On vacation? 15 ways to secure your home
Have a summer vacation planned? Keeping your house safe these days means more than turning on a lamp and locking the front door.
This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.
The FBI says 2.16 million burglaries occurred in the U.S. in 2010. A burglary happens once every 14.6 seconds, and those property crimes resulted in a cumulative loss of $15.7 billion.
While I was reading those statistics, I looked at my exterior doors and wondered how secure they are. Then I looked around at all the things insurance couldn't replace -- like a pair of earrings I'd inherited from my aunt and a collectible figurine that's no longer made -- and considered the emotional toll should a break-in occur while I'm away on vacation. In the video below, Stacy Johnson shares a handful of easy ways you can keep your home safe. Check it out, then read on for more.
Let's expand on Stacy's ideas and give you a few more:
1. Lock down your house.
A few months ago, I took a day trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I came home late at night, pulled into my driveway, started to walk to my back door and realized something was wrong. The back door was open about 6 inches. I ran back to my car and called 911. A police officer determined that my adorable antique lock had simply come loose, allowing the door to open.
While that may sound odd, door frames can shift with time. The lock you installed 10 years ago may not be as secure as it once was. Exterior doors should always have deadbolts.
And don't forget sliding doors and windows. Make sure they lock, and install a metal dowel along the bottom of every glass door or window. You can pick up a dowel cheap at any hardware store.
2. Don't let mail and newspapers overflow.
Before you leave, put a temporary hold on newspapers and mail. In most areas, you can do this online through the newspaper's website and on the post office's Hold Mail Service site.
Better yet, have a neighbor collect your papers and mail. That way, you're not telling a stranger at the newspaper office or post office that you're leaving. Neighbors can also help clear out fliers, coupons and delivery menus.
3. Use timers for your lights.
Pick up a few cheap timers at a hardware store and install them on different lamps throughout the house. Set the timers to go off at different intervals throughout the day. If you don't have time for timers, give a friend or neighbor a key and ask that person to come by at different times and turn the lights on and off.
4. Keep the lawn mowed.
I'm no criminal mastermind, but even I can tell someone probably hasn't been home for a while when I drive by and see 6-inch-tall grass. If you're going to be out of town for more than a few days, hire a lawn care service to mow your grass and trim your shrubs.
5. Keep your driveway active.
This trick is common in my neighborhood. When a neighbor is out of town, we use that house's driveway when we have guests. If you're going out of town, ask your neighbors to do the same thing.
6. Don't hide a key in an obvious place.
Because people are afraid of losing a key, they often hide it where they -- and anyone else -- will be sure to look. Don't hide a key in an obvious place like under a doormat or planter or above the doorframe. In fact, you probably shouldn't have a key hidden anywhere.
Instead, give a copy of your key to a trusted neighbor or nearby friend for emergencies. Make sure the key doesn't have any identifying marks on it, like your name or address.
7. Stop checking in on social networks.
I used to be guilty of checking in on Facebook until I saw this: WeKnowWhatYoureDoing.com, a website that posts public status by category. If the site can find this information, anyone can -- including your boss, your mom and area burglars.
Eliminating check-ins and revealing status updates is a simple way to safeguard your house. But if you want to post about your vacation, change the privacy settings on your accounts. Facebook's instructions can be found here.
8. Monitor your house with your smartphone.
While you're away, you can use your smartphone to monitor cameras inside your house. All you need to do is link a webcam (included on most desktops and laptops) to the app. Once linked, you can watch the camera directly from your smartphone.
For example, check out iCam, available for Android and iPhone. With this app, you can link up to 12 devices, set them up around your house and keep track of things while you're away.
9. Keep your blinds in their normal position.
At a neighborhood watch meeting, a police officer told us that blinds and curtains can signal to thieves that you've gone out of town. Anyone watching your house can learn your normal patterns; leaving the blinds closed when you normally don't says you're away.
10. Don't change your answering machine message.
If your phone number is publicly listed, it wouldn't be hard for a criminal to find it and call ahead before breaking into your house. If you change the message on your answering machine to say that you're out of town, it's like rolling out a welcome mat.
Instead, always keep a generic message on your home answering machine. For example, my landline simply says, "We're unable to come to the phone right now. Please leave your name and number at the beep."
11. Ask a neighbor to watch your house.
Get to know your neighbors and let them know when you plan to be away from home. Whenever I leave my house, even overnight, I tell my neighbors. I've also introduced my neighbors to people who visit my house regularly and might stop by while I'm gone (like my dog walker). This way, my neighbors know to keep an eye on my house and they know who looks suspicious. I feel safer knowing someone might notice a problem and call the police.
12. Move expensive items out of sight.
Take a walk around your house and look in your windows. If you can see expensive electronics, a jewelry box in your bedroom or anything else worth stealing, so can everyone else. Don't help criminals window shop.
13. Keep the police in the loop.
Many police departments have special community safety programs. For example, in my neighborhood, a police officer will come to the house and do a safety check, pointing out any potential security problems. Police officers may also drive by your house and keep an eye out if you let them know you'll be out of town.
An aside: The detective in the video above told Stacy that if anyone comes to your door and asks for a person who doesn't live there, be suspicious. Knocking on doors, particulary in the daytime, is a simple way for a burglar to see if anyone's home. If your gut tells you something's up, call the police.
14. Hide lawn equipment.
I always see signs in my neighborhood asking for information about stolen bicycles or lawn care equipment. Most of the time, these items were just sitting in the backyard or locked up but in plain view. Lock up anything valuable in a shed or garage before you leave home.
15. Install good outside lighting.
A well-lit yard is a great theft deterrent. After all, who wants to try to break into a house under a spotlight? At the very least, consider installing solar lights along the pathways in your front yard and backyard and leave the patio lights on when you leave the house. For added security, pick up a few motion sensor lights at a hardware store.
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