Home Security

Burglar-Resistant Homes

There are a number of measures that homeowners can take to ensure that their homes are not attractive to burglars.

Some interesting statistics concerning break-ins in the United States:

  • The Master Inspector Certification Board estimates that theft makes up more than threequarters of all reported crime.
  • In 2005, law enforcement agencies reported more than 2 million burglary offenses.
According to a survey, burglars tend to enter homes through the following locations:
  • 81% enter through the first floor; 34% enter through the front door;
  • 23% enter through a first-floor window;
  • 22% enter through the back door;
  • 9% enter through the garage;
  • 4% enter through the basement;
  • 4% enter through an unlocked entrance;
  • 2% enter through a storage area; and
  • 2% enter from somewhere on the second floor.
Some interesting statistics (2002) concerning break-ins in Canada:
  • The burglary rate in Canada (877 per 100,000 people) is seven times higher than that of the country with the fewest break-ins, Norway.
  • The burglary rate in Canada is slightly higher than that of the United States (746 per 100,000 people), but significantly less than the burglary rate in Australia (2,275 per 100,000 people).
Exterior Doors
  • Doors should be made of steel or solid-core wood construction. Hollow-core wood doors are more easily broken than heavy, solid-core doors.
  • Doors should be free of signs of rot, cracks and warping.
  • Doors should be protected by quality deadbolt locks. Chain locks are not adequate substitutes for deadbolt locks, although chain locks may be used as additional protection.
  • If a mail slot is present, it should be equipped with a cage or box. Mail slots that are not equipped with cages or boxes have been used by burglars to enter homes. Burglars can insert a contraption made of wire and cord into the mail slot and use it to open the lock from the inside, if no box or cage is present.
  • If a door is equipped with glass panes, they should be installed far from the lock. Otherwise, burglars can smash the glass and reach through to unlock the door.
  • Spare keys should not be hidden in obvious locations. Burglars are very good at finding keys that homeowners believe are cleverly hidden. The best place for a spare key is in the house of a trusted neighbor. If keys must be hidden near the door, they should not be placed in obvious locations, such as under a doormat, rock or planter.
  • A peephole can be installed in doors so homeowners can see who is on their doorstep before they open the door.
  • Homeowners should consider installing bump-resistant locks on their doors. “Bumping” is a technique that can open almost any standard lock with less effort than is required by lockpicking. 53 This technique uses "bump keys," which are standard house keys with slight modifications. Lock companies, including as Schlage®, Primus® and Medeco®, manufacture a number of locks that offer some bump-resistance.
Pet Doors
  • Pet doors can be used by burglars to enter homes. Some burglars have reached through pet doors in order to unlock the door. It is advisable to not have a pet door, but if one is necessary, it should be as small as possible and installed far from the lock.
  • A crafty burglar may convince or coerce a small child to crawl through a pet door and unlock the door. Also, some burglars are children.
  • Electronic pet doors are available that open only when the pet, equipped with a signaling device in its collar, approaches the door. These doors are designed to keep stray animals out of the home, and may provide protection against burglars, as well.
Sliding Glass Doors
  • They should be equipped with locks on their tops and bottoms.
  • They should not be able to be lifted from their frames.
  • A cut-off broom handle, or a similar device, can be laid into the door track to prevent it from being opened all the way.
  • Lights should be installed on the exterior of all four sides of the house. Burglars prefer darkness so they cannot be seen by neighbors or passersby.
  • When building occupants are not home, a few lights should be left on inside.
  • It is helpful to install exterior lights that are activated by motion sensors. Burglars that are suddenly illuminated may flee.
  • All windows should be composed of strong glass, such as laminated glass, and be in good operating order.
  • They can be installed with bars, grilles, grates, or heavy-duty wire screening. Barred windows must be equipped with a quick-release mechanism so occupants can quickly escape during a fire.
  • Windows should not be hidden by landscaping or structures. If landscaping or structures cannot be moved, lighting can be installed around the windows.
Landscaping and Yard
  • Shrubs and trees should not obscure the view of entrances. Shielded entrances can provide cover for burglars while they attempt to enter the residence.
  • Fences are helpful burglar deterrents, although they should not be difficult to see through.
While the house is vacant:
  • A loud radio can be used to make burglars think someone is home. Timers can be used to activate radios and lights to make the home seem occupied.
  • A car should always be parked in the driveway. A neighbor’s car can be parked there so that it appears as if someone is home. T
  • he lawn should be mowed regularly. Uncut grass is a clue that no one is home.
Other Tips
  • Dogs are excellent burglar deterrents. For homeowners who cannot own dogs, they can place "Beware of Dog" signs around the yard for nearly the same effect.
  • If no security system is installed, the homeowner can post security alarm stickers around the yard.
In summary, there are many tactics that homeowners can implement to help safeguard their homes from break-ins.
Bump Keys
What Is a Bump Key?
Most people think a locked door affords them security, but to anyone who knows how to use a bump key, a door lock is just a minor inconvenience.
Bump keys are keys cut to a special design that will allow them to be used for picking pin-tumbler locks. Pin-tumbler locks are the world's most popular lock, and these include exterior door entry locks for homes. The process of gaining entry using a bump key is called “bumping,” and it can be very effective.
All the cuts on a bump key are made to the maximum depth, so any key blank can be made into a bump key. Bump keys are manufacturer-specific. A Kwikset® lock requires a bump key made from a Kwikset® key. The same is true for other lock brands. So, a full set of bump keys would include one for each of the major lockset manufacturers
How Do They Work?
Keys operate by aligning tiny spring-loaded pins inside the lock. Once the pins are correctly aligned, the cylinder will turn and the lock can be operated.
To use a bump key, the "pull-back" method is common. With this method, the key is inserted all the way in, and then pulled back out one notch. While keeping rotational pressure on the key, it is then bumped into the keyway with the heel of the hand or with a device of some sort.
The "bumper" needs to bump the key hard enough to jar the pins, but not so much that the lock or key is damaged. Bumping the key causes the pins to jump slightly. Even this slight amount of motion is enough to allow the bump key to turn the cylinder, unlocking the lock.
The image above-left shows the condition just before the key is bumped. The image above-right is just after the key has been bumped. The driver pins (in blue) have bounced above the shear line, while the key pins (in red) are still below the shear line. As long as the shear line is unblocked, the cylinder can turn and the lock will open.
Another method for using a bump key, called "minimal movement," is slightly more sophisticated than the pull-back method. Bump-key performance can be improved by filing away an additional 0.25 to 0.5 mm from the key tip and shoulder, allowing the key to be inserted slightly farther into the lock.
How Effective Are Bump Keys?
The success of the bumper depends on practice. Very little skill is required, and the learning curve is short. Success will also vary with the type of lock and quality of the key. Keys made from soft metal won’t last long. Bumping tends to work better on more expensive locks, since the hard, high-quality parts work more smoothly.
Bump keys sometimes deform when they’re hit, causing them to jam in the keyway. They can be difficult to remove.
How Can I Tell if a Lock Has Been Bumped?
 You can sometimes spot a lock that has been opened with a bump key if you see a small indentation just above the keyway. Some older, softer locks will have dents even though they have not been bumped.
It’s also possible to make bump keys that are protected from leaving indentations. You may be able to tell that a lock has been bumped, but don’t count on it.
Can I Buy a Bump Key?
Owning or possessing a bump key is not currently illegal, and bump key sets, and videos on how to use them, are available online. To acquire a bump key, all that’s needed is the identification of the manufacturer of the lock.
How Can I Improve My Home's Security?
At least two companies, Schlage® and Baldwin, make locksets designed to defeat bump keys. But many locks that use a key and the pin-tumbler system are vulnerable to bumping. No standards exist that demonstrate resistance to bumping. The resistance to bumping a deadbolt lockset varies with the manufacturer. Electronic locks that have a key override are also vulnerable.
Bump-proof locks are rare and expensive. Bump-resistant locks are much more common. Some (but not all) lockset manufacturers include bump-resistant features in their newer locks.
Without buying a new, bump-resistant lock, consumers have two options. Usually, for less than $20, a locksmith can replace the original lock pins with "mushroom" pins, sometimes called spool pins, depending on the manufacturer. While these pins will improve the resistance of the lock, they will not make it bump-proof.
Medeco® is a company that makes high-end locks. They can provide bump-proof lock cylinders for which a duplicate key is available only through Medeco®-authorized dealers. Their cylinders start at around $100, although their less-expensive cylinders may not be bump-proof.
Will Insurance Cover Theft?
If a home is burglarized using a bump key, the theft may or may not be covered by insurance, depending on how the policy is written. If proof of forced entry is required, the theft may not be covered. Be sure to consult your insurance agent with questions about this.
Although bump keys have been around for more than 50 years, their existence has become more widely-known with the advent of the Internet. Consumers should be aware of this potential danger to their home's security.
In summary, homeowners should make sure their door locks are sufficiently secure to prevent unauthorized entry by someone using a bump key. Taking extra safety precautions, such as installing an alarm system, can provide homeowners with enhanced protection of their property.
The 10 Best Places to Hide Valuables in Your Home
Burglary is a crime of opportunity. And burglars don’t want to spend a lot of time looking through a home to find things of value to steal, which is why there are obvious locations that they always check. That means that there are ways to outsmart them by hiding your valuables in not-so-obvious places, and sometimes even in plain sight.
Depending on the size and type of item, the best places to hide valuables are those that burglars don’t want to search through or wouldn’t bother with, including places that are inconvenient or difficult to search, messy, or uninteresting.
Here Are the Top 10:
1. Hollowed-out books. Criminals tend to be uneducated, which is why they’ve turned to crime to make their living. They’re practically allergic to books! But if you have only a couple of books on a bookshelf, this may be a clue that they’re actually hiding places for your valuables, so make sure your library is large enough to serve as a tedious place to search.
2. A false VHS tape or VHS carton. Who watches VHS tapes anymore? Again, follow the rules above for books. A few can be a clue, but many can be a time-consuming distraction.
3. False containers in the kitchen cupboard, under the sink, and in the bathroom, such as fake food cans and boxes, false cleaning product bottles, and personal hygiene items, and even in a heavy tub of "cat litter." Some false containers available on the market today actually look like false containers, so you might want to save yourself the expense and create your own.
4. In the false bottom or under the plastic liner of a bathroom or kitchen trash can. No one wants to go pawing through your trash in the slim hope of finding something worth pawning.
5. Wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil and stored in the back of the freezer. This is also a good place to store documents and paper currency in case of a house fire.
6. In a floor safe in the bedroom closet. While this location may be obvious, a burglar would have to exert a lot of time and energy—and create a lot of noise—trying to break into a floor safe, which is also generally of the heavy variety, making it not only hard to open, but hard to steal whole, if the thief had plans to break into it later.
7. Inside a house plant. Using the same method as for trash containers, a plant’s soil can be contained in a waterproof liner that can be lifted up to hide items underneath. Just make sure the items you’re hiding are in a waterproof container, too.
8. Inside a false wall outlet. Make sure it’s not a live receptacle or in the way of any electrical wiring.
9. Within hollowed-out/removable building components, such as wainscoting, floor panels, door jambs, window sills, and cabinet doors.
10. In the garage inside boxes marked with mundane labels, such as “Xmas Ornaments,” “Kid’s Clothes,” “School Projects,” etc. Again, the more boxes you have, the longer the burglar will have to search—if he’s so inclined—to find something worth stealing.
Hiding Places to Avoid:
  1. Areas that can damage your valuables with water or invasive matter, such as the water tank of a toilet, inside a mayonnaise jar that still has mayonnaise in it, or a paint can filled with paint. There are high-quality waterproof containers on the market that will allow you to hide items in water (and possibly other places), but err on the side of caution. Documents, jewelry and electronics that become wet or permeated with chemicals or food matter may be damaged beyond repair in your zeal to outsmart a tenacious burglar.
  2.  A jewelry box. This is a good place to store jewelry that you can afford to lose, but not your diamond tennis bracelet or your grandmother’s antique wedding ring.
  3. Your desk drawer, bedside drawer, or underwear drawer. Too obvious.
  4. Inside CD cases. It’s true: burglars still prefer CDs to MP3s.
  5. Inside DVD cases. DVDs and Xbox®-type games are worth between $2 and $10 at pawn and resale shops; count on being cleaned out of your collection during a home burglary, regardless of the titles.
  6. A wall safe. Unless it’s high-end and professionally installed, a wall safe can be dislodged by cutting the drywall seam around it, and wall safes are typically small and light enough to easily transport off site to be opened later. Opt for the heavier and harder-to-access floor safe.
  7.  Inside picture frames with false backs/interiors. These tend to be thicker than typical picture frames, so they’re easy to spot as a hiding place.
  8.  A cookie jar. Put cookies in it, not your grocery money.
  9. An electrical item or heated area, such as a lamp base, toaster oven, or HVAC duct. You could accidentally ignite your valuables and put your entire home at risk for a house fire.
  10. Any locked box or locking file cabinet. A box that has a lock on it will be stolen regardless of what’s inside, and the lock on a file cabinet can be popped out with the right tool and a little effort.
Other Precautions
For valuables that you can’t hide or lock up, such as a flat-screen TV, stereo system, and computers, make sure they’re insured through your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Unless you invest in a home security system (and sometimes even if you do), it’s not possible to protect every item in your home. But you can take precautions to password-protect and GPS-activate laptops and smartphones so that their recovery is more likely, should they be stolen.
Also, firearms should be properly locked in an approved gun safe that is stored out of reach for the safety of the home’s occupants, as well as to deter theft.
Place a pole in the bottom track of your sliding glass patio doors so that they can’t be forced open wide enough to permit the entry of an intruder. Install burglar-proof window locks that will allow you to leave your windows open slightly for fresh air, but not wide enough to allow a person to get through.
Remember that burglary is a crime of opportunity, so don’t tempt fate by leaving any exterior doors unlocked (including sliding glass patio doors, and the door between the garage and the living area), hiding a spare house key outdoors (under the “Welcome” mat, a large potted plant, statuary, or a solitary or fake rock), leaving the doors to your attached garage open (even when you’re home), or leaving the curtains or drapes open so that your valuables are in full view of prowlers and passersby. Your personal safety is at risk as much as your personal property.
Also, don’t over-share personal information with the world by advertising your absence from home on social media. When leaving on vacation, have a trusted neighbor, friend or family member monitor your home and bring in the newspaper, mail, and random take-out menus hung on your doorknob. Install light timers indoors, and security/motion detectors outdoors to illuminate your property’s exterior. And go ahead and apply security company stickers to your windows/doors that advertise that your home is professionally protected, even if it’s not.
In short, do what you can to make your home a difficult, inconvenient, and time-consuming target that will force a would-be burglar to move on. And do your part to keep your neighborhood safe by reporting suspicious activity on your street to the police.

Window Bars
Window bars (also called safety bars and security bars) are metal bars that are installed to prevent intruders from entering a building. As an unintended consequence, window bars can slow or prevent egress during an emergency.
  • Roughly 25 people die or are injured annually in fires where escape is hindered by window bars.
  • According to the National Fire Protection Agency, the number of deaths caused by fire related to security bars is on the rise.
  • The fear of burglary, theft and/or physical attack presents a greater perceived risk than the threat of fire.
  • Seventy people died in a hotel fire on August 18, 2001 in the Philippines. The victims were trapped inside the six-story hotel by window bars.
Advantages of Window Bars
  • They are a deterrent to potential burglars. They are mostly used in ground-floor windows, which are most vulnerable to intrusion.
  • They provide a sense of security to building occupants.
  • They can prevent children from falling out of the window.
Disadvantages of Window Bars
  • They can block the exit for occupants during an emergency, such as a fire. The occupants may feel secure from burglary, but they have severely limited their avenues of egress. Ironically, it is possible for occupants to become trapped behind window bars while trying to escape from an intruder who has managed to enter the home.
  • They can potentially block the entry point for firefighters.
  • Houses equipped with window bars can potentially decrease the home’s property value. Window bars can make a neighborhood appear unsafe to potential home buyers.
Requirements for a Quick-Release Mechanism
According to the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), basements and sleeping rooms should have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. Windows that are equipped with bars and which are intended for emergency egress should have a quick-release mechanism installed. If a room’s egress requirements are already satisfied by another window or door, it is still helpful for window bars to be equipped with a quick-release mechanism.
Where window bars are installed in windows that are part of a building’s means of egress, the IRC requires that they be equipped with a quick-release mechanism that complies with the following requirements:
  • It should be accessible from the inside of the house. Although not addressed by the IRC, the device should not be accessible from outside the house if the window were to be broken.
  • It should not require a key or combination. Likely reasons for this requirement are as follows:
  • During an emergency, occupants may become too panicked or confused to remember the combination or where they put the key.
  • Fire and smoke may prevent access to the key or obscure view of the lock.
  • Occupants may not know the combination or know where the key was placed.
  • It should not require any special tools, such as a screwdriver.
  • The mechanism should be able to be operated with relatively little force. Children and the elderly should be strong enough to operate the release mechanism.
  • Operation of the mechanism should not require special knowledge.
In summary, window bars are valuable anti-burglary features in residences, but they should be able to be easily disengaged so occupants are not trapped during an emergency.

Safe Rooms (Panic Rooms)
A safe room, also known as a panic room, is a fortified room that is installed in a private residence or business to provide a safe hiding place for inhabitants in the event of an emergency.

Safe Rooms Around the World
  • In Mexico, where kidnappings are relatively common, some people use safe rooms as an alternative (or a supplement) to bodyguards.
  • In Israel, bullet- and fire-resistant security rooms have been mandated for all new construction since 1992.
  • Since the 1980s, every U.S. embassy has included a safe room with bullet-resistant glass.
  • Perhaps the world’s largest safe room will belong to the Sultan of Brunei. The planned 100,000- square foot room will be installed beneath his 1,788-room, 2,152,782-square foot residence.
Why are safe rooms used? Some reasons include:
  • to hide from burglars. The protection of a safe room will afford residents extra time to contact police;
  • to hide from would-be kidnappers. Many professional athletes, actors and politicians install safe rooms in their houses;
  • protection against natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Underground tornado bunkers are common in certain tornado-prone regions of the United States;
  • protection against a nuclear attack. While safe rooms near the blast may be incinerated, those far away may be shielded from radioactive fallout. This type of safe room, known as a fallout shelter, was more common during the Cold War than it is today;
  • to provide social distancing in the event of a serious disease outbreak;
  • and fear of an abusive spouse.
A Brief History of Safe Rooms
Safe rooms can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. Castles had a "castle keep," a room located in the deepest part of the castle, which was designed so the feudal lord could hide during a siege. In the United States, safe rooms were used in the Underground Railroad during the 1800s, where secret rooms hid escaping slaves. In the 1920s, hidden rooms stored Prohibition-banned liquor. Safe rooms designed for weather protection have their origins in storm cellars. The features of the modern safe room are mostly derived from fallout shelters popular during the 1950s, which were created in response to the fear of nuclear attacks.
Various events of the past decade have spurred a rise in the popularity of safe rooms, including New Year's Eve during “Y2K," the terrorist attacks in New York City in 2001, and the subsequent anthrax poisonings that led to fears of civil unrest and war. Yet, it was the 2002 film Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster, that heightened public awareness of safe rooms and their perceived need. In fact, the term "panic room" became the popular name for what were previously known as "safe rooms" as a result of the movie, although companies that create the rooms still prefer to call them "safe rooms."
Today, they have become a status symbol in wealthy areas, such as Bel Air and Manhattan, where it is believed there are thousands of such rooms. However, it is difficult to estimate the number of safe rooms because many homeowners will not publicize the existence of their safe rooms. Even real estate agents tend to hide the location of safe rooms, or even the fact that a house has one, until they know a buyer is serious about purchasing the house.
The safe room’s location must be chosen carefully. It should not be located in the basement, for instance, if intruders are likely to enter the house from that area. Ideally, occupants will be closer than the intruders to the safe room at the time that the intrusion has been detected. This way, the occupants will not be forced to cross paths with the intruder in order to reach the safe room, such as in a stairway.
Occupants can plan multiple routes to their safe room to avoid detection by the intruder who is blocking the main route.
Safe-room designs vary with budget and intended use. Even a closet can be converted into a rudimentary safe room, although it should have a solid-core door with a deadbolt lock. High-end custom models costing hundreds of thousands of dollars boast thick steel walls, video banks, computers, aircleaning systems, bulletproof Kevlar®, and protection against bacterial and chemical infiltration.
Recommendations for specific design elements include the following:
  • Doors: These are one of the most critical components of the safe room design. A bulletresistant door with internal steel framing can weigh several hundred pounds, yet it must operate smoothly, easily, and without fail in an emergency. The hardware must be selected to provide substantial, secure locking without compromising the smooth operation of the door itself. Most importantly, it must allow the door to be secured quickly, preferably from a single control point. The hardware should not be capable of being overridden or tampered with from the outside.
  • Floors: Concrete is an adequate material for the floor. In other forms of floor construction, such as wood, it is important to provide supplementary protection suitable to the anticipated type of emergency. As safe room construction often uses heavy materials, it is important to ensure that the floor can support a heavy load.
  • Sound insulation: The attackers may try to verbally coerce the occupants to leave the safe room. Effective sound insulation will limit the ability for such unwanted communication. Also, sound insulation will prevent the intruders from hearing phone conversations between the occupant and police.
  • Walls and ceilings: Wall construction that spans from floor to ceiling is generally preferred because of the structural continuity of the framing. Bricks and blocks, while bullet-resistant, can become dislodged from repeated sledgehammer battering. Steel stud walls, braced with additional reinforcing ties, can be faced with steel sheet or bullet-resistant materials, such as Kevlar®. These, in turn, may be covered with tile, sheetrock or other decorative finishes. Steel and Kevlar® panels are available in large sheet sizes. This helps minimize the number of joints that can be potential weak points of an assembly. It is important to not overlook penetrations that may be made for light fixtures, power points and plumbing pipes. Ductwork that passes through protected walls should also be carefully considered to ensure that the security is not breached and that they are not used to transfer poisonous gases into the safe room.
  • Cameras and monitors: Concealed cameras located outside the room enable its occupant to secretly monitor the movement and numbers of intruders. Effective camera systems may incorporate one visible camera outside the room so that an intruder disabling the exposed camera may not think to look for hidden cameras.
  • Generator: A self-contained power system is standard in most higher-end safe rooms.
Items to keep in a safe room:
  • Bottled water and non-perishable foods: There should be a small provision of bottled water and non-perishable foods (such as dried trail mix);
  • Communication devices: Ideally, all three of the following devices should be stored in the safe room:
    • a cell phone and charger, which are convenient, but they may not operate through thick safe room walls. The charger will not work if no electrical receptacles are installed, so those are required, too;
    • a land-line phone: Since cell phones may not work in a safe room, or because they may lose power, a land-line phone is recommended. It should, however, be on a separate line from the rest of the house so that intruders are less likely to disable it; and
    • a two-way radio.
  • Blankets: Occupants may be there for a while, so they might as well be comfortable;
  • First aid kit: Even if occupants make it to the safe room, they may have been injured by the intruder en route. It is unlikely that he will allow the occupants to re-enter the room after they leave it to look for bandages;
  • Prescription medication: Small quantities of necessary medications should be stored in the safe room, or else occupants may be forced to surrender their position during a medical emergency. Having a hundred cans of tuna and a flat-screen TV does little good if your only asthma inhaler is left on the kitchen table;
  • Flashlights: Severe weather can knock out electricity to the house, or intruders may intentionally cut the power;
  • Sanitation supplies: Safe rooms built on a budget often don't have a toilet. A bucket can be used as a low-cost alternative;
  • Weapons: If the intruders manage to enter the safe room, occupants should be prepared to defend themselves. Pepper spray is a common choice, and firearms are certainly no less effective; and
  • Gas masks, which may become necessary in the event that the intruders force poisonous gas into the safe room. Where an odorless gas might be used, an electronic device may be installed to detect any noxious fumes or poisons.

In summary, safe rooms are increasingly popular rooms designed to protect occupants from various types of emergencies.

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