Home security for a house or an apartment

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Home security should be important to everyone whether you live in a house or an apartment. Knowing your home is protected provides peace of mind both when you are away and when you are at home. Home security is important even if you have outstanding public safety agencies (police, fire, highway patrol, etc.) in your area.

Burglar Alarms That Aren't Turned on

A home security system is only useful when updated and activated. Test your alarm on a regular basis and check for any upgrades to the software. And don't forget to turn it on when you leave the house, even if you're just planning to run an errand. A single thief can utterly ransack your house in just a few minutes. If you forget to turn it on, wireless home security systems allow you to turn it on straight from your phone.

Home security isn't just about your own home, either, you need to take stock of your neighborhood including public safety facilities like police and fire stations. When people think of protecting their homes, they often think of fancy expensive security systems. That is certainly an option, but there are measures you can take that don't cost anything.

Depending on the neighborhood, you may also feel more secure if you have a deadbolt lock. Apartment renters, make sure to get permission first. In New York or Los Angeles apartments, deadbolt locks should already be installed in most units.

Though incidents can happen to anyone, some neighborhoods are certainly more at risk than others. Installing a burglar alarm can certainly help make you less of a target, but the best strategy may be to start a neighborhood watch.

A neighborhood watch is a group of people working together to protect the neighborhood. They agree to keep an eye out for suspicious people, reporting loiterers or those engaged in suspicious activities.

Neighborhood watches can also become involved in organizing community events related to crime and safety. This could be any variety of activities such as having a group meeting where you invite a police officer from the community to come in and talk about home security.

Ways a Neighborhood Watch Can Help:

Through your membership, you'll be able to keep abreast with what's going on in your area, including learning about crimes that occur near you.

A Neighborhood Watch program will reward your participation by making your neighborhood safer. It is statistically proven that neighborhood watches are effective crime prevention tools.

How to Get a Neighborhood Watch Started

You can start a neighborhood watch in any area, urban or rural. Contacting your local police station can let you know if there is already a neighborhood watch in your area. If there's not, the police can get you started with kits and information. Then you'll want to talk to your neighbors.

Home security is also about you and your habits. If you have a large family where someone is almost always home, you may be less at risk than someone who lives alone and is frequently away on business trips.

The value of your home and your possessions is also a factor, although thieves can also be tempted by less valuable items if they believe they will be easy to fence.

When you think of protecting your family and your belongings, you'll also want to think of personal safety and the protection of things that are important to you but might not necessarily be located in your home, such as your car.

Motion detection lights may deter thieves from breaking into your car or home. Driveway alarms are remote alarm systems that are triggered when someone enters your driveway or garden. Driveway alarms are relatively simple to install, and you can probably find one for less than $100. They are battery-operated and use motion detection technology to send a signal to the receiver, usually located inside your home, when somebody walks onto your driveway or the walkway leading up to your house. Inside, the alarm will issue chimes or some sort of audible signal when someone is approaching.

To keep your family safe, you should also include an accident prevention and fire safety plan. These types of dangers can put you and your family at risk as well as threatening to destroy your personal belongings.

Fire safety is an important part of home security. There are numerous types of fire security systems, but before you consider installing those, you'll want to make sure you have the basics covered. Here's a short checklist of things you should apply to your home to ensure it is as safe as it can be from fire:
* Don't overload circuits/electrical sockets.
* Have your fireplace and chimney cleaned on a regular basis.
* Install a chimney cap/spark arrester on the top of your chimney.
* Keep matches and lighters where children can't reach them.
* Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (preferably, one on every floor), and make sure your family members know how to use it.
* Make sure your house numbers are visible from the street.
* Keep flammable items such as curtains away from cooking areas; know how to put out cooking fires.
* If you smoke, put your cigarettes out when you put them down.
* Keep branches trimmed back from the chimney.
* Keep bushes trimmed back from your home.
* Have an emergency plan, including a place to go to in case of a fire, and make sure everybody understands it.
* Put your smoke detectors in central areas, high on walls or ceilings, never near windows, doors, or vents.
* Clean smoke detectors once a year; check their batteries once a month.

Whether or not you have a home security system, there are some common home security mistakes that you should watch out for because they can make your house an easy mark for thieves.

Hide-a-key

Many homeowners, afraid they will lose their keys and lock themselves out, choose to hide a key somewhere on the property. They think they are being sneaky by placing the key under a rock, under a doormat, in a potted plant, or above the door. Burglars absolutely know about all these commonly used hiding places. Under no circumstances should you leave the key to your house where it can be found. If you frequently lose your keys or lock yourself out of the house, consider getting a fingerprint or keypad door lock for your front door.

Broken Locks

Some homeowners neglect to fix broken locks right away, putting the job off for tomorrow (or whenever they feel like it). It is important, however, to make sure all your doors and windows have strong modern locks that are in good repair. Don't think that just because a window is on a second or third story that a burglar can't figure out a way to get to it.

Burglar Alarms That Aren't Turned on

A home security system is only useful when updated and activated. Test your alarm on a regular basis and check for any upgrades to the software. And don't forget to turn it on when you leave the house, even if you're just planning to run an errand. A single thief can utterly ransack your house in just a few minutes.

Untamed Landscaping

Though you may like the idea of privacy, ultimately your home will be more secure if neighbors can see into your front and back yard. Burglars love to hide behind bushes and shrubbery; don't give them that opportunity. Keep the foliage trimmed, especially around the house, and make sure all the outdoor lights are in good working order (even better, install motion or body heat-sensing outdoor lights).

Unlocked Storage Sheds

If you have a storage shed, make sure you keep it locked at all times, because otherwise you're offering thieves free use of all your tools which can certainly help them figure out a way into your home. Also, make sure you don't leave a ladder laying out in your yard anywhere. Someone could use this to gain access to the second-story windows.

Keys in the Car

It's bad enough if you leave your car unlocked (even in the garage), but never leave a set of house keys in the car. If you do, a burglar who gains access to your car will also have access to your house.

In general, burglars will avoid occupied houses. However, there always exceptions to the rule, and you shouldn't assume that nothing can ever happen when you're at home. If someone breaks in while you're not there, your belongings are at risk. If someone breaks in when your family is home, your family is at risk as well. There are a number of measures you can follow in order to minimize the risk of being targeted.

Keys: Don't hand out keys to friends, even if they are trustworthy. Know the location of all your house keys all the time. Never use hide-a-keys or leave the key under the doormat, above the door, in a flowerpot, or anywhere outside the house. You may think you're being clever, but experienced thieves know all the tricks. Also, keep your car keys and house keys on a different ring if you ever use valet parking or leave your keys with parking lot attendants or even at a repair garage.

Don't let strangers in the house: Home security means being cautious. Even before you open the front door to accept a package, you should ask for photo identification. This goes for anyone you don't recognize. Don't assume someone is legitimate just because they're wearing a uniform or driving a company truck--these things can be stolen. If somebody comes to your door and asks to make a phone call, offer to make it for them, but don't let them in. If they are injured, call 911, but don't open the door. If you walk away to make a call or some such, lock the door behind you; you don't want to leave the door unlocked and unmanned. A chain on the door helps insure someone can't force their way in while you're there.

Locks: Keep your doors and windows locked, even if you're at home.

Don't be predictable: If you always leave at the same time every day, are gone for the same length of time, and return at the same time, thieves can easily memorize your routine, taking advantage of the times your not at home. Work is work, and you probably can't change those hours, but if you go to a class or the grocery store at the same time all the time, try to make yourself less predictable.

Valuables shouldn't be on display: It's not a good idea if somebody can look in your window and see your wallet, credit cards, purse, jewelry, or fancy electronics in open sight. A computer or television placed in front of a ground-floor window may make an easy target. Likewise, electronics placed across from a window are easily visible, too. Also, don't leave your garage doors open for the world to see your belongings. Lightweight items could be snatched away quickly and easily.

Watch your trash: Just bought a new entertainment system? A bunch of empty boxes out by the curb triggers an alarm to would-be thieves. Instead of putting boxes out in plain sight, cut them down, and stuff them in trash bags. Also be wary of identity theft. Never put personal identification information in your trash unshredded.

Be alert: Try to be aware of your surroundings on a day-to-day basis, even in your own familiar neighborhood. This doesn't mean walking around like a crazy paranoid person; just keep your eyes out for suspicious activity.

Paying attention to the simple things can make you and your family much less of a target. Burglar alarms and home security systems are great investments, but prevention is the best way to stay safe.

Believe it or not, landscaping can be an important part of a good home security plan. Someone who is "casing the joint" from the street will choose the house with tall shrubs and trees that provide hiding places. Homes with little or no outdoor lighting are preferred targets as well.

Here are a few tips on how can you landscape to protect against intruders while still creating an aesthetically pleasing yard:

You don't need to eliminate trees, but keep them trimmed back from your house; tree branches can be used as a ladder if they are next to a window or skylight.

Mow your lawn regularly; an unkempt lawn can suggest to a thief that the owners are away on a trip.

Store ladders, lawn chairs, and picnic tables out of sight lest they be used as a means to reach high windows.

Trim back shrubs growing near doors and walkways, keeping them 3 feet or shorter in height. Also, don't allow shrubs to block any of your windows.

Adding gravel under windows makes for noisy footing for would-be intruders.

Consider planting thorny bushes (of the low growing variety) around windows. Some examples are: Hawthorne, Rose Shrub, and Barberry.

Forgo privacy and keep your trees and shrubs trimmed back in order to allow a clear view of the outside of your house. Having neighbors that can see your doors and windows can help deter thieves even if you happen to be out of town.

Keep your yard well lit. Motion-detecting lights make decent choices; body heat-triggered sensors are even better (less likely to be triggered by a waving branch or a passing animal).

Dogs are not a complete home security plan, but can make good home protectors because they have keener hearing than humans, along with a propensity for barking at strangers. Dog training can help your dog learn exactly what you want him to do.

Some smart and easy home security tips:
* Keep the exterior doors (including the door to the garage) locked at all times, even if you think you live in a " safe" neighborhood (just because your neighbors won't rob you, doesn't mean random burglars won't prowling through looking for victims).
* If your front door doesn't have a " peep hole" or other door viewing device, install one so you can see who's outside before opening the door.
* Don't hide extra house keys outside, such as under pots, rocks, mats, etc. (trust me: burglars know all the good spots... it's their job). If you have problems with losing your keys, consider a thumbprint door lock or a keypad door lock.
* Install a chain on your exterior doors. This way you can sign for packages and talk to strangers without putting yourself at risk.
* If you have a burglar alarm or home security system, test it regularly. Also make sure all family members know how to work it.
* Pay attention to your landscaping by keeping shrubs trimmed back from walkways, windows, and doors. Overgrown foliage can shield intruders, abductors, etc. so they can ply their vile trade in peace.
* If you have a big dog, it may deter burglars, but don't rely on your "guard dog" as your only home security defense. There are many cases where homeowners thought their dog would guard the house and instead it let burglars waltz right in and steal the proverbial china. If a burglar doesn't show fear, chances are Fido won't react much to him, especially once he's in the house.
* If you go on a vacation, have someone you trust collect your mail and pick up newspapers. Otherwise, would-be thieves will have no problem figuring out that nobody's home (which is, of course, the best time for them to risk breaking in and stealing all your stuff).
* Don't have your name or anything beyond your house number on your mailbox. 
* Get to know your neighbors, and consider starting a neighborhood watch in order to keep the block safer. At the very least, let the people across the street and next door know when you're going to be out of town, so they can report any suspicious activity.
* Teach children not to give out personal information on the telephone. Also make sure they know what numbers to call, and what to do, in the event of an emergency.

Most of these home security tips are just a matter of common sense. You don't need to spend tons of money on expensive burglar alarms or high-tech video surveillance systems to be safe (half the time the family probably forgets to turn them on anyway.) Instead, just make a habit of applying these simple but smart home security tips, and you and your family will be much safer in the long run.

Home security isn't just for people who own houses. Just because you have a security guard at the entrance to your building, don't assume your apartment or condominium is entirely secure. Your safety is up to you.

It's a good idea to make sure the apartment and surrounding grounds look secure before you sign a lease (since you're limited to the kind of improvements you can make yourself). Here are some home security tips for those who live in apartments or condos:

* Have the apartment's locks changed when you move in. (The maintenance crew can simply swap lock cylinders with a random vacant apartment, a project that is free and takes only a few minutes.) 
* Depending on the neighborhood, you may also feel more secure if you have a deadbolt lock. Apartment renters, make sure to get permission first.
* Use your peephole, and don't open the door for strangers. Demand identification from package delivery services, even if they're in uniform (uniforms can be stolen).
* Even if you're home, don't leave the door to your apartment unlocked.
* Make sure the building's public areas aren't threatening, i.e. lights out in the parking lots, laundry room, or hallways.
* Get to know your neighbors, and watch for suspicious people on the premises.
* Home security alarms are available for apartment and condo dwellers as well; look into portable door/window alarms or a wireless home security system (things that can move with you when it's time to find a new home).
* Don't leave your windows open, and make sure they all have secure locking mechanisms.
* Likewise, don't leave a sliding glass balcony door open, even on upper floors. (Balconies can make a handy ladder for burglars to climb to upper stories.) These kind of doors should have not only a lock but a Charley bar (or at least a wood board in the runners to keep the door from being forced).
* Just use your last name, or if necessary last name and first initial, on your door or mailbox. This keeps strangers from knowing your gender or how many people live in your apartment.
* Lastly, protect your assets by getting renter's insurance to protect your belongings!

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