By Mike Peake

Safe and sound: tips for home security

Taking the time to proactively protect your home can save heartache and undue expenditure down the line.

There is a certain comfort that comes from knowing your home has never been burgled – but with that way of thinking there often comes a degree of complacency, too.

"There are all sorts of things that people let slide when they’ve lived in a place for a long time,” says home security expert Steven Crothers of security firm Crothers in Dublin. “One of the main ones is the locks on their doors and windows: there are newer ones available that are much better than older versions, so replacing old locks is always a good place to start.”

There is a long list of things that people sometimes overlook when they have lived in a property for a number of years, many of which would be noticed in an instant by a new buyer. These include:

Overgrown bushes

These can provide excellent cover for burglars looking to enter your home. Cutting shrubs back will provide better visibility from the road and, hopefully, from the windows of friendly neighbours.

Out-of-date alarm systems

“People sometimes install a monitored security alarm but let the contract lapse after a while,” says Crothers. “They also fail to make sure they keep the system up to date, or amend it when they change their house around or their lifestyle changes.” Make sure to check the existing contract for your system and contact the operating company if you’re unsure of the current functionality.

Windows without locks

A hard shove on an old window frame with no window lock will often allow easy access for a burglar. Look at the quality of the window frame and see if it needs updating, and then think about the locks; older ones can be improved relatively inexpensively with newer models. On a similar note, don’t do what some owners do and fail to use all of the locks on your doors – it’s just what a burglar wants.

Keys under mats

It may sound like a cliché, but thousands of us still do it. It’s usually a better idea to leave your spare with a trusted neighbour. An alternative is a high-quality specialist key lock box with a combination lock that can be secured with screws to the house. These cost from around £40 – but make sure you don’t forget the code.

Predictable routines

If you habitually take the dog for a three-hour walk at 11, any burglars scouting the area may eventually pick up on this. This knowledge, coupled with any obvious weak points in your home security, could result in your home becoming a target. If it’s absolutely no trouble, try and mix up your routine. If that’s not appealing, then make sure you have a good security regime in place for whenever you leave.

Unwittingly advertising your absence

Just because you’ve been on holiday 20 times without incident, it doesn’t necessarily mean the burglars won’t strike next time. “The main thing is to not tell the world you’re going away on social media,” says Crothers, who says it is a good idea to have a trusted friend or neighbour come round to close curtains at night and remove any mail piling up near the letterbox.

“You can also get timers so your lights will come on in the evening – if you use an app such as Google Home and a couple of smart plugs, you can control it all from your phone,” he says.

Garden proud

A tidy garden won’t just win you kudos with the neighbours, it also puts random tools that burglars could use to break into your home out of sight. Crothers also points out that putting ladders away and locking up sheds are both a must.

As well as righting these wrongs, there are other steps you can take to make your home more secure.

Install cameras

While you might not want to make the exterior of your property look like GCHQ, a couple of small CCTV cameras costing from around £150 can be a great way of encouraging would-be burglars to walk on by. Devices are becoming ever more affordable and easy to install, and many modern systems have night-vision capabilities and can send images to your phone or even email you when/if they pick up something.

Fit outdoor lights

Lights with motion sensors are a great option. They cost as little as £20, and will brighten up dark corners of your house if an intruder comes a-lurking.

Unleash the hounds

If you have a dog, let the world know about it – a few rubber bones and doggy playthings in the garden should do the trick, as will a sign in the window warning visitors of your four-legged friend’s presence. And if you don’t have one, you can buy a speaker that emits the sound of a barking dog when its sensor picks up movement outside the home. According to a report in The Guardian, burglars say they are most likely to be deterred from breaking into a home by CCTV and dogs.

If reading this article has given you pause for thought, the first thing to do is to grab a pen and piece of paper and do a security audit of your home. Walk up and down the street and see what weak spots might catch a burglar’s eye, and then work out how these can be remedied. With home security, it always pays to be one step ahead of the bad guys.