How can you protect your home against intruders?
A few simple measures will usually keep all but the most determined burglars from giving your home a second glance.
Steps to a safer home include locking away all ladders, garden tools, trash cans, patio furniture, and other outdoor accessories that could help an intruder break and enter.
Whether your home is humble or palatial, there's probably something inside it of interest to thieves. But most burglars aren't angling to fill their bags with grandma's china or your best crystal.
Instead, they're after everyday items - the television, a sound system, your son's expensive pair of sneakers - that can be sold quickly and easily down the street.
Most burglars are not exceedingly skilled at their game. The majority are teens or young adults on the prowl for an unoccupied, unsecured home.
Few have high-tech lock-picking devices; their tools are as simple as their methods - they'll pry open a sliding glass door with a screwdriver, or stand on a patio chair or shimmy up a drainpipe to reach an unlocked window.
The good news is that your antitheft strategies can be simple, too. A few basic precautions will usually keep all but the most determined burglars from giving your home a second glance.
You probably worry most about intruders at night, but more than half of all break-ins actually occur in the daytime. Today's dual-career couples, with their often-empty homes, have made weekday mornings the prime time for burglaries.
The first step toward a safer home is to take a walk around the perimeter of your home. Is the vegetation near doors and windows well trimmed?
Dense 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, stow them in your garage or tool shed.
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 plastic gloves are all you'll need. Reapply whenever the pipe loses its slick.
Next, check all your windows. 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 gates that open from the inside with a safety latch to give your family an exit in case of fire.
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, protect your home with 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 height) or slide in (to allow free 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.
Doors leading outside are where more than three-quarters of all burglars gain entry, and where your efforts are most likely to have a dramatic impact on your family's safety and your home's security.
Sliding glass doors are the type most vulnerable to break-ins, as their rudimentary locks are easy to pick.
To protect your home, 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 your neighborhood hardware store.
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 one and three-eighths inches (3.5cm) thick - or steel.
Replace any thin, hollow doors, which are a snap for a determined thief to kick open.
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 your door has exterior hinges, replace them with hinges whose pins can't be removed to protect your home.
No, stashing your spare house key under the doormat or beneath a flowerpot is not creative. 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 to protect your home.
Today's improved technology and competitive marketplace have made getting an alarm system for your home 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 turn off the alarm, you can key in a unique 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 protect your home 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.