House & Home

Security Systems for People Who Can't Afford Guards

Posted April 24, 2013

After The Worst Week In America, I'm assuming quite a few folks are thinking about home security. The attack on the Boston Marathon and the shooting at a festival in Denver, and even the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas, probably gave a few people pause to wonder if they are actually safe at home. For one, I wondered about it. But I edit a home improvement website, and I've published a number of home security articles, so my perspective might be a little different from the average person's. I want to put politics aside and just talk about what it actually means to have a secure home.

What, at least, I consider to be a secure home is a home where I am safe from intruders, the weather, and from environmental toxins. I'm a low-profile person who lives in a high-crime neighborhood in New York City, which also factors into how I view home security. I mean, say you are a high profile person, like a celebrity or politician? That would also change how you view home security. Say you live in a very low crime area? That also effects how you view home security. (Years ago, I lived in a town in rural Colorado that had so little crime that the doors to two houses that I lived in didn't have locks.) Your age, gender, ethnic origin, and whether or not you have been a victim of violent crime in the past might effect how you view home security. Whether or not you live among neighbors whom you know and trust, like extended family, is another factor.

How many home security features a person needs is clearly dependent on a lot of factors, including a person's perception of his own safety. If you're feeling freaked out and unsafe at home due to the events of last week, I want to reassure you that the following home security measures do work, and they will protect you against most intruders.

Your best protection against intruders (of any kind) is locking your door. You know how most robberies happen? The robber walks in through an unlocked door. It's as simple as that.

Now what kind of a lock is effective? Any lock is better than no lock, but the best lock is a deadbolt in a metal door frame. If you're stuck with a wooden door frame, you can install metal strike plates to fortify the door frame. If you don't know how to install strike plates, then have a handyman do it for you. If you don't trust a lone deadbolt, install a New York-style floor bolt as well. Make sure that the door itself is sturdy. It never hurts to have a metal door. Installing a locking storm door with security screen in it is an added layer of protection that can be very valuable.

Windows are the second most vulnerable place in your house. If you have good, solid window frames that lock, you're pretty secure. However, if you still feel vulnerable, you could install fire-safety compliant window grates or bars. Unless you're a really high profile figure, it's not likely that you need to secure your windows beyond good, locking window frames and fire-safety compliant grates or bars. For warm climates and those without air conditioning, I discovered "security window screens" recently, which are exactly what they sound like. They're a less obtrusive alternative to window bars. Security screens are attached to the window like a door, which can be opened in the event of a fire. While regular window screens are easy for burglars to cut through, security screens are made from a metal mesh that is very difficult to cut.

Security lights, like a small array of motion-sensitive lights, can also be helpful. A huge "good neighbor" caveat here is that your neighbors will not like it if your motion-sensor lights are extremely sensitive and extremely bright. Also make sure that the sensors do not sense beyond your property, if you want to be a considerate neighbor. You can install subtle motion-sensitive landscape lighting. Check out photos by Light It Up Electric, an Atlanta-area electrical contractor for soft landscape lighting ideas.

Folks, that's it. You could get a dog for protection. The size of the dog matters less than the sound of his bark. If you have firearms, definitely lock them in a safe. Security screens are probably a better investment than an alarm or camera system. If all of your doors and windows, including the garage, are secure, you're in decent shape. Do you feel better? I hope so.

Chaya Kurtz writes for

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