How can you protect your home against theft and intruders?
A few simple theft protection measures 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 home security measures that can help you create a secure home for your family.
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.
Take a home safety assessment 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. At home security begins with removing any items that could assist a thief's entry to your home.
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, secure first- and second-story windows 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.
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.
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.
Today's improved technology and competitive marketplace have made getting an alarm system for your house more affordable than ever.
Most systems include magnetic door and window contacts that trip the alarm when separated. The central component of a security system service is a round-the-clock monitoring station that responds to any security breach by telephoning you.
If you don't answer the call and provide your password, the police will be sent to your home. Should an intruder break in while you're there and force you to turnoff the alarm, you can key in a special code that will send a silent call for help.
Most home security systems are simple enough that a guest or school-age child could learn to operate them.
Ultimately, the decision to go with one of the home security system companies in your area will hinge on how much home security you need and whether the peace mind that you stand to gain is worth the cost of the security system service.