From burglars to fires to stampeding buffaloes, you never know what kind of situations you’ll have to deal with in your home. That's why it's so important to prepare in advance, since doing so can save a lot of money and headaches in the long run. While many are under the impression that there isn’t much you can do to protect your home, the reality is that there are plenty of easy steps you can take to shore up security on the homefront. That's why we've compiled this handy guide to protecting your home on a budget.
Know your neighbors
1. Stay in touch with your neighbors.
These days, many people avoid forging relationships with their neighbors, but a mutual familiarity with the people that live nearest you benefits all parties. Ask your neighbors to keep an eye out for suspicious activity when you aren’t around, and you’ll return the favor. They may prove to be the best alarm system there is.
2. Improve lighting on your street.
A well-lit street can scare off burglars, who prefer to work in the shadows. Talk to your neighborhood association or local representative about improving lighting on your street.
3. Have a neighbor collect your mail.
When on vacation or gone for business, a stuffed mailbox is a dead giveaway that no one is home.
4. Keep up with the Joneses.
Find out what kind of security measures your neighbors are using. You don't want your house to be the easiest one on the block to rob.
5. Consider forming a neighborhood watch.
Watchful neighbors are an excellent deterrent to thieves and vandals. When an entire neighborhood is organized and knows what to watch out for, it can really improve the safety of the area.
Form a support network
6. Have a friend try to “break” into your home.
They can often spot a weak spot that homeowners can't.
7. Check if your local police department offers inspections.
Some local departments are more than happy to look over your property. As an added bonus, you'll meet the local police.
8. Pay attention to local police alerts.
If there have been recent break-ins in the neighborhood, you should be on high alert and keep your eyes open.
9. Hire a house sitter.
It's fairly obvious but very effective. When you're away, a house sitter can take out your trash, collect your mail, and make sure the house looks lived-in.
10. Talk to an insurance agent.
Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Even renters can get insurance just in case your possessions get stolen.
11. Make sure everyone in your household is educated on home security.
If you always lock the doors, but your roommate or family don't, then your residence won't be very secure. Make sure everyone in the household follows the same lock-up protocol before leaving the house vacant.
12. Keep an eye on the cable guy.
Some criminals work with cable technicians and other workers that visit people's homes to get insider information, like access codes and the types of valuables found in the residence.
13. Pass your cat(s) off to a friend or pet sitting service when you're out of town.
Burglars know that your cat is by the window because it has nothing else to do and is waiting on you. Better for your home security and for the animal.
14. Don't assume your small dog will offer any security.
Most seasoned burglars won't be deterred by a small dog. In fact, there's a good chance it will get stolen as well since they often fetch a good price.
15. Do assume a big dog is better for home security.
Simply put, they look more intimidating and can bark loudly. One glance at a Rottweiler or pitbull can stop crooks before they even step onto your property.
16. Make sure your pet door can be locked.
If you have a large enough dog, chances are a person will be able to slip through your pet door, as well. Make sure you have one that can be locked when you're not around.
Secure the perimeter
17. Find the weak link.
No one knows your property better than you do. Take some time to scope it out from the outside and you'll likely find a few ways to make it easier to protect.
18. Keep the plants and shrubs trimmed.
They can often provide cover while a thief works on getting through your door. Plus, shrubs generally look nicer when they're trimmed!
19. Trim tree branches that ascend past your second-story windows.
Though it's riskier than a ladder, a tree branch can still provide a bold thief with a way into your home.
20. Put up a fence around your property.
This decreases visibility and makes it more difficult to access your property. It also lets your dog roam outside, if you have one.
21. Don't leave expensive items outside.
This includes bikes, grills, and yes, even cars. Your garage is the perfect place to put things away, and that way crooks won't be enticed by your possessions.
22. Don't leave tools or ladders in unlocked, accessible spots.
Tools can be used to break into your own home, and the ladder can make it easier to access the upper floors.
23. Keep fences and gates locked.
It can be easy to forget about these, but locking these can present another hurdle for crooks.
24. Put large, reflective numbers on your mailbox and house.
This will make it easier for the police to find your house should you or a neighbor call them about a possible disturbance or robbery.
25. Schedule regular lawn maintenance.
Another way crooks know you're away on a trip is if your yard looks unkempt. A neighbor or landscaping company can keep your property looking sharp.
26. Always shut your front gate.
This won't stop every burglar, but it is a psychological barrier. Burglars look for low-hanging fruit and prefer a property with an open gate.
27. Make sure your outdoor shed is secure.
Just like a garage, a shed can have many tools that aid in break-ins. Even if the shed is locked, make sure it's structurally strong enough so it can't easily be accessed.
28. Consider installing fence spikes.
This one is a bit extreme, but especially if you're living in an urban area, you can install spike strips on top of your fence.
Protect your windows
29. Don't forget to close your windows.
Sure, sounds simple, but there can be a lot of windows in a house. Some robbers will not feel comfortable with smashing one open.
30. Plant thorny plants by your windows.
Windows are a common way to get into people's homes, but no burglar wants to sit in a thorny, painful bush.
31. Double-check the bathroom window.
It is often the most likely to be open because homeowners like to leave this one open in order to air out the bathroom. Robbers know this.
32. Use curtains.
This will help hide your valuables from any crooks that may be trying to look into your residence. A robber's job is easier If they know what's inside.
33. Don't forget about basement and garage windows.
You can install curtains on these too. Garages and basements are often stocked with valuables.
34. Make sure your window locks are strong.
Especially on older windows, some locks can be jiggly and flimsy.
35. Add privacy films to exterior-door windows.
Some doors have glass that makes it easy for robbers to take a peek through. Privacy film will make windows blurry and stop robbers them from scoping out your residence.
36. Install metal bars on windows.
This may be an extreme step for some, but it adds a lot of security, especially for basement and garden-apartment windows.
37. Secure air conditioners.
In-window air conditioners can be easily taken out unless they're bolted down.
Keep those doors shut
38. Make sure your door and frame are made out of the same material.
If one is metal and the other is made of wood, it makes it easier for robbers to kick the door in. However, using the same material for both makes the door stronger.
39. Change your access codes regularly.
If you give out an access code for your garage or back door, make sure to change it up regularly. This is especially helpful for those who have had laborers visit their home, or for Airbnb renters.
40. Install deadbolts on your doors.
The deadbolt is tougher to break or pick than other locks. This is especially true for a deadbolt that needs to be opened with a key from both sides.
41. Use a Simlock on your deadbolt.
A Simlock attaches to one side of your deadbolt, rendering it nearly un-pickable. It prevents the deadbolt knob from turning, which means even a locksmith can't pick the lock.
42. Reinforce your door's strike plate.
The strike plate is the metal plate that is attached to your door jamb, which the deadbolt slides into. Check that the screws reinforcing the strike plate are 3 inches long, which will make it much sturdier.
43. Add a track lock to your patio door.
The patio door is usually easier to pick. By adding an additional foot lock, which fastens to the bottom of the door and bolts into a grommet in the door track, you can make it much more secure.
44. Make a homemade security bar for your patio door.
Simply take a length of wood, cut it down to size, and make sure it fits snugly in your patio door's track so that it can't slide open. This is an effective and inexpensive way to keep your door secure.
45. Use a key chain garage door opener.
Thieves can get into your garage or home if they get access to the garage opener inside your car. A garage opener attached to your keys minimizes the risk.
46. Padlock your garage door.
Many garage-door locks are flimsy, so putting a padlock on the track of your garage door is a great way to beef up security from the inside. If there's no hole on the track, you can also drill one in.
47. Install a door reinforcement kit.
--Many burglars won't pick a lock, they'll just simply kick the door in. A reinforcement kit adds a steel plate that wraps around your door, making sure the locks and door are sturdier.
48. Avoid doors with a lot of glass.
Glass doors can be broken, and so can small windows on doors. Robbers can reach through and access the doorknob.
49. Install a peephole.
It's a great way to see who is on the other side of your door. You won't have to open your door to any strangers.
50. Consider installing a safety door.
Like a beefed-up screen door, a safety door protects your front door from the outside. It's made of sturdy materials and adds a lot of security.
51. Don't forget about the linking door.
This is the door that connects your garage to your home. Even if burglars get in your garage, if the linking door is sturdy, they may just leave.
52. Make sure your door hinges are tamper resistant if they are located outside.
Some older doors have their hinges outside the home, rather than inside. Tamper resistant hinges require special tools to disassemble that most thieves will not carry.
53. Install a letter cage.
Have a letter slot in your door? Some burglars like to use a long stick or similar device to fish your nearby keys off a table and through the letter slit. A cage on the inside of your door not only collects mail but prevents this.
54. Consider upgrading your doors.
Steel doors and thick hardwood doors pose a greater challenge to a burglar than doors made from hollow core material.
Shine a light
55. Install motion-sensor lights.
These can deter anyone from snooping around your residence at night, especially if you're not home.
56. Consider installing exterior flood lights.
These are more powerful than standard bulbs and will add more lighting to the exterior of your home.
57. Put timers on lights.
This is especially helpful if you'll be getting home late or if you're on vacation. Lights can confuse robbers, making them think someone is home.
58. Make sure you have lights all around your house.
Flood lights and motion-sensor lights are great, but if you leave one side of the house unlit, burglars will just stick to that side.
Keep it under lock and key
59. Don't leave a spare key in an obvious place.
Many people leave a spare key under the doormat or on the door frame. These are obvious places. Get more creative about your hiding spot.
60. Use a spare key lockbox.
Even better than a hiding spot, an exterior lock box will keep your spare key secure.
61. Better yet, leave your spare key with a neighbor.
A key lock box is tough to break into, but it's possible.
62. Keep your car locked and secure.
Preferably, you should keep your car secure inside your garage. If that's not an option, make sure all the doors are locked and the windows are rolled up. Crooks can take valuables from your car or use the tools in your trunk.
63. Install a thumb turn guard to prevent lock bumping.
Lock bumping is a relatively new technique used by burglars involving a special type of “bump key” that can unlock a standard pin tumbler lock. A thumb turn guard is an inexpensive way to prevent this.
64. Change the locks when moving into a new residence.
You never know who else has keys to your home, unless you've installed the locks yourself.
65. Invest in security pins.
A locksmith can install security pins into your door that make your lock more bump resistant.
66. Don't skimp on door locks.
The disparity in price between a cheap lock and a quality one can be just a few bucks, but it can be the difference between a robbery and a failed attempt, saving you a ton of money and heartache.
Protect your valuables
67. Install a safe.
This is likely the most secure place to put your valuables. Safes can be installed in several ways, such as by being bolted to the ground or by pouring concrete around it.
68. Consider buying a security mailbox.
With online theft more common than ever, a security mailbox is a great way to protect the checks, credit cards, and other sensitive information that arrives through the mail.
69. Use a paper shredder.
Sensitive information that you throw out in your garbage can be more valuable than anything you have in your home. Shred all important mail and documents before throwing them out.
70. Keep a record of your valuables.
If you have insurance, and you do get burglarized, it'll help replace your belongings. Store it in a secure location, like a safe.
71. Avoid stashing valuables in your bedroom.
It's the most common place that burglars look for cash and jewelry.
72. Hide valuables away in your attic.
While not it's not as safe as a safe, hiding valuables in the attic is much safer than a bedroom. Generally, burglars don't want to go into the attic because if someone comes home, they'd be trapped.
73. Store extra suitcases and bags in the attic.
Burglars often use these to haul away your belongings. If you leave them up in the loft, they may end up taking fewer items.
Crafty security tips
74. Get creative with your hiding spots.
Thieves don't have all day to look through your house, and a creative hiding spot can save your valuables from being stolen. Try hiding them inside your vacuum cleaner, or inside an old jar or food container in your refrigerator.
75. Have a friend or neighbor lay fresh tracks in the snow.
Of course, this only works during winter, and in areas where snow falls, but fresh snow prints leading towards your home will help convince thieves that someone is home.
76. If you have an answering machine, don't advertise your vacation.
If thieves somehow get your phone number, they can find out if you're out of town or not. The same goes with social media.
77. Don't advertise expensive items in your trash.
A big box for a flat screen TV is a dead giveaway that you have expensive items inside. Fold or cut up the box and then dispose of it.
78. Use home-alarm stickers.
For most robbers, it's not worth it breaking into a home with an alarm, even if you haven't installed one yet. (They don't know that.)
79. Get a “Beware of Dog” sign
Even if you don't have a dog, it can make a thief think twice about coming on your property.
80. Destroy old computers before throwing them out.
Hard drives can store a treasure trove of information. A common way to destroy hard drives is to use a power drill.
81. Secure your home even if you're not leaving for long.
A trip to the grocery store can leave plenty of time for a seasoned thief to break into your home.
82. Never leave notes on your door.
Even if you're away on vacation, notes to neighbors or the mailman can signal that you're away.
83. Postpone certain subscriptions while away from home.
It may not be easy to find someone willing to regularly check your mail while you away out of town. In that case, its best to place a hold on magazine and newspaper subscriptions to avoid a telling buildup.
84. Get fake cameras.
Can't afford an entire surveillance system? Fake cameras are relatively cheap and look just like the real thing.
85. Don’t advertise your travel plans on social media.
It’s hard to keep track of all the people you’ve friended over the years on facebook and twitter. Avoid giving away the fact that you won’t be home for a while so as to not tip off any less-than-savory characters on your friend list.
86. Make sure your pipes won’t freeze.
A frozen or burst pipe while you are on vacation can be disastrous. Check that all pipes in the attic, basement, and other areas are insulated and not in danger of freezing.
Look into alarm systems
87. Install cheap, noisy door and window alarms.
Usually battery powered, these alarms simply give off a loud noise when a door or window opens and the alarm unit's magnetic strip breaks contact with the frame. They are widely available at home stores.
88. Have your security improvements installed by a licensed professional.
Strong locks and doors are a great idea, but if they're installed improperly, they may prove to be ineffective.
89. Secure your Wifi network.
As cyber criminals become more common, your sensitive information becomes more likely to get stolen through the Internet.
90. Install a professional home-security system.
It'll cost a pretty penny, but it's one of the best ways to secure your home and belongings.
91. Install a surveillance system.
This option is on the pricier side, but it can definitely give piece of mind. Additionally, modern systems are Internet connected, allowing you to check cameras from your phone while you're away.
92. Install inexpensive window break alarms.
These battery-powered gadgets are especially useful when paired with magnetic-strip alarms that sound off when windows are opened.
93. Invest in motion-sensor security devices.
Don't have pets? Devices such as the Nest Cam will track any motion inside your home and alert your phone if anything happens, complete with photos.
94. Consider purchasing a smart doorbell.
Because it's connected to the Internet, it can send an alert and even an image of the person ringing to your smartphone.
In case of fire
95. Make sure you have working smoke alarms.
Not all threats to your home come from the outside. Fires and electrical problems can happen without warning. Don’t forget to replace the batteries regularly.
96. Add a carbon monoxide detector.
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and and a leak may have no discernible odor.
97. Use surge protectors.
They protect your valuable appliances and decrease the chances of an electrical fire.
98. Make sure you have a working fire extinguisher.
Or two. No better way to quickly put out a fire.
99. Use a fireplace screen.
Have a fireplace? A fireplace screen can keep popping wood bits from shooting out of the fireplace, and kids' hands away from the fire.
100. Consider installing a fire-sprinkler system.
Though expensive, it's a very effective way to fight fires at home.
101. Make sure the flue is open.
Starting a fire with the flue closed can fill your house with smoke, damaging furniture and posing a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.