How can you protect your home against theft and intruders? A few basic precautions will usually keep all but the most determined burglars from giving your home a second glance.
And contrary to popular belief, most burglars aren't looking to fill their bags with your best crystal or your late grandmother's antique china.
Instead, they're after commonly pawned items - the flat-screen TV, your son's X-Box games, a pricey pair of athletic shoes - items that can quickly be sold down the street. As a result, your strategies to protect your home can be simple, too.
Here are 8 ways to ensure your home is as secure as possible against outsiders.
You probably worry most about intruders at night, but more than half of all break-ins occur in the daytime.
Today's dual-career couples, with their often-empty homes, have made weekday mornings prime time for burglars.
If you live in a condominium complex or in an apartment building, many of the exterior safety measures to protect your home may already be in place.
A gated community or locked apartment building entrance will usually discourage an intruder.
That said, it is still worth taking a look around your home's doors and windows to see if there are obvious easy entry points for a determined intruder.
Take a walk around the perimeter of your home. Is the vegetation near doors and windows well trimmed? Thick shrubbery provides the perfect cover for intruders, allowing them to work undetected by your neighbors. Make a note to prune any overgrown greenery the next time you're working in the garden.
Then look around your yard. Do you have ladders, sturdy trash cans, stackable boxes, garden tools, or patio furniture that could help a thief break in? If so, resolve to stow them in your garage or toolshed.
Even a metal drainpipe can provide access to second-story windows, which are often left unlocked. Stop climbers in their tracks by spreading a bit of petroleum jelly along pipes that reach ground level.
You needn't go much higher than the first floor, so a small stepladder, a big tub of jelly, and some disposable rubber gloves are all you'll need. Reapply whenever the pipe loses its slick.
Next, check all your windows and doors. Those at street level are favorite entry points because they're easily reachable and often hidden from view.
Make a note to install grilles, bars, or metal security grates that open from the inside with a safety latch to give your family an exit in case of fire.
It's best to get a locksmith or gate manufacturer to install the device rather than doing it yourself.
To protect your home, first- and second-story windows can be secured simply by adding a pickproof locking device - such as a keyed lock, a sash lock, or a locking bolt - depending on the type of window you have.
For sash windows, purchase a simple gadget that screws onto the inside of the frame at the height you choose and contains a knob you can slide out (to prevent the window from opening past the chosen opening).
If your home has sliding aluminum-frame windows, an aluminum traveler, fastened by a hand-tightened bolt or knob you secure along the lower window track at a desired distance from the opening edge, will keep intruders from sliding open the window should they defeat the primary lock.
You can also create your own pin lock to protect your home by drilling a hole through the top of the inside sashes and three-quarters of the way through the outside sash at a slight downward angle.
Slide narrower-diameter nails or eyebolts into the holes with enough of the heads exposed so that you can remove them quickly when you need to open the window.
Be aware, however, that one window in every bedroom has to be entirely free of all these devices so that occupants and rescuers can easily see how to open the window in case there is a fire.
When you leave the house, place valuables where passers-by can't see them, or close the drapes or blinds. Always lock up whenever you leave, of course, and keep doors locked while you're in your home.
Sliding glass doors are the type most vulnerable to break-ins, as their rudimentary locks are easy to pick.
The simplest solution is a metal bar or a length of wood dowelling (a section of broom handle also works) placed in the lower door track.
Determined thieves have, however, been known to circumvent these by lifting the glass panels out of their tracks.
Make it harder for them by adding a pin lock. You can buy one from your local locksmith or at an online hardware store.
Or, as with windows, do it yourself with a drill and nails. You can remove the nail from the inside, but a burglar won't be able to without breaking the glass. As an added security measure, cover the glass with a polycarbonate glazing.
Take a close look at your front door - nearly a third of all burglars gain entrance here. Your door should be made of either solid wood - at least 1 and 3/8 inches (3.5cm) thick - or steel.
Whatever type of door it is, the hinges should not be on the outside, as the pins could easily be removed and the entire door taken off its frame. If the door has exterior hinges, replace them with hinges whose pins can't be removed.
Make sure the lock is equally solid: As a rule, a dead bolt should have a 1-inch (2.5cm) throw bolt and an interlocking frame.
And yes, your door needs a dead bolt in addition to the keyed knob set. Don't use a dual-cylinder lock - the kind with a key for both sides: This can trap you in the house in case of emergency.
If you have one now, replace it. You may also want to install dead-bolt locks on the door from the garage into your home.
If your door has a window or a glass panel, secure it with a decorative grille that has non removable screws, or install over the glass a break-resistant plastic panel.
If a window lies within arm's length of the door, make sure that the door's dead bolt is out of reach should an intruder break the glass in the window and reach inside. Cover the window with a curtain or shade to keep prying eyes out.
Can you detect who's knocking before you open the front door? If you don't already have a peephole, hire a locksmith to install one in your door when he or she comes to install your new dead bolt.
A simpler - and much less expensive - approach is to buy a peephole and install it yourself.
Choose the type with a fish-eye lens; its wide-angle view will allow you to see almost everything - and everyone - on your doorstep before you unlock that dead bolt and open the door.
Make sure your porch light is at least 40 watts to properly illuminate nighttime visitors. Secure gate latches and garage and shed doors with sturdy padlocks that are designed to resist prowlers and stand up to rain and freezing temperatures.
Now, consider your "oops" key. Does the spare that lets you in when you've lost your house keys sit beneath the doormat, in the mailbox, or underneath the potted plant next to the door?
These are the first places thieves look for keys in hopes of easy access to your home. Move the spare to a different, more creative location.
Although most burglaries occur during the day, motion-sensor lights, affixed well out of reach in your yard and around the perimeter of your home, may discourage a nighttime prowler.
Lights are your least expensive insurance policy against theft, since the last thing a burglar wants is to be seen. Whenever you'll be gone for more than a few hours, turn the porch light on and play a radio or the TV. During the nighttime hours, keep several indoor lights on timers that have been set to various schedules.
As a finishing security touch, place a sign stating "Beware of Dog" in a prominent place. Whether you have a rottweiler or not, these signs ofter deter thieves.