Thieves are creatures of habit — if they find what works, they stick with it. Find out where they're getting into your home and safety tips for how to stop them.
According to detective Kevin Coffey, an active police investigator and the author of two books on avoiding theft, while there are professional burglars who can get into almost any home they want, most criminals are just opportunists. "Most criminals who burglarize homes are looking for an easy hit," he says, "a house that they can break into quickly, take something of value and leave without being detected."
While you can't prevent all theft, you can take steps to make your home a less desirable target, even without a security system.
There are rules construction companies have to follow to ensure your house is safe to live in. But they don't have to be constructed well enough to prevent break-ins, and they aren't required to have excellent locks.
- Replace any hollow wood doors with ones made of solid wood, fiberglass or metal that swing outward and have security hinges*
- Avoid exterior doors with windows, which can easily be broken to open the lock from the outside
- Add a security grate or grill outside or a polycarbonate panel on the inside on sliding glass or French doors
- Secure sliding glass doors with a rod in the bottom track on the inside that swings up when you need to go outside
- Replace deadbolts with grade 1 or 2 solid metal locks that have a throw bolt of at least 1 inch with no exposed screws on the exterior
- Install high-quality metal strike plates
- Don't hide keys — you can purchase deadbolts with number plates that let you enter your key code if you forget your keys (keep your code a secret and change it frequently)*
- Secure your door frame with several 3-inch screws that reach the wall stud along the frame and doorstop
- Replace your locks if your keys are stolen or misplaced for longer than it takes to get a copy made*
*Metal doors should be reinforced inside and have a lock block to prevent being bent out with a car jack. Outward-swinging doors absorb the force when a thief tries to ram the door. Up to 50 percent of burglaries that aren't forced entry involve the use of a key.
The manufacturers' locks on most windows are pretty flimsy and can easily be broken. Since the sound of glass breaking can pique the interest of nosy neighbors and cause injury, most burglars would rather jimmy a lock.
- Secure windows by replacing the latch with a key-operated lever or lock
- Remove the operator crank on casement windows
- Replace your windows with laminated glass (harder to break) or tempered glass (stronger)
- Use wired glass for basement windows
- Install locking gates
Garage doors aren't as secure as many people think. Older models don't have rolling-code technology, so they allow thieves to use a code-grabber device to record and re-transmit the code. From that point, the only thing between your house and the thief is a door most people neglect to properly secure.
- Install a new automatic opener that uses rolling-code technology
- Don't leave your opener in your car — better yet, invest in a keychain remote opener so it's always with you
- Secure your garage door's emergency release with zip ties (this method allows it to remain functional)
- When you go on vacation, padlock the throw latch or use a C-clamp on both sides of the door track
- Install a deadbolt and peephole on the door between your house and garage
- Install a high-quality door made of solid-core wood or reinforced steel
- If your garage door requires maintenance, get it done as quickly as possible
- Install an anti-kick device
- Frost garage door windows so thieves can't see when your vehicles are gone
Identification of these common entry points is based on data provided by the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. The actual statistics may vary by area. Check with your local police for detailed information about your area.
More safety tips
Home security on a budget
Safety tips for college students
Field guide to summer safety