Researching home security products and how effective they are is a confusing, time-consuming process.
We did a ton of research to get you the full details on how to get protected with a list of 10 simple improvements you can make to secure your home against burglars.
By the end, you'll have a rock-solid foundation in home security.
Table of Contents
Security doesn't come in the form of a single product, or even a dozen of them. It's a combination of good planning and careful decision-making.
Rather than thinking about individual things, let's think about the goals you want your security system to achieve:
Do those all sound like the same thing said 3 different ways? Well, as you're about to see, it's not that simple.
The outer layer of your security should be focused on making your home less appealing to intruders.
By equipping the exterior perimeter of your home with outdoor cameras, motion-sensing lights, electronic locks, “smart” doorbells, and even low-tech obstructions like tall fences and yard signs, most burglars will recognize that you take home security seriously and avoid your home altogether.
Your goal with this layer is to make a burglar give up or switch targets before he even decides to walk up to your front door.
Can a dog help deter an intruder? Maybe. There are many conflicting stories about the usefulness of pets as deterrents. Researchers have yet to determine what impact, if any, dogs have on burglars' decision-making.
Whatever your stance on the ethics of using dogs as a defense mechanism, an animal is no substitute for a burglar alarm.
Dogs have a well-deserved reputation for being our best friends, but most burglars won't be deterred by them unless you've got a trained guard dog or a breed that's known to be aggressive.
Lucca, our office dog
What happens if a burglar ignores your deterrents? Imagine if he climbs the fence and continues past the outdoor cameras and approaches your door or a window.
This is where your next “ring” of interior perimeter defenses becomes important.
Elements of your home security system in this ring are designed to present a significant challenge to any intruder, causing him frustration and slowing him down.
Every minute that goes by is huge for an intruder as they’re trying to get in and out as fast as possible. The longer they are out in the open, the higher their chance of being caught. If they can’t find a way to get in easily, they may become frustrated and give up.
In this category you’d think about protections such as dual-pane windows with laminate, dual-cylinder deadbolts, and reinforced solid-core wooden doors.
This ring of security comes into play when all previous layers fail. Let's say the intruder kicks in the door or breaks a first-floor window.
Your door and window contacts, motion sensors, and glass break detectors go off instantly. But now it's up to you to get you and your family to safety by either confronting the burglar or evacuating the home.
Emergency planning is crucial. Your family needs to know how to respond in the event of any emergency so that you don't have to waste valuable seconds trying to explain what everyone needs to do.
At this stage, you have one goal: get everyone out of the home safely.
A call to a dispatcher from a reputable monitoring company makes a difference. Dispatchers get the knowledge and confidence that someone has confirmed that this is not a false alarm.
When law enforcement knows your alarm is warning them of a real and present danger, they're going to get out to you as fast as they can.
There have been numerous surveys and studies of home burglars and their victims to determine what security methods proved most effective.
Our recommendations are based on several research studies conducted over the past 3 decades on burglars in the US and the UK, combined with our own 46 years of experience in the home security space.
We list all of the resources we read to create this guide at the end of the section.
Here's what methods security experts say have a clear impact on your safety:
There’s a story about a burglar who was caught because he walked past someone's webcam when he was looting their house. He ended up on the news and was caught not long after.
Few things make burglars uneasy like seeing cameras pointing at them from multiple angles around a house.
If burglary is your primary concern, you want those cameras displayed prominently.
The Honeywell WIC1 camera
If a burglar spots a camera, they know it could have wide viewing angles and will not just switch targets to the house next door; they’re likely going to a street several blocks away.
Security is not just about individual homes; strong communities that work together to make their neighborhood a better place to live are often most effective at reducing crime rates.
Reach out to those living nearby and learn about their lives. By building relationships with the people around you, you're doing your part to make your neighborhood safer.
Knowing that you can trust the people around you helps you feel more at ease when you leave home for extended periods of time. Your neighbors will also be more vigilant about alerting you to any issues or suspicious activity near your home.
Make it difficult to get into your backyard. A lot of people suggest putting thorny bushes under your windows as an added deterrent, but personally I don't subscribe to this kind of "defensive landscaping" philosophy.
You have to be careful with your outdoor security as it's possible to go overboard and attract unwanted attention. Look at it from a burglar's perspective: if you're casing a neighborhood and notice a house that looks like a fortress from the outside, you're going to wonder what kind of valuables that person is hiding.
Suddenly, the potential rewards start to outweigh the perceived risk.
I'd focus on the following for your yard:
No one likes breaking in through the front door or front windows where the whole neighborhood can spot them. As it happens, climbing up and down tall fences doesn’t sound all that appealing to burglars either.
(Source: Trex Fencing)
Avoid storing objects that could be theft targets in the backyard -- like ladders or valuable tools. Ladders can also be used to help a burglar get to a second floor access point in the home.
Clean up items that could easily break your windows or glass sliding doors -- bricks, hammers, or large rocks.
Don’t post vacation photos online until you’re home. A smart thief will scour the internet to identify easy targets.
Locks don’t matter if the doors themselves are flimsy or poorly installed. Many career criminals don't bother with picking locks; they'll simply kick your door in, take a sledgehammer to it, or break a window.
Replace doors and door frames that are old and or rotting. That side garage door that doesn't lock as well anymore is an easy target.
Still, a good lock is a nevertheless important element of a holistic security solution. Schlage is a good brand to start with. If you want the absolute best of the best, consider a solid metal magnetic lock like a Evva MCS which has anti-drill measures. Even many of the best locksmiths aren't able to crack this one. Also consider brands like Mul-T-Lock (MT5+ core), Medeco, and Assa-Abloy.
Here's what you can do to strengthen the door itself:
By protecting the hinges, lock hardware holes, and strike plate, your door can withstand everything short of a vehicular battering ram. Products like the Door Devil offer a convenient solution.
Arm your system every time you’re leaving the house empty for any period of time. Burglars can be in and out in 5-10 minutes; they can ransack your home in the time it takes you to buy your groceries.
People fall into the trap of thinking "I won't be gone long, it'll be fine," but it only takes a moment to set the alarm.
Also, arm the system at night. Most alarm systems have nighttime settings that arm the entry points but disable the motion sensors inside so you don’t accidentally trigger it when you are home.
Having difficulty deciding on a trustworthy security provider? Our Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Alarm Company will help you narrow down your list of options.
This only works if your timed lights go on and off in different parts of the house at different times. Leaving lights on while you are gone is a pretty obvious tactic that many crooks have learned means "easy score."
Crooks really start casing houses during the holidays (most of summer and in the weeks leading up to Christmas). If they see that your house has the exact same lights on two to three days in a row, it is almost a guarantee you aren't home.
Have a friend or neighbor come over in the evening and put them inside, and have them switch lights around. A lot of crooks will use papers and mail to judge if a person is home or not over the holidays (and any time of the year), and if they see papers and mail coming and vanishing, especially with different lights changing, the risk of somebody being home is too great.
Many homeowners inadvertently paint a giant bullseye on their property through seemingly simple mistakes.
Here are some simple steps you can take to prevent this:
Dispose of packages that held expensive items carefully and don’t flaunt major purchases. Avoid displaying these items prominently. Your 70" 4K LED TV should not be visible from the street. Don’t keep your laptop in front of your first floor office window.
In a similar vein, avoid leaving cash or jewelry sitting out in the open. If a burglar breaks in, they're not sticking around for long enough to dig through every nook and cranny; they're going for the low-hanging fruit.
Normally, a burglar can break through a window and enter a home in 5-10 seconds. Ground floor windows are the way burglars are most likely to gain entry to your home.
When you’ve got window laminate (as with the photo above), that time increases to 30-60 seconds. Those extra seconds of wasted time could be enough to make a burglar give up.
For those with a larger budget, consider something like a security screen. These are made from a steel mesh and make things like sliding glass doors much tougher against blunt objects. While more expensive (a single window pane can cost a thousand dollars), their effectiveness is undeniable.
If thieves are casing the neighborhood, they will pretend to be door-to-door salesmen or conducting some other solicitation to see what's inside. They’re especially looking for that hook with keys to a door or a vehicle.
It's crazy how many people invest in a thousand-dollar safe and leave it open all the time because it's a hassle to open and close.
American Security Safe
Bolt it to the floor or wall so that the burglar can’t make off with it.
Whenever you purchase an expensive item, take the receipt and put in the safe. It’s got to be fireproof. You may need the receipt to help process an insurance claim if something is stolen.
In addition, keep serial numbers (and photos, if possible) of anything you care about. If your laptop gets stolen and you spot it in a local pawn shop, you won’t be able to get it back unless you have that serial number already on file somewhere.
Expensive items must be scheduled on your policy in advance. If you have a $15,000 home theater system or $20,000 in collectible stamps, your insurance company ought to be aware of that.
Install some sort of tracking app on your computer and phone right now if you haven't already.
Your personal data is also extremely valuable; it's likely worth more than most of your physical belongings.
Bank Security Boxes
Important documents and even hard drives with electronic files should be stored offsite in a security deposit box. This insures that you will have a copy if you have a fire or serious damage in a natural disaster.
Resources on Burglary and Home Security
There have also been several books and articles written by US and UK researchers based on interviews with hundreds of burglars:
One of the biggest issues with the use of an alarm system is the problem of “false alarms”. Most false alarms are caused either by user error or equipment malfunction.
These are responsible for 94% and 98% of all alarm calls, so many police departments don't make responding to ordinary alarm systems a high priority.
Make sure your alarm company verifies your alarm to the police so that you get the absolute fastest response times. On average you can expect to wait 30-45 minutes for police to show up to an ordinary alarm, compared to the 8-10 minute response times for verified alarms.
False alarms are not only embarrassing and costly for homeowners; they eat up a lot of valuable police resources and tax dollars that could be better spent elsewhere. The problem was so widespread that cities had to introduce hefty fines to encourage people to get their faulty alarms fixed.
What can you do to prevent false alarms? Here are some easy steps that every owner of an alarm system should follow:
It's an exciting time to be in the home security industry because huge changes are happening in the span of not years but months.
As burglars develop more advanced ways to break into homes, it's our job to conduct more powerful ways to stop them. Here are some security gadgets we think will take off in years to come.
Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have proven themselves to be great assets in military combat and surveillance, scientific research, and commercial use.
Soon, advanced security drones will become accessible to consumers. These flying security guards use artificial intelligence to avoid obstacles and detect human activity.
These drones don't just give you air superiority. According to TechCrunch, one particular security drone by Aptonomy can "record suspicious activity, shine a light on intruders, allow two-way communication with the intruder through loudspeakers, and generally scare off potential troublemakers as an intimidating presence in the air."
The drones are designed to be autonomous; you simply program the device with certain flight paths or surveillance routines at specific hours of the day, and the drone handles the rest.
Rather than protecting individual homes, the next-generation's security systems will protect entire communities by providing neighborhood alerts.
Let's say your neighbor's house was broken into or their dishwasher caught on fire, triggering an alarm. Your home security system would alert you immediately so that your family could take appropriate action. It would also mean that your security system could provide police and fire departments with critical real-time information or capture important evidence on suspects.
The more data we share with our technology and apps, the more we have to be vigilant about how that data is used. While user data helps companies like Google and Facebook send you ads about products you're likely to be interested in, data can also be misused if it falls into the wrong hands.
Data encryption is more important than ever to have in our security technology to prevent them from being accessed by third parties or being used to perform a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attack.
Security products and smart home technology of the future will have to be secure against not just from physical intrusion and tempering, but also cyber attacks.
If you got this far, congratulations! We appreciate the time you've spent reading our resource on home security. Hopefully, you've gotten some valuable takeaways that you can put into action and improve your home security.
Whether you decide to go with us or another security provider for your system, we wish you all the best. If you have questions or feedback, contact me in the comments or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.