Bob Vila’s Guide to Home Security

In your quest to keep your home and family safe, your first line of defense is common sense. Start by making your home more secure and less welcoming to intruders, and then consider the potential benefits of a whole-home security system.

Home Security

Photo: progressivehome.com

It wasn’t so long ago that when an intruder broke into a house, the home security system would sound an alarm and, if monitored, alert the police. Today, advances in video surveillance, motion sensors, wireless technology, and home automation have made it possible not only to make sure your house is locked up tight, but also to let you know who’s coming up the driveway, ringing the front doorbell, walking in the backyard, opening a window, or tampering with the pet door. In many cases, the system can alert you conveniently on your mobile device.

There are many commonsense approaches to home security, as well as a range of options. If you think it’s time to install a security system, be sure to do your research, evaluate your needs, and consider your budget, taking into account both the cost of installation and any required monthly fees. Use this guide to home security as a first step toward making your home and family as safe as possible.

THE BASICS
When it comes to home security, the best defense—aside from common sense—is reinforcing existing structures.

  • Change out door locks (consider upgrading to a Grade 1 deadbolt), and check that all windowpanes are secure and locks are properly functioning. Reinforce the less obvious home entry points, such as skylights or pet doors.
  • Prune bushes or shrubs along the home’s exterior to make it more difficult for an intruder to hide while prying open a window.
  • Join (or start) a neighborhood watch group—there’s no substitute for knowing your neighbors and having extra sets of eyes.
  • Exercise common sense. When you’re away, don’t change your answering machine greeting or leave notes on the door for deliveries. If you’re working on a home improvement project, store ladders and tools out of sight.

SENSORS AND TIMERS
Proper lighting around a home’s exterior allows for surveillance, defines space, and guides guests safely onto and away from your property. Inside your home, lighting should create the sense that someone is always home.

  • For exterior lighting, photosensors can enhance security, maintaining light levels during the night and shutting off during the day.
  • Motion detectors turn lamps on automatically when motion is detected.
  • Plug-located timers are common and inexpensive. Equipped with a clock that can be programmed with on-off times, they plug directly into a wall socket and offer one or more outlets that can accommodate lamps, stereos, televisions, and other electronics.
  • Socket-located timers fit directly into the medium-base socket of an incandescent lamp. The timer activates when the lamp is turned on and automatically turns off after the designated amount of time elapses.

Related: Landscape Lighting 101

WHOLE-HOUSE SENSORS
If you’ve decided on a whole-home security system, it’s important to be extremely thorough when incorporating it into your home. The alarm system needs to activate before someone enters your home, not while that someone is walking around inside.

  • Research both wired and wireless systems. Find out what frequency the system will operate on and what else operates at that frequency. Does the system use magnetic contact points, and are there both motion and noise sensors? What are the most common false alarms associated with the system? Make sure the system meets your whole home’s needs.
  • Anticipate potential problems. Perimeter and interior sensors should attach to battery backups. Find out from your home security company what plans they have in place in case your system fails while you’re out of town.
  • Home automation is the newest trend in home security. Find a system with wireless peripherals, including modules for controlling lights and appliances, thermostats, and cameras, and sensors for glass breakage, vibration, motion, and water.
  • Make sure you use all of the protection your home offers, including both the security system and your existing physical structure. Even the most advanced security system will fail if you leave the door unlocked, or if your window air conditioner isn’t attached properly, or if the alarm isn’t even set.