You can get advice on what to plant, and help planting it, from garden nurseries, landscapers, and landscape designers.
Large trees may provide access to upstairs windows or, more often, to a
porch roof with access to a window. Consider pruning them.
A high fence is a double-edged sword. It can make it more difficult for
an intruder to get in and out, but it also can hide a burglar. If you have
a gate, keep it locked so an intruder knows the fence would slow his escape.
Crowbars, hand tools, or yard tools lying about outside the house or in
open garages invite trouble. Lock up any implements that could be used
for prying or bashing. Also secure ladders.
Most nighttime prowlers flee the moment indoor lights go on, but bolder
ones might hide until you go back to sleep. On the other hand, an outside
light will chase away all but the nerviest.
You can use outdoor lights to illuminate the entire exterior of your house
or just a few vulnerable areas. In either case, they can be set for all-night
operation or to go on only when a prowler is detected. Some incorporate
heat and motion detectors that turn the lights on whenever someone comes
within about 25 feet of the lights.
For the greatest security, external lights should have break-proof lenses,
strong mountings, hidden wiring, and tamper alarms. Security lights are
available at some hardware stores, electrical equipment suppliers, and
Professional installation of a whole-house security light system costs
$1,000 to $3,000and increases your electric bill. A do-it-yourself installation
at one point of vulnerability may cost less than $200. Unsecured outdoor
lights with outdoor sockets (which usually take reflector lamps) cost much
less, but a careful intruder can remove the bulbs before attacking the
Place the switch for any outdoor light or lighting system intended to provide
security in a convenient location away from the light. You probably wont
want to go down to your basement to turn on a light when a prowler is breaking
through the door.
Intruders also invade homes by using an unauthorized key hidden under
your doormat or on top of an adjacent window frame, or kept by a contractor,
or held by a friend of the prior occupant, or made from a key lent to a
plumber or since-dismissed housekeeper, or found on a key ring with an
ID tag with your name and phone number, or copied by a parking lot attendant,
or...you get the idea.
You can easily guard against these risks. Dont hide spare door keys in
any obvious placeswhich means any place thats convenient. Instead, give
a spare to a trusted neighbor.
When you move into a house or apartment, consider having all the lock cylinders
replaced or re-keyed. If you must give a house key to anyone you dont
fully trust, install restricted key cylinders in the doors that they will
be using. Duplicates of restricted keys, which require unusual key blanks
and special key-cutting equipment, can be made only with the written authorization
of the homeowners.
Never put identification on your key ringeven a phone number is risky
because someone might get your address by doing a reverse match.
Signs in many affluent communities have proclamations like Warning: Houses
in this community are protected by an integrated alarm system. Some of
them are bluffs.
Similarly, you can post a Beware of Dog sign at the front entrance of
your houseeven if you have no dog or the dog you do have is scared of
strangers, cats, the wind, and pretty much any moving object. If you want
the bark but not a barky dog, you can buy electronic dog barkers that emit
barks for a few seconds when triggered. Hang a vibration detector on a
doorknob so the device barks when the door is rattled, or hook up the device
to motion detectors hung outside the house. They cost about $60 to more
Most alarm system companies provide decals for doors or windows indicating
that your home is alarmed. Some homeowners get fake decals. But be aware
that knowledgeable burglars claim they can identify fakes. Also, if you
have a decal on your home and live in a neighborhood where most houses
do not have alarm decals, it suggests your house has more valuables than
your neighbors and may attract intruders without providing any real protection.
Dogs can offer several levels of protection from intruders. First and least
is the family pet with no particular training in sounding an alert. Performance
varies tremendously, depending on its breed and genealogy, gender, individual
idiosyncrasies, and life experiences. Dobermans and German Shepherds get
a lot of respect from intruders. A concern, of course, is that your untrained
dog will attack innocent strangers, your neighbors, or their children.
The second level is to train your dog to bark at strangers but not attack.
This will usually require the assistance of a professional trainer.
The third level is a personal protection dog professionally trained to
attack on command or when he or she thinks a family member is being assaulted.
Unfortunately, even after such training most dogs have trouble distinguishing
between a friendly slap on the back and a real assault. Many are unreliable
except when handled by their masters.
Since most intruders break in through doors and windows, youll want to
make yours as difficult to penetrate as possible. Intruders prefer unlocked
doors and windows; however, many burglars can quickly and almost silently
pry open locked ones. Some break a pane of glass so they can reach in and
unlock the window or door. Only a few really determined burglars break
out enough glass to walk or crawl through, or bash in a well-secured door,
and they seldom try to pick locks.
Good locks are essential. Our locksmiths article describes various
types of locks, how they can be strengthened, and how to find a good locksmith
to do the work.
The locks on sliding glass doors are notoriously flimsymany doors can
be lifted right off their tracks. If you have a sliding glass door, consider
paying a locksmith to evaluate its vulnerability and, if necessary, install
Figure 1 shows several do-it-yourself ways to secure sliding glass doors.
One door is usually fixed (screwed or bolted at several points to the track)
so you have to worry about only the other door. A sliding glass door can
resist a pry bar attack if you place a broomstick or piece of lumber in
the lower track to prevent the door from sliding open. Aluminum Charley
Bars mounted waist-high function the same way. Well-designed ones require
moving one or two parts before they can be lowered, making them somewhat
more resistant to persistent intruders than wood in the track. Charley
Bars cost $20 and less.
Figure 1Securing Sliding Glass Doors
If both doors slide, secure them by drilling two 9/32-inch holes where
their frames overlap at the top and bottom. Drill through the inside doors
frame and halfway into the outside doors frame; then insert 1/4-inch bolts
in the holes (see Figure 1). This will prevent intruders from prying the
doors open, and make it difficult to lift the doors off their tracks. The
danger is that if your drill hits the glass, the glass may break. Usually
the glass extends less than 1/2 inch into the frame, so position the hole
as far from the glass as possible while keeping the drill perpendicular
to the door.
To prevent burglars from lifting a sliding door off the track to open it
fully, drill vertical holes through the overhead track every 12 inches
or so, and drive screws into these holes just far enough so that the doors
slide under their heads but cant be lifted off the track (see Figure 2).
Before trying this, use a pencil or piece of wire to feel whether the top
of the door frame is solid or hollow. This technique will not work on some
Figure 2Using Screws to Prevent Sliding Doors from Being Lifted
Hollow wood doors are usually made of two 1/8-inch sheets of plywood separated
by cardboard spacers. You dont have to be a black belt to punch through
them. And for outward-opening doors, hinge pins located on the outside
can be pulled out with a pair of pliers.
Exterior doors should be solid wood (usually plywood surfaces over wood
planks) or foam-filled steel. If doors do not open inward, the hinges should
have non-removable pins. Hinges should also be installed so that the screws
attaching them to the door and frame cannot be removed when the door is
closed. Doors should fit snugly within the door frame, with no more than
a 1/16-inch gap on either side.
If you replace a glass door with a wooden one, you do not necessarily forgo
an opportunity to view whoever rings your doorbell. Wide-angle peepholes
are available, but before you buy one look through it at objects two feet
to five feet away. The focus should be clear and the view at least as wide
as the distance.
The last word in door security is a heavy-duty steel door in a steel frame
with a high-security lock. These cost $800 to $2,000, installed (visit
Checkbook.org for ratings of door installers).
One step down are metal bar doors installed a few inches outside an existing
door. Set into a brick or concrete block structure, defeating them generally
takes a lot of time and makes a lot of noise. Their resistance to attack
depends on the strength of the framing to which they are attached. The
simplest kinds of metal bar doors, which are usually installed along with
bars over the windows, make your place look like a prison. But some fabricators
make attractive decorative ones, and a few custom-build them as individual
pieces of art. These doors typically cost $400 to $1,200, when professionally
There are five common types of windows:
Double-hung (sash) windows open vertically; sometimes the top half is fixed
and sometimes not. Frames may be wood, vinyl, or metal.
Horizontal sliders are like small sliding glass doors and usually have
Casement windows swing outward and are usually opened and closed by a lever
attached to a geared hand crank.
Jalousie windows are a series of panes about four inches wide set in metal
frames interconnected by levers.
Fixed pane windows do not open.
To secure a window, you must make it resistant to being pried open. In
addition, it should be difficult to open the window frame after a pane
of glass has been broken. Most intruders are not keen on breaking glass,
but it still happens often enough to justify concern. For the highest level
of protection, the window should have unbreakable glazing or steel bars
The most difficult-to-secure type of window is the jalousie. Even when
closed tight, someone can quietly remove a pane. If you have this type
of window anywhere accessible to intruders, consider replacing it, adding
bars over it, or attaching an alarm to it.
Casement windows, when closed, often will withstand a prying attack. The
geared hand crank mechanism resists prying, and most have an additional
lock on the window frame. If a casement window is open a few inches, however,
someone can easily reach in and turn the hand crank to fully open the window.
You can make that more difficult by removing the handle, but intruders
can still substitute a pair of pliers for the hand crank. If you have a
ground-level casement window that you commonly leave partially open, back
it up with bars or cover it with an alarm screen.
Locks on horizontal sliders are often flimsy enough to be snapped with
gentle prying. Auxiliary locks for these windows include small devices
that clamp onto or bolt through the track. However, the former may not
resist prying and the latter generally are unsuitable for securing windows
in partially open positions because attackers can reach through openings
to remove the bolts.
A homemade stop that works well on some frames is drilling a 1/4-inch hole
through the inside rung of the bottom track, then placing a small padlock
through the hole. A hole drilled as far as five inches from the fully closed
position can still prevent an intruder from entering when opened. Figure
3 shows this technique.
Figure 3Securing Sliding Windows
Double-hung windows are relatively easy to secure, but many commonly available
locks are not effective. A simple way to secure this type of window is
to pin the two frames together (as shown in Figure 4). Drill a 9/32-inch
hole on each side where the lower and upper frames overlap. Drill entirely
through the inner frame and three-fourths of the way through the outer
frame. Use a 1/4-inch bolt as the pin. To allow the window to be left slightly
open, drill a second hole as far as five inches up from the fully closed
position. Unfortunately, intruders can remove such pins easily after breaking
the glass once they notice them. Also, with the windows partially opened,
intruders can use a stick to reach in and knock out the pins.
Figure 4Securing Double-Hung Windows with Pins
The same basic arrangement, using smaller diameter holes and two-inch #14
screws, would require the intruder to have a screwdriver and patience.
You can even obtain screws with strange heads that cannot be removed without
a special socket.
The next level up in window security is to get impact-resistant glazing,
such as Plexiglas or Lexan. Premium grades of these plastics are virtually
free of visual distortion and more resistant to abrasion during cleaning.
Make sure you or an installer follow manufacturers instructions for mounting
these glazing materials. Temperature increases make them expand more than
glass, and intruders can bash in an entire improperly mounted pane.
At considerably greater cost, you can have a professional replace particularly
vulnerable windows with the type of glass used in automobile windshields,
which is not difficult to break but is difficult to remove.
The ultimate in window protection consists of protective metal bars. These
bars (also called grates and grills) come in straight prison-issue and
various decorative versions. Most are fully welded on a semi-custom basis
by local installers who do not sell them for do-it-yourself installation.
Hardware stores, however, often stock bar sets that can be adjusted in
size to fit your windows; they come in several heights and expand up to
42 inches wide. These bar sets cost $20 to $80. Although they wont resist
attack as effectively as fully welded bars, if properly installed they
will discourage all but the most determined intruders. Some hardware stores
have begun to stock fully welded window bars, although the selection is
limited and may not be suitable for your windows. If the width doesnt
fit exactly, you can cut the fasteners with a hacksaw.
Both expandable bars and fully welded bars should be installed with large
one-way screwsor with carriage bolts, as long as they are punched with
square holes and the nuts would not be accessible to intruders (see Figure
Figure 5Hasp Fasteners
Custom-fashioned bars vary not only in decorative patterns but also in
quality. Some are heavier gauge than others. Some put the pickets (vertical
bars) through holes in the spreaders (horizontal bars), creating a stronger
unit than just welding them to the sides of the spreaders. Some have better
welding than others, some have more coats of paint, and some can be more
securely attached to the wall.
Be sure to check how the bars will be attached to the house. They should
be attached with bolts or screws positioned parallel to the wall (see Figure
6), and then welded to the bars. This kind of installation makes it very
difficult to remove the fasteners and also difficult to pry off the bars,
because prying away from one wall tends to push the whole bar assembly
against the other wall.
Figure 6Steel Window Bars with Installation Bolts or Screws Parallel to Wall
Professionally installed, fully welded bars cost about $100 to $300 for
a 30-inch-by-60-inch window if you get bars for several windows at one
Dont Block Escape Routes
Metal bars on windows or doors, or difficult-to-remove locking devices
(such as screws in window frames), pose hazards in the event of fire. Most
building codes specify that any sleeping room without an exterior door
should have an easily opened window. Window bars with hinges on one side
and a lock on the other are risky because the keys can easily be misplaced.
Hinged bars with an extended mechanical latch release are safer: No one
outside can reach them, but they can be easily operated by someone inside.
If windows are secured with screws, make all occupants aware that to escape
through the window theyll need to knock out the glass, place a blanket
or other padding on the bottom frame, and carefully climb out. Even then,
escape through broken glass will be hazardous.
Intruders love unlocked attached garages. After entering the garage and
closing the door, they can then work at breaking into the house without
fear of being seen or heard.
Standard twist handle locks on overhead garage doors can be easily defeated.
Most electric door openers ($150 to $300) provide more resistance, but
because even these may yield to a crowbar attack its good to have a backup
lock. One simple and inexpensive solution is to drill holes in the track
on each side just above the closed door and put U-bolts or padlocks through
the holes. This arrangement permits the door to be secured only from inside
the garage when the door is closed. Alternatively, the door can be secured
from the outside with a hasp and padlock.
A preference for hidden entries leads intruders to also favor utility rooms
and enclosed porches. Make it difficult for them to get inside them; if
thats not possible, make sure a solid-core door with reinforced locks
separates one of these areas from the rest of your house.
If someone could conceivably enter your attic from the outside, lock the
attic hatch or door. Instead of glass, most skylights are now a thin plastic
that is easily broken. Consider shatter-resistant glazing or adding metal
Most window air conditioners can be removed easily from the outside or
by pushing the unit in. The first precaution is to secure the partly raised
window frame tight against the A/C case by pinning or screwing the frames
together (as shown in Figure 4). Resist pivot attacks by filling any gaps
between the bottom of the case and the windowsill with lumber. The easiest
way to prevent pushing attacks is to screw a piece of lumber to the top
of the windowsill. You can improve the aesthetics by extending the board
from one side of the frame to the other and painting it the same color
as the sill.
Even if you have strong physical barriers, intruders can still penetrate
your perimeter. There are several things you can do to protect yourself:
Keep a phone in your bedroom.
Consider getting a lock for your bedroom door. Its the room where most
of us spend about half of our time when at home. You may also want to put
a solid-core door with a heavy lock on your bedroom entrance. If you dont
have kids, you can then sleep with your bedroom door locked. If you have
kids, sleeping behind a solid, locked door probably sounds like a fantastic
idea in terms of getting more sleep and privacy, but its a bad idea in
terms of safety. On the other hand, if you have a bedroom door that locks
you can retrieve your kids and lock out home invaders.
Install a safe. Small fire-resistant models with about one cubic foot of
storage space cost $100 to $200. Safecrackers can open these units, but
other burglars usually cant. These units weigh 60 to 100 pounds and can
be screwed to the floor. Highly securebut much more expensivesafes are
Hide valuables. Stash cash and expensive jewelry in unlikely placesfor
example, in a large envelope or among many paper files. Be sure to select
containers no one will accidentally discard.
Rent a safe deposit box. A box may be inconvenient, but it provides a level
of security against theft and fire that cannot be duplicated at home for
less than several thousand dollars.
Lock up guns. Burglaries are major sources of guns for criminals, although
estimates of the percentage of crimes involving stolen guns vary widely.
Each year more than 100,000 guns are reported stolenno one knows how many
more gun thefts are unreported (some studies estimate over 60 percent).
Trigger locks can prevent accidental shootings but not thefts. If you have
guns, store them in locked gun boxes or on gun racks that cannot be easily
removed. Another option is to use a Simplex lock, which is a small gun
safe that is opened by pressing five buttons in a specific order, a process
that can be done quickly even in the dark. Steel gun boxes with Simplex
locks usually cost $150 and up.
The amount of protection provided by a burglar alarm system depends on
how well you have secured the physical perimeter of your house, the design
of the alarm system, the quality of the installation, and how often you
activate the system.
We recommend that homeowners first improve physical barriers to intrusion,
as discussed above, before considering alarm systems. Alarms can add protection
against intrusions, but they also involve a significant expense and create
some inconveniences. Should you get a system? We think it depends on several
How well is your house physically secured against intrusions?
What is the incidence of burglary and other crime in your neighborhood?
Is your house regularly unoccupied during the day or evening? Do you take
Do you have neighbors around most of the time to keep an eye on your house
and call the police when they detect suspicious activity?
What are you likely to lose in a burglary? Is it replaceable? Is it insured
for replacement value?
Are children, frequent houseguests, pets, or forgetful family members likely
to trigger false alarms?
Does your family worry about break-ins?
Home alarm systems provide several kinds of protection. They notify you
when doors and windows are inadvertently left open. Publicizing their presenceeven
the possibility of their presencewill deter some intruders. The sounding
of an alarm will cause most intruders to flee and notify occupants of a
present danger. The sounding of a siren will notify neighbors to call the
police, and systems hooked up to a central monitoring station will notify
the company to call the police.
Basic alarm protection should cover all exterior doors (including sliding
glass doors) and any windows easily reached by intruders. The system should
also activate a siren and/or notify a central monitoring station. Professional
installation of a system meeting these criteria usually costs $1,000 to
$2,000. Some companies offer steep discounts to customers who agree to
sign long-term monitoring contracts. With these companies, you can get
a basic system for less than $500 if you sign a three-year monitoring deal.
Moderately heavy alarm protection covers other points of potential entry,
including second-story windows, attic doors, and skylights. It will also
use motion detectors, pressure pads, and sensors on cabinets and bureaus
to detect intrusions past the perimeter when the family is asleep or away.
Such systems usually cost from $1,500 to more than $3,000.
Although the more time an alarm system remains in operation the more protection
it provides, homeowners continually turn their systems off to prevent false
alarms. Every time a person opens a monitored door or window, the system
has to be reset, and motion detectors must be turned off when any human
or pet is likely to enter their view. Living with an alarm system is at
best an inconvenience, at worst enough of a hassle that homeowners dont
use it regularly.
False alarms are not merely inconvenient: They cause fear, erode neighbors
goodwill, and, in many jurisdictions, result in fines. According to various
estimates, 80 to 98 percent of alarm alerts are falsea serious problem
for police departments.
Most local jurisdictions have ordinances to minimize false alarms by prohibiting
alarm systems from directly contacting the police. Instead, the system
must notify a third party, usually at a central monitoring station, which
is supposed to verify the emergency before calling the police.
In addition, most police departments fine homeowners for excessive false
alarms. Although fines are seldom assessed for the first two or three mishaps
in a calendar year, most police departments begin issuing fines for each
subsequent occurrenceand increase the amount for each additional false
An alarm system consists of five main parts: sensors, control panel (the
brains of the system), inputs that deactivate the system and adjust control-panel
settings, alert mechanism, and a means of connecting components.
There are dozens of sensor types. Some detect the opening of doors and
windows, some detect broken glass, and others detect an intruders body
heat and motion.
Magnetic contacts are the most common type of sensor. A pair of magnetic
contacts is installed with one contact on a door or window and the other
on the adjacent frame. Contacts are separated when a door or window is
opened, sending a message to the control panel, which in turn triggers
an alarm. With a third contact, magnetic contacts can be placed on sash
and horizontal slider windows so that the windows can be left in either
of two positionsclosed or partially openwithout setting off the alarm.
A false alert can occur if doors or windows are opened by family members
while the alarm is on, or if heavy winds rattle a loose-fitting window.
These sensors provide no protection if an intruder breaks the glass and
Glass breakage sensing devices trigger an alert when they detect the sound
of breaking glass. A broken wine glass or bottle may trigger a false alarm.
Many installers consider these devices unreliable; others consider them
Wired window screens are fiberglass screens with fine metal wires woven
within. An alarm sounds when the screen is broken. Except when accidentally
broken, these screens seldom trigger false alarms. Wired screens are the
most practical way to place an alarm on windows that are often left open.
There are two kinds of motion detectors: passive infrared and dual technology.
Passive infrared motion detectors are equipped with an eye that detects
moving heat differentials within their field of vision. They are normally
turned on when the homeowner is not in the house or asleep. Midnight snackers
or unwary houseguests can cause false alarms. Other changes in room environment
also can cause false alarmsfor example, a dramatic shift in light from
a blown curtain or a bug crawling on the lens of the device.
A dual-technology motion detector combines passive infrared detection with
microwave technology. In addition to looking for moving heat differentials,
this type of motion detector bounces sound waves off everything in a room.
When something interrupts the consistency of the sound waves returning
to the device, the detector checks the passive infrared detection. Unless
both technologies are tripped, the alarm will not sound, enabling the dual-technology
detector to verify a change in environment and be slightly less prone to
Some motion detectors can be specially set to accommodate pets, creating
a pet alley. Basically, the eye of the detector is aimed at a level above
the pets normal path so that it will not detect the pets movement. While
convenient in theory, pet alleys are far from foolproof because pets dont
always stay low. Cats climb on things, and dogs jump up and interfere with
the detectors line of sight.
The control panel receives and processes signals from sensors, and activates
one or more alarm mechanisms. It also communicates with various inputs
(keypads, remotes, smartphone software, etc.) to turn the system on and
off and make adjustments. Whenever a sensor detects an opened door or window,
or broken glass, or movement of a warm body, the control panel is alerted.
If someone inputs the correct code or uses an appropriate key fob or remote
10 to 30 seconds before or after the alert, the system presumes it was
caused by authorized occupants of the house. Otherwise, it activates an
audible alarm and notifies a central monitoring station.
Control panels usually have from six to 32 zones. A single sensor or multiple
sensors can be grouped into individually identified zones, allowing the
control panel to indicate more precisely the location of a tripped sensor.
The fewer sensors in a zone, the easier it is to pinpoint what caused an
alarm. In a burglary, you seldom need to know more than which room an intruder
has entered, but in order to identify a malfunctioning sensor it is preferable
to put each sensor on a separate zone.
The panel should have a self-recharging backup battery that allows the
system to continue operating during power failures.
Panels are available with various other features, including fire detectors,
flood detectors, and medical alerts. And some trigger different-sounding
alarms for each type of problem.
Some panels can be set so that frequently used windows will not trigger
an alarm if they are closed quickly upon opening, or if they are opened
so that they align a third set of contacts. Its a convenient feature because
you dont have to enter a code or hunt down a remote or smartphone every
time you open these windows.
Most panels can produce a pre-alarm warning, a moderate-level sound indicating
that an alert has been received; unless canceled within 15 or 30 seconds,
the full alarm will be triggered. This gives homeowners a chance to cancel
alerts caused by their own mistakesa good way to prevent false alarms.
The pre-alarm warning should be audible throughout the house and outside
all doors. A buzzer in only the control panel is insufficient.
The pre-alarm feature also notifies intruderswho usually flee but may
instead try to destroy the control panel or prevent it from sending a signal.
Good practice places the control panel in a securely attached, locked metal
box with no exposed wires. Alternatively, install it in a locked closet
or a difficult-to-find place.
Many control units are now equipped with self-silencers. After a siren
has sounded for five to 15 minutes, it automatically turns off. Your neighbors
will love this feature, and local ordinances may demand it. Some units
automatically re-arm the system after the self-silencing; if an intruder
leaves a window open or a malfunctioning sensor causes an alert, the siren
will cycle on again until the alarm system is reset. The best compromise
often is for the system to automatically silence the siren, turn off the
triggered zone, indicate that the triggered zone has been turned off on
the keypad, and leave the other zones active.
Keypads and Other Inputs
Various inputskeypads, key fobs, touchscreens, software on your smartphone,
remotescan be used to control your alarm system.
If your system uses keypads or key fobs, devices should be installed near
all frequently used exterior doors so occupants can enter the code or use
their key fobs each time they enter or exit. A big benefit of smartphone
home security software is that it easily lets you arm the alarm before
going to sleep at night and disarm it in the morning. In addition, if an
alert sounds at night youll know which sensors triggered it without going
elsewhere in the house.
Some systems have inputs that are easier to operate than others. Ask company
representatives to explain how their systems are controlled and exactly
what you will need to do to set the alarm, cancel it, reset it, and get
information on alerts for specific zones.
Most systems allow homeowners to manually trigger a burglary, fire, or
medical alert by hitting a panic button. Some control panels can also
receive signals from ill or elderly occupants wearing small wireless medical
The most popular alert mechanisms are sirens or horns mounted inside and
outside the house. Outdoor devices more likely to attract the attention
of your neighbors, passersby, and the police are also loud enough to be
heard within the house. But if your false alarms are more than rare, an
external siren will antagonize your neighbors.
Systems that include fire, flood, or medical alert sensors should have
multi-tone sirens that distinguish between various kinds of emergencies.
Since it is easy to forget which noise indicates which type of alert, some
systems feature enunciators that alternate a loud blaring noise with a
verbal description of the emergency.
Although central monitoring stations will inform the police of your address,
some homes do not have street numbers prominently displayed. Because the
sound of an external siren often echoes, making it difficult to know which
house is emitting the alarm, many experts suggest also mounting a strobe
light on the front of your home.
The components of an alarm system can be hardwired to the control panel
with low-voltage wires or wirelessly communicate via small battery-powered
radio transmitters and receivers.
Wiring for hardwired components may be fully hidden, partially hidden,
or fully exposed. Fully hidden wiring is common practice but expensive
to install in houses without unfinished basements or attics, and impossible
to install in houses with concrete slab foundations and solid masonry walls.
Have representatives of companies that propose to install hardwired components
show you exactly where the wires for each component will run, and specify
who will be responsible for the cost of any carpentry, plaster work, or
painting needed to repair the damage incurred by the installation process.
Some wireless components are supervised, which means that each transmitter
periodically sends a test signal to the control panel; if it fails to send
the signal, the homeowner or central monitoring station is notified of
the malfunction. Otherwise, you have to test the transmitters by going
around and activating them, a chore few homeowners perform as often as
Both types of components wind up costing about the same: Wireless components
initially cost more, but hardwired components have higher installation
While ease of installation is a big advantage of wireless components, the
main disadvantage is that they are slightly less reliable than hardwired
systems. Theres also the expense and bother of periodically replacing
batteries, although batteries for most components should last several years.
Most control panels communicate with monitoring stations by transmitting
signals via landline or cell signals. Although burglars usually flee soon
after sirens go offand well before police arrivethe police will come
by to close any open windows and doors, and the monitoring station will
notify the homeowner. Central station monitoring provides extra protection
against determined intruders who defeat the siren, locate and destroy the
control panel, or simply disregard the alarm.
Different jurisdictions have different policies for what central monitoring
stations are supposed to do when alerted about potential intrusions. Before
you sign a contract for monitoring, check out the current rules with the
monitoring company and local police. The most common policy is that when
an alarm is triggered the monitoring company calls prearranged phone numbers
to make sure it isnt a false alarm before notifying the police. If it
is told its a false alarm, the person who answers must provide the correct
Test the services response by deliberately triggering an alarm and seeing
how long it takes the station to call you. Some control panels have a test
mode in which a siren emits a low-level noise or silences it so it wont
disturb your neighbors.
But just as the alarm industry is upgrading its technology, so are professional
burglars improving their bags of tricks. If you live in an affluent neighborhood,
or are known to have valuable possessions, ask alarm installers about the
precautions you can take to protect central station communication.
Also consider enhancing your system with video monitoring. Set up cameras
to either record or transmit to a central monitoring station a video of
activity around the outside and inside of your home. Systems can be set
up either to start recording or transmitting only when some other sensor
has been triggered or on a continuing basis. If the video is being transmitted
to a central monitoring station on a continuing basis, the station will
not ordinarily monitor the signal unless a sensor activates an alarm notification.
The large national alarm companies operate their own central stations.
Some have stations in each major metropolitan area, while others have a
single station. Large independents may also operate their own stations,
but most of the smaller independents contract with a station for this service.
Before contracting with a monitoring service, make sure the communications
will work. And if your phone service is set up to reject unidentified callers,
make sure your monitoring service can get through to verify an alarm.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) lists equipment that meets specified standards.
Equipment UL-listed for safety means that it has been tested and proven
not to cause harm or injury when used in the appropriate manner. Equipment
also can be UL-listed for a specific purposefor example, alarm equipment
might be UL-listed for intrusion detection.
Because new and more technologically advanced alarm equipment is constantly
coming onto the market, not all quality products will be UL-listed. It
takes time to test some of the newer devices. While purchasing products
with a UL-listing is desirable, it is not essential. It is better to select
an alarm installer with a track record of satisfied customers than one
using UL-listed equipment.
If an alarm system uses wireless sensors, their transmitters must, by law,
be approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
UL also certifies alarm installations in individual homes based on specified
standards. The certificate for Basic Systems requires contacts only on
external doors and one motion detector. Since the motion detector usually
is turned off when the house is occupied during the day, easily accessible
windows are left vulnerable during those hours. The certificate for Extended
Systems requires extensive protection. Because UL certification involves
random inspection of installations, it is expensive for installers and
few participate. And even among those that do participate, not all their
installations are designed to meet the standards.
If you use an established installer with high customer satisfaction ratings,
you probably dont need to worry about UL certification. But if your house
is a high-profile target for intruders, Extended Systems certificates provide
extra assurance of adequate protection. If you want this assurance, inform
installers when you call them, and make sure the contract specifies that
the installation will be awarded a UL certificate for Extended Systems.
You will probably pay a premium for such an installation.
UL also certifies central security stations that monitor alarms, with UL
standards for the building, equipment, and staffing, and inspections to
ascertain continued compliance. A facility can be certified as a Central
Station Burglar Alarm (CPVX), Central Station Fire AlarmFull Service
(UUFX), or Central StationMonitoring (CVSU). There are only a few such
facilities in this area. Again, while we would prefer UL certification,
we would still do business with a station that has generated high customer
satisfaction even if it is not certified.
Even if you purchase a home security system with all the bells and whistles,
it might not do you any good if its designed poorly or installed sloppily.
When hiring an installer, consider several points:
Our Ratings Tables list ratings of area alarm installers, most of which
serve all or most of the area. The ratings come from surveys we send to
area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) asking
respondents to rate companies they had used inferior, adequate, or
superior on various aspects of service, including doing work properly,
starting and completing work promptly, letting you know cost early,
advice on service options and costs, and overall performance quality.
Our Ratings Tables list all companies that received 10 or more ratings
on our surveys, and reports the percent of each companys surveyed customers
who rated it superior (as opposed to adequate or inferior) on each
question. Our Ratings Tables also report the percent of each companys
surveyed customers who rated it adequate or superior (as opposed to
inferior) for overall performance quality.
As you can see, some companies were rated superior for doing work properly
by at least 90 percent of their surveyed customers, but a few others received
such favorable ratings from 50 percent or fewer.
The main problems reported by customers: systems that dont work right,
installation-related damage to property, messiness, and slow response to
requests for service.
For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our
Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the
Better Business Bureau (BBB) for a recent three-year period, the number
of complaints on file with local government consumer protection offices
for a recent two-year period, and complaint rates relative to the volume
of work companies do. For more information on reported complaint counts
and rates, click here.
In our experience, the expertise of home security representatives varies
greatly. Some appear to know little about actual alarm installation, spend
minimal time inspecting homes, and have no clear idea of how their installation
crews will complete the work. Many representatives seem more interested
in explaining their home security products and systems than figuring out
how to give customers what they request. Youll find that with some salespersons
it takes considerable time and energy to get an explicit price for your
job. When you finally get an estimate from these salespersons, you can
only hope that the representatives understand the nuances of the job and
will communicate them to their installation crews.
On the other hand, some companies representatives are true experts. Many
salespersons have personally performed installation work in the past and
some install the alarm systems they plan themselves. These representatives
take a good look around the house, check inside closets, inspect the basement
and other unfinished spaces, and bang on walls. They seem to know exactly
what the customer wants and what it takes to do the job.
Because home security system installers dont offer exactly the same products,
approaches, design, or options, its very difficult to directly compare
them on price. To illustrate the range of prices you might encounter, our
mystery shoppers collected proposals and prices from companies for two
different homes. Although our shoppers asked each company to bid on exactly
the same work, there would certainly have been differences between how
each company actually did the job.
Table 1 shows the prices for the systems and companies charges for three
years of central station monitoring. As you can see, price differences
were large, ranging from $1,847 to $4,420 for one of the homes and $1,839
to $3,552 for the other home.
Table 1Prices Quoted for Alarm Installations and Central Station Monitoring
|ADT Security Services
|Allied Alarm Specialist
|Burtel American Home Security
|5 Star Security
|Guardian Protection Services
|N & D Security
|Potomac Security Systems
|Splaine Security Systems
|Ultra Guard Security Systems
|Difference between lowest and highest prices
Shoppers requested prices to install the systems described below. Some companies may have intended to install different equipment than requested.
Home A—Control panel, keypad and remote, 16 window sensors, 3 door sensors, 1 motion detector, 1 indoor siren, 1 exterior siren, 3 years of landline monitoring.
Home B—Control panel, keypad and remote, 2 door sensors, 8 window sensors, 2 motion detectors, 2 glass breakage detectors, 1 indoor siren, 3 years of landline monitoring.
Some installers make most or even all of their profits from monitoring
fees. To protect these profits, the contracts used by some alarm installersspecifically,
many of ADTs contractsstate that, unless otherwise agreed to, installed
equipment remains the property of the installation company. For example,
one contract for ADT we reviewed states:
[T]he Equipment will remain property of ADT
ADT may remove or, upon written
notice to Customer, abandon in whole or in part, all ADT-owned devices,
instruments, appliances, cabinets, wiring/cable and other materials associated
with the Equipment, upon termination of this Contract, without obligation
to repair or redecorate any portion of Customers premises upon such removal,
and the removal or abandonment of such materials shall not be held to constitute
a waiver of the right of ADT to collect any charges that have been accrued
or may be accrued hereunder
In other words, this contract states that if the customer cancels monitoring
services provided by ADT, the company can opt to remove the systemand
isnt required to do so in a tidy manner.
We havent heard from any consumers who have actually had systems removed
by a company due to a canceled contract (although this happens fairly regularly
with commercial customers). Instead, ADT and other companies that maintain
ownership of installed equipment simply abandon the equipment. Our view
is that its always better to be safe rather than sorry, and we advise
homeowners to deal with companies that sell you a system youll own.
Once equipment is installed, some companies allow you to contract with
any service you choose for monitoring, while others require you to use
their monitoring service for a specific period of time (usually two or
three years). Some companies give big breaks on equipment and installation
costs if you sign on with them for monitoring.
If youre not satisfied with the quality or price of a company that locks
you into its monitoring service, it will cost plenty to take your business
elsewhere: Youll have to continue paying for the duration of the original
contract or pay a hefty cancellation penalty.
Some companies also make it difficult to switch monitoring services to
another company even after the contract term is up. With most types of
equipment, it is easy to switch companies. The new company just has to
come to your home and reprogram the device that communicates with the central
station. But to take over monitoring of the equipment, the new company
will need to know the systems programming code, and some companies refuse
to provide these codes to their customersor to the customers new monitoring
service. If the new company cant obtain these codes to reset the system,
it might have to replace part or all of the control panel components, which
can be expensive.
To maintain flexibility in choosing monitoring service, ask prospective
installation companies to either supply you upfront with their systems
programming codes or agree to come out to reset their systems, if requested.
Because resetting the system usually involves a service call, its reasonable
for a company to charge a fee for that work. Any such fee should be indicated
on the written contract.
Our shoppers collected monitoring prices from the companies that provided
estimates to install alarm systems. Table 1 shows monitoring costs for
three years. Most alarm installation companies do not actually perform
the monitoring service, but simply act as sales agents for monitoring companies.
Monitoring costs vary widelyfrom $682 to $1,944 for three years for one
of our sample homes.
When obtaining bids for alarm system installation, discuss payment terms.
The more you can pay after the job is complete, the better. The best arrangement
is to pay a chunk of the installation price 15 or 30 days after completion:
It gives you maximum leverage if any problems need to be corrected.
Check also the companys monitoring agreement for any provisions that require
auto-renewal of its monitoring service. Some companies willwithout prior
notification from customers within a fairly short window of timeautomatically
renew their monitoring service for a year or more. Because some companies
routinely increase their monthly monitoring charges, strict auto-renewing
agreements can be bad deals for you.
Many jurisdictions require homeowners to register their alarm systems.
The company you use should provide the required paperwork, and many will
submit it for you. Most registrations either are free or require a nominal
administrative fee. Some registrations must be renewed every few years.
Your installer should inform you of the requirements in your area.
Special concerns and resources pertain to apartment dwellers.
Doorperson. Buildings with security personnel posted at the front entrance
are safer. While doorpersons are generally not trained as security guards,
they monitor the comings and goings of residents and their guests, and
their physical presence deters would-be thieves.
Call box. If your building does not have a reliable call box system, ask
management to install one. Guests use call boxes to call the person they
are visiting to get buzzed in. Call boxes make it easier to distinguish
between legitimate guests and others. In buildings with call boxes, guests
generally will not be waiting for someone entering or exiting the building
to be admitted.
Entrance etiquette. Most apartment dwellers are familiar with the often
awkward etiquette of entering and exiting their buildings. Do you hold
the door open for someone right behind as you enter or exit? If someone
is waiting at the front door (perhaps even using the call box), do you
let the person in? Unless you know the person, its better to close the
door behind you without letting him or her in. This is easier in theory
than in practice, however, since closing the door on someoneeven a strangercomes
off as rude. But this is a security issue, and a simple Nothing personal,
but I cant let you in should suffice.
Get to know your neighbors. Find out whether there is a neighborhood watch
group; many buildings have their own.
Get a security audit. Ask your local police department to perform a security
audit of your building. If there are weaknesses, such as poor lighting
around an entrance, the officer will write them up and submit them to the
building manager or owner.
Consider using security devices. There are inexpensive do-it-yourself ways
to secure your apartment, such as wireless motion detectors that you arm
at night for the front entrance area. You can also attach wireless contact
sensors to vulnerable windows or doors.
Remain vigilant. Never assume that your buildings hallways are any safer
than the streets outside. Always lock your front door and avoid poorly
lit spaces and communal areassuch as laundry roomslate at night.
Failure to enter the required code or use key fob to turn off alarm before
or after opening a door or window.
Failure to close a door after entering or exiting the house.
Failure to close all doors, windows, and other protected points before
activating the system.
Entry by human or pet into room with an activated motion detector.
Someone accidentally hitting panic button.
Vibrations and noise setting off glass-breakage sensors.
Strong winds rattling loose windows or doors and swelling window frames,
triggering contact sensors.
Electrical noise, power voltage dips, brownouts, and blackouts.
Use an experienced, skilled, and reputable alarm installer.
Read instruction materials thoroughly. Show family members, housecleaners,
babysitters, and guests how to use the system and check their operation
Place a keypad or other input device close to each frequently used door.
Make sure the pre-alarm signal is audible throughout the house and outside
frequently used doors.
Use a central monitoring station that calls you to verify an alert before
it calls the police.
Install a central panel with at least eight zones and preferably twice
that number. Place each frequently used door in a separate zone. Place
glass breakage detectors and motion detectors in separate zones.
Use only high-quality motion detectors and glass breakage detectors. Dual-technology
or cross verification between two detectors enhances effectiveness.
Make sure that all doors and windows equipped with contact sensors fit
tightly and do not rattle. Make sure contact between sensors is maintained
when doors and windows swell. Set motion detectors to a sensitivity level
that accommodates the shifting of curtains and other objects likely to
move. Aim detectors so pets are unlikely to trigger them.
A home burglary is more than just upsetting; it leaves your family with
a list of important things to do.
First, call the police. Even though chances are only about one in 10 that
you will ever recover any of your possessions, that is better than nothing,
and a police report is usually necessary for filing an insurance claim
(ask for the report number before the officer leaves your home). Notifying
the police also provides crucial information about crime trends in your
Next, re-secure your house. If you had been careless, this could be as
easy as locking windows and doors. If you had been cautious, you will have
to do more. Half-inch plywood sheets attached on the inside of broken windows
or doors with two-inch screws every foot act as strong temporary barriers.
If you cant do it yourself, some of the locksmiths listed in our locksmiths article can do this type of work.
Most burglarized families live in fear that the intruder will return. This
seldom happens, but burglars often attack nearby houses within a few weeks.
So if youve had a break-in, alert your neighbors; and if you learn of
a break-in nearby, be extra vigilant.
If your loss exceeds the deductible in your homeowners or renters insurance
policy, report it to the company and gather information on the value of
the possessions to file your claim.
What if all your locks and alarms fail to thwart an invasion?
If you return home and find signs that your house has been entered, dont
go in. Call the police and wait for them to arrive. If you inadvertently
surprise an intruder already in your home, dont antagonize or stall him.
Most intruders want only to grab a few valuables and make a quick exit.
Let him take the goods and leave.
Most burglars avoid houses they think are occupied; if mistaken, they will
flee as soon as they realize their error. But if your prowler does not
scare off easily, prepare for the worst. Do everything you can to scare
the prowler away. Turn on exterior and interior lights, hit the panic button
of your alarm, and call the police.
If that doesnt work, you have several options. Exiting the house and running
to a neighbors is your best bet. Or retreat into a room with no vulnerable
window and a strong door, and lock and barricade the door with furniture.
A third option is to grab your best weapon and take a stand where you think
the prowler will enter; it may be easier to overpower the intruder at that
point, but any confrontation is dangerous.
If the intruder confronts you, unless you have a loaded gun in your hand
and the intruder is unarmed, cooperate until it becomes clear the intruder
intends serious harm. This advice is not only for the timid; its what
many martial arts instructors and police officers advise.
Intruders who attack you or break through your barricaded bedroom door
probably intend bodily harm. Unfortunately, in these cases there are no
general guidelines on what you should do and whats likely to happen. Some
victims manage to talk assailants out of doing them harm; others further
antagonize assailants with the same approach. Some submit and avoid further
harm; others are brutalized. Some fight off the assailants; others are
killed while trying.
Courts have generally held that, when confronted by an intruder, victims
can use only as much force as a reasonable person would believe is necessary
to protect themselves and their families. Rarely would the law excuse anyone
for shooting a burglar in the back, but there is considerable ambiguity
about many other situations, including:
Can you attack potential intruders before they enter your home?
Can you attack an intruder who has entered through an open door? What if
he hasnt revealed intent to take anything or harm anyone?
Do you have to warn intruders, or can you surprise them with a bullet or
a baseball bat? (A warning might cause intruders to leave without injury,
but also give them a better chance to hurt you.)
How much force, if any, can you use to apprehend intruders who are escaping?
Does it matter whether they are taking anything?
State and Local Government Consumer Agencies
District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
1100 4th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General
441 4th Street, NW, #11455
Washington, DC 20001
Fairfax County Department of Consumer Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway
Fairfax, VA 22035
Howard County Office of Consumer Affairs
6751 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, MD 21046
Maryland Consumer Protection Division, Office of the Attorney General
200 St. Paul Place, 16th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202
Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection
100 Maryland Avenue, Suite 330
Rockville, MD 20850
Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs
Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
102 Governor Street
Richmond, VA 23219
800-552-9963 or 804-786-2042
Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Washington
1411 K Street, NW, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20005