Here is an excerpt from my latest book "Protect Yourself" It gives some important information on protecting your home.
How to Protect Your Home and Save Money
As far as I'm concerned, home safety boils down to two things – protecting your home and possessions, and taking care of yourself and your family. Let's start with the building and contents.
Things that won't cost you a cent
You don't have to turn your home into a fortress or spend a lot of money to make your place a heck-of-a-lot tougher for thieves to penetrate. In fact, there are a few things that won't cost a cent. I'm thinking here about keeping your doors and windows locked whenever possible, the garage door shut, letting trustworthy neighbors know and canceling newspaper and mail deliveries when you're going away, and fixing those shaky old fences.
Don't hide an emergency door key outside – thieves know all the "secret" places you believe they'll never think of, including that little bunny-rabbit figurine with the hidden compartment underneath. And be wary about trusting a youngster with an entry key. Give it to a relative or neighbor. Don't even keep your main key with items that identify your address, and never leave it in your car.
While we're on the subject of cars, you do always close your windows (leaving breathing space for pets if you have them) and lock the doors when you leave it, don't you? And, of course, you never leave your engine running while you dash across to the ATM? A friend of mine has never seen his cherished sports coupe since he did that a few years back.
Low budget route to peace of mind.
Here's a comforting thought. When you spend just a small amount of money to improve your home security, you substantially reduce the risk of being burglarized. Even better, you may be able to cut your insurance premium by up to 20% – different insurers have different rules, so you'll need to investigate this.
You can buy a window lock for less than a dollar, a door safety chain for a couple of bucks, and a peephole that lets you view visitors before opening the door for just a little more. They're all simple to install but, if it's beyond your ability, find a friend, neighbor or relative who can help.
Leave a key on the inside of a double deadbolt lock while you're home – so you can escape
If your door locks and latches are old, or if you lost a key, replace them, making sure the new ones have a deadbolt at least one inch long. If your door has glass that a thief could break to reach through to the handle inside, consider a double deadbolt that has a key lock on each side – BUT always leave the key in the inside lock when you're at home, otherwise you won't be able to escape in an emergency.
Beyond this, we're talking home security alarms and detectors, but again it doesn't need to cost you a fortune. As I write this, I just did a quick check online and found systems at one big Internet retailer starting from as little as $25. It was wireless too – easy to install, with no messy wiring to do.
However, I'm not necessarily saying this is the way to go. It depends on your neighborhood crime risk, your personal vulnerability (for instance if you live alone) and your budget. You generally get what you pay for and this is an area where you might want to consult a professional – both about your needs and to do the installation. But if you do this, make sure you get two or, preferably, three competitive bids.
More sophisticated systems might include audible external alarms, external lighting directed at your home, cameras, internal motion sensors and even direct links to the security company that alerts them if your home is broken into. You can get more information on these options, including local experts from the National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association at alarm.org.
Watch out for smooth talkers
You can have all the security systems in the world in place but they're of limited value if you let a burglar in through your front door. These characters come in all sorts of guises – like phony utility workers or someone asking for a glass of water or to use your bathroom or phone – but they all have a convincing story to tell.
They may even distract you inside or outside your home while an accomplice gets to work, or open a door or window so they can return later. The solution is not to let anyone into your house (nor go outside with them) unless you're 110% sure of who they are. Check their credentials and, if necessary, phone their supposed employers before letting them in. And use a door chain to prevent them forcing entry.
Protect yourself from fire and fumes
Wouldn't it be just great if we could build totally fireproof homes? I mean, building materials, furnishings and clothing that just didn't burn. Technically, I suppose it's possible but it'd cost you a small fortune. And since most of us can't go that route, let me tell you about the four things I've done in my home – bearing in mind, the most important thing in any home fire is the safety and survival of the occupants.
Installed fire/smoke alarms (a few dollars each) in all main rooms and hallways, and I check batteries regularly. If you already have them and they're more than 10 years old, I recommend you replace them.
- Bought a fire escape ladder that I keep on an easily-accessible shelf on the landing, in case fire traps anyone upstairs. If you buy one, make sure everyone knows how to use it!
- Placed a fire extinguisher in an entry-way closet. This only works if you take the time to learn how to use it (and what sort of fires it works on), regularly replace it, and use it only to tackle small fires – and then only AFTER calling 911.
Developed a simple fire safety and escape plan that I discussed with my family. The number one rule: Get out of the house and stay out. My plan included talking to my kids about fire dangers and appropriate behavior. See the next chapter for more on this. You can pick up some more useful tips on fire safety at home at firesafety.gov.
By the way, you may find that your local fire department offers free home checks and even free or cheap alarms.
You should also install at least one carbon monoxide alarm in your home (preferably near the bedrooms), which will pick up on fumes from furnaces, fires, other appliances and vehicles that reach a danger level in your home.
Weather-proofing your home
Would-be burglars and wayward flames are the most obvious threats to the security of your home. But there are others. Take the weather for instance. It never ceases to surprise us – or the meteorologists! – does it?
But there are a few simple steps you can take to minimize weather impact on your home and family. Lagging exposed pipes is probably the first thing that comes to mind – and not just outside either. One home I owned was plumbed for laundry appliances in the garage. I never used the system but completely overlooked the fact that it was still full of water – until the thaw after a particularly cold spell! L
On the other hand, when the weather is hot and dry, it's your body more than your home that you have to think about – keeping well-hydrated and staying cool. Don't forget to take care of maintenance of your air conditioning and ventilation systems and to follow any advisories on brush clearance in a fire-risk area.
If you live in a storm, tornado, flood, or hurricane prone area, your basic safety rules include monitoring weather warnings, securing all vulnerable areas, including doors and windows, and knowing what to do if the worst happens. We take a closer look at preparing to deal with natural disasters in the next chapter.