Main building, doors, windows, locks, spare keys, lighting, alarms
You don’t have to make your home into a fortress, but you can take some basic steps to prevent opportunists from selecting your home and make it difficult for them to operate. (For the purposes of this information pack, ‘home’ refers to any private living space – detached, semi-detached, terraces, flats, bedsits, sheltered accommodation etc.)
Many of the measures suggested can be implemented with no cost at all and rely mainly on common sense. And those techniques that might incur a small cost, for example installing new window locks, should be looked upon as an investment – the initial outlay will increase peace of mind and far outweighs the potential cost, both financial and emotional, of a break-in.
You should also bear in mind that any work done to your home must also comply with building regulations. If this is necessary whoever is doing the work should check with the planning department of the local council.
For rented properties the landlord (or agent) should be consulted before undertaking any work. It is also possible that the landlord could be willing to fund or help towards the cost of any security measures.
Prior to upgrading any aspect of your home security we would strongly suggest that you speak to your local Crime Prevention Officer in your respective police force area. Standards of products can sometimes change and it is vital that you have the most current advice before you take any steps to improving your security. By speaking to a Crime Prevention Officer you can also ensure that you get the right advice bespoke to your circumstances and requirements.
There are some steps you can take to increase your security that don’t cost a penny, and are simply about common sense.
- One in three burglaries occur due to an open or unlocked window or door. Always close and lock all doors and windows, while at home as well as when out and about. Use your secondary locks such as mortice deadlocks as well as latches (see below for an image gallery of different lock types). And always take the key out of the lock once you’ve locked the door – don’t let a burglar reach in through the letterbox or catflap and grab your key.
- Don’t draw your curtains in the daytime; this can suggest your home is empty.
- A pile of post on the doormat is a clear sign the occupants are away. Ask a trusted neighbour to clear your post, or use Royal Mail’s ‘Keepsafe’ service’ – they will keep your mail for up to two months.
- Keep house and car keys out of sight and reach. Never leave spare keys in obvious places, like under the mat.
- Beware of bogus callers; use your spy hole to see who it is, and if you don’t know them, ask to see their ID. We recommend asking them to pass their ID through the letterbox where feasible, or hold it to the window so that their details can be thoroughly checked. Door chains can be useful in these situations, but chains should have achieved Secured by Design or similar accreditation and need to be fitted with strong fixings, as some of the poorer quality chains can be vulnerable to force.
- In shared dwellings, encourage your fellow residents to close doors and refuse entry to anybody that is not known to the household.
- Never discuss your security requirements or existing arrangements with a doorstep caller or salesperson.
- Ensure that any items a thief might be interested in can’t be seen through your windows. Don’t leave phones, tablets or laptops in view, and unplug chargers and cables while you’re not using them. Leaving these plugged in and trailing from sockets tells burglars that you own these high-value devices.
- Think about getting a dog! A panel of 12 former criminals convened by Co-op Home Insurance found that the sound of a barking dog was the second biggest deterrent to would-be burglars – just behind CCTV cameras. Even the perception that a dog is present can deter offenders, so think about putting a dog bowl by the door and a rawhide chewy bone in the garden.
- Lastly – if you go away on holiday, don’t plaster your holiday snaps all over social media until you return. Broadcasting to the world that your home is unoccupied is a clear invitation to a burglar – and could invalidate your home and contents insurance.
Door security is very important. If you are installing new doors, take the opportunity to install one that is certified to British Standard PAS 24-1. These are available in different materials and come as a complete kit – the door, frame, locks and fittings have all been attack-tested.
The framework around all your doors should be securely fixed and in good condition, otherwise good doors and locks are useless. All hinges should be fastened with long, good-quality screws. Also, check the condition of each door, including its thickness. Some lower door panels are fitted with thin timber material that offers little resistance if attacked. Consider replacement with a good quality external plywood panel, or bars fitted to the inside of the door panel and painted the same colour as the door.
Locks and bolts
- Mortice locks
Mortice locks (or deadlocks) are physically embedded into a slot in the door. If you have an external timber door, it should be secured with a British Standard five-lever mortice lock. These are requested by most major insurance companies as a requirement for home contents insurance.
Deadlocks can only be opened with a key. Never leave the key in the lock on the inside, in case a burglar smashes a panel in the door to reach in and unlock the door.
- Night latches or rimlocks
Night latches/rimlocks are fitted to the surface of a door and used primarily as a convenient security latch for front doors, as they lock automatically when the door is closed. Rimlocks can be opened from the inside without a key and should never be used as the main lock – you should combine them with a British Standard mortice lock (see above). Both of these locks should be tested to BS 3621 – these are a minimum insurance requirement.
Automatic deadlocking rimlocks are available, which lock automatically and require a key to open from both the inside and outside.
- PVCu or composite doors and multi-point locks
If your door is PVCu or composite, it should be fitted with a euro-profile cylinder with a 3-star or Sold Secure Diamond Standard rating. Always remember to lift up the handle and turn and remove the key.
- Mortice bolts
These bolts operate from the inside face of a door and offer very strong additional protection. A mortice security bolt is embedded into the doorframe and resists forcing and kicking. Even if the burglar breaks the glass, mortice bolts cannot be unbolted. They are particularly good on French doors which can be especially vulnerable to burglars.
- Hinge bolts
Some doors open outwards and their hinges are exposed and vulnerable to attack. Hinges can be protected by a simple device called a hinge bolt. Normally one hinge bolt per hinge is recommended. Hinge bolts help keep the door in the frame on the hinge side if the door or hinges are attacked or removed. Hinge bolts can be considered for all outward opening external doors where hinges are exposed.
Patio doors usually open wide so, once opened, considerable amounts of property can be removed through them. The sliding section of a patio door should be on the inside not the outside. Sometimes the hook lock fitted to patio doors is quite poor. To secure sliding glass panels at least one, preferably two, patio door locks should be fitted to give support to the hook lock. Another method of entry used by burglars to break through these doors is to use a spade as a lever under the bottom rail of the sliding panel. This lifts the door from the bottom channel and pulls the whole door away. Most modern patio doors have an ‘anti-lift’ device fitted into the top channel of the door which prevents the door being lifted from the bottom channel if upward pressure is applied. To check whether patio doors can be lifted, open the patio door and, holding the handles, lift the door upwards. If there is excessive movement then an anti-lift device needs to be fitted into the top channel.
A door viewer or spy hole is an optical device installed in the door at eye level, enabling the occupier to identify callers before opening the door. It allows a wide angle of vision and is usually quite simple to install, needing just one hole drilled in the door.
Chains can provide a sense of personal security, but if someone is determined to force their way into your home, a door chain won’t stop them. Chains should have achieved Secured by Design or similar accreditation and must be fitted with strong fixings. Don’t leave the chain on as it could delay your escape in an emergency.
Letterboxes should be at least 40cm from any locks. A letterbox cage can be useful for preventing interference to locks.
Rear, side and internal doors
Chances are you will find that three-lever mortice locks are fitted to your rear, side or internal garage doors. These are not very secure locks because they only have the minimum of possible keys for each model (known as key ‘differs’); probably only ten different keys for each lock made by the manufacturer. The more differs, the more keys a burglar has to carry if they plan to break in that way.
Five-lever mortice deadlocks or sash locks to British Standard 3621 (EN 12209) are much better for rear, side and internal garage doors – providing the doors are 44mm thick or thicker. This type of lock is much stronger and more secure, with over 1,000 possible keys.
The lock on a French door is only as strong as the door itself. French doors are best secured by using mortice security bolts and a five-lever mortice lock. The bolts must go into the frame, not into the other door. Sash window jammers are also an effective barrier for doors, though as you can only apply them from inside the property it’s best to use them on your most vulnerable doors. Be aware that installing a sash jammer may invalidate the warranty on your door, though you may decide the added protection is worth this risk.
You can now have windows made to British Security Standard PAS 24. However, if you are not planning to replace your windows, you will find an inexpensive window lock to fit each of your windows, no matter whether they are wood or metal. If you fit window locks yourself, ensure you do so correctly and in a position where they will have the most effect and strength. A burglar with the right tools will break through a window lock eventually, but fitting one in the correct manner will force the burglar to take more time and make more noise.
There are a variety of specialist locks to fit to PVCu windows (they are slightly more expensive but are designed specifically for this type of window). Ideally, these should be fitted by a specialist or a member of the Master Locksmiths Association.
Most burglars will attempt to break in through the quickest, easiest and least visible and noisy route – usually a ground floor rear window. Other particularly useful windows are those upstairs with access from flat roofs and drain pipes. You should fit all such windows with locks that use keys. Consider anti-climb deterrents, such as anti-climb paint, to stop easy entry – but be aware that under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984, you must put signs up warning that anti-climb paint has been used there. This in itself should help to act as a deterrent.
- On sash windows, sash jammers will prevent someone opening the window wide enough to climb through.
- Don’t forget the garage windows. This is more important if the garage is attached to the house with an internal door leading to the inside of the house.
- Even small windows such as skylights and bathroom fanlights need locks. A thief can get through any gap that is larger than a human head.
- Keep windows locked. Remove the keys and keep them out of sight in a safe place.
- Many forced entries involve breaking the glass to make further entry. Fitting laminated glass to vulnerable windows makes it difficult to break and it will take longer to make a hole.
- Glass panels around doors are especially vulnerable, so it’s worth replacing these with laminated glass if possible.
- Do not make the mistake of opting for toughened glass; this is for safety which should not be confused with security.
- Another option is to fit security glazing film to window and door glazing. Professional installation is recommended as the film should be applied behind the glazing beads to be fully effective.
There are many alarm systems on the market. These range from fairly cheap alarms which you can fit yourself, to more sophisticated systems which cost hundreds of pounds and must be fitted by a qualified installer.
Low-cost alarms are less reliable and can, through false alarms, be a nuisance to you and your neighbours. There are three types of alarm systems: monitored, unmonitored and auto dialler.
- Monitored alarms
Once triggered, a monitored alarm will send a signal to a private central station or other designated keyholder, who can check to see whether it is a false alarm. If it isn’t, they will then notify the police. The police will only accept notifications from companies registered with either the National Security Inspectorate or the Security Systems and Alarm Inspection Board, so if you opt for this type of system, look for installers in your area who are members of these recognised inspecting bodies.These alarm systems are particularly good for isolated properties. But there can be an additional annual charge for the monitoring, so ensure you check that because buying one of these systems.
- Unmonitored alarms
Unmonitored alarms, also known as audible-only alarms, will set off a loud noise but rely on someone hearing the sound and calling the police. The police have adopted a national policy in relation to reports of audible-only alarms being activated, as they receive thousands of calls a year that don’t turn out to be burglaries. They will only attend a property where an alarm has sounded, if they are given extra information that a crime is taking place. This could be the sound of breaking glass, sight of somebody suspicious, an unusual light, etc. If there is additional suspicion, all calls to the police to report the alarm should be 999 calls. Make your neighbours aware that you have installed this alarm system, and ask them to report any activation that appears to be accompanied by suspicious activity.
Both monitored and unmonitored alarm types should have an automatic cut-off after 20 minutes.
- Auto-dialler alarms
Once activated, auto-dialler systems will automatically call or text pre-programmed keyholders. If you want to install an alarm system, get at least three quotes from three accredited companies. Then, make sure the installer explains the operation of your system and ensure that you, and others who will use it, understand how it works. Research suggests that two visible audible alarm boxes are more effective than one – these should be fixed to the front and rear of the property, high up on the walls. Signage should accompany the alarm system. Insurance premiums may be reduced if a security system is installed. You should check with your insurance company to see if there are any requirements that need to be fulfilled in order to benefit from reduced premiums.
Effectiveness of security devices
Research published in Security Journal about the effectiveness of burglary security devices concluded that combinations of security devices in general afford up to 50 times more protection than no security.
What was most effective was a combination of four devices: external lights on a sensor; internal lights on a timer; double or deadlocks on doors, and window locks.
Be aware that a lot of security products may fail due to the way they have been fitted or the quality of the fixings they have been fitted with. Products such as sash jammers must be fitted in the correct place and with robust fixings.