8 Steps to Take for Better Basement Window Security
Designed to let in light and provide an additional egress to a home’s lower level, basement windows are often overlooked when homeowners consider home security.
Basement windows can add a touch of natural light and a breath of fresh air to a space that can otherwise be dark, stuffy, and unwelcoming, but they are often an afterthought when securing a home against potential intruders. After all, unlocked side windows and unsecured back doors are much larger and more attractive targets, right? While those more obvious access routes to the interior of your home may come to your mind first, burglars have other ideas. When was the last time you checked to see if your basement windows are locked—or if they even have locks?
Often located in darker areas of the yard, low to the ground, and out of the neighbors’ view, basement windows provide an excellent opportunity for a criminal to get into your home. Most current building codes require basement windows to be egress points that are large enough for occupants to escape in the event of a fire. If the windows are big enough to climb out of, they’re big enough to climb in through. How can you secure your basement windows against determined intruders?
Time required: 30 minutes to a few hours
Estimated cost: Varies depending on which solutions work for you
Before You Begin…
The right road to securing your basement windows will depend on the kind of windows you have. Basement windows can be small panes, glass blocks, sliding windows, or full-size double-hung units, so the security measures will vary somewhat. If your windows are in good shape, you can focus on taking steps to increase their security. If, however, your windows are older, show signs of rot or cracking, or no longer operate properly, it will be worth investigating whether replacing the windows would be a good first step.
STEP 1: Rearrange your basement furniture.
Finished and furnished basements can add great value to a home. Unfortunately, placing a sofa or a craft table immediately underneath a window provides intruders with a handy step-down: no need for them to worry about injuring themselves when they drop to the floor or make a speedy exit if a halfway point is already in place! In addition, a clear view of the television and gaming system you installed in your basement family room or your state-of-the-art, tool-filled workbench shows burglars what they stand to gain if they can get it.
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Covering the window with a curtain or shade is a first step to abating this problem. This solution makes potential intruders guess whether someone is in the room, whether they’ll encounter a sharp 8-foot drop to the floor, and whether there’s anything in the basement worth stealing. A window treatment may conceal some of the natural light the basement window affords, but it will keep prying eyes from seeing into your basement. Window decals, which create a translucent film over the window to muddy the view while still letting in the light, are another option. Additionally, positioning a bookcase or taller piece of furniture in front of the window will obscure the view from outside and create a physical obstacle to entering the basement. This, too, will limit the light, and should be done with caution: You’ll want to make sure that you can easily move the piece of furniture in case you need to evacuate the basement through the window in the event of a fire. An additional option is to simply leave the space beneath the window empty. If a burglar knows they’ll have nothing to land on after an awkward drop to a concrete floor and no obvious way back out, they may reconsider your basement as a target.
STEP 2: Do not place valuables near the window where they can be seen from the outside.
As with any window in your home, you’ll want to avoid giving potential burglars a preview of what they can grab before they even get inside. Basements serve different purposes in different homes, so while a pile of damp cardboard storage boxes may not have a lot of appeal to a burglar, a great workshop, well-stocked gym, or tech-enhanced rec room provides a preview of what a burglar might be able to grab. Tuck expensive tools behind cabinet doors or curtains, and make sure that technology is out of view. This will help make your basement a less- attractive target, prompting the burglar to move along.
STEP 3: Keep the area around basement windows well-lit and visible.
Basement configurations vary. If yours is a walk-out basement, you probably already have lights around the exterior door. Basement windows, however, are close to the ground, possibly recessed, and often hard to see from neighbors’ yards or the street. Ground plantings and shrubs also obscure your windows from view. This situation provides a burglar everything they could want: Darkness and blocked lines of sight give them time to plan their approach, get in, and get out without being observed. Pruning back shrubs and bushes from all windows (but especially low basement windows) allows for a clear view and removes potential hiding places. Adding ground lighting around the perimeter of your home looks attractive and eliminates the darkened areas around low windows, while targeted floodlighting can illuminate the whole space and make concealment difficult. Another option is to install motion-sensor floodlights that will pick up movement near your basement windows.
In addition to exterior lights, indoor lighting can also deter a burglar. Most people turn off their basement lights at night and retreat to their bedrooms. Leaving a light on, or placing a light on a random timer so lights turn on and off unexpectedly, will illuminate a potential burglar from the inside and make the window a less-than-optimal target.
STEP 4: Invest in reinforced glass to increase window security.
If it’s time to replace your basement windows, consider choosing options with reinforced glass. Like the glass in car windows, reinforced glass is treated with a film that prevents the window from shattering when it breaks. Reinforced windows will hold the shards of glass suspended in their place even though they’re broken, which means that if an intruder has been bold enough to try to smash their way in, they’ll have to then wrestle their way through a sticky, sharp wall of broken glass to gain entry. The peace of mind this extra layer of security provides may be worth the slightly higher cost.
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What if your windows are still in good shape? You’re in luck: Aftermarket shatterproof security film is available for you to purchase and apply to your existing windows. It’s available in clear, mirrored, and frosted varieties, so if you’re also interested in obscuring the view through your window, this film can both prevent potential intruders from peering through the glass and make it harder for them to break it.
Shatterproof glass will help defend all windows from intruders but is especially useful on windows that do not open, such as stationary panes or glass blocks. Because those windows don’t have a pressure point for an intruder to try to force open, they’re more likely to be broken to create an entry point.
STEP 5: Add window locks and window bars.
If your basement windows don’t open, your best defense is shatterproof glass. If they do, however, a good lock is a necessary component to secure your home. Horizontally sliding windows can be secured with a small clamp lock that attaches to the track and tightens with a set screw, preventing the window from sliding open. Casement windows, which crank open outward, are a little harder to secure (but also harder to break into because of the hinge placement). Casements can be secured with a lock that prevents the crank handle from turning to operate the window’s gears. Double-hung windows can be locked with wedge locks, which function much like a door stop that tightens further as a window is forced open, or flip locks, which are installed on the window and the adjoining sash to flip closed and prevent movement. Installing these locks requires basic tools such as a drill and screwdriver, and the locks are available in a variety of finishes to complement your existing hardware.
Window bars or grates allow you to open the windows to allow for air circulation (often in short supply in a basement) without compromising your security. Don’t automatically discount this option because of the industrial look of some bars; there are options that are decorative and will add to the aesthetic value of your home and others that can be installed indoors so they’re not visible from the street. These can be professionally installed if they need to be attached to the exterior, especially if your home is brick or masonry, while others can be a simple DIY project.
If you’re installing new locks or bars on your basement windows, there are two critical considerations. First, make sure that the members of your household know how to operate the new locks in case an emergency exit is needed. Second, develop a clear plan to escape in case of fire, as some security bar systems can be quickly removed from the inside, but others are permanently installed.
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STEP 6: Secure window wells.
Below-grade windows often have wells surrounding them to keep the soil from building up over the window. A well also presents an opportunity for an intruder to tuck themselves closer to your home while they work their way in and can provide a landing to use while climbing in and out. Plastic covers and grates that affix to the top of the well provide multiple benefits: They can keep dirt, leaves, and water from accumulating in the well while allowing natural light to shine through, and they can prevent animals from nesting in the well (and eventually working their way inside). These covers or grates will also add a layer of security to your window by preventing an intruder from getting close enough to try the window.
STEP 7: Investing in a home security system and security cameras is key.
How far away from your basement window is your bedroom? For many homeowners, the basement is two floors and several closed doors away from where they spend their evenings and nights. To combat the worry that you might not hear someone breaking into your basement window, consider investing in one of the best home security systems.
Without being overly complicated or exorbitantly priced, basic systems can include glass-break sensors, motion sensors, lights, and security cameras, all tied to either a monitored system where professionals will alert you and the authorities to a break-in or send an alert to an app that you monitor yourself. These systems can monitor your whole home or just the basement—whatever will provide you with the best peace of mind. If someone does make it into your basement window, you’ll have more time to get to safety and call the police.
STEP 8: If you already have a security system, make sure it’s working to its full potential.
Are there decals on your basement windows indicating that the window is connected to a security system? If not, you’re missing out on a key part of the security provided by your system: the warning. Intruders don’t want alarms to trip or attention drawn to them in any way, and for that reason will often shy away from homes with advertised security. Many people have small signs or decals on their doors, but if an intruder has crept to a basement window it’s likely they’ve missed those other signs. Apply decals to basement windows as well.
Even if you already have a security system installed, it’s worth taking the time to check to see if glass-break sensors, motion detectors, or window sensors are installed on your basement windows. Because basement windows are sometimes small, or don’t open, they are often overlooked in a security system plan. It’s easy to apply a couple more sensors or alerts to an existing system to make sure you’re fully protected.
Taking action to make your basement windows as secure as possible will protect your property and make you feel more secure in your home. Options such as moving furniture, obscuring the view, and tucking valuables out of sight are quick and simple steps you can easily achieve while assessing the possibilities and collecting supplies for additional measures like locks, lighting, and shatter proofing the glass. However, nothing can replace the security—and peace of mind—that a home security system can offer. From catching porch pirates to preventing home invasion, having a home security system is a proven way to deter criminals from targeting your property.