Home Security Checklist

Martha Stewart Living, April 2006


Here are tips for safeguarding your property and possessions. Print and use this checklist, and your home may be the safest on your block.

Exterior Doors

1. Install strong doors that are either solid wood or metal-clad, rather than hollow-core units, which are designed for interior use and can give way under a powerful shoulder blow or kick.

2. Reinforce glass insets in doors -- and in the windows that often surround a front entry -- with security glazing. This durable plastic, which is applied to the window, prevents trespassers from breaking through the glass and opening the door from the inside.

3. Choose doors with hinges that face indoors. Otherwise, an intruder might be able to pop out the pins and lift the entire door off its frame.

4. Select wide-angle viewers for new doors; one should be positioned at normal height and one at a lower level for children and people in wheelchairs. You can hire a contractor to retrofit these viewers to an existing door.

5. Supplement standard locks on sliding glass doors with key-operated locking devices. These mechanisms secure the bottom of the door to its frame. For good measure, also keep a dowel in the lower track to prevent the door from being forced open. Note: Sliding glass doors that have been fortified must not be designated as fire exits, because the extra security measures could potentially slow fleeing family members.

Lighting

1. Ensure that driveways, pathways, and entry points throughout your property have adequate lighting; avoid overly bright fixtures, however, since they create deep shadows in the yard.

2. Use motion sensors. In addition to lighting the property safely for welcome visitors, they will help scare away potential intruders.

3. Illuminate address numbers so police and emergency crews can quickly find your house. To guarantee maximum visibility, choose numbers that are 4 to 6 inches tall, and mount them in a well-lit and logical place, such as beside the front door.

Home Security Checklist

Locks

1. Secure all doors and windows every time you leave the house, even if you intend to be out for only a few minutes.

2. Never rely solely on the key-operated knobs that come standard on entry doors. Reinforce them with a dead bolt. There are two types from which to choose: single-cylinder, which operates by key on the outside of the door and a thumb latch on the inside, and double-cylinder, which is key-operated on both sides. Opt for single-cylinder locks so that, in the event of a fire, family members won't lose valuable seconds fumbling for the right set of keys.

3. Choose a dead bolt that has these characteristics: a bolt (known as the "throw") that extends at least 1 inch when locked, to resist heavy blows; beveled rims on the dead bolt's housing to prevent it from being pulled out with pliers; mounting screws that are 3 inches or longer so the strike plate (the metal plate installed in the door frame that receives the bolt) is anchored securely.

4. Avoid keeping spare keys in an obvious hiding place, such as underneath a doormat or in a flowerpot. Instead, leave a set with a trusted neighbor. If you have no choice but to stash them somewhere on your property, choose an unexpected spot, such as beneath a stone under a bush.

5. Invest in an alarm system that will sound a loud noise or silently alert the alarm company or police if an intruder trips its circuit. Do your homework first, though, comparing systems and making sure the company you sign with is well-established.

Windows

1. Supplement the standard thumb-operated turn latches on windows with a key-operated device (sometimes referred to as a sash lock). Similar to the mechanism that's used on sliding glass doors, it secures the window's top panel to its bottom panel so the unit can't be forced open from the outside.

2. Create a pin lock by drilling an angled hole through the top and bottom frame and inserting a nail or eyebolt. (This homemade alternative to the key-operated sash lock is recommended on second-floor windows because the pins can be removed quickly during a fire.) You may wish to make a second set of pin locks with the window partially open to allow for safe ventilation.

3. Consider safety bars for windows, especially those on the ground floor of homes in urban areas. Since bars on front-facing windows will be visible from the road, choose a material and style that complement the home's architecture -- scrolled cast-iron grates, for instance, are appropriate for a traditional-style brick row house.

Vacation

1. Hire someone to mow the lawn and keep bushes and trees neatly trimmed, or to remove snow, to give the appearance that someone is home.

2. Set timers for at least two interior lights, but be sure to stagger when they turn on and off so the house will look genuinely occupied, and not just programmed to appear so.

3. Suspend newspaper deliveries and mail service (you can do the latter at your post office or at usps.com).

4. Inform close neighbors of your trip so they can alert the police to any suspicious activity. If they're willing, have them park their car in your driveway, too -- anything to make the house look like it's occupied.

5. Join a neighborhood-watch group -- a network of neighbors who meet regularly to discuss crime problems and solutions, and who keep an eye on one another's property. If no group exists in your community, contact local law-enforcement agencies about starting one. (For more information about watch groups, visit usaonwatch.org.)

6. Create an inventory of valuable possessions. Include photographs of the items and, when applicable, identification numbers inscribed by their manufacturer (computers, for instance, all have serial numbers). Of course, you can perform this sort of inventory at any time, but doing so before a long vacation will give you some extra peace of mind throughout your trip.

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