Effective and cheap home-security solutions

You spend time and money to create a nice home. How can you protect it from intruders without it costing a fortune? It’s easier than you think.

Chris Hsiung, a lieutenant with the Mountain View Police Department in California, says that the best home security involves multiple deterrents to dissuade opportunists and thieves from making your home a target.

Contrary to what you see on TV, Hsiung says most homes are burglarized during the day when residents are out. “Burglars do not want to confront anybody. At the first sign of occupancy, they’re gone,” he says. “They just want to grab property and sell it. The criminals know that when someone is in the house, it changes the crime classification.”

Because of this, thieves frequently pose as solicitors, he says. If no one answers the door, that’s their cue to head around back and break in. Outsmart a thief with these home security tactics:

• Using common sense is one of the best ways to prevent a home intrusion, Hsiung says. “You’d be surprised how many people leave doors and windows open when they leave.”

Even an open garage door invites a quick theft of whatever you store in there. If a thief sees a bike in an open garage, it’s an easy mobile crime to commit. “They come in by foot and take off on the bike,” Hsiung says.

• Because some burglars case an area for a target, be discreet before leaving town on a trip, which could alert thieves you’ll be away. “If you’re heading to the airport, you don’t want to advertise it with your car trunk open, filled with suitcases,” Hsiung says. Make sure to cancel newspapers, and have the post office hold your mail, so it doesn’t stack up in front of your home.

• Your neighbors can be your best home security — especially the nosy one next door. Cranford, N.J., homeowner Rachel Schwartz says one of her neighbors frequently looks out the window to see what’s going on in the neighborhood. Last year, the woman saw two men outside a house looking suspicious. She called the police, and the men were caught cutting the window screen trying to break in. “If she’s home, nothing gets by her,” Schwartz says.

Be sure to tell neighbors when you’re going out of town, so they can look out for your house. Hsiung also recommends using an online social network such as NextDoor.com, which connects neighbors virtually and promotes discussions.

• Lighting is really important in preventing home intrusions, says Hsiung, who recommends standing outside your home at night, looking for the dark, shadowy areas. “You want the light to illuminate your doorways and pathways to your house,” he says.

While looking for dark, shadowy areas, look in your yard for spots with heavy vegetation. You should cut these bushes and trees back, as they are a good place for people to hide. “You don’t want to come home and have the boogeyman behind the bush,” Hsiung says.

• Think about using dense hedges or thorny bushes near windows to keep away predators, says Lewis Long, vice president of consumer marketing for ADT Security Services. Make sure to keep them tidy, so they don’t become a place for intruders to hide. Also, trim back any trees that may provide access to a second-floor window.

• Another trend is installing security cameras outside. Long says internal and external home cameras are one of the most popular additions to alarm systems.

• To alarm or not to alarm? There’s no right answer. An average alarm system costs $400 to $500 to install, says Long, and monthly monitoring ranges from $43 to $58. “People will buy a system and have it installed as a result of a life-stage change; they’re looking for some peace of mind” says Long. However, once they’re settled, they may become lax and not use it.

Long says, “The very presence of the system is a deterrent, and with any loud noise, in most cases, folks who like to do harm will not take that risk.”

• Protecting your home’s access points means making sure your doors, windows and locks are sturdy. “Deadbolts are definitely a good thing,” says Hsiung. Also, make sure your door is a solid wood or metal construction with a good frame. “If the wood is deteriorated, it won’t take much to force open,” he says.

Use an inexpensive dowel in the windows or the sliding glass door, so they can’t be pried open. “Any piece of wood that fits in the track works,” he says.