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Burglar alarms and home security

Home security

By Liz Ransome-Croker

Article 4 of 7

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Home security

How secure is your home from break-ins? Find out what action you can take to reduce the risk of burglary.

Aside from installing a burglar alarm system, there's a range of ways to make your home safer. Consider each possible entry point to your home, such as doors and windows, to see how they could be improved.

If you'd like to get a burglar alarm, take a look at our page on the type of burglar alarm systems, as well as our guide to the top-rated burglar alarm companies, according to our survey of more than 3,200 burglar alarm owners*.

How exposed and how secure is your home?

As well as opportunistic burglaries, some burglars scope out a property beforehand, sometimes working with others. It's therefore important to think about measures to ensure your home looks occupied at all times, that there aren't any clear places where a potential burglar could hide to assess the house, and that their entrance to the house is visible and difficult.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it obvious when you're on holiday or away from the home? For example, are your curtains always shut or are there visible piles of unopened post?
  • Are windows and doors left open, even if they're not easily accessible?
  • Do your windows and doors have visible locks?
  • How well lit is the outside of your home?
  • Is there a spare key that’s easily visible, or easy to find, such as underneath a plant pot or above the ledge on the door?
  • Are the lights on or off all the time, making it clear you're away?
  • Do you have high walls and hedges, which could give burglars protection from being seen?
  • Is accessing your house noisy for a burglar? For example, is there gravel around the property?
  • Are there any ladders lying around that a burglar could use?
  • What equipment do you keep in your shed and garage? What is its value and could it be used to help someone break in?
  • How secure is the shed or garage? Is it always kept locked with high-quality padlocks and security locks?

We've surveyed ex-burglars to discover what really puts them off, including everything from dogs to different alarm brands. Read more in our burglar secrets revealed.

How to secure your home

In September 2017, we asked 4,353 Which? members about the extra security measures they have in their homes, from alarm systems to CCTV. 

89% of you have a burglar alarm; the second largest proportion, 63%, have outdoor security lighting. 

  • 39% use timers to turn indoor lights on and off when they're away from home.
  • 26% have a dummy alarm box. 
  • 10% have CCTV or wireless cameras.
  • 7% have reinforced windows.
  • 6% a wireless camera.

As well as buying security equipment, which can be costly, there are other ways to protect your home. Here are our top tips, some of which cost little or nothing:

1Window security

  • Don't leave windows open or unlocked anywhere in the house.
  • Easily accessible windows should ideally be fitted with double glazing.
  • Laminated glass or plastic glazing film is harder to break, so consider this for easily accessible windows.
  • New windows should be in line with the British Standard 7950 or PAS 24.
  • Windows with key-operated locks on show may put burglars off, but remember to hide the keys out of sight and somewhere the burglar can't reach if the glass is broken.
  • Ideally get locks that secure the window to the frame, rather than ones that just secure the handle.
  • Remember that whether you're in or not, a burglar can see into your home more easily if the lights are on and it's dark outside, so consider getting curtains or hiding valuables from sight.

2Door security

  • Ensure the door frames and doors are solid. Your external doors should be at least 4.4cm thick and hung with 10cm hinges.
  • Doors should ideally be fitted with a five-lever mortise deadlock tested to BS 3621.
  • Wooden doors can be made stronger with steel strips fitted to the frame and around the lock. 
  • Doors with glass panels are less secure, but can be fitted with laminated glass or plastic glazing film for extra protection.
  • If you're getting new doors, get door sets (the door itself, frame and locks) that are Pas 24 certified. 
  • Fit a chain or a latch to the door, and opt for a viewer so you can check who’s there before letting them in.
  • Letter boxes should be fitted 40cm from the door lock, and valuables and keys shouldn't be within sight of it - an internal cover plate will offer extra protection.

When fitting a lock to a window or door, use the strongest screws you can, not necessarily the ones supplied, and make sure they are all to British Standard BS7950.

Retrofitting UPVC and PVCU doors or windows with locks could weaken them or invalidate warranties. Sufficient locks fitted at the time of construction are safer.

3Security lights

Outdoor lights, either ones that you switch on manually or those that are set off by movement, are a good way to ensure a burglar is more visible, which will help to put them off. Generally, a single light can cost anything between £8 and £100. But take care to direct these downwards so as not to annoy neighbours, and make sure they won't shine into drivers' eyes if your home is near a road.

For indoor lighting, the key thing is to make sure that a burglar thinks people are in the house, even when they're not. Timers that can turn lights on and off around the home, as well as TVs and/or radios, cost as little as £5. Just make sure these are in sync around your home, such as turning the light off five minutes after the TV goes off.

If you're going to be away for a long time, asking a friend or neighbour to come into your home to open and close curtains and take any visible post inside, or use Royal Mail's Keepsafe service. If you have a second car, leave it in a visible place while away. 

4Visible burglar alarm

If you have a burglar alarm system, make sure ‘bell boxes’ are visible on your property to let potential burglars know you have an alarm. You can also get fake burglar alarm boxes - 26% of Which? members asked have one of these - which cost around £15 to £20, if you can't afford to get a full alarm system fitted.

Visit our page on burglar alarm costs for more advice on the types of alarms and prices, what to avoid if you're thinking of getting one, and how you could save as much as nearly £400 on your burglar alarm cost.

5Burglar-proof your garden

  • Gravel around your home is a great deterrent, as it makes it harder for burglars to approach without alerting the occupant.
  • Make sure hedges are trimmed back so your property is not hidden from view.
  • Do some defensive gardening – plant shrubs with thorns at the borders of your home so burglars aren't able to hide in them.
  • Put in strong gates or fences to any part of your garden accessible from outside, ideally 2 metres high and with 30-45cm of open-ended trellising at the top - if they jump the fence and break this, it will be heard.
  • If you've bought new valuable items, don't leave the packaging out with your recycling for an extended period of time, as it can be a clue as to the value of your possessions.
  • Use padlocks on shed doors, and consider fitting them with a small, battery-powered alarm, which can cost as little as £15.

6CCTV and wireless cameras

CCTV or wireless cameras can be an extra security measure to put burglars off, but they're not for everyone - only 10% of our members surveyed have one. Read our guide to find out more about home CCTV.

Smoke alarms and carbon dioxide monitors

As well as all the above security measures, consider installing a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide monitor, too, to protect yourself from other hazards. You can buy these on their own, or as part of a package with some burglar alarms.

It's also worth remembering that while you want to make your home as secure as possible, you need to make sure this won't stop you from being able to escape – or be rescued – in an emergency such as a fire.

Identity theft

Identity theft is a booming business, so keep all your personal information out of sight. It's worth taking a look at our page on identity theft for more tips on how to stop it, and what to do it you're affected. 

Home insurance and home security

Most insurers will insist on a minimum level of security before they will offer you insurance, such as deadlocks on some or all external doors. These locks will usually need to be five-lever mortise locks and have to meet a minimum standard - usually BS3621. 

You will probably find that your insurer expects you to have locks on all your accessible windows as well, although some insurers don't make this a requirement. So putting locks on all your basement and ground-floor windows, plus any that may be accessible by climbing a drainpipe or wall, will increase the number of companies likely to cover you.

Find out more about whether getting a burglar alarm will help to cut your home insurance costs.

(*In September 2017, we asked 4,353 Which? members about the security measures in their home, and their burglar alarm (3,412 people)). 

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