Home security checklist: 9 tips for keeping your house safe from break-ins

Gladys T. Black
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Chris Monroe/CNET

Moving into a house can be exciting, but putting safety measures in place to keep it protected can feel a little overwhelming. The good news is, burglary is becoming less common every year. But even with dropping rates, FBI data shows that burglaries occur in the US roughly once every 30 seconds.

Here are the best and most affordable steps you can take to secure your home and deter would-be intruders from breaking in.

Secure your doors and windows

Locking your doors and windows is the first and easiest defense against home intruders, but how many of us are doing it consistently? Burglars are often looking for easy targets, and an unlocked door or window is just that. Even when you’re home, it’s good practice to keep them locked. And when you’re leaving the house, double-check doors and first-floor windows to make sure they’re all secured.

Some devices can also help you keep track of your entryways: door/window sensors can track whether a door or window has been left ajar, and smart locks can be scheduled to lock automatically at certain times. Which brings us to our next tip.

Upgrade your door locks

Locking your doors and windows may not be enough if you don’t have high-quality locks. First, make sure all exterior doors have a deadbolt, making it more difficult for intruders to break in. While you’re at it, make sure your door frames and hinges are strong enough to endure an attempted break-in — older doors or exposed hinges can pose an unnecessary risk. Finally, as mentioned before, you can upgrade to smart locks, which you can engage remotely.

Buy a home security system

Installing a home security system is one of the most effective ways to prevent intruders from entering and alert you if there’s been a break-in. First, data shows that a home without a security system is roughly three times more likely to be broken into. If an intruder spots a security camera or a sign indicating you have a security system, they’ll likely keep moving.

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Home security systems are one of the best all-around defenses against would-be burglars.


David Priest/CNET

A home security system can also alert you when someone has broken into your home. Security cameras will alert you if there’s movement in your yard or on your front porch, and door/window sensors will let you know if someone has entered your home. Depending on your security company, they may also alert law enforcement on your behalf.

Security systems also don’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of great DIY security systems, in addition to stand-alone devices, out there you can install yourself on a budget.

Keep your valuables hidden

Some burglars may scope out potential targets ahead of time, ensuring they hit houses where they can get their hands on valuables. As a result, it’s best to avoid keeping your expensive items where intruders can easily see them as they pass by. For example, avoid leaving expensive tools or bikes out in the open, and don’t leave expensive electronics, purses, jewelry, etc. in front of open windows.

Install outdoor lighting

Burglars don’t want to feel like they’re on display when breaking into a home, and outdoor lights can help to do just that. Since these crimes are often ones of opportunity, outdoor lights may encourage the intruder to keep moving. Rather than keeping your outdoor light on all the time, consider investing in motion-sensor lights that light up the yard when they detect movement. The light will catch an intruder off-guard and potentially scare them off.

Lock your garage

People put a lot of effort into securing their homes but often forget entirely about their garages. Unfortunately, that can be an easy way to gain entrance into your home. First, be sure any regular doors and windows to your garage are locked. Next, consider keeping your garage door opener in the house rather than in your car where someone could steal it. Finally, you should also keep the interior door from your garage to your home locked. That way, if someone does gain entry into your garage, they still can’t get into your home. 

As with door locks, buying a retrofit smart garage door opener is an option: these devices allow you to check the status of your garage while you’re away, control it remotely and schedule it to shut at certain times.

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Spare keys are a lifesaver if you get locked out of the house. But they can also make a burglar’s job much easier.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Reconsider where you hide your spare key

If you have a hidden key under your doormat or flowerpot, it’s time to rethink it. Intruders know these popular hiding places for spare keys, and those are the first places they’ll look. If you must have a spare key outside your home, look for safer alternatives such as a concealed combination lockbox — or at least a discreet location far from your doorway.

Make it look like someone is home

Most burglars don’t want to enter your home when you’re there. They’d rather find an empty home and be in and out as quickly as possible. Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent intruders is to make it look like someone is home at all times.

During the workday, this might include leaving an interior light or the TV on. When you’re gone for a longer period of time such as a vacation, make sure to have a neighbor or family member collect your mail, since mail piling up can be a giveaway that the homeowner is gone for a while.

Smart lights can create an even more convincing effect: Many can be programmed to turn on and off periodically to simulate a person being home.

Consider buying a safe

In a perfect world, intruders would never make it into your home, and so you’d never have to worry about your valuables being stolen. Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans can go astray. And on the off-chance that an intruder does make it into your home, you want to make sure they can steal as little as possible.

First, consider buying a safe or lockbox where you can keep things like cash, jewelry, important documents, and other items you wouldn’t want a thief to walk away with. As far as bigger items such as electronics, you can make them more difficult to steal by putting them in a concealed place when you aren’t using them. Thieves want to be in and out of your home as quickly as possible, so even the smallest deterrent can help.

The bottom line

No one wants to become the victim of a home intrusion. Implementing the tips on this checklist will help discourage and prevent burglars and keep your family and belongings safe. You can start small and pick just a couple of things on this list to focus on. Once you’ve got those down, you can move onto other items on the checklist. Each small improvement you make will ensure your home is that much more secure.

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