Keep your home safe

Preventing break-ins starts with making your home a less inviting target

By Allan Britnell


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“The front door was open, so I knew something was up right away,” says Gary Davidson, a former Canadian Home Workshop art director who returned home after a short motorcycle ride one spring night to discover his Toronto apartment had been burglarized. In the hour that Davidson was out, a thief had cut away the screen on an open ground-floor window, ransacked the apartment and made off with cash, CDs, a Dremel tool-given to him as a going-away gift from CHW staff when he left the magazine-and three cameras.

Inside, Davidson describes the scene as “typical of what you’d imagine for a break and enter: things strewn all around, bed turned upside down, bedroom drawers pulled out, things thrownon the floor….”

Sadly, this scene is all too familiar to thousands of Canadians. Statistics Canada reports that in 2003 alone, almost 154,000 homes were broken into.

While it’s impossible to burglarproof your property completely, there are some ways to make your home a less tempting target, reduce your losses if someone gets in and get your stuff back if it’s stolen.

The first step is to eliminate the easy entry points. Far too many burglars get into houses the same way you do: by walking through the front door. While the owners are in the back lounging or doing yardwork, brazen burglars simply enter through unlocked doors. “It only takes a minute for somebody to go in and grab your valuables, and you don’t even know they’ve been there,” says Sylvia Oakley, program director with Edmonton’s Neighbourhood Watch. Forgetting to lock windows when you go out, as Davidson did, also provides an easy entrance. Another common mistake is to leave the garage door open-not only is it a potential means of entry to your home but you’re also advertising all the tools and equipment available to any burglar passing by.

And while it should go without saying, don’t leave a spare key for crooks to find. They know all the obvious spots (under the mat, on top of the door frame) and even the supposedly secret ones (inside a flowerpot or a fake rock). Leave your extra key with a trusted friend or neighbour.

Target Practice

Regardless of your habits and security measures, some homes-such as those in rural areas or that back onto urban parkland-are more prone to break-ins than others. Burglars also target properties with heavy foliage and those on quiet, dead-end streets.

Not sure if you’re a likely target? The best way to find out is to inspect your home from the outside. Const. Byron McNeil of the London, Ont., police suggests homeowners conduct a complete perimeter inspection of the building. On your walkabout, stop every five feet or so and look away from the house. Do you see any windows or doors that a neighbour could potentially observe an intruder from? If not, a thief is going to target that blind spot. If there happens to be a window or door in the hidden area, trim shrubbery or beef up security there.

Properly positioned exterior lighting can help, but don’t simply rely on motion sensors or a couple of bright floodlights. “Everyone thinks bright is better,” says James Solecki of Integra Works, a custom-lighting installer in Port Sydney, Ont. But it’s not. “Floodlights create high levels of contrast, [with] bright areas and dark areas. Your eye will automatically adjust to the brightest areas, and the darkest areas essentially seem even darker.” The result is that a criminal can lurk out in the open but be hidden behind the glare.

And the problem with a motion sensor is that if it’s frequently set off by people and wildlife, your neighbours won’t pay any attention.

A better option is to use multiple, energy-efficient lights around the property. “Multiple sources of light along paths, in trees and on the house give it a very lived-in look,” says Solecki. “Most people will think, ‘No one would leave that many lights on if they weren’t home.’”

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