Many of us worry about break-ins and burglaries. Not only is there the risk of financial loss and disruption, having someone invade your property can be very emotionally traumatic.
As such, keeping your home secure is essential for your own safety and peace of mind. Good security can also be a priority for potential buyers.
One of the key things to remember is that most burglaries are carried out by opportunistic thieves. Around 20% of all burglaries do not even involve the use of force; thieves enter freely through open doors or windows.
In considering home security, try to look at your property through a burglar’s eyes. Could they break in without being seen? Do the doors and windows look secure? Can they see things worth stealing? Could they get in and out quickly and quietly? There are several important areas to think about:
It may sound like an obvious one, but make sure you lock all your doors properly when leaving the house and at night time. Even when doors are locked, entry is sometimes forced by kicking in the door or prising it open.
External wooden doors should be at least 44mm thick. Make sure you have good solid locks on all external doors (five lever mortise deadlocks kite-marked to at least BS3621 are recommended).
Check your door frames are sturdy, well fitted and that the hinges are attached securely. Glass panelling in doors is particularly vulnerable and should be fitted with laminated glass if possible.
Most modern patio doors come with a multi locking system. If your patio doors are not secure, get specialist advice to make sure suitable locks are fitted at the top and bottom.
If your letterbox is close to your lock, fitting a letterbox cage will prevent thieves being able to reach inside. You may want to fit a door chain so you can speak to strangers with the door partially locked, but bear in mind these can be flimsy and should not be left on all the time in case they prevent you exiting the house quickly in an emergency. A door viewer or ‘spy hole’ will allow you to identify callers before opening the door (see the Bogus Callers section below).
Around a third of burglars get in through a window, so it’s definitely worth checking they are secure. Don't be fooled into thinking that small windows don’t matter; skilled burglars can get through any opening larger than a human head.
Visible window locks can act as a deterrent, as most thieves won’t want to break glass and run the risk of drawing attention to themselves.
Pay particular attention to downstairs windows, windows which can’t be seen from the street and any easy to reach upstairs windows. When replacing windows, consider using laminated glass for extra security. Double glazing is a must.
Nearly 60% of burglaries take place under the cover of darkness. Good lighting is a deterrent, making it potentially more difficult for thieves to get in and out of your property unnoticed. Outside lights with movement sensors can give you warning that there is someone close to your home. If you already have normal outdoor lights, you can buy separate sensors to convert them.
Outdoor lighting can use up lots of energy and be a nuisance to neighbours and traffic. It’s worth considering low-wattage lighting, energy efficient bulbs, and solar powered lights. Make sure lighting is not turned on unnecessarily in broad daylight, shining directly into other people’s windows at night or angled in such a way as to distract passing drivers.
A visible burglar alarm is another good way to make an intruder think twice. There are a huge range of systems on the market, from inexpensive ones which you fit yourself to more sophisticated products costing hundreds of pounds.
If you are planning to install a burglar alarm yourself, you can get advice from your local crime prevention officer. Get a range of quotes and do your homework to make sure your chosen alarm suits your needs. Your insurance company may be able to recommend certain systems or suppliers.
Police recommend that any alarm system you fit yourself should meet standard BS6707, or BS4737 for professionally installed systems. Badly installed or malfunctioning alarms can cause more trouble than they are worth, so consider getting professional advice.
Of course, another audible deterrent is man’s best friend. Territorial dogs are very good at sensing intruders and kicking up a fuss about it! While you should be careful about letting an aggressive dog loose on people in or near your property, some dog-owners choose to put up warning signs so that visitors and potential intruders know what they are up against.
Being careless with keys makes things easier for a burglar. If you have just moved into a new home, consider changing the external locks so that you know you are the only key holder.
Don’t leave keys in typical hiding places such as under the doormat or in a flowerpot. Leaving keys near a window or door is also a no-no. Thieves can get hold of them using wires, hooks and magnets.
There are an increasing number of incidents in which car keys, and subsequently cars, are stolen from private property. Therefore, the same rules go for car keys too. A car is best stored in a locked garage, rather than on the driveway.
Gardens, gates and fences
Keep any perimeter fences, walls or hedges in good condition and make sure there aren’t any gaps or weak spots which could prove handy access points for a thief.
Thorny hedges can be a good deterrent, as can gravel, which is noisy underfoot. Fixing trellis on the top of solid walls can make them more difficult to climb over. It’s not a good idea to use barbed wire, razor wire or broken glass since you could be held responsible for any injuries caused.
Garages and sheds
Garages and sheds pose a number of threats to home security. They often contain valuable tools and equipment and it’s easy to leave them unlocked. So, where a thief may not want to tackle your front door, nipping in and out of the shed could prove easy and lucrative.
Another problem with garages and sheds is that they can contain equipment which a burglar could use to break into your main property. Ladders are a prime example.
So it makes sense to fit sheds and garages with sturdy padlocks and to alarm them if necessary. Never leave outbuildings unlocked and take particular care if your garage has a connecting door to your home. Lock ladders inside your garage or shed and consider using lockable steel boxes for your tools.
Once you have taken care of these key areas, there are further measures you can take to reduce the risk of burglary, or to lessen the impact should the worst happen.
While some items are irreplaceable, getting good insurance cover for your property can reduce financial loss from burglary. Some companies offer reduced premiums for people with good home security.
Mark your property
Police recommend clearly marking your property. This can act as a deterrent, since it is harder for thieves to sell on. It also gives you a better chance of getting your property back if it gets stolen.
Rather than writing your full name and address, marking property with your postcode is a simple and effective way of identifying it. Since a number of people share the same postcode, do make sure you add your house or flat number. For example, if you live at 18 North Road, Barton, BT39 8TR, then you would simply put BT39 8TR 18.
Most items can be marked with permanent ink. Ceramic marker pens are available to mark china, glass, and other glazed surfaces. Etching and engraving are other options. If you are worried about affecting the value of your possessions, seek expert advice. You might consider using an ultraviolet marker pen for precious or delicate items, which won’t leave a visible mark.
Most burglaries happen when a property is empty so, when going away, try not to leave any obvious clues that you are not in. Cancel the milk and newspaper deliveries and use timer switches to turn on lights and radios in the evening. Remember to set these sensibly so they don't use up too much electricity.
Another idea, especially if you’re away for an extended period, is to ask a friend or neighbour to pop by to pick up the post, draw the curtains, water the plants and generally prevent your home looking empty and neglected. You may be able to come to a reciprocal arrangement in which you ‘house sit’ when they are away.
Neighbours can be a great help when it comes to keeping an eye on your property. Similarly, if you notice anyone acting suspiciously in your neighbourhood, call the police.
There are over 150,000 official Neighbourhood Watch schemes in the UK. These bring people together in a joint effort to make communities safer, aiming to prevent crime through greater vigilance and to reduce undue fear of crime. They involve partnerships between the police, community safety departments of local authorities, local voluntary organisations, families and individuals.
In around 4% of burglaries, thieves use a false pretense to gain entry. Unfortunately, older people are particularly vulnerable to these ‘distraction burglars’, since they are often more trusting or easily confused.
The UK Home Office recommends a ‘Lock, Stop, Chain, Check’ method of preventing distraction burglary. Make sure your door is locked when you are in your house and don’t unlock it until you know who is on the other side. If someone comes to your door unexpectedly, stop and check that all your doors are locked. Check who is calling by looking out of a window or through a spy hole in your door. If you decide to open the door, consider using a chain or bar so that you can keep the door semi-secured while talking. If you don’t know the person, ask to check their identity card. If you are not sure about their ID, phone the relevant organisation to confirm the caller' identity.
Remember - if in doubt, keep them out. You should be especially careful if you are on your own. Genuine callers won’t normally mind you being cautious, and you can always ask them to come back when someone else is around.
If all this talk of burglary has you cowering in a corner, you’ll be pleased to know that burglary rates in England and Wales have actually been dropping in recent years. The risk of being a victim of domestic burglary has halved since 1995. This is partly due to people being more vigilant over home security. Be safe, be sensible… but don’t have nightmares!