Home Security, Part 1 - Lights

By Alex Haddox

I am going to open this first of a multi-part series on securing homes with a harsh reality: There is no way to completely secure your home against invasion. If someone out there really wants you or something you have, nothing is going to stop him from getting it. No door, no alarm, no dog, no safe will keep him out forever.

It may appear that I have just completely undercut the premise of my own articles. Not so. What I will present in this series are suggestions on how you can secure your home to increase personal safety and deter home invaders, stalkers, Peeping Toms and burglars. The goal of these measures is to make your home a "hard target," a place that is too much trouble to bother with. Hopefully thieves will seek out other easier "soft targets" rather than work to overcome your defenses.

Home security is similar to personal security. You are not trying to capture a criminal. (NOTE: Setting a trap for an invader or trespasser is illegal in the United States.) Your goal is to become a hard target, someone that is not worth the effort to attack or to steal from. Make criminals believe you are too much trouble to bother with and they will move on to an easier target. One of the challenges of conflict and crime avoidance is the only evidence that you dodged a potentially dangerous situation is that you will never experience dangerous situation. The absence of an event is quite difficult to measure and quantify.

The first home protection measure is lights. This is something that is easy, cheap and highly effective. Criminals do not like to be seen while they are doing their thing. Lights make them visible and make them feel uncomfortable. Every home security recommendation list, every law enforcement officer, and every security expert I have ever spoken with has always put lights at the top of their list. Illuminate your home up with exterior lighting. You need to cover all vulnerable areas around your property. At a minimum windows and doors should be lit. If possible, all sides of the home should be covered. This means the front, the sides and the back.

The back of the home should be lit? Absolutely. Your neighbors may not have taken the same precautions you have. It takes little effort for the criminal to creep down your neighbor's property and then hop over a wall into your darkened backyard. A wall or fence means nothing to the criminal; it is merely an inconvenience or even something used to hide behind.

This is a trap that we honest citizens fall into. We see a wall as a barrier, a line that says, "do not cross." A wall has no meaning to the criminal. The social norms that bind society together, the unwritten rules of community that make life possible in our compacted urban environments do not apply to the criminal. They have no regard for them and in many cases they use them to gain an advantage over us.

You should treat the back of the house as you would the front. We lock our front door and light it up. The same should apply to the rear of the home. Consider your backyard environment at night. It is walled in on 3 sides, has high bushes and shrubs to keep the neighbor's prying eyes away and dampens noise from the kids next door and it is dark. Put into those terms, it sounds like the perfect environment for a criminal to work in. Light is a great deterrent to entry.

There are many types of lights and lighting possibilities. The good news is that all are effective, giving lots of options depending upon the type of property and budget. First, you do not need to light up every inch of your property with blinding, high-intensity light. If some light is not going to deter the criminal, a whole lot of light is not going to do any better. There is a happy balance that is easy to achieve. Most experts recommend the property be lit out to 100 feet from the sides of the home.

Placement is key to lighting. You want illumination at your front door, side doors, back doors and any garage entrances. If you have other vulnerable areas, you want to light those up as well. Walk around your home after dark and look at it from the eyes of a criminal. Where are the places to hide? How would an intruder move around and stay hidden? Then implement measures to help expose those movements. If you have children, and teenage daughters, place a light outside their bedroom windows.

Lighting Options

Of the types and options available, the most common are the manual type you turn on with a switch. Think of these are your standard porch light. There are also the spotlights or flood lamps that are usually lit with halogen bulbs. These can also be turned on manually with a switch.

I really like motion-sensitive lights. These stay off until something passes in front of a sensor that triggers the light and bathes the area in light. This saves on your power bill while still providing security. It also acts as a "gotcha" for anyone passing in front of it. It clearly states, "you have been caught creeping around" when it pops on.

Motion-sensitive lights are also a good choice for placing around bedroom windows. They are not always on, which is nice for people who might have trouble sleeping with constant light outside their window. Also when they trigger, the entire window frame glows providing a nice quiet alert.

The downside to motion-sensitive lights is that they can trigger on all sorts of things. I have seen them trigger on neighborhood cats, skunks, raccoons and even my hammock when I left it outside on a windy night. All the labels on these lights promise they will not trigger on something smaller than a dog, or inanimate objects, but they still do. They should not trigger on something really small like mice, rats, squirrels or small birds, but anything cat-sized or larger will cause the light to activate.

My sister was forced to relocate a motion-sensitive light she had installed on the side of her house. It kept triggering on critters crawling along the top of the fence separating her yard from her neighbor's. When it turned on, it sent blinding light directly into the neighbor's bedroom window, waking them up. So among other things, you must also consider neighbor annoyance when choosing the location for your lights.

There are also lights that turn on and off by themselves either with a timer or by a built-in light sensor. This way, once they are set, you only have to worry about changing burned-out bulbs rather than if you remembered to turn them on before you crawled into bed. Light-sensing lights are also called photoelectric or dusk-to-dawn lights. They sense when it is getting dark and automatically turn on when the sun goes down and turn themselves off when the sun comes up. This is great for weather changes (like dark clouds) or seasonal changes when it gets darker earlier or later depending upon the time of year.

Our discussion of home security and lights continues next month.

First published by Tae Kwon Do Times Magazine.