Home Security How To – Tips, No-No’s, Hardware and Devices

Do It Yourself Home Security How To : Burglars And Burglary

Ironically, according to United States Burglary Statistics (via FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports), the most common entry method employed by burglars and intruders is, drum roll please…an unlocked door or window! Very James Bond, isn’t it?

Yes, what that means is that when a burglary occurs the most likely reason the thief gained entry was that the homeowner left a door or window unlocked for them–how considerate of you.

Now, the second most common method, forced entry, where they might use what we call the ‘boot pick’ (they kick the door in) or the ‘brick pick’ (they chuck a brick/rock/garden tool etc. through your window–these are plays on the word ‘lock pick’ which thieves almost never use) is what most people think a burglar is going to do, and this is, in fact, a very likely scenario.

The most likely methods, specifically, are kicking in a door, smashing a window with a hard object (often times a tool like a hammer or gardening trowel left outside by the homeowner–again, how considerate of you), smashing a pane of glass on or near a door and then reaching inside and unlocking the door (this is a MUCH bigger threat than people realize), prying a door far enough apart from the frame that the bolt comes out of the strike (this is less common), just prying on a door until the lock, strike, or door frame breaks and gives, or using a pipe wrench to force and rotate a locked knob until the mechanism breaks (this almost ALWAYS works, although you don’t see it too much).

A Simple Way To Prevent A Burglar From Getting In The House

Even less likely, but possible, is a burglar stealing and using or stealing and copying your key–this happens in maybe 5% of cases–and this is one of those things where perhaps the teen-aged son or daughter loaned their key to a friend that ‘lost’ it, or you give your car keys to the valet, which of course are attached to your house keys, and they make a quick sketch, photo, or impression of it before giving it back to you five minutes later

(someone with half a clue as to what they’re doing only needs about 5 seconds with a regular house key to take a good enough photo with their camera-phone or quick pencil and paper sketch to be able to accurately copy it).

Maybe you left your keys in your purse which was unattended at work for a while, lost a key, had them in your car which was stolen (and also contained insurance or other information indicating your address–they’ve got your address and house keys now, what more could they ask for), or you’re one of the really dumb ones that leaves a copy of your key in some ‘cute’ hiding spot outside that you think a burglar would never find (they’ve seen it all, believe me, they’ll find it).

*Quick tip: get one of those carabiners or D-rings for your keys–you keep your car keys, and just your car keys, on one key ring and all your other keys, including your house keys, on another key ring(s) and both of those on the carabiner/D-ring, then when you need to give your car keys to the valet, mechanic, or friend you just give them the key ring off the carabiner/D-ring with your car keys on it and keep the carabiner/D-ring with the remaining keys on it yourself (this is very easy to do while the car keys are still in the ignition, like when you’re driving up to a valet station at a restaurant or the mechanic’s booth at a repair shop).


Lastly is the possibility of someone picking, bumping, impressioning, or otherwise bypassing your lock–this happens less than 1% of the time, and in all honesty is so unlikely (despite recent media hoopla over bumping locks open) that unless you’ve got half a million dollars or more worth of valuables in your house, or classified government documents, you’re being stalked by a locksmith etc. I really don’t think you need to worry about it.

Basic Physical Security Procedures

Now, before we get into various physical security procedures and practices that will neutralize these entry methods, I’d like to very quickly go over the one immutable rule of security (ALL security–physical security, computer security, etc.): LAYERING.

Layering is the concept of always having multiple redundant layers of security, each one reinforcing and backing up the others, and NEVER relying on just one thing, like ohhhh, say….HOME BURGLAR ALARMS (how many people spend $4000 on an alarm system and have $15 junk deadbolts on their doors, which probably aren’t fitted properly and are attached to the wall with $2 hinges with tiny screws too short to even get well into the frame–TOO MANY). It should never JUST be high-security locks, or JUST a burglar alarm, or JUST a good guard dog (way too many people think just having a dog is a security measure–it’s not), or JUST surveillance cameras.

These are all good things, but they should all be properly integrated into a layered approach–notice I said integrated, not amateurishly slapped together (you’d be surprised what a good locksmith or physical security specialst can do, and no I’m not a locksmith, by the way).

And no, you don’t have to go all-out and get the biggest and bestest available for each layer you’re integrating–you don’t have to spend $1000 on high-security locks, AND $2000 on Lexgard Burglar Windows (a burglar resisting glazing material), AND $4000 on a burglar alarm system, etc etc etc.

You’re MUCH better off spending a small to moderate amount on each layer and integrating them properly instead of blowing your whole budget on one thing, or even worse putting it all off until you’ve got enough money to go all out on everything (in which case odds are good that nothing will ever get done).

Home Security Products, Devices, and Hardware

Here’s a good example:

-Good quality exterior security doors from Home Depot or Lowes or whatever it is you’ve got: 2 inches thick, hardwood, steel lining preferred but not necessary. Odds are pretty good that your house already has these.

-Make sure the hinges used are solid exterior quality (yes, there’s a difference between the ones on your exterior doors and the ones on your bathroom doors), the screws used are the ones that came with it and are at least 3 inches long so that they go well into the door frame. Also be sure that the door is the right size and has been fitted properly to the frame (have I mentioned yet how useful a good locksmith or physical security specialist can be?) so that there’s no gaps between the door and frame that would make it easy for someone to insert something like, mmmm, a crowbar perhaps?

-All windows have good locks that function, maybe even replace them with ones that require a key (prevents shimming the lock open externally with a pocket knife–it can be done, depending on how tight the seal is). Using a burglar resisting glazing material, as mentioned before, isn’t necessary but certainly a good idea if you can.

-Good quality deadbolts, ANSI Grade 2 Home Security Hardware or better, such as what I personally recommend: Schlage B360 Deadbolts (standard single cylinder deadbolts at hardware stores that run about $30 from Schlage), or if you really want something nice and don’t mind spending the money, definitely check out the Schlage Plymouth deadbolt with keypad.

Make sure you follow the directions and use the screws that came with it (especially the ones for the strike–they’re 3 inches long for a very good reason). I would also suggest picking up some door security hardware like a MAG or Don Jo wrap-around kickplate (you can buy it here from Amazon, also, see National Locksmith article at the end for why this is important) for each deadbolt, they’re about $10-15 and REALLY help to reinforce a good deadbolt on a wood door.

-Try to avoid having any glass close enough to the deadbolts on any exterior doors such that if someone were to break that glass from the outside they could reach in and unlock the deadbolt. And if you DO have that situation, I would recommend that you either have someone put a security laminate aka glazing material on the glass (a plastic laminate that goes on both sides of the glass and makes it essentially shatter-proof) OR use double-cylinder deadbolts on those doors that are at risk.

However, be advised that double-cylinder deadbolts present a possible danger in the event of a fire and MAY be against your local fire regulations. There are companies like Medeco Door Locks that make double cylinder deadbolts that come with a key attached to a standard deadbolt knob that goes into the keyhole on the inside cylinder whenever someone is home that you can just remove when you leave.

-If you can afford it, MAYBE go for a home alarm system (I would, in fact, advise it if you can afford it). Why do I mention this last? Simple: alarms don’t stop people from getting in, they just let someone (hopefully) know that it’s happening, that’s all.

You HOPE that alarm will scare them off, you HOPE the police will get there in time, you HOPE that alarm will go off when it’s supposed to–see what I mean? Solid, properly locked and secured doors and windows stop people–alarms just scare them off…usually…you hope (granted, a 12 gauge and a bad attitude are really good at stopping people, too, but remember we’re assuming this is a typical burglary where no one is home).

Here’s some bad examples:

-$5000 on an alarm system. YAY! All done. (I wonder if you’ll feel that way when someone kicks your cheap door in, sets off the alarm, ignores it because he’s too jacked up on PCP or meth or god knows what to notice much of anything, and then proceeds to beat, rape, kidnap, molest, and/or kill you, your kid(s), your wife, sister, dog, cat, gerbal etc. while the alarm is going off and the police are taking the nationwide average of 10-15 minutes to respond)

-$1000 on Medeco door locks. YAY! All done.

-One big Rottweiler that barks and acts tough when I’m around (but he’s never bitten anyone–he’s sweet!)–maybe he can lick ’em to death.

-A gun, that’s it. I have nothing against keeping a firearm in your house for protection, but believe me it’ll do NOTHING for you (and could end up actually doing harm) if you’re not there when it happens, and burglary statistics indicate that odds are VERY good you will NOT be home when a burglary occurs–about 80% of burglaries occur between 9AM and 4PM Mon-Fri. because that’s specifically when people are most likely to be somewhere else!

Burglars do NOT want a confrontation or a fight, and contrary to common belief not many, in fact VERY few, burglaries occur at night time.

In Summary:

-Solid, quality doors, windows, and locks installed properly–not calling a locksmith to help with this one could end up costing you WAY more in the long run than doing the right thing and paying for professional help. Do you realize how hard it is to properly (notice emphasis on ‘properly’) fit a door to a frame? Locksmiths do, and can deal with it.

Do you know what a UL-437 rating means, the differences between Kwikset, Medeco, Mul-T-Lock, Abloy and Schlage and why it IS important? Locksmiths do. Trust me, if you’re really looking for security help the best thing you could probably do is call a good locksmith and pay the man what he’s worth (usually about $40-70 an hour, which is nothing compared to what he might end up helping you prevent).

Burglary Deterants : Beep Beep, Arf Arf!!

-Dogs are good, especially loud yappy ones–don’t worry about whether your dog could bite someone in half at the waist or not, unless he’s had some very specific and very good (and consequently very expensive) security/guard dog training he’s just not going to attack someone who’s breaking into your home when you’re not there.

BUT burglars HATE having attention drawn to them especially by loud noises (this is why alarms are effective–the fact that the police are probably responding isn’t as much of a deterrent as you would think since most of them know the cops will, at BEST, be there in 5-10 minutes and some departments take as long as 2 hours to respond to silent alarm calls, giving them ample time to get away).

-Alarms are good, in fact they’re excellent burglary deterants (just don’t ever forget that they won’t stop anybody). OH!! And when you get that alarm installed do NOT be tempted to just get sensors on the first floor windows and not the ones on the second or third floors: BURGLARS KNOW PEOPLE DO THIS

I have seen SEVERAL alarm systems ‘bypassed’ by burglars that understood the simple fact that people are cheap wherever they think they can get away with it, and simply broke in through a second story window. The same thing goes for motion detectors for alarm systems: if you’re getting them on the first floor, then you’re getting them for the other floors as well.

-Don’t leave tools outside–especially ladders (very common burglary tool, almost always provided by the homeowner or a neighbor–again, how considerate of you) in addition to anything that could be used to pry or smash like hammers, fireplace pokers, shovels, trowels, bricks, and…are you ready (I have seen this once before)…sledge hammers! I still laugh over that one (I’m giggling maniacally to myself right now, as a matter of fact).

burglary tools

-It’s been said a thousand times but it’s so important that I’ll say it again: if you suspect your home has been burglarized DO NOT GO INSIDE! CALL THE POLICE! Why?

They might still be in there, that’s why, and most of the time will have no qualms about doing anything, and I mean anything, they deem necessary to get away–contrary to common belief, although burglars don’t want a confrontation, they also would rather fight and commit aggravated battery/assault (definition depends on which state you’re in) or murder and get away than they would avoid doing one of these things and get caught.

In 7% of break-ins, the homeowners kitchen knife (usually the chef’s knife, that big 8-10 inch pointy thing) is found on the ground at the EXIT point. You know why?

Because they didn’t want to risk getting pulled over/caught carrying a weapon on the way to the job, and they didn’t want to get caught with one afterwards, so the first thing they do once they get in is go to the kitchen and grab a knife in case someone is home or comes home, then after they’re done and on their way out they drop it on the ground. If visualizing that happening and thinking ‘what if…(insert kid/wife coming home)’ doesn’t give you chills then I don’t know what will (maybe the fruitcake in this picture will).

burglar in the house

Gun owners: you are NOT a one-man SWAT team, doofus, do NOT grab a piece and try to clear the house yourself; the best operators in the world that train for this daily require 4-man teams, sub-machine guns, body armor, radios, and back-up: you have none of these, so don’t even think about it (if the house is empty that is, if a loved one is inside, well…that’s different and it’s your call).

In my following articles for burglary I’ll be going over padlocks, high-security/UL-437 stuff, fire and burglary safes, and…any other random security crap I can come up with 😀



**Update, next article in series posted: How To Buy A Quality Fire / Burglary Safe – What To Look For, Things To Consider

Further Reading and Additional Resources

A book that I can’t recommend highly enough, written by a friend of mine, Daniel Berg, is The Ultimate Guide to Home Security (click here to check it out): it covers, in far greater detail than I can here, locks, alarms, cameras and surveillance, security systems, do’s and don’t’s, security checklists, lighting, and even DIY secret hiding places that you can construct on your own at home for your valuables.

State Farm’s Advice On Picking The Right Door Lock For Your Home

OUTSTANDING Article by The National Locksmith called ‘Huff Puff’–they demonstrate the importance of using the proper hardware and installing it correctly by showing how easily a door with cheap hardware can be forced open versus how difficult it is (they had to use a forklift in the end) to force open a door with properly installed quality hardware.

A very nice explanation of ANSI/BHMA ratings for deadbolts and what they mean – physical security standards.

List of all UL physical security standards and their scope (a very short summary).

Security.Org – Website run by Marc Tobias, author of the book Locks, Safes and Security: An International Police Reference Two Volumes

A snippet on UL 437 ratings from security.org.

The Lockpicking101.com Forums – Hey, don’t knock it, you’d be amazed at what kind of knowledge is floating around over there.

Discovery Channel’s It Takes A Thief Show – AWESOME show if you want to see how a real burglary is going to go down; 6PM EST Monday-Friday don’t miss it!

Good explanation of the difference between single and double-cylinder deadbolts.