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Ask HN: How do you do home security?
52 points by gshrikant on Apr 2, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 118 comments
I recently moved to a new town and am living alone. The neighborhood is decent and my building has security too. However, it just seems like good sense to me to implement an extra layer of home security apart from the usual (locked doors).

I was looking for ideas and was wondering how people on this forum go about securing their houses?

I live in South Africa in a gated community with 24/7 guard patrols and 12 ft high barbed wire fences.

My own house also has blade-topped fences, I have an electronic gate which requires a 6-pin entry pad and a thumbprint. I have 3 dogs, double-plated steel doors and retractable window bars.

Some fucker broke in through the ceiling last week while I was asleep and stole my iPhone and wallet.

The reason we do this in South Africa is because of safety. Home invasions, car jacking, mugging, kidnapping are everyday occurrences here. I know of 3 people who have been killed during one of these engagements and everyone I know knows someone who has died.

If you worry about your kids wandering the streets in America, Canada, New Zealand.. Come to Africa and get some context.

Possessions are meaningless, your health and your friends are what counts. That's something some people learn the hard way in this country.

Not to be rude, but why do you chose to live there? If you value your health and friends, why live in a war zone.

If it was as simple as that notion sounds, I wouldn't be here. And believe me I know many of people who have decided to start families in other countries.

I hate my government, the corruption, violence, bigotry.. But this is my home. I love the people, the culture, the food, my friends and family.

I've traveled and I've lived in other areas in the world. But this place is my home.

People wonder why anyone would want to live in the Middle East; Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gaza Strip? Because this is my land, these are my people, my tribe.

I will stay, and I will fight and protest for a better life for everyone in this country.

Sorry I feel this is too offtopic for HN, but I couldn't help but reply.

This is a fantastic, powerful response to the question a lot of us without the context frequently ask ourselves. It must be so difficult to reconcile your love for your homeland, its culture, and your family, with the reality of a pervasive worry that the worst can and does happen with frightening frequency. We take for granted that we can typically feel safe here in the US, and I hope you stay safe and continue to contribute to making your home better for everyone.

It isn't all peaches and cream in the US. You guys have some pretty rough areas too, it's just they're known as ghettos. And of course there's Mexico right next to you, which even I felt unsafe in many areas (and I grew up near Soweto).

And of course there's Mexico right next to you,

Based on impressions created by Hollywood movies, people I've spoken to in South Africa express opinions that Mexico is some kind of hellhole. Here's a sobering comparison:


In most measures, Mexico is way ahead of South Africa.

What's surprising about certain cities is how close the ghettoes are to rich areas. Most people expect there to be a gradual decline in quality from the rich part to the poor part, but there are often dramatic cutoffs. You can literally take a wrong turn and go from zero crime to "Keep your doors locked and don't stop at red lights or stop signs."

Are things getting better? I can definitely understand this mindset, and I feel like once momentum starts building, people get behind it and start believing in a better tomorrow.

I'd feel a lot more hopeless if things were stagnating or getting worse. I can't imagine being a Syrian right now, for example.

Yes and no. It's better than it was 30 years ago, definitely! Has an entire generation been wasted, and thousands of lives needlessly lost in that time? Yeah.

I think the biggest change we've seen recently is English becoming more popular among the youth. That and technology which brings about education and positive influence from developed countries.

I'm very supportive of subsidized and ultra-low-cost smartphones and laptops. I think a lot of our issues won't be solved in the next 30 or 50 years, but as the world becomes more connected and social issues are democratized, ideas and efforts are spread through passion and action rather than advertising budgets..

Money will eventually no longer run this government and people will start to think for themselves.

Look at China, they employ hundreds of thousands of people to save their public image, they have a walled garden which they pluck and trim to fit their needs. But only half of their country (excluding rural and unregistered jurisdictions) has access to the internet. Is that going to be feasible long-term?

This is why things like Reddit, albeit very American-centric, have such a positive affect on the world. I want to see more countries get their "own" Reddit which is free of corporate interest and censorship. A medium that everyone has access to and uses.

> Are things getting better?

That's not really what it's about for us. South Africans have become experts at making the most out of a bad situation so things are always "good" in a way that's hard to describe out of context.

When you ask if South Africa is improving you have to qualify that with: which class? Anything that the government controls is going backwards. The middle and upper classes, however, have in a way created their own functioning infrastructure.

* The police force is complete ineffective. Solution: build a fortress and hire private security.

* Continuous controlled blackouts because the power infrastructure is inadequate. Solution: buy a generator.

* Hijackings, muggings. Solution: lojack all cars (car insurance now requires it) and don't walk anywhere.

As I said, we make it good.

The South African government has improved the lot of the poor in some ways- child support grants form the basis of a welfare system that protects people from utter destitution. Sadly, as you point out, the public healthcare and education systems are dismal, and the failure of the education system means that human capital is being wasted.

Some things they do means well, but doesn't deliver as much as you would think. Having a single parent with no job, no education and no support means that frequently that money goes into buying alcohol. If you think the majority of the poorest have been uplifted significantly, you haven't been in the streets in really poor areas.

Amazing reply.

Couldn't stop my brain from reading it in a SA accent. :)

Hollywood's white Afrikaans accent?

Okay, here's the deal. Overall SA has a really big crime problem but it's not a complete warzone. It is heavily dependant on where you live. For example, Cape Town is statistically safer than Johannesburg and the area I lived in Cape Town is statistically safer than the areas around it - there are only a few break-ins a month and hell, my childhood home has only been broken into once and that was because someone opened up a 'troubled youth' centre a few streets away.

However, I don't want to diminish what others have experienced - I just want to put it into perspective. It is still a dangerous country to live in. Even though I lived in a 'safe' area I had to travel through 'unsafe' areas to get to friends, family, and work. On top of this the judicial system is a shambles due to corruption and incompetence. Apathy and burnout is extremely common in the police so they don't really care anymore because why should they? They bust their balls off investigating, arresting, etc only to have the court case thrown out because, for example, important court documents go missing and no one is arsed enough to investigate why :/

Most people do not have the luxury of getting up and moving from the third world to the first world.

Agreed, but given the level of security the original commenter described, I'd say wealth is not the issue. Therefore mibbitirc's comment applies.

Most people did not have that luxury during WW2, yet they did. Safety is safety.

As an American it would be much easier to move to another country, anywhere in the world, than it would be for someone from an undeveloped country.

There are thousands of people looking to get into any country that is considered "safe".

Asylum seekers are being denied every day at borders, whether they're crossing the border into the Southern US, or floating ashore on a raft in Australia.

Your qualifications are meaningless, ask your next 10 taxi drivers where they're from and what they studied. More than half will have a degree from their home countries.

One doesn't necessarily have to move to the safest country, where naturally the competition to get in is higher.

One only needs to try to move to a safer country.

As a species, we've become very tied to our original locations. Stability had its advantages in the early days of agriculture. Today I wish we'd make our borders more porous, legally and bureaucratically.

Why should a remote worker be paid less for the same created value, simply because they live in a "cheaper" country?

Many people did leave the country - there was a large diaspora in the 2000s to Canada, NZ, Australia, and the UK. Many others wanted to but couldn't because they couldn't get visas or they simply couldn't afford it.

I was only able to move the UK because I found out I could get a British passport (so I did) plus my company paid for most of the relocation.

How did he get over the blade topped fences?

I don't. I own nothing I would cry over if I lost it. My wife doesn't own expensive jewelry, all our money is in the bank, and all my work is backed up to external servers, so losing the laptops would only cause me some delay. We are not attached to any object that we own, and we only lock the door for our own protection. If someone wants to burglarize my home, all I ask is that they wait until we're not home to do it.

There are non-monetary things you can lose.

My wife was chased through her parents house at knifepoint by burglars. She locked herself in the bathroom and was on the phone with 911 as the burglars tried to kick the door in. They had almost gotten in when the cops showed up with sirens blaring. They left.

Two weeks later, they broke into a house a block away and killed two residents.

At my last apartment, I didn't think much of the cheap-shit door locks so I added a hotel-style locking bar for something like $20 - something I'd never bothered to do in the past. When I was out of the house and my wife was home alone, a pair of men in masks (she peeked out the peephole when the battering paused) started trying to break the door down. My very sweet, loves-everyone, 50-pounds-soaking-wet 6 month old puppy let out some very uncharacteristic and very intimidating-sounding barks and they booked it.

These are statistically unlikely occurrences in most safe countries but they still happen. A bit of security doesn't hurt and doesn't really cost much.

Where do you live? This sounds like terrible luck, or maybe someone has it in for your wife.

This was all in the Vancouver area, which is quite safe by North American standards.

I doubt anyone in particular has it in for my wife, but she is certainly not short on bad luck!

We don't have anything beyond locked doors either. If a drug abusing burglar decides to make some cash for the next hit an alarm isn't going to be a show-stopper anyway, and at least here in Sweden we'd be paying up to $500 per month to some guard company that at best shows up after the burglar is already gone.

The real damage in a break-in for us would be the feeling of being violated and feel unsafe in our own home, and that's not something that an alarm or guard will be able to repair.

In the end the best home security is creating a state with good enough social security so that nobody gets desperate enough to steal all your stuff.

People may complain about the high taxes I have to pay in Germany, but at least I never really have to fear for my personal safety or invest a ton of money in heavy home security systems.

+1 from another Swede.

I find it difficult to believe that you truly have no preference between being burglarized and not being burglarized.

Not what I said :)

Also, in the UK I know several colleagues who have had house contents insurance claims denied because their alarm system was inoperative or malfunctional.

It's actually better in that case not to have any alarm system.

To contextualise this, in the UK we usually declare whether we have an alarm during the application for insurance, and we pay a larger premium if we don't have an alarm / other security.

So these people have benefitted by having a lower premium because they have an alarm and then not used it / found it inoperable in the event of a burglary.

Not to harm your peace of mind, but trust me when I say you don't want a frustrated (nothing valuable to steal) armed criminal at home. Chances are he is going to be either desperate or with no regards towards human life (or both) and extremely angry.

Stay safe.

On the other hand, and at least in the US, in only 12% of all households violently burglarized while someone was home faced an offender armed with a firearm, and most of the time when there's violence, the burglar is someone known to the victim.

I live in Romania. It's pretty much impossible to obtain a gun, and the overwhelming majority of burglaries are perpetrated when the owners are not home. Burglars usually stake a place out before hitting, and make sure that the owners are either on vacation or at work.

That's not a healthy attitude. You don't have to be attached to an object to be averse to losing something of monetary value. It's like you're trying to be weird on purpose.

Just another opinion: I find that attitude very healthy. As a society, you can have a general policy of not locking doors. Will work basically the same as a society with generally locked doors. Burglars will find a way in - this way or the other. There will be hotspots of crime in both cases. The overall rate will not differ that much.

You can be averse to losing something of monetary value and take sensible precautions to avoid losing them, (don't leave your wallet unattended, don't walk through a bad part of Camden at night, etc) but home defense seems to be a classic case of loss aversion.

"I'm terrified of someone stealing my $400 TV and $600 computer, so I'm going to spend hours and hours of time and lots of money on an alarm system, guns, reinforced doors, new locks, better windows, and a goddamn bubble from The Prisoner."

Hardly, he's just saying that since the odds of burglary are quite low(maybe not everywhere) and on a downward trend,[0] and since he doesn't have anything that is particularly irreplaceable, he's not going to be too concerned about burglary or take excessive precautions. And even if you did have something 'irreplaceable,' sooner or later it's going to be gone or transformed, it wouldn't hurt to incorporate that into your present awareness.

[0]Pretty sure I heard something like this recently. One factor postulated was that since the price of consumer electronic items and whatnot typically targeted in burglaries has been falling, the risk/'reward' calculation of what a burglar would find in an average house versus the risk of being caught and going to jail is serving to deter potential burglars.

Here's how it's done in Italy:

* Big, heavy solid doors. These things are bulletproof. It's a bit ridiculous, because I think smashing down the front door is probably not the most common burglary technique, but still, here you won't find any of those doors with the doorknob right next to a big plate of glass.

* Serious shutters. They're called 'rolling shutters' in English, and standard on houses here. http://www.topsystem.biz/wp-content/gallery/tapparelle/pvc4.... - these are not the wimpy 'venetian' blinds in the US, but sturdy things that will keep out the sun in the summer, cold in the winter, and when locked at the bottom, anyone but the most determined intruder, who would still likely need some good tools and time to boot. I wrote this a few years back: http://blog.therealitaly.com/2007/08/09/window-technology/

Here's how it's done in Switzerland:

You don't do anything and just file an insurance claim. In fact, if you got a break-in and call the police, they come, but only to issue a report for your insurance company.

Big heavy doors are not affective against lock breaking. Thieves in Istanbul need only 3 minutes to break-in/search/exit. Cops are just jokes.

We have two dogs. By far the best deterrent that you can get. The alarm goes off when someone approaches the house, let alone tries to open anything. You can't sneak up on them. They're also furry and warm, which is a plus.

One thing to note is that burglars don't fixate on a house or apartment. They are looking for the easiest, lowest-risk house. Dogs immediately upgrade your house to "harder than the next house over."

I'm not worried at all about someone breaking into our house while I'm away. They can have my shit. I'm much more concerned about someone trying to invade while I'm home, because that's what gets people perforated. Dogs are an immediate deterrent to that.

Other than that, we have a couple guns from when my girlfriend worked at a prison and had psychos threatening her life on a daily basis. She keeps a taser in her center console of her car, I keep a heavy tire iron in the door of mine. That's about it.

My friend had 3 dogs shot and killed, just so they would stop barking :(

My home security setup:

- Dogs. Obviously this won't work for everyone, as you may not like dogs or be allowed to have them or able to afford them. Also not all dogs will be effective alarms; one of mine starts growling if she hears a butterfly down the street, while the other one would unlock the door for a burglar if she could, just hoping he'd pet her.

- Lighting on all points of entry. I have time-controlled lights on the doors and motion-sensing floodlights on the detached garage. All are LED so they're fairly efficient and long-lasting.

- Simplisafe security system. It's self-installed, wireless, and no contract. Depending on your subscription you can get monitoring only, or monitoring plus a mobile and web app. I really got this more for the 24/7 smoke and carbon monoxide alarm monitoring, but the entry and motion sensors are a nice addition. (If you do have dogs, you might consider declining police dispatch though.) And there are little stickers / signs to try to scare off burglars.

- A large can of pepper spray (stream, not spray). I don't own a firearm (and I'd really rather not use it in the house even if I did). I think someone breaking into the house would most likely be a burglar and would rather flee than get in a fight, so I think a non-lethal solution is good to have.

- Cameras. I have a mix of brands of wireless cameras and iSpyConnect, watching the entrances. This is more for me to check in on things remotely, but the recording could be handy too.

- Neighbors. I'm not super-close friends with mine, but I'm neighborly, and we look out for each other.

- Insurance. If you're renting, make sure you have renter's insurance. A security system may get you a discount on your home or renter's insurance also. And an automatic offsite backup system is a good idea, of course (I use CrashPlan).

Internal and external burglar bars on all windows, and an outside perimeter fence. High walls on side and back, topped by barbed wire. Security gates on all doors. Burglar alarm linked to armed response, and outside perimeter beams. This is fairly standard in South Africa for standalone homes in decent areas. Much of this is to protect against home robberies (violent home invasions).

Many people have internal gates separating sleeping areas from the rest of their homes, as well as CCTV and electric fences. If you live in a gated estate with security, you can afford to forgo some, but not all of these.

Wow, that's pretty extreme. Is it nerve wracking living in an environment where that level of security feels necessary? I can imagine it would be stress-raising unless you were used to it?

There'd be a low risk of minor burglary in my area, but the risk of anything violent would be almost nil.

I lock the doors and cross my fingers.

You get used to the stress, and the ubiquitous security, and you get on with your life. But you have to constantly be aware of new threats: a newish one that has hit a few people I know is "car jamming" where remote locks on cars are jammed and the contents are looted.

Here in the UK a perrenial problem with alarm response companies is despite taking your money, they often won't turn up until a few hours after the alarm has activated - if they turn up at all. So there's really not much point in paying for them.

How do the companies in South Africa convince their customers they're worth paying for, and that they'll show up in a timely manner if the alarm goes off?

It does happen that armed response companies are tardy, but the local papers usually make a big deal about it, especially if there was a house robbery (home invasion).

Plus, since incidents do happen more often, presumably the security guards are more prepared and alert, and competition keeps them on their toes.

I have an alarm system with passive sensors on each side of the house. So when I go to sleep, I activate the outside passive sensors.

There are also passive sensors inside the house so if I am not at home, I activate everything using a remote control. The system is pet friendly so my cat can move around freely.

I built a CCTV camera and installed it above the outside gate. It's more of a DIY camera than anything else, but it looks pretty good. I used a halogen light fixture to hold a Logitech web camera, and I've created my own adapter to convert the USB output to an ethernet cable setup, and back again to USB before it gets to my home server (which is in the garage). This was the cheapest way to do a USB webcam over such a long distance (8-9 meters).

I'll write a blog article about the camera project if anyone's interested in the details.

I used:

- magnetic contact sensor: http://www.amazon.com/Magnetic-Sensor-Window-Warning-Switch/...

- raspberry pi: http://www.raspberrypi.org/

Wired up all contact sensor and connect to gpio on pi. Use pi to detect circuit break and send messages or phone calls via google voice.

I bought a piper (http://getpiper.com), you can integrate with some z-wave accessories to monitor the door, windows, turn on/off lights or device.. Is nice, whenever you want, you can connect and see whats happening in your house, see statistics (only for the last 48h) about temperature, humidity, light, noises, etc Unfortunately is far from being perfect, a basic feature like automatic activation of the alarm during the days is not possible (and to me seems a quite basic feature for an alarm system).. This, together with the fact that activating/disabling the alarm takes too long, ends with me not using the alarm system at all, except for long absence from home Having some public API to play with would be nice too..

So do you just put the camera/piper-thing in one room? Or do you have a few?

You could easily install a $10 door alarm that chimes when it is opened. They can be ordered online or picked up at stores like Radio Shack, etc.

Not much. To get to my place you actually have to know how to get there, you just can't randomly get to it. When inviting new friends over and even providing a map with directions, I get "where the hell is your place" calls most of the time.

Other than that, I have a Raspberry Pi with a camera running motion; it records video when movement is detected and offloads to a remote server. I have it in my room, pointing at the door, and I have a script that alerts me with Pushover whenever:

* Movement is detected and my phone is not in range.

* Movement is detected and an unknown WiFi device is in range (it sniffs WiFi probes).

Where do you live? Woods? Mountains?

It's an old residential area, next to a main road, but the only access is a private path along which you have many other houses and their own security cameras.

That path is a dead end, and the last section is around 50 m (~165 feet) long and not even accessible to cars or wheelchairs; too narrow and with steps. The gate to my place is the very dead end.

That's why people have a hard time finding my place. Now, I feel like talking about security a bit more.

After the gate you have other 20 m (~65 feet) to the door, and most valuables are upstairs.

Basically a burglar would have to take multiple trips, up and down inside and outside stairs, to load up a car/van parked before the narrow end, with faces and plates invariably captured by cameras. Or do the multiple trips for maybe 300 m (~1000 feet) each to a parking spot across the busy main road (there's no space to park on my side of the road; you'd block it).

In case of break in while I'm out, after I get the notification on my phone I'd call a neighbor to block the path with his car and wait for the police to arrive and do the rest.

There are other possible break in spots, but they involve wall jumping, so damage would be way more limited. Somebody could jump into my garden over the 2 m (~6.5 feet) wall from my neighbor's, but they have to break into the (wealthier) neighbor's before.

The rest of the garden is surrounded by a concrete wall, 2 m (~6.5 feet) high on my side, 3 m (~10 feet) on the other side, that separates my house from a residence complex with its own security and all. But you can't really see this wall; it's hidden by thick foliage on my side. Once I got my quad-copter crashed into this residence and it took me 30 minutes worth of branch cutting (saw and hatchet) just to reach the wall, and I tried to grab it for a while, with a hook and hung from a tree, before even considering jumping that high, getting hurt, and possibly be unable to jump back in again.

So a burglar would rather steal shit from any not as logistically messy target.

TL;DR: my house can't be accessed by car and I'm surrounded with other houses and apartment blocks that are not as much trouble to burglarize.

Can you describe what you are looking to add?

Security is a process, and it depends on the situation how far you want to go. You can buy / build / rent a home security system & service. You can establish good security practices like not allowing location services data (or your own big mouth) to broadcast or otherwise tell the world where you are or when you are or are not home, not placing valuable items in window view, keeping your doors and windows locked, doing regular lock checks, switching your door deadbolt lock so that former owners/renters/etc can't get in, etc.

Whenever I leave home I lock the door and hide the key somewhere. If I leave for more than a day, I give the key to my neighbor. That can come in handy, like once I forgot the passport at home, and the neighbor could get it and send it to me. But I live in a small village where everybody knows everybody. :) Also, I don't have anything expensive and that I would miss, except maybe my laptop. I'm more worried of somebody stealing my axe if I forget it outside than of somebody breaking in.

We use one dropcam pointed at the valuables in the house (the living room with all the monitors and computers etc.) Dropcam offers a lot of sensible features like camera schedules and location sensitive activity alerts that make the experience of buying the $200 device worth it. There's also night vision and a microphone + speaker. Needless to say, everything works seamlessly across devices, and you can buy 7-day cloud storage for an additional $99 a year.

Keep in mind, the Dropcam only helps if you know the thief. We had a theft in our old office and caught the thief on Dropcam. The police saw the video and noted that they had seen the guy at other thefts as well. My obvious question: "anything that you can do about it?" And unless ubiquitous CCTV with face recognition is widely deployed, the answer is basically no.

I agree. But activity alerts are pretty good. You can set Dropcam up so that if someone enters the area when you're not home or the camera loses network connectivity, you get an alert - and if you do, you can alert the neighbors or the cops.

And how does that stop or even deter break-ins?

If someone enters the area when you're not at home, you get an activity alert on your phone and you can check out the live stream to find out what's up. If the first thing the robbers do is to take out your home wifi, you still get an alert for camera getting disconnected. You can alert the neighbors or the cops in either case.

There's a reason why alarms do not use your main phone / DSL / data line. False positives could destroy the purpose of your system.

I too have recently moved, I haven't yet purchased a security system but I have been looking around, these are the things I was looking for:

- No monthly fee

- A loud alarm

- Not necessarily calling the cops, I just want to be contacted, I can call the cops myself if needed.

I have found only two systems I like:

- The most expensive one: SmartThings, about 550$ for what I want, looks easy to set up. The only mentioned inconvenience is the wiress range of the hub. I have a pretty big house so I need to consider this.

- Skylink SC-2200 security system on Amazon. This is much cheaper 187$. But requires a landline (I don't have one). You can make it work using an "OBi100 VoIP" (also on amazon). The Obi100 can connect to google voice (free account but only in the US), it has a landline phone port which allows you to make the skylink system work. From what I have read you also need a cheap (8$) landline phone to make test calls at first.

Now I prefer the SmartThings system because it's simpler, and also you can control everything from an app on your phone. Skylink all it does is placing a phone call to your phone when something gets triggered ("door X has been opened"). Both systems used in this way have a failing point, your cable connection. If someone goes outside my house, and cuts the cable, my system is ineffective. With Skylink I think you can set up a sim card, and other system too. But that ends up costing a monthly fee, which I don't want.

I still haven't decided, I don't have much extra money for any system right now as I've spend so much for the house.

There similar do-it-yourself security systems for about $2-300 that use a sim card and the cell networks.


You can program what numbers to call. I had one similar to this in a building I leased along with some IP cameras. It went off a few times by itself and woke me up in the middle of the night and I drove down to find nothing.. maybe the window vibration sensors or a mouse or something.

We moved recently, but I haven't put it up at the new house. My main security at home is two dogs and a short barrel pistol grip shotgun with a blinding light. Everything irreplaceable is in a fireproof gun safe that is bolted to the floor.

You are probably being paranoid about safety. The chances of someone breaking into your house through locked doors violating building security in a decent neighborhood are very small. You are far more likely to die in a car crash.

That said, if you want extra security in your house you could use deadbolt door and window locks. Those are very hard to get through. You could also buy a gun. Get a dog if you will be a responsible pet owner.

Insurance, but not too much. The expected value of insurance is generally negative, so only cover things you can't afford to lose or you think your risk is much higher than the insurance company estimate.

Cultivate a healthy attitude towards your possessions° - don't let them own you, and remember that it's just stuff at the end of the day.

° Incidentally, in my first draft I wrote relationship, not attitude, which is exactly the problem!

We have a dog, which is an excellent anti-burglary system. He won't bark at the mailman, but he will bark at strangers in my yard or people standing in front of the house in the middle of the night. (This actually happened a couple of weeks ago when my neighbours came home from their holiday late at night).

The thing is: the vast majority of burglaries are spur-of-the-moment things. Here in The Netherlands at least. Sure, if they know you have a lot of cash at home they might actively target you, but most of the time it's much simpler: they see an open window or 'easy' door lock and they act upon it. Burglars are extremely opportunistic. To fend off most burglars, you don't need to have the best security, you just have to have better security than the least protected.

If you read the crime reports in the US, this rings true. I can't tell you how many times you read 'phone stolen from unlocked vehicle' or 'entered house by slitting the screen door'. Common sense can go a long way.

For countries like South Africa and some countries in South America it's a whole other story I guess.

I'll never understand people going full security mode when they live in complete harmless neighborhood (and insurances are not crazy themselves). If anything you are asking to be robbed to be honest, combo challenge + there is probably something good to get.

You already living in an apartment in a secure building. Who do you think is coming for you? The Ocean's 11 squad? ><

There aren't many safe neighborhoods. I live in a gated apartment complex in a nicer part of the Bay Area, and I came home one day to a completely destroyed front door (they didn't get in thanks to the thick fire doors, but it could easily have been looted). On top of that, our car was broken into and they looted everything that wasn't bolted in.

I'm from Poland and I use solid doors and rolling shutters as described by davidw. I also have an Satel Grade-3 alarm system (one of the best systems in the world) that is basically used in banking institutions with sensors that are pet save. The funny thing is that I don't own any expensive stuff, so it's just for our personal safety.

WRT electronic countermeasures:

You can get a bunch of motion detectors and controllable outlets for cheap through Insteon/Smarthome. BestBuy has a decently priced starter kit with a hub, which uses both X10 and wireless transmission for redundancy. I've seen reviews of more expensive home automation systems that aren't as reliable because they use only one mode of communication, so I'm happy I chanced on the right choice. The system also works with ultra-cheap X10-only devices if that's good enough for you.

I have a couple controllable outlets with sirens attached to them that I can trigger remotely if my motion sensors and foscams show me something undesirable, and control the hub with Perl-based Misterhouse software. I think I saw Python and Java interfaces out there as well.

We have 4 internal cameras that use motion detection, and a house alarm that calls us if the motion sensors go off, or goes nuts if it detects movement at night.

We were broken into last year while we were asleep. We were only alerted after a few minutes when one of our Dogs freaked out and started barking. They ran away.

The cameras will be useful in terms of potentially identifying future burglars, but it's also more about feeling violated. They actually made off with very little considering what was just lying around but I'd love to know exactly what they were doing while they were inside. Pretty scary with a newborn sleeping upstairs and we were non the wiser.

One of the thing that always fascinate me with American film is how 'simple' a suburban house can be. You have 4 feet open windows and glass wall everywhere living in a neighborhood without any gate or security guard. That led me to believe that American must have it nice over there...until I actually went there. They do have similar common sense of protection as where I'm coming from such as hardened/laminated glass for window, and solid door+frame.

I add CCTV just to expedite any insurance claim. Socially, nothing beats tight-knit neighbors.

And if your toilet have one of those airduct/vent. Make sure the size is no more than a feet.

A couple of inexpensive PIR sensors and a couple of wireless IP cameras.

Sensors can trigger video camera, then images uploaded to cloud. Or just use the sensor built into camera (not as good).

The same sensor can alert your phone, and send image after which you can choose to alert cops or take more pictures or trigger alarm or even talk to the intruder all from your phone.

Some security cameras have "alarm out" and "audio out" for connecting optional alarms and speakers. I like Lorex IP cameras, but there's plenty of choice.

Ruger LC9 downstairs and Remmington Shotgun upstairs. I usually keep the LC9 on my pesron including while I work / watch TV etc. Someone is awake at all hours of the day and night and we have 2 dogs.


One thing I think a lot of people underestimate is a relationship with their neighbors. We don't have a neighborhood watch but we do communicate with our neighbors about shady activity and are always looking out for each other.

Good building security seems rare. I've been pretty surprised at the number of problems I've seen in SF buildings where thieves hit the mail room and bike storage regularly by just following residents in from the street.

Depending on how easy it is to tell if you are home it might be helpful to install a doorcam. That way when thieves knock to see if you are home you can answer remotely.

Make your house secure with other suggestions from here, and then add very visible additions to show that you are secure. E.g. Put up an armed reaction sign even if you don't have armed reaction. Barbed wire fence even though barbed wire is easy to work around. A red flashing LED light.

The best possible outcome is nobody ever testing the measures that you have put into place.

My wife visited her grandparents in western Pennsylvania some years back. They were going out to lunch, and being the last one out, my wife locked the door. When she mentioned this, her grandmother said, "I hope I have the key". She routinely left her house with the door unlocked!

Myself, I have a dog. I got to test the dog recently, when a locksmith was replacing the ignition switch on one of our cars. I kept waiting for him to finish. Finally, I gave up waiting for him and went to use the can. Of course, that's when he finished, and came in looking for me to pay him. The dog made it very clear that the locksmith was not coming any further into the house. It didn't attack him, but it drew a clear line on the floor: you go no further.

So, we lock our doors, and there's the dog. Anybody who gets past that has to worry about whatever I find handy. Lime-Away? Really good chemical warfare agent in a handy spray bottle (but it's almost like a gun, you can blind someone, so you'd better be sure before you pull the trigger). That tool for unscrewing supply hoses from the bottoms of sinks? (Good for jabbing or clubbing, light enough to get good velocity, heavy enough to do some damage.) Even a cat can be thrown, and will hit with claws out looking for some traction. Think. You've got way more weapons in a house than you might expect.

Now, would I consider that adequate in some situations like Mandatum's in South Africa? No way. But for where I live, it's probably good enough. (Or maybe I'm just cocky because I've been lucky.)

Location is everything - move somewhere there is no crime. Failing that, get some IP cams setup and archive the footage offsite.

What are you trying to achieve?

Is it personal safety from intruders? Or safety of possessions from burglary or damage?

If the latter, do you really own anything that cannot be re-purchased? Any works of art or otherwise irreplaceable high value items? If not, just get insurance and do whatever the policy requires (window bolts, certain grade of locks for doors, etc).

I recently installed a Simplisafe security system. Easy to do, fairly inexpensive, and it really works. Sometimes too well.

I've looked at this system as an alternative to ADT. Can you go into any more detail regarding your likes, dislikes, and what "sometimes too well" means?


It's wireless, which is great. It's super simple to stick the sensors where you want and not have to worry about wiring anything up. I think my total setup time was somewhere in the range of 20 minutes, which included signing up for their monitoring.

It's fairly inexpensive, too. I think I paid like $150 for my set? It came with almost everything I needed (no glass break sensor and I needed an extra entry sensor).

All of the sensors seem to work well, with only minor issues occurring every so often. There are rare times that it simply doesn't register a sensor has been tripped (I can open my door, for example, and it doesn't think I have). Other times, the sensors trip for no reason at all. I've gotten calls about tripped motion sensors, but it has never been legitimate.

The entry sensors that go on the window don't have any glass breaking capabilities. There is a sensor that "listens" for the sound of breaking glass for about $35 on their website. I haven't tried it, so I can't speak to how well it works. I'd feel a lot more comfortable with impact sensors, though.

The monitoring service seems to be top notch. I have had to communicate with them 2-3 times. The first time was a little confusing, because they ask you for your master password, which I assumed (incorrectly) was my code to turn the alarm off. They don't tell you that you got it wrong for obvious reasons. The police went to my house, cleared it, and then billed me $300 for a false alarm (which they later waived). The other times I have spoken with them they have cleared everything up in seconds.

The online management is great, I can disable/arm/check the status of my alarm all from their website. The only thing that doesn't seem to work is the temperature sensor. I'm not sure if I have that or not, but their website makes it appear like I do.

My only major gripe is that for several days my base station lost connectivity with their monitoring station. Because of this, it acts only as an alarm, and can't alert the police if it goes off. Rebooting it, etc. did not help. I had to go through a lot of troubleshooting with them to get it to work again. That being said, it's the only time I have had to contact their support, and my e-mail at 1 a.m. was answered within minutes.

I would suggest this if you are looking for a low cost solution that isn't guarding a pot of gold or something. If you just want the piece of mind that you can turn it on and get alerted if someone or something trips a sensor, then great. If you are looking for advanced protection it's probably best to invest more into a professionally installed system.

Excellent. That is quite helpful. Thanks for taking the time to write that up!

12 gauge shotgun

Unless you live in an awful place which doesn't allow handguns for self-defense, shotguns tend to be a pretty poor choice for home defense. Confined spaces make them unwieldy, and it's frighteningly easy for an adversary to grab it outside of your grip and use the bigger lever arm to twist it out of your hands, as I demonstrated a few years ago to a nephew who's bigger and much younger and more fit than I am. Normal self-defense handguns are much easier to retain, and not quite so overpowered.

I very strongly disagree. I believe a shotgun is very much the best home defense weapon.

Most people are poor shots with a handgun, especially if woken up in the middle of the night. A shotgun is a point in the general direction and shoot kind of thing. It also has a lot more stopping power than a handgun.

Also, with a shotgun, you can use larger gauge bird shot or something like #4 buck shot and it is less likely to penetrate walls and hurt someone you didn't intend.

A 12 gauge pump shotgun is also an intimidating looking and sounding weapon. Much more so than something like a 9mm handgun. Finally, the laws regarding shotguns for many area of the US are likely to be much less restrictive than on handguns.

I understand your comment about the unwieldiness of shotguns, but in my particular case, my shotgun has double pistol grips and no stock. I would be much less concerned about loosing control of it than I would a pistol. I have a top mounted light that triggers when the front pistol grip is grasped. It is (almost) as short as the law allows... the entire weapon is just over 2 feet long (28 inches to be exact). I hope I never have to use it in defense or worse yet, shoot to kill someone. For this reason I have 5 shells in the chamber. The first two are birdshot... deadly at close range, less likely to be so at a further range. Then I have two rounds of #4 buck, then a slug. I have 5 more rounds of #4 buck in holders at the top. I've considered having the first two rounds rubber like the police use.

A shotgun is a point in the general direction and shoot kind of thing.

Now, I have to admit I haven't patterned any shotgun at close range, but everything I've read and seen says at home defense ranges you have to aim them with almost as much care as a rifle, the pattern expands rather slowly, even with cylinder choke (no choke). And I know from too much wingshooting that at range you have to be pretty precise as well.

A quick check with Google came up with http://www.theboxotruth.com/the-box-o-truth-3-the-shotgun-me... which doesn't fill me with confidence in the lack of interior house construction penetration of #4 buck. Note, per the above, that the pattern at 12 feet was 3.5 inches, which matches pretty well the 1 inch spread/yard metric I first read about in Patriot Games. And #4 buckshot is not a good perpetrator; if you're a Facklerite you want 16 inches (in case you have to shoot thought an arm to reach the vitals). Birdshot is obviously much more iffy.

As for intimidation, well, some people don't intimidate worth a damn, although I agree a Europellet dispenser is not a good choice unless their are other constraints; me, I stick with .45 ACP in M1911s (primarily because the gun has fit my hands like a glove since I was a teen).

It's true, in some areas of the US a shotgun is your best option because of restrictions on handgun ownership, but this is not true for the vast majority of the country, land and people. Like, outside of Hawaii? and several of the Northeast states.

No stock == not very accurate in most people's hands, negating the aiming advantages there while indeed mitigating to some degree the issues if it gets up close and personal. Me, I keep my police configuration with full length stock 870 in my safe, loaded with #1 buckshot, which all things being equal is 40% better than #00 (lots more pellets with sufficient penetration). I bought it while living in Massachusetts, one of those states where getting a handgun is difficult to impossible in the more urban areas, now I've got it mostly in case I need a literal riot gun.

And if, like in most of the nation (although absent a saving throw with the Supremes it looks doomed in California), you can carry concealed, there's a lot to be said for learning well only one type of gun, i.e. not just a particular semi-auto handgun model, but ones in a family that are more and less suited for carry and home defense, that have the same controls, ergonomics, etc. E.g. there's lots of models to choose from in the Glock family.

Interesting article. I would note a couple of points though...

1)Notice the drywall collapsing? That's what is going to happen to a person getting shot at close range with a 12 gauge.. even with birdshot. It would be something like getting smacked with a sledgehammer. I'm less interested in penetrating vitals than flat out knocking the person down. A person who's arm, or even lungs are penetrated cleanly by a high caliber round might still be functional for a bit... functional enough to shoot back.

2)Even though the #4 buck did penetrate multiple layers of drywall in this guys test, what is the lethality after 2 or 3 layers? You say yourself that #4 buck is less likely to penetrate vitals in the first place. Your 45 on the other hand will likely easily penetrate multiple layers of drywall, then completely penetrate the person on the other side.

Anyway, different strokes and all that. A firearm is a good home defense weapon in general. Always nice to meet another person who doesn't feel owning a firearm makes one a Neanderthal of some kind. Where I live, I wouldn't be without one in the home. I sleep much better at night and feel I could protect my girlfriend and our belongings against invasion.

I also have a number of other firearms including military type rifles, hunting rifles and some handguns, but the shotgun is the one I keep in bedroom for defense.

As someone who follows Dr. Martin Fackler on interior ballistics, I believe that at worst case the incapacitating mechanism has to be sufficient blood loss. That is, for a subset of perpetrators, simply being shot is not sufficient (I gather as many as half will desist when that happens), and you can't count on being lucky enough to make a disabling CNS hit (spinal cord or brain). If so, you need penetration to the vitals causing a lot of blood loss ... and you need to stay alive until that takes effect. The debacle of the FBI Miami shootout is perhaps the most notorious example of all this, see e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_FBI_Miami_shootout

I don't believe the kinetics you're posting will work on a human. F = mv^2, force = mass * velocity squared, so velocity is a big factor (although much less so on the target unless it usefully dumps energy before exiting). The recoil you feel will be significantly greater than the impact the target gets unless at contact range, because in addition to the lead, higher velocity gasses exit the muzzle (although a muzzle brake will mitigate that at a cost of visual and aural ergonomics, see Obama's famous shooting picture). The target is only going to get the impact of the lead. The only mitigating factor is that the recoil you feel is spread across what's initially a larger area, although it won't take many yards for the areas to be equal, following the ~1 inch spread/yard of distance rule of thumb.

And you're welcome. I grew up hunting and shooting, and after going to college in fact got my first guns after getting a girlfriend to protect in the Boston area, which was and still is pretty high crime.

Are you talking about personal security or security of your posessions?

Either way, two key things you should have, IMO, are:

- renter's insurance

- off-site backups

Sometimes it's best to focus on mitigating risk. If someone were to break in and steal something, would you be able to replace those things?

180 lbs of dog in the form of two adult (if aging) German Shepherds!

Grandma keeps the house safe.



Beat me to it

Not living in the USA.

The vast majority of people in the US live in safe neighborhoods. Burglary and home invasion are some of the least common crimes committed. The reasons are that it has a very real chance of getting you killed, the prison penalties are steep, (B&E is a charge in and of itself, along with the larceny) and its rewards are complete garbage. A fence will give you 5% of the retail value of the product, if you're lucky (even less for stuff like jewelry). You have to be completely tweaked out on meth and crack or be a dumbass teenager to even consider it these days.

From http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/c...

In 2011, there were an estimated 2,188,005 burglaries

Victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $4.8 billion in lost property in 2011

Seems pretty high to me.

In addition to the other commenters, "burglary" generally includes breaking and entering a vehicle as well, so without further information it's hard to tell what percentage is attributable to each. Particularly since the OP is interested in "an extra layer of home security", if home burglaries are a lower %, then those numbers could seem inflated with regards to the issue at hand.

Additional factors just from the linked page are:

1.) Burglaries of residential properties accounted for 74.5, of which the OP specifically mentions

2.) 60.6 percent of burglaries involved forcible entry, and 6.3 percent were forcible entry attempts.

So naively (without additional data on if forcible entry is less or more common for commercial or residential properties), then one could assume that a more realistic number is 2.2M * .745 * .669 = 1.09M which is about half the chance given the "totals".

This is also compounded if the OP is actually living in a "safe" area (or if it just feels that way)

Fewer than a lot of other countries, including many that are considered very safe/desirable places to live:

200X comparisons: http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Burglar...

2012 (p. 8): http://www.civitas.org.uk/crime/crime_stats_oecdjan2012.pdf

A higher burglary rate than the US in both rankings are Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, and Australia.

(In fact, that makes me wonder a little whether these numbers might be a mix of both "burglaries" and "whether the citizenry even bothers to report" – with other countries having more burglaries that people don't report because it doesn't help...)

Page 9 is the relevant graph for burglary on the Civitas pdf. The US is right in the middle.

One thing I'm surprised by is the ridiculous level of assaults committed in Britain. What's going on there?

Glasgow is/was ridiculously violent. American surgeons who want to learn stab trauma go to Glasgow for experience. People are stabbed in the hospital.

Scotland used to be the most violent nation in the developed world according to the UN.




Things have got better over the last five years. It's still pretty bad. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-22276018

At the risk of being downvoted into oblivion: No guns.

In the US, if you're going to assault someone, they may well be packing. It makes you think twice. But in the UK, you know they're not (with close to certainty), so the only question is whether you're tougher than them.

But a large number of other countries in Europe have similar gun control, and they don't have the assault rates that Britain does.

Ah, true. I was only thinking of US vs UK.

Lots of very drunk people.

And most of them happen in concentrated areas (inner city), which means that the vast majority live in safe areas. If you aren't living in Gary, Indiana or somewhere similar, it's pretty silly to be scared of burglary. Perfectly reasonable to take precautions, but it's crazy to go overboard.

Pretty high in relation to what? I live in the Netherlands, which is considered to be a safe country, right? We have 0.00539 B&E's per inhabitant, whereas the US have 0.068 B&E's per inhabitant. Not that much difference, if you ask me.

12 times more is not a big difference? Blimey!

It's more than 10x higher?

He mis-wrote it. The Netherlands is significantly less, but not by an order of magnitude.

US per 100000 people: 715 Netherlands per 100000 people: 428

For reference, England is 986, Sweden is 1029, Australia is 1017, Belgium is 891, and Japan is 117.

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