Home Safety and Security Essentials
Want to improve your home's security? This article can help pinpoint the weak spots and suggest ways to beef up your defense.

Here are some outdoor projects to help keep your home secure:

Trim trees and bushes. Don't provide hiding places for crooks to work undercover. Overgrown trees and bushes hide would-be thieves. Trim shrubbery so that views of windows and doors aren't obscured. Keep higher tree branches away from upper-story windows. Plant thorny bushes under windows.

Lighten up. Complete darkness is another welcome wagon. Take advantage of nearby street lamps by trimming trees to allow light to reach your home. Install lights to illuminate the yard and all entrances. Use timers to ensure the lights come on at dusk, as well as motion detectors to turn on the lights when movement is sensed. Include landscape lights to both beautify your yard and provide further illumination.

Tidy your yard. Ladders and other tools left out in the yard or driveway can help burglars access the inside of your home. Keep such items in the garage or toolshed. Secure storage sheds with strong padlocks. If you will be gone for a few days, arrange for someone to pick up newspapers and the mail, or request that the Postal Service stop delivery until you return. Also have the lawn mowed or snow removed on a regular schedule. If your family makes a big purchase, such as a new stereo or computer, put the boxes inside garbage cans or bags rather than stacking them where thieves can see exactly what awaits them in your home.

Here are some things you can do around the house to help keep you safe:

Keep doors and windows locked. It may sound too simple, but it's one of your best defenses. Most burglaries occur between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., so even if you're making a quick afternoon trip to the grocery store, lock up.

Install adequate locks. Replace any hollow-core exterior doors with solid-core doors. Dead bolts with strong strike plates are essential. The dead bolt should be a full 1-inch throw bolt, and strike plate screws should be 3 inches long so they will not pull out. Most doors today are predrilled for dead-bolt lock sets. If your door is not predrilled, installation kits are available to make the job easier.

Really hide your keys. Don't keep spare house keys in obvious locations such as mailboxes or planters, or under doormats.

Secure windows. Drill holes through the inner frame and into the outer frame of the window. Insert a nail or security pin into each hole to prevent the window from being opened far enough for someone to enter. With horizontal sliding windows, lay dowels in the window track to prevent the sash from being pried open from the outside.

Timers. They can ensure lights come on at variable times throughout the week, so it appears that you are home.

Protect sliding doors. Often sliding glass doors have flimsy locks or can be lifted out of their tracks. To keep the door from being opened even if the lock is broken, place a pole in the track. To prevent lift-out, drill screws into the top track, leaving the heads protruding so the door can't be dislodged unless the screws are first removed from the inside frame.

Change garage door opener codes. Factory-set codes in new openers are meant to be changed. Many people don't change them, however, allowing crooks to use common brands of remote openers to find garage doors that will open.

Install a security system. Wireless home security systems mean do-it-yourselfers can install a system that monitors windows and doors. If an incident occurs, an alarm will be triggered and a programmed phone number will be dialed to notify you or a neighbor, along with which type of alarm?intrusion, smoke, emergency, child latchkey, or power failure?it is.

Adopt a pet. If you don't care to own a pet, purchase an electronic one. Some electronic products detect movement and emit the ferocious barking sounds of a large guard dog. The closer an intruder gets, the louder the barking becomes.

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