As we’ve stayed extra-close to home this summer, we’ve been able to keep a closer — and more consistent — eye on our property and surroundings.
At the same time, many of us have had the world brought to our door more than ever, getting everything — pizza, cocktail kits, groceries, clothes, toys and toiletries — delivered to our homes.
All of these extra deliveries have meant increased opportunities for “porch pirates” to plunder the packages left sitting outside. A 2019 report by C+R Research found that 36% of us have been a victim of package theft. With the coronavirus pandemic having caused many to rely heavily on package delivery, that number could increase.
The warmer summer air, meanwhile, has increased the temptation to leave windows open, potentially providing an opening for intruders. And as restrictions have been lifted in fits and starts across the region, many of us have started leaving our homes for longer periods, even taking overnight trips for the first time in months.
All of these factors make now an excellent time to think about ways to keep your home secure. Read on for tips to help yourself and your loved ones stay healthy and safe.
Inside the home
A home-security system may be the ultimate in keeping your property and your person safe. You can get a system to fit your individual needs, including features such as simple alarms, police notifications, motion detectors and environmental monitoring for such potential problems as smoke or carbon monoxide.
Matthew Lombardi, owner of the Seattle-based company Absolute Security Alarms, recommends using a security system that relies on cellular technology rather than one that’s tied to a landline or the internet, since it can be a relatively simple matter for a burglar to cut those line and thus disable your system.
Don’t forget to display signs or decals advertising your home’s secured status, which can act as an additional deterrent to would-be intruders. And, Lombardi adds, don’t forget to actually arm your alarm.
Besides keeping your home safe from intruders, the right home-security system can help you age in place or monitor loved ones who may need extra help, Lombardi says. Many newer systems come with numerous aging and wellness features, such as notifying you if a stove has been left on or a loved one hasn’t gotten out of bed, or calling for help if someone takes a fall.
Many systems can identify you via cellphone when you return home and automatically disarm your alarm and turn on your hall light, Lombardi adds.
While a home-security system is an excellent tool, don’t forget about all the steps you can take inside the home to promote health and safety.
If you’re away after dark, especially overnight, using timers on lamps and other light fixtures can create the illusion that someone is home by making the lights turn on and off automatically. Leaving a television on also gives the impression of people in residence. If you have sliding doors and windows, placing a dowel in the opening helps prevent them from being opened from the outside.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are an absolute must for keeping you and your family safe at home. Many, such as Google Nest sensors, can be hooked up to smart-home systems, displaying glowing, color-coded alerts or spoken warnings. Having a fire extinguisher on hand is an invaluable safety tool — but make sure you know how to use it before you need it.
And don’t forget to lock your door, even when you’re home.
“An open door is an open invitation,” Lombardi says. “[Most of the time] when people have people in their home, they don’t lock the door.”
Outside the home
Marco Lopez, who lives on Capitol Hill, decided to take action after a number of incidents in which his car was broken into or things were stolen from his backyard.
“It was more about the invasion of space than anything else,” Lopez says. It caused him to ask himself, “What can we do in a minor way that makes a big impact?”
Lopez ended up training cameras on the backyard and using solar-powered, motion-sensing LED lights. “They have worked really well,” he says. “Every time someone walks by, it’s really bright.”
He also increased the height of his backyard fence, from 4.5 feet to 6 feet.
“We realized people could see what was in the backyard, so it was removing that temptation,” Lopez said.
Another good way to protect the outside of your home, especially if you get a lot of packages, is a doorbell camera, which can capture images of anyone or anything that comes to the front of your home. Some doorbell cameras, such as the Ring camera, allow you to monitor the front door in real time and even talk to whoever is at your door.
Prevention is key for outside-the-home security. If you don’t have a deadbolt strike plate on your front door, have one installed. Do a perimeter walk of your home and look at it from an intruder’s point of view: How might you get in?
It’s easy to leave temptations for burglars outside the home, whether in the form of packages left unsupervised, a brick left outside a window that could be used to break the glass, or a ladder left leaning against the house — which Lombardi calls “an invitation to come in the second floor.”
Finally, being on good terms with your neighbors is an invaluable security tool itself — and, in the social-distancing era, a particularly welcome one. If you trust your neighbors, ask them to help keep an eye on your home or take your packages off your porch.
More safety tips
Protect yourself and your family and minimize dangers by following these tips, via Angie’s List.
Ladders. These marvelous tools can accomplish any number of household tasks, but respect their danger as well. A fall from ladder height has a very high likelihood of injury. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendations about stability and never climb higher than the maximum step. Wear slip-resistant shoes and avoid leather soles, which can slide on ladder steps.
Safety equipment. Don’t take the safety equipment in your home for granted. Regularly check the batteries of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors. Replace detectors every 10 years. Supply every floor of your home with a fire extinguisher. Make sure everybody in the house knows where they are and how to use them. Check the pressure meters every 30 days to ensure they’re still in good shape. Create an escape plan for the house in event of disaster and practice it regularly.
Fire prevention. Never leave a candle burning unattended. Don’t plug too many appliances into the same outlet. Pay close attention to damaged power cords. Clean your chimney regularly. Don’t leave lint in the dryer, even for just one load.
Child-proofing. If you have kids, you’re already aware of the need for basic safety equipment, such as cabinet and drawer latches, gates on stairs and electrical outlet covers. But don’t overlook the need to stabilize furniture; you don’t want a bookcase falling over when a curious toddler climbs it. You can use metal brackets or specialty straps to secure furniture to the wall and prevent shelves from tipping over.
Falls. Minimize the likelihood of falls by keeping areas clearly lit, including outdoor sidewalks. Repair any loose carpet or floorboards. Secure loose rugs with double-sided tape or a slip-resistant backing. Make a point to keep clutter out of the way. Add nonslip surfaces to your bathtub or shower, and install grab bars if you have family members at risk of falling.
Poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 300 children go to the emergency room every day for accidental poisoning. Keep all medication, cleaning supplies and toxic chemicals in a secured space. Safety latches help, but it’s best to store chemicals where kids can’t see or reach them. Make sure all chemicals are clearly marked and in their original packaging. If you suspect someone in your house has been poisoned, immediately call the nationwide poison control hotline at 800-222-1222. Call 911 if someone has collapsed or isn’t breathing.