20 tips to harden your home security for next to nothing

There are lots of ways to persuade would-be intruders that a break-in isn't worth the trouble. Here are nine free and easy solutions and four cheap fixes, plus additional tips on DIY alarms and video surveillance.

By Money Staff Nov 22, 2013 12:46PM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at partner site Money Talks News. 

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyHow secure is your castle?

The FBI says more than a million homes across America were hit by burglars last year, grabbing an average of $2,200 worth of stuff each time.

The good news: It takes a lot less than you may think to install sophisticated security equipment yourself, and you'll save plenty over the cost of a professional alarm company.

Even better, there are tons of easy, no-tech ways to improve your home's security for free or next to nothing. 

Appearances count

Most burglars work the daytime shift, just like most of us do. "Daylight jobs require a burglar to be quick, typically spending around 45 minutes selecting a home to target and just three minutes actually doing the job," Los Angeles security expert Chris McGoey tells MSN Real Estate.

Burglars decide whether to hit your home based on appearances: Is it easy to crack or not worth the trouble? The most effective improvements are the ones that convince a burglar to move on to the next guy's home.

9 easy and free ideas
  1. Enlist local police. Local police departments typically will send a trained officer to your home to do a "walk through" with you, pointing out your vulnerabilities and suggesting simple fixes. Check your police department's website for crime statistics and tips. For example, here is the Los Angeles Police Department's detailed list of home-security tips for residents. Remember to alert police when you'll be out of town.
  2. Chat up the neighbors. Join the local Neighborhood Watch program or start one. Chatting with neighbors updates you on local crime problems and enlists allies who'll watch your home while you're away. Neighbors are terrific watchdogs. My retired neighbor up the hill who likes peering out his window through a giant telescope spotted and chased a pre-dawn intruder from my garden once.
  3. Use your locks. Even if your neighborhood feels safe, make locking up a habit. Burglars often test a home by knocking on a door and, if no one answers, opening it. Keep every exterior door and window locked, including the door between the garage and house.
  4. Fake it. Getting a dog is a great security move. But if you can't, pretend to have one, McGoey advises. Buy a couple "Beware of Dog" signs at a hardware store and put them up. When a stranger is at the door, make a show of putting the "dog" in the other room before you open the door.
  5. Install dummy security cameras (about $5).
  6. Paste a local security company's sticker on your front window.
  7. Keep the place looking lived in. Rotate lights on timers when you're gone. Sign up for USPS' Hold Mail service, reschedule expected deliveries and get friends to drop by randomly to water plants or just walk around.
  8. Trim shrubs. Bushy trees and shrubs provide cover for bad deeds. Keep the foliage well-trimmed.
  9. Use your head. "Don’t open the door -- and don’t let kids open the door -- to uninvited strangers," McGoey tells MSN Real Estate. Stay home when workers are in or around your home. Don't put keys in obvious places like fake rocks and under pots and doormats. "Train children (especially teens) to keep key locations, alarm codes and other family security information private from their friends," the article adds.
4 cheap fixes
  1. Light the night. Install bright, motion-triggered security lights outside the front and back of your home. Battery-powered lights start at around $10 each. Hard-wired products start at around $50.
  2. Replace the door … or don't. The best entry doors are solid wood ($100 and up) or 16-gauge minimum steel ($120 and up), says the Los Angeles Police Department. Use non-removable hinge pins and avoid doors with glass windows unless the glass is burglar-resistant. Consumer Reports' test of entry doors found, however, that a strong door frame may count more than the door: "All [doors] eventually failed because the doorjamb split near the lock's strike plate, though we also found that beefed-up locks and strike plates can greatly increase a door's kick-in resistance."
  3. Install a high-quality deadbolt – or two. Whatever you do, don't rely on a simple knob lock (built into the door handle) alone. Install a deadbolt above a knob lock. McGoey recommends:
  • Use a solid core or metal door for all entrance points.
  • Use a quality, heavy-duty deadbolt lock with a 1-inch throw bolt.
  • Use a quality, heavy-duty knob-in-lock set with a dead-latch mechanism
  • Use a heavy-duty, four-screw strike plate with 3-inch screws to penetrate into a wooden door frame.
  • Use a wide-angle 160-degree peephole mounted no higher than 58 inches.

Consumer Reports tested deadbolt locks: "Many of the dead-bolt locks we tested don't provide the level of protection you might expect." CR recommends the Medeco Maxum 11WC60L lock in brushed nickel (brass tarnishes), found online for under $200. This Old House's video demonstrates how to install a keyed deadbolt.

4. Replace the strike plate. Consumer Reports also found that a strong strike plate makes a big difference:

All locks come with a strike plate that attaches to the door frame. But as we've reported in the past, far too many of those are flimsy. Except for the Assa M80 [lock], $95, the kick-in resistance of most locks improved dramatically when we replaced the strike plates with a Mag High Security Box Strike, $10.
Thief Gets Distracted © Sean Locke/Vetta/Getty ImagesSpend a bit more ...
DIY installation home security systems

There's a wide range of home security products. Here's the lowdown on the wired type: "Basic home security systems, or burglar alarms, are typically wired to a central control panel in the home that will activate when windows or doors are opened while the system is armed," says The Chicago Tribune.

Most DIY systems, however, use wireless technology. They're easier to install and can save you a bundle over a wired setup, says The DIY Network, reviewing pros and cons of both. These products begin under $100.

Professional alarm companies may charge little to install a system but they'll make up for it with monitoring fees. Some, but not all, wireless systems let you hire a professional service for monitoring, so you can comparison shop for price. Or monitor your wireless system yourself, through your computer or smartphone.

Says Fox News, in a review of products:

Log in online and you can get live video feeds from all over your home, text alerts when anything moves, and even adjust the thermostat that you forgot to program before you left.


Video surveillance

Many DIY systems include a video monitoring option. Or you can purchase cams separately. Think nannycams, but at the front door.

CNN reviews one "dead simple" product called Dropcam ($199): "The small, basic surveillance devices hook up to a wireless network and live stream video to phones and tablets, acting as an extra pair of eyes for the smartphone age."

The camera is engaged by a motion sensor. Monitor the video feed with an Android or iOS app on a high-speed mobile device.

More on Money Talks News

Nov 22, 2013 10:38PM
Maybe msn can quit automatically running these stupid videos and just let me read the article.
Nov 23, 2013 12:11AM
Lets not forget my personal favorite, A 12 gauge shotgun, The sound of simply racking a shell in will scare off anyone with ears, Don't forget though, a gun is useless unless you are properly trained and know how to use it. Most gun dealerships or shooting ranges will train you, for a modest fee.
Nov 25, 2013 7:01AM
a big gun and dog work the best for me
Nov 23, 2013 3:13AM
Nov 22, 2013 10:45PM

Cover any windows in garage and garage door windows with blinds, shades or curtains so a burglar can not see that there are no cars in the garage.


If you don't have an alarm sleep with your car keys on the night stand.  Set off the car alarm if you hear someone breaking in.


Use key only deadbolts on doors with windows.  Leave one door (preferably solid wood - no windows) with easy keyless locks so you can get out quickly in case of a fire.

Nov 25, 2013 10:14AM
It's an unfortunate fact that in almost half of break-ins are done by people you know. This includes your Neighbors ! Of course the nicer the Neighborhood the less likely it will be your Neighbors, not because they are less likely to be thieves but because they won't risk it for household goods and trinkets. Do not show your Neighbors your coin collection or your Gold hoard or any other high value items that have no serial # or other traceable markings, many people are thieves once their Risk Vs. Reward level has been satisfied. Remember even in nice Neighborhoods the Teens may be on Dope. One jonesing teen can be a one person crime wave.
Nov 25, 2013 11:00AM
that white burglar sure stays busy...I see him in every commercial or article about home security
Nov 25, 2013 5:21AM
Did anyone else find it amusing when she wrote about her "retired neighbor up the hill who likes peering out his window through a giant telescope"? I'd be rather worried about what he's looking at when there's no burglars around!
Nov 25, 2013 7:01AM
My security system is named Bucky.  A black lab trained to attach on command and bark at anyone or anything he does not know.
Nov 25, 2013 12:39PM
1.  Walk softly, carry a big gun and a really bright flashlight(most of these can also be used as clubs)!!! 
2. Put sign in yard, "I have a .44 magnum.  If you can read this sign, you are in range!"
3. Be sure of your target and beyond before you pull that trigger!!!
4. Have a "Yap" dog, i.e., Jack Russell Terrier, Chihuahua, etc.
5. Insure your belongings and keep an inventory (Almost anything can be replaced.)
6. Keep 911 as #1 on your speed dial.
7. Install deadbolts and use them.

Nov 25, 2013 1:02PM
Awareness is your best security.  Be observant of your surroundings.  Watch for things that are out of place, out of the "normal", i.e., an unfamiliar car that keeps cruising the neighborhood.  Even joggers and walkers should cause a "heads-up".  The worst form of security is a "false-sense-of-security".  When you make awareness part of your daily routine, you will find yourself becoming less anxious and more self-confident to control your situation.  Granted, you may always have a scenario you ultimately can't control.  But, why give the advantage of a hysterical victim, too excited and nervous to respond even minimally to a situation.  If at all possible, if a dangerous situation arises, attempt to remove and distance yourself from the intruder and try to contact authorities.  It is still better for people who know how to handle situations to do the dangerous work.  Make your own intervention a last resort, not a first response.  Also, as part of your awareness, get to know the safe-spots in your home/property, those places an intruder is least likely to explore.
Nov 25, 2013 11:05AM
Why make a stranger at the door believe that you are putting your "dog" in another room before opening the door?
Nov 25, 2013 1:19PM
If you are in the back yard/patio/deck....make sure that the front door is locked and vise versa.
Nov 25, 2013 1:21PM

Use 3 to 4" steel screws to ancho the hindges and strike plate.  Most screws are only an inch long that come with the lockset and only go into the casement/frame.  You want screws long enough that they go into the 2 X 4s surrounding the door opening.  Without properly install your deadbolt with these longer screws, your door can easily be kicked in. 

Nov 25, 2013 2:52PM

The "beware of dog" sign is a total joke.  People who make a career of breaking into houses know enough to look for any signs of a dog being on the property when they see that sign.  Only really desperate amateurs are scared off by this lame trick.


DIY security has three criteria:  cheap, effective, and nasty.  Start with nail boards on the basement window sills; bolt them down.  Anyone who tries to enter through the basement window is going to get shredded.  String barbed wire or razor wire around the windows on the basement wall; unless they're wearing Kevlar gloves, whoever enters through the basement window is going to rip their hands apart when they pull themselves through.  Other ways to used barbed/razor wire include stringing it inside the window frame (wire rips them apart on the way to the nail boards or vice versa) and lining the wall below the window with it (once they clear the window, this will rip them apart on the way to the basement floor).  Then there's one of my personal favorites:  punji sticks.  Start by getting some wooden stakes and sharpening them.  Attach some sharp pieces of metal to the pointed ends.  Anchor them to a board so it's like the nail board on steroids.  Bolt it to the floor below the window.  Only way the intruder knows the punji sticks are there is when he lands on them.  A very important tip:  when using materials that have a metallic signature, paint them with flat, low-profile colors; bright, shiny metal on the tips of your DIY punji sticks defeat the purpose, so paint the metal a low-profile black or olive drab.


For doors you don't use, start with a trip wire across the base of the door. From there, you have options. You could go the noise route, where you string up empty cans with pennies in them. Wire gets tripped, cans come down, and pennies clatter. Or you can go the nasty route and have the wire rigged to a mesh of, you guessed it, barbed wire. Wire gets tripped, mesh comes down, guy covered with mesh gets cut to ribbons.

Nov 23, 2013 2:12AM
Set up trip wires around the house with bells on them. Sleep with the window open so u can hear them jingle if someone trips them. Wake up and pump up the 12 gage and start busting rounds off....THAT WILL STOP ANYTHING
Nov 25, 2013 12:32PM
A picture of me and my 12 gauge Mossberg and a sign on the property
that says "Feel Lucky, ****er?"
Jun 17, 2014 9:33AM

A friend told me about Godby Safe and Lock after my home in Delray Beach was broken into. I decided to install some security cameras so I visited the office of these Godby guys. Believe me, these aren’t two men in a truck. This is a company that knows their stuff and installed the ideal camera system for my small family. Check them out

Nov 23, 2013 3:05AM
 Buy a gun. Stop thinking like a drooling stupid democrat. Abortion good? Guns bad? Such logic only can make sense in a brainwashed moron democrat twat. Debt good wall street welfare good degenerate homo freaks good 3rd world turds good welfare good whores good what a demented bunch of retarded freaks! That is your entire democrat party MORONS ! Lesbian Marines no problem who cares if the bimbos cant carry ammo up a hill. Utopia land of Obozo debt failure and fraud you freaky goose stepping losers!
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