If someone pulls into Terry Sember’s driveway or rings his doorbell, he relies on security cameras and a smart doorbell to identify the visitor. He can even provide access from afar to his Buffalo, New York, home with the code to his keyless entry system.
Sember, 52, started installing new home security features in 2020. He cites convenience as a major motivator for the upgrades but admits the devices also provide peace of mind.
“We travel and it’s nice to be able to check in on the house while we’re away; the cameras also provide alerts … and can record video to look back if something does happen,” he says. “With the cameras, if the alarm company calls, I can quickly check to see if there really is a problem or if it’s a false alarm.”
The number of burglaries nationwide may have dropped 7.4 percent in 2020, but according to the latest FBI data, more than 6.4 million Americans were victims of property crimes, suffering total estimated losses of $17.5 billion. Added to the monetary loss, of course, is the fear and sense of violation a home intrusion leaves in its wake.
Whether you’re worried about break-ins or want to deter porch pirates, these seven strategies will help make your home more secure.
1. Fortify the locks
You make sure to turn the deadbolt when you leave the house and before you go to bed, but that might not be enough to secure your home. Louis Wood, owner of LAW Security, says you should examine the door jambs and replace any rotted wood: “It’s easy for a burglar to pry through rot.”
“The screws used to install doors are relatively short,” Wood says. “To strengthen your door hinges and all other hardware driven into your door frame, replace these screws with three-inch or longer screws that go past the frame and into the studs.”
2. Light up the night
Most criminals strike after hours. A 2021 study noted a “significant increase in robbery during darkness,” and found the act of installing enhanced lighting reduced crime by 21 percent. The reason? A well-lit exterior means that would-be burglars are exposed and easy to spot.
“Lighting is by far one of the most effective means to deter criminal activity,” says Gene Petrino, a retired SWAT commander and co-owner of Survival Response. “Motion-sensor lights and static lighting around the home will illuminate any movement during nighttime hours.”
3. Trim the trees
Unkempt landscaping, especially around windows and doors, offers thieves a place to hide. And don’t just trim back trees; consider landscaping choices that actively deter thieves.
“We advocate for the two-foot, six-foot rule: All hedges should be kept below two feet in height and all tree canopies should be higher than six feet,” Petrino says. “Additionally, landscaping should not obstruct the lighting in any way.”
Robert Siciliano, a security awareness expert with Protect Now, believes landscaping can also act as a deterrent and recommends planting thorny bushes around windows and doors.
4. Install a locked mailbox
Packages placed outside your door are an obvious target for thieves. More than 35 million Americans report having a package stolen in the preceding 12 months—with 36 percent reporting thefts of multiple packages.
To foil roving porch pirates, consider tools like Key by Amazon, which gives Amazon delivery drivers keyless access to place packages in a secure indoor location, or Package Guard, a disc-like device that notifies you when a package is delivered and sounds an alarm if an unauthorized person removes packages.
5. Invest in security systems
Don’t underestimate the importance of a security system. In one study, 83 percent of convicted burglars admitted to checking a house for an alarm system before deciding whether to break in and 60 percent said seeing an alarm prompted them to move on to another house.
Whichever security system you install, make sure to place the company’s signs in visible areas so would-be thieves are on notice that breaking in will trigger the alarm, capture their image on camera and notify the police.
Visible cameras are also key. In a recent survey, 89 percent of ex-convicts said a connected house using smart technology for enhanced security will deter thieves.
“Get a new security system and make sure it includes motion sensors and cameras,” Siciliano says. “Place a video surveillance camera, even a fake one, above the front and back door where it is always visible.”
6. Skip the spare key
It’s not hard for thieves to find spare keys “hidden” under a mat or flowerpot. Siciliano suggests using a keyless smart lock instead.
Most models have touchpads for keyless entry but some models have fingerprint scanners, preventing thieves from walking through the front door. Wi-fi-enabled locks also allow you to lock and unlock your door from your smartphone.
7. Reinforce the windows
Breaking a window pane allows burglars to flip the lock, open the window and gain entry to your house. For added protection, try applying anti-penetration film, a clear layer that makes glass shatter resistant.
The plastic film was was engineered to withstand hurricane-force winds, rocks and break-ins. You can have anti-penetration film professionally installed or make it your next DIY project.
Siciliano also suggests installing stoppers, also known as Charley bars, in all sliding door and window tracks. Once in place and locked, they prevent intruders from entering from the outside, and most models are easy to unlock and remove. “It’s an added layer of protection to prevent a door from being forced open,” he explains.
Jodi Helmer is a contributing writer who covers gardening, health and the environment. She has also written for Scientific American, National Geographic Traveler and NPR.