How do you sleep at night?

These days everybody is concerned about home security and family safety. Home alarms
are one answer. There are all kinds of alarms available – home security systems, smoke
& heat alarms and carbon monoxide and gas detectors, but these systems only kick in
when there actually is a break-in or a fire or a gas leak. Home security should also
involve a healthy dose of preventative measures. As they say “An ounce of prevention is
worth a pound of cure!”
Home security is not just a concern of homeowners. Renters also need to pay attention to
security. As a renter you need to protect yourself and your possessions against theft, fire
and damage from natural disasters.
Should you be alarmed?
Do you need to install an alarm system? You’ve probably seen the signs on lawns or in
windows advertising that a home is protected by a home security system. These systems
are available from both local and national companies and you need to do some research
to find a system that suits your budget and your families lifestyle. But home alarms are
not for everyone; if you decide not to install an alarm system there are other things you
can do to “beef up” the security of your home.
Your first priority – physically keeping “them” out.
1. Doors and windows – These are the means of access to your home, are they truly
Locks – Security services advise that every external door should have a sturdy
dead bolt lock. If you are moving into a new home, invest in installing dead bolts
or re-key them if there are existing, suitable locks. Security chains are NOT a
reliable deterrent to forcible entry.
Outside doors – should be metal or solid wood and should fit tightly. If yours are
not tight, add in weather stripping to correct the problem. Peepholes or wideangle
viewers are important for entry doors so that you can see who is outside
before you open the door. Hinges on external doors should be on the inside so
that they cannot be removed in order to lift the door out of the frame.
Sliding glass doors and sliding windows – should be secured by placing a dowel
in the inside track, which prevents the door from opening, as well as with a lock.
To prevent a sliding door or window from being lifted off its track, drill a hole
through the slide door fame and fixed frame, then insert a pin in the hole. You
can purchase sliding door lock kits with pins at local building supply stores.
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Windows – pins or key locks should be installed to secure double hung windows.
Check with local building supply or home security businesses for the best system
for your type of window.
Garage & Basement – secure your garage and basement doors with security bars
and install bars on your basement windows to block intruders. Just imagine how
good it will feel to know that NO ONE can gain entry to your basement or garage!
The spare key – who has yours? – do not keep your emergency key around the
outside of your house. Leave your spare key with a neighbor (you can keep theirs
in return), at your office or some other secure location that is not accessible to an
inquisitive and determined thief.
Statistics show that the majority of home burglaries occur during the day so don’t forget
to lock your doors and windows even if you’re just in the back yard or down at the corner
Home security system signs in windows or on lawns can be a deterrent to thieves and so
can Neighborhood Watch signs scattered around the neighborhood.
2. Let there be light! – One of the most important things you can do to deter intruders is
to light the outside of your home. Ensuring that all points of access are brightly lit not
only discourages intruders but also provides protection to legitimate visitors and family
members coming home late at night. Timers that turn the lights on at dusk and off at
dawn and motion detectors that turn on floodlights when anyone approaches may be one
of your best investments in home and personal security.
FIRE – how to protect against it or minimize the damage if it happens to you.
Fire! – It’s the middle of the night and someone in your home yells “FIRE”! It’s a
horrible thought, but it could happen, are you ready for it?
Practice makes perfect – remember the fire drills you took part in at school? Do
the same thing at home! Get everyone together and identify the nearest exit from
any point in the home. Assign duties and establish a meeting place and contact
phone number in case people get separated in a crisis.
Apartments or condos have “homework” too! If you are an apartment dweller
or live in a condo, make it your business to see that both your unit and common
areas are properly equipped for fire protection and other emergencies. If you
don’t have an alarm in your unit, speak to your landlord immediately about
installing one or two alarms at once. Locate the building fire alarms and all exits.
Most fire-related injuries and death are caused by smoke inhalation. Educate all
family members on how to protect themselves from smoke.
What if it’s dark, cold, raining or snowing? – you’ve survived the fire, now
you have to survive inclement weather until help arrives. If your new home is
isolated, or in case your neighbors are away, you could make up an emergency kit
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with flashlights and outdoor clothing and store it outside. Keep a cell phone
Could you put it out? – do you have fire extinguishers in your home? Fire
extinguishers are not just for public buildings and businesses; keep in mind that
you find them in those places because they are effective against fire, so make
them work for you at home!
You should keep properly maintained fire extinguishers in appropriate locations
throughout your home. Most fire departments provide free advice to homeowners
on what types of fire extinguishers are needed and where they should be placed.
Make sure everyone in your household knows how to operate them and what’s
appropriate for the different types of fires (grease, wood, gas etc.).
Do you know how to turn it off? As a homeowner you should know how to shut
off gas or electricity and where the water main cutoff valve is located in case a
water pipe breaks.
Forewarned is forearmed – install and maintain smoke detectors (also carbon
monoxide and gas detectors if applicable). Replace detector batteries once a year,
mark it on the calendar or do it yearly on a day you can’t forget, like your
birthday (it’s a great present for yourself).
Location Location Location. if you’re installing new detectors, ask your local
fire department to come to your home and advise you on the best locations, it’s
Check the source. Don’t forget to have your furnace serviced regularly by a
trained heating technician. Clean your chimney and fireplace regularly and check
for cracks.
Your local fire department and your insurance company, as well as Underwriters
Laboratories and government agencies are all valuable sources of information for
homeowners wanting to make their homes safe.
Once is not enough! Regularly update all your security precautions.
Things change and it is recommended that you schedule a regular six-month home
inspection. Re-check all entrances, locks, windows, alarms and fire extinguishers. Take
the opportunity to get everyone together and go over escape routes, alarms, extinguishers
and emergency contacts.
Include an assessment of your insurance coverage in your regular home security review.
You’re going over everything anyway, it makes sense to note any major purchases and
update your insurance coverage.
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What else can affect the safety of your home and family?
A regular room-by-room inspection can help you avoid nasty surprises:
• ensure that electrical cords are in good condition and don’t run under carpets or
rugs or too close to heat sources
• bulbs in lamps and light fixtures should not exceed manufacturer-recommended
• have your fireplace professionally cleaned and maintained
• keep small appliances, portable electric gadgets and their cords out of reach of
children and animals. Keep all electrical appliances away from sinks and
bathtubs (duh! we know you know this one, but we just had to say it anyway!)
• store cleaning products, medications and poisons away from children and pets –
this means in a locked or inaccessible cupboard – you can’t be too careful!
Keep your personal & business records safe!
Don’t keep important papers in your home. Invest in a safe-deposit box and then tell a
trusted friend or family member (not living with you) where wills and other important
documents are stored. Any important documents that you do keep at home should be
stored in a fireproof locked box.
Many police departments have property identification programs that etch security
numbers on valuables so you can identify stolen goods. Videos or still photos of jewelry,
furs, computers, electronic equipment and other possessions help identify your property
and are valuable for establishing insurance claims. A good photo can enable you to
replace (or in some cases reproduce) precious items like heirloom jewelry and
When you’re away – no one should be able to tell that you’re gone!
Finding a babysitter for the dog and the bird is only the first step to planning an extended
vacation. You want your home to look “lived-in” even when you are away. Invest in
timers that turn lights and the television on and off. Have a trusted friend or family
member mow the lawn, pick up your mail and newspapers on a daily basis, take your
garbage cans in and out and park a car in the driveway from time to time. Make sure that
hedges and bushes are trimmed so they don’t provide a hiding place for intruders. Notify
the local police that you will be away so that attention is paid to your home in routine
If you are away for an extended period there are certain arrangements that you should
make prior to leaving:
• Stop mail and newspaper delivery. If you expect courier deliveries, inform the
delivery service – post office, UPS, Fed Ex and others, to hold deliveries until you
contact them (don’t ever leave a notice on your door asking that deliveries be
made next door!).
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• Take stock of your yard. Make sure that shrubs and trees are trimmed and
outdoor lights are operating efficiently so that there are no invisible hiding places
for intruders
• Make sure that the message on your telephone answering machine does not reveal
that you are away. Leave your usual “We can’t take your call right now but leave
a message and we will call you back” type message on your answering machine.
Inform friends and family that you will be away and when you will return.
• Move important papers, credit cards and small valuables to a safe deposit box for
the duration of your absence.
• Use timers on lights in the rooms that are seen from the outside. Leave drapes
partly open, especially on upper-level floors.
• Check all windows for broken panes or loose latches. If you are leaving your car
and cannot park it in the garage make sure that you do not leave the garage-door
opener in the car.
• Notify your local police department and Neighborhood Watch that you will be
away. Provide them with an emergency contact (a friend or relative who will be
responsible for your home while you are away) and a means to contact you in
case of emergency. If you can, provide your itinerary to the police and your
emergency contact. Inform trusted neighbors of your absence, your emergency
contact, and the measures you have taken to secure your property so that they can
take note of any unusual activity around your home (ie: someone loading your
furniture into a truck).
• Provide a key to a neighbor, family member or friend and have them look inside
your home from time to time to check for problems like frozen pipes or flooded
Selling your home? – pay attention to personal and home security!
If you have listed your home for sale there are special measures you should take to
protect the security of your home and your family. During the process of selling you will
be inviting strangers into your home. Most of them will be authentic potential buyers but
who knows for sure, home sales also provide an opportunity for those with ulterior
motives to gain access to your home.
Whether you are selling your home yourself or working with a real estate agent there are
certain simple rules that you should follow:
• Lock up the valuables! Before you have any strangers view your home you
should remove keys, credit cards, jewelry, crystal, furs and other valuables from
view. Either lock them away or remove them to another location. Remember that
closets, medicine cabinets and other “private” spaces will be open to view, so take
some the to remove anything you do not want on public display.
• You can ask questions too, you know! When you make an appointment with
someone who wants to view your home, take their name and phone number and
call them back to verify the number. Ask all visitors to sign a guest book.
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Anyone coming into your home is acquiring normally private information about
your home, so you have every right to know who is getting the information.
Ask your visitors to provide not only their name and phone number but their
license number as well. The message that you want to convey to a prospective
buyer is that you have paid attention to home security; this can also be a selling
plus. The message than you want to convey to anyone who might use the
opportunity to investigate your home with the intention to rob you, is “Don’t even
think about it!”
• Two’s company (and safer!) Do not host visitors alone. If you do not have an
agent, ask a neighbor or family member to be with your when conducting an open
house or keeping appointments with individuals. If you do find yourself in a
situation in which you are alone, make sure that you stay with your visitors,
following and not leading, so you have everyone in clear sight. Always let
someone know when you are showing your house and have them check in on you
from time to time. When an open house is over call your friend to let them know
that all is well.
• Stick like glue! Make sure that you or you and your real estate agent maintain
control of the movements of your visitors. Provide access through only one door.
Escort them through the house, into the garage and the back yard.
• Space ‘em out! Schedule appointments so that you are showing the house to one
group at a time. If there are too many people for you to handle by yourself, or in
an open house situation, make sure that you have help from friends or family. If
necessary hire a security company to provide assistance.
• Don’t be a “Chatty Kathy”. Don’t chat with strangers about your personal
habits and schedule. Seemingly innocent conversations can tell strangers what
time you leave for work, when your house is empty or when you take your
vacation. Don’t discuss your home security system, locks, lights or alarms with
the strangers that are coming through your home.
• Carry a cell phone with you with a single button programmed for a 911 call.
• Keep your driveway clear. Don’t allow visitors to park in the driveway and
park your own car in the street so that there is no danger of its being blocked in
the driveway.
• Check around when you’re done. After showing your house, especially at an
open house, check for anything missing and make sure that all windows, doors
and other entrances are locked and that no one is hiding in the house (for that
reason it makes sense to do this final check with someone).
Owner or tenant – natural disasters affect everybody!
You need to know the BIG picture, the one that includes emergency services and
facilities available in your building, your neighborhood, your community, your city.
Sometimes it’s not just about you! Regional emergencies like the flooding of the
Mississippi and Red Rivers, the ice storm in Quebec and Eastern Ontario, hurricanes in
Florida, tornadoes, earthquakes and other disasters, require community response. Most
communities have emergency shelter and assistance plans administered by the fire
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departments or specially constituted agency. Find out what is already set up in your
community and encourage neighbors to do the same. Get to know your neighbors, in a
natural disaster you will need to work together as a community.
Plan for disaster by putting together a disaster supplies kit containing emergency food
supplies and water. The plan should also include a list of phone numbers to call in case of
an emergency including a “check-in” number of a friend or relative living in another city
that your family members can call if they become separated. When the phone system is
plugged up in one community, you can often place a long distance call to another
In Conclusion:
There is nothing more important than your family’s safety. The security of your home
and your neighborhood is your responsibility. Take control by making your home secure
and safe. Inform yourself about your community, work with your neighbors and make
contact with your local emergency-preparedness agency. Education and preparation are
your best defense against events that you cannot control.