Home Security Audit Guide
Home Security Audit Guide
People tend to think of burglary in strictly physical terms – as illegal access to your home, items taken and/or items destroyed.
But burglary can have a significant impact on a person’s mental well-being. Burglary victims often speak of a sense of violation. This can lead to feelings of fear, anger and emotional distress, particularly in children and the elderly. To protect your loved ones, your property and your home, you are encouraged to improve the security in and around your home!
This Home Security Audit Guide provides general information about keeping your home secure. It provides guidance about taking precautions to reduce the risk of burglary around your home. Inexpensive and do-it-yourself suggestions are provided to help you maximize the security of your home. For further information and assistance, you or your community group may want to contact your local police service or crime prevention association.
Take the Home Security Challenge!
Is Your Home Likely To Attract A Burglar?
Answer these 10 simple questions to see if your home is vulnerable.
Is your home a target?
- Are there clear views of all windows and doors (i.e. not obscured by high fences, bushes etc.?)
❒ Yes ❒ No
- Do you make sure newspapers and flyers are collected, the driveway is shovelled and the grass is cut when you are away?
❒ Yes ❒ No
- Do you leave lights on timers, both inside and outside the home when you are away?
❒ Yes ❒ No
Nuts and Bolts of Home Security
- Do all of your doors have a deadbolt lock?
❒ Yes ❒ No
- Do the strike plates (the piece of metal on the door frame that accepts the deadbolt) on your exterior door locks have four screws securing them to the frame?
❒ Yes ❒ No
- Do all the windows with a single locking device have a second security feature?
❒ Yes ❒ No
Protect you valuables
- Do you store your valuables in a safety deposit box or an isolated area of your home?
❒ Yes ❒ No
- Are your valuable marked with your personal identification number?
❒ Yes ❒ No
- Do you store your car keys in a location that is out of sight within your house?
❒ Yes ❒ No
Know your neighbours
- Do you know your neighbours across the street and on all three sides of you?
❒ Yes ❒ No
Is Your Home at Risk?
What is the most important thing you can do to protect your property against burglary?
If your answer was making your home less appealing to a burglar, you’re on the right track!
To safeguard your property, always make sure it has a “lived-in" look. Criminals are less likely to target a property where someone is obviously at home.
Our natural instinct is to think about ways to keep the burglar out, such as upgrading our locks or installing an alarm system. But when assessing a home, most thieves don’t focus on the type of lock or alarm system. Instead, criminals look for opportunities that improve chances for success. In the case of residential properties, burglars look for:
- landscaping and solid wood fences that help them hide from your neighbours
- indications that you aren’t home, such as uncollected flyers or newspapers
- unshovelled driveways
- uncut lawns
- no car in the driveway
- absence of outdoor lighting.
Even the design of your house and its location can have an influence on the criminal’s decision to burglarize your home. It’s important that you take a fresh look your property – from a prospective burglar’s view. Reduce any opportunity for his/her success by making any necessary changes. Make sure the property looks lived in, especially when no one is home.
Remember, your best defence is to present your property in such away that it does not appeal to a criminal walking the street. Burglars look for privacy - homes that are concealed from neighbours or passersby. Overgrown landscaping and high fences offer them the best opportunity.
If a burglar targets your property, your chances for loss could be greatly reduced if you’ve taken precautions to secure your home, but the first step is to reduce your chances of becoming a victim in the first place.
Getting the Big Picture
Reduce your risk and safeguard your property - think of what attracts a thief!
Look at the big picture items such as landscaping, fencing, lighting and property maintenance.
Pay close attention to your landscaping. Landscaping has a greater potential for attracting a thief onto your property than other security factor. Trees and shrubs can obscure windows and doors and provide cover for thieves. For greater security, follow these guidelines:
- Find out the mature size of the tree or shrub before you plant, then select accordingly. Large trees or excessive shrubs provide spots where adults can hide.
- Avoid fast growing species in favour of slower growing ones that require less aggressive maintenance.
- Perform an annual spring inspection of the landscaping on your property. Pay special attention to the amount of cover your property provides relative to your neighbours.
- Trim/remove excessive landscaping especially around doors and windows.
- Make sure more than one neighbour can see your house. When planting trees/shrubs or putting up a fence, make sure your neighbours can see your property from different angles.
- Regularly prune trees and shrubs.
- Don’t over plant.
- Don’t disregard security in favour of privacy.
When choosing fencing material, remember that the more private the area, the more appealing it is to the criminal.
A closed six foot high fence, while providing ample privacy, may also provide private space for a burglar.
Try and balance the need for privacy with the need for security by limiting the amount of “privacy fencing” only to areas where you need it. “Privacy fencing” can also prevent you from getting to know your neighbours – not good if you’re going to be looking out for each other!
Lighting or the lack of lighting can draw attention to your residence. For maximum safety and security, your home should have a lived-in look that is consistent from one day to the next. This is best achieved by using timers to maintain at least two visible lights from the front of the house during dark hours when you would normally be home and awake.
Motion Activated Lights
Burglars interviewed by police routinely comment on the presence of motion-activated lights. Motion activated lights are capable of creating a dynamic lighting environment that’s effective against trespassers and helps to alert homeowners. The installation of motion-activated lights also sends a message that the you are security conscious.
We’ve all come across a house with flyers hanging out of the mailbox and newspapers piled on the front porch. These, along with other obvious signs such as unshovelled snow, uncut lawns, porch lights left on or window blinds that are drawn during the day are tell-tale signs that a home is empty. This makes a criminals’ job of selecting a target especially easy. Regular maintenance is important to discourage criminal activity.
For added comfort and to deter mail fraud, use a locked mailbox and avoid a build-up of mail.
The Nuts & Bolts
Doors, frames and locks are the interrelated basics of home security and are of equal importance when securing your home.
Remember, prevention is key. Keep the criminal out of your house and your property secure.
Making outside access doors secure is an important step in protecting your home. Good, solid doors improve your chances in keeping burglars out. When buying a door, ask what the door is made of and how heavy it is. Look for doors without windows or doors that don’t have windows within arms reach of the inside lockset. If you already have solid doors, consider installing a peephole so you can look out to see who is at the door.
Sliding glass patio doors that are not protected can be lifted out of their tracks for an easy entrance.
The following can prevent the door from being lifted out of place:
- A hockey stick or other piece of wood can be placed in the frame to prevent the door from sliding open.
- A “pin” lock can be attached to the door that goes into the frame.
- Screws can be fastened into the track above the sliding door (when in a closed position.)
For Added Protection
For added protection, consider installing a u-shaped escutcheon plate around the lock set at the door’s edge. This will help to prevent entry from prolonged kicking or extreme pressure.
For maximum effectiveness, the plate should be secured from the inside with 1.9 cm (3/4 inch) screws that cannot be removed from the outside. This will likely require re-drilling the screw holes found on the escutcheon plate.
Charlie bars are designed to prevent lateral movement of patio doors. They are installed at a convenient height and create a visible deterrent to burglars. Charlie bars are available at most hardware and home improvement centres and are an excellent security option.
A secure lock is an important step in keeping a burglar out of your home. A deadbolt lock should be placed on all outside access doors including the door in from the garage. Here are a few important features you should consider when choosing deadbolt (check with your local hardware store or locksmith for more information.) Locks should be:
- saw resistant
- twist-resistant, with tapered hardened steel, or free spinning cylinder guard
- minimum of 2.5 cm (1 inch) long when thrown
- inter-locking bolts should be a minimum of 5.6 cm (2 1/4 inches).
Deadbolt locks that require a key from both sides are not recommended – they don’t allow for a quick exit in case of fire.
The doorframe is a critical yet often overlooked component of home security. Even the best locks are ineffective if the doorframe is weak. To make sure that your frame provides adequate security a security strike plate should be installed with screws that are at least 2 1/2 inches long. (Note: Security strike plates can be distinguished from conventional strike plates by the fact that they have four or more screw holes.)
A doorframe, door and lock work together to resist physical attack. A properly secured strike plate secures the frame and transmits the force of any attack to the door. Without reinforcement the door can be pried open by bending the frame or the door can be kicked in. A burglar is not concerned about damage and will use as much force as is necessary to open a door quickly.
For Added Protection
Sometimes a space exists between the door jamb (the piece of wood that the strike plate is screwed into) and the wall stud that supports the frame. For added protection, reinforce your door frame with a filler plate so that your lock cannot be pried open.
Windows can be smashed, pried open and lifted off their tracks. Deadbolt locks that can be reached from a window can give a burglar access to a home. The following measures are necessary to ensure that you have adequate window security.
Slider-style windows are those that slide side-to-side on a track. They can also be lifted up and out for installation and routine maintenance – a feature that leaves them vulnerable to break ins.
To prevent windows from being moved side-to-side:
- Cut a piece of wood the size of a broom handle or hockey stick to fit snugly between the outer window frame and the edge of the sliding portion of the window, or add a second lock to the sliding portion of the window. This type of lock can be found at hardware stores or installed by a locksmith/contractor.
To prevent the window from being lifted up and out:
- Cut a piece of wood to fill the gap between the top of the slider and the track above. The wood should be slightly smaller (about 1/8 inch) than the actual gap and be as long as the sliding portion of the window. Alternatively, two or three screws can be inserted into the portion of the upper track above the window that is used for ventilation (the window behind the screen).
Double Hung Windows
Double hung windows slide up and down on a track. They can be forced open by applying pressure to the lock area. The security of these types of windows can be greatly improved by adding a second lock and/or installing a metal pin or nail through both sides of the window. Specialized security pins designed specifically for this purpose can be found at hardware stores.
Casement/Awning Style Windows
Casement and awning-style windows are those that are opened by the operation of a roller-style (crank) handle. These windows are generally quite secure when properly locked with the factory installed locks. To improve the security, remove the handle and store it out of sight.
Sidelights are those windows commonly found next to doors. Any window within 100 cm (40 inches) of a door handle should be reinforced.
For Added Protection Consider Strengthening the Glass
Thieves often break windows to get at locks. This is particularly true of basement windows and the glass in and around doors.
Bars are sometimes used to secure windows and doors. If you choose bars as a security measure, make sure that:
- the bars are equipped with a quick release mechanism - consult your fire department for more information.
- the screws used to install the bars are not accessible from the outside.
To increase the strength of your window glass, contact a professional to install a security laminate film. Laminate professionals are listed under Glass Tinting & Coating in the Yellow Pages of your phone book.
Polycarbonate (a rubberized, clear, unbreakable plastic) can also be used as a substitute for bars, provided that it is properly installed. Polycarbonate is available at home renovation centres and is listed under Plastics in the Yellow Pages of your phone book.
Protect Your Valuables
You can limit the overall impact of a burglary taking the following steps.
Don’t Advertise Your New Purchases!
If you’ve purchased big-ticket items, (e.g. TVs, stereos or computer equipment,) fold the cardboard box inside out before putting it in the recycling bin. This keeps the identity of your purchases private and doesn’t alert would-be burglars.
Where Do You Keep Items of Sentimental Value?
Make a list of the items in your home that are irreplaceable and keep them in a safe place. When not in use, these items should be stored in a place no one would suspect. For example, should not be kept in a jewellery box – this is the first location a burglar will look. A safety deposit box or a permanent safe within your home could be used. If you have a safe in your home, it should be kept in an isolated location – away from the main traffic areas.
Is Your Vehicle A Target?
Manufacturers are making vehicles harder to steal with the use of anti-theft systems. So professional car thieves are simply stealing keys. Protect your vehicle by keeping the keys in a secure location. There are a couple of things you can do to protect your vehicle:
- Don’t leave your keys where they can easily be found. Don’t leave your car keys at the front door! It is quick and easy for a car thief to take keys that are in plain view.
- Always keep your vehicle locked, regardless of where it’s parked.
- If you have a garage, use it!
- Always keep your garage locked.
What’s In Your Wallet?
The contents of your purse or wallet are extremely valuable. Your identification, credit cards, health cards and other valuable items are all kept in this one convenient spot. Leaving your purse or wallet near the front door makes it easy to grab. Keep it in a convenient, yet out of sight location.
To avoid losing your identification or credit cards and limit your exposure if you are robbed:
- Don’t carry your social insurance card and birth certificate in your wallet – they are generally not required as identification.
- Limit the number of credit cards you carry.
Can You Identify Your Property?
Each year, police auction thousands of unmarked property items that were either lost or stolen. Engrave your valuables with a personalized identifying mark. These marking should be in plain view and easy to spot. Items with identifiers are less valuable on the black market and burglars are less inclined to take them. The police use these unique markings to identify the owner of stolen property they retrieve. To mark your valuables, create your own unique identifier of at least eight characters (e.g., a phone number.)
If a theft does occur and your property is located by the authorities, you will want to be able to identify and claim what is yours. To simplify this process, you should:
- Take an inventory of the items in your home, garage and tool shed.
- Take photos or video recordings to show what you own.
- Write down the serial numbers.
- Keep receipts for the more expensive items.
Keep this information and a record of your identifying number in a safe location separate from the actual property, preferably in a fire resistant safe or a safety deposit box. This information will be useful when making a claim to your insurance company as well!
Items Most Frequently Stolen
Thieves prefer to take smaller items that can be easily pocketed. Favourite items taken by thieves include:
- Camera equipment
- DVD/CD players
- TV/VCR/DVD recorders.
Remember: thieves prefer to take small items that can be easily pocketed!
Going Away on Vacation?
Your home is most vulnerable when you are away for an extended period of time.
Be sure to practice good crime prevention techniques so the house you come back to is as safe as you left it.
Have someone you trust check your home and pick up your mail and papers while you’re away on vacation. Tell that person when you are leaving and when you will be back. If you decide to come home early or stay away longer, make sure they know.
For a small fee, you can have the Post Office to hold your mail until you return from vacation. You should also know whether your home insurance policy has limits for the length of time your home can be vacant.
A lived-in look will give an outsider the impression that someone’s at home. While you are away, have:
- The driveway shovelled in the winter and your grass cut in the summer.
- Lights on timers that would normally reflect your daily activity.
- A neighbour park a car in your driveway.
- A neighbour put some of their garbage at the end of your driveway on garbage day.
Making arrangements to have these normal daily routines continue while you are on vacation will give a potential burglar the impression that someone is at home.
Canvassers & Door-to-Door Salespeople
Remember – people who come to your door selling something or asking for donations are not always legitimate.
Most homeowners have had experience with canvassers or door-to-door salespeople. If you don’t know the person at the door, you’re under no obligation to open it to them. Let them know you’re home by saying, “We can’t come to the door right now.” This way they are aware that the house is not vacant.
- Don’t let strangers into your home to use the phone.
- Don’t give in to high-pressure tactics. Take your time and get a second opinion if necessary. Check references to ensure the professional reputation of the firm.
- If you’re unfamiliar with the charity represented by the canvasser, you may wish to ask for information and call the organization directly. This gives you the opportunity to determine if the canvasser is legitimate and decide whether this is a charity of your choice.
Know Your Neighbours and Your Neighbourhood
Knowing your neighbours and neighbourhood is a great way to reduce crime in your community.
Community partnership/involvement is key to minimizing crime and maintaining a safe and healthy place to live. Crime doesn’t thrive in a healthy, involved community. Get your community involved by hosting a social function like a pot-luck or street barbeque. This lets you meet your neighbours and get to know who belongs in your community. Exchange phone numbers and email addresses so you can keep each other up to date on local events and any crime concerns that may arise. Call your local police or Neighbourhood Watch program for more helpful hints.
Encourage your neighbours to report suspicious behaviour to police immediately. If you notice someone parked in a car for an extended period of time or continuously driving around the same neighbourhood, call the police. If you see someone going into a neighbour’s back yard or trying the doors or windows, call the police immediately. If in doubt, call the police and ask their advice.
Emergency phone numbers should always be placed somewhere visible and easily accessible. For a list of important numbers, look in the front of your phone book and update the numbers as required.
Some Myths & Realities of Home Security
Almost everyone has an opinion why burglaries occur, or how to prevent break-ins. Here are answers to a few myths about burglaries.
Myth: Most residential burglaries happen at night.
Most residential burglaries happen during the day when you are not home.
Myth: A chain lock offers good security.
Chain locks offer little protection against the threat of forced entry and can result in a false sense of security when a superior lock is disengaged. A peephole on your door is a better option because it lets you see who is outside your door while preventing that person from seeing inside your home.
Myth: An alarm system is all that I need to protect my home and my family.
Unfortunately, this view is not shared by the average thief, and the homeowner may still be at some risk. Residential alarm systems offer an increased level of security and some deterrence to the criminal. However, they should not be considered as exclusive replacements for other home security measures but should be used in conjunction with them.
What You Should Know
- Police do not directly monitor burglar alarm systems. It may take a couple of minutes before the call is directed to the police.
- Because of other crime prevention priorities, police cannot always treat residential alarm calls as a high priority. Check with your local police about their policy on responding to alarm calls.
- Burglars spend between three to four minutes in a home, and, in most cases, the criminal will be gone before the police arrives.
- Most alarms will alert the alarm company through your phone line. This may render your phone line unusable. If you are home when someone tries to break in into your house, it may be impossible for you to call for immediate help. If you have an alarm system, you may want to consider adding a second phone line. Check with the alarm provider on how your phone line is used.
Alternatively, an exterior mounted alarm with a flashing strobe light may be used. This may alert neighbours to contact the police and scare off the thief. Homeowners would need to verify that there are no bylaws or city codes restricting the use of this feature.
Crime Stoppers is a partnership between the public, police and media that provides communities with a proactive program to anonymously help solve crimes. The long established hotline number 1-800-222-TIPS is used throughout North America and is available 24/7.
Crime Stoppers has developed an effective program that guarantees anonymity, promises the person reporting the crime they will not have to appear in court as a witness, and offers a reward for information leads to the solving of a crime.
Crime Stoppers is a not-for profit community-based charitable program. The program encourages the public to call with information concerning crimes that have been committed, are being committed or are about to be committed. Crime Stoppers has become an invaluable investigative tool to police services.
In Ontario, there are 38 community Crime Stoppers programs that cover the entire province. The impact of this crime fighting network in Ontario has been astounding! Since the first programs in Ontario started in 1983, the statistics for the 38 Boards in Ontario show that Crime Stoppers works. As a result of calls to Crime Stoppers, there have been over 75,000 arrests and more than 115,000 cases cleared. The value of illegal drugs removed from our streets is close to $1.5 billion. The value of stolen property recovered as a result of calls to Crime Stoppers is close to $275 million.
Statistics show an average conviction rate of 95 percent and tips to Crime Stoppers save law enforcement agencies thousands of dollars in investigation time. Calls to Crime Stoppers assist in putting police on the right track by identifying individuals who are responsible for committing crimes.
Members of the public with information about property crime and burglary who want to remain anonymous can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.
Home Security Tips
To a criminal, there are certain indications that a home is vacant or a better target for a break and enter. Below is a list of suggestions to reduce your risk of becoming a victim.
- When you move to a new home, you should change or re-key the locks immediately.
- Always keep your front door locked.
- Keep screen doors locked whenever your main door is open.
- Never ignore a knock on the door.
- Garage doors leading directly into the home should be kept locked at all times, even when you are in the house or backyard.
- Chain locks are NOT recommended as security for doors. Instead, invest in a peephole which allows you to look out but does not allow the person to see inside.
- Limit the size of accessible window openings. If they are being used for ventilation at night – install a securable, window stop.
- Lock ladders to the house, fence or inside a shed or garage. Unlocked ladders can be used to gain entrance through a second story window.
- Be sure second story windows are closed and locked when you are not at home. Patio furniture has been used as a stepladder to gain access to upper levels of the home.
- Trim hedges below the window level to eliminate hiding spots for criminals.
- Make sure that outside lights are in good working order
- Engrave an identifying mark on your property. This makes it easier for police to identify and harder for criminals to sell.
- Keep objects with sentimental value in a place no one would suspect when not in use.
- Take inventory of your property. Use photos or videos and/or DVDs.
- Lock your vehicles at all times, even when in the garage, so access cannot be gained by intruders. Secure bicycles by obtaining the serial numbers and or identifiers then registering your bicycle with your local police service.
- Keep your vehicle keys out of sight and in a location where no one would look for them.
- When new items like TVs, stereos or computer equipment are purchased, be sure to fold the cardboard box inside out before placing in the recycling. This means your new purchases won’t be advertised to anyone on the street.
- Don’t allow strangers into your home.
- Know your neighbours.
- Make sure that your home always looks lived in (e.g., newspapers/flyers picked up, grass cut, snow shovelled etc).
- When leaving a message on your phone or answering machine, do not indicate that you are not home.