Secured By Design’s National Operations Manager Jon Cole offers his advice on keeping your home secure.
I’m looking to make my home more secure but have no idea how best to go about it. What are the key steps I can take?
The most effective way to secure your home, as old fashioned as it may seem, really is through doors and windows — they are key to making your home secure.
In the past, PVCu had a bad reputation for not being particularly secure, however nowadays there’s no one material which is safer for windows and doors than any other, as any material can be made safe. Instead, you need to weigh-up other factors which are more individual to you, such as whether you want a more sustainable material or what kind of thermal performance the materials have, and go from there.
Garage doors which are attached to the property and are not very secure can act as another form of entry, and can often hold valuables too, so this will be another area to improve security. Very generally speaking, roller shutter garage doors are more secure, but any door which has been tested to meet security standards would be recommended.
While it is not as common in the UK as it is on the continent, having shutters on the outside of windows is another great security measure.
The next thing to bear in mind is the external environment, such as footpaths nearby, so attention needs to be paid to the boundaries. You could then go down the route of installing CCTV or an alarm, although there is little evidence to prove that an alarm stops an offender.
Finally, for new homes it is recommended that people comply with the standards set out by Secured By Design as this will certainly improve the security of the home.
I live in a listed property. What home security measures can I take without impeding on the listed nature of the building?
What you can achieve in terms of improving the security of a listed property very much depends on the type of listing – be it Grade I or II – and so I would recommend getting in contact with your local listed building officer in the first instance. It will also depend on the location of the house as different areas will have different policies and requirements. For instance, on certain elevations or floors, some officers might allow bars to be placed over the windows as this is the type of security that the house would have been given back when it was originally built, but others wouldn’t allow this.
One way of protecting the windows in a listed home would be to use products such as an internal glazing system where the original glazing is left intact to keep up the period façade. The benefit of installing secondary glazing internally which meets PAS 24 enhanced security standards is that it also helps achieve greater U values as well.
Doors on the other hand are more difficult as you can’t change a Grade I listed door, but depending on what your local authority says, you may be able to change the locks if you have a Grade II listed house, as well as add an alarm.
What alarms are available?
There are two main types of alarms you can opt for: a bells-only alarm or a monitored alarm. A bells-only alarm is exactly what it says on the tin, and will ring when any contact is broken with the window or door.
A monitored alarm will be supplied by an alarm company who will be able to verify if there is an intruder once the alarm sounds. This is done by a secondary verification system which uses infrared behind the window/door which picks up a signal. If the alarm verifies intrusion then this will be passed directly to the police for a response.
If you specify a monitored alarm then you’ll need to ensure the company providing the product complies with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) security systems policy and is accredited.
How can I improve the external security of the house without it looking like a fortification and further encouraging intruders?
In order to protect the perimeter, it is better for the home to have a low front boundary so that you can spot anyone coming towards the house. I would definitely recommend restricting access to the rear with gates and fences. A 1.8m fence to the rear which returns back to the building as far as possible is best. (Do bear in mind that any fence over 2m will require planning permission.) The height of the fence will also depend on location however and what your local authority will allow — this will certainly be different for Conservation Areas and listed buildings.
I would recommend the use of thorny hedges along the boundaries as they are an effective tool to prevent anyone climbing over, and they look natural too and don’t even need to be that high — nobody is really going to want to pass over them as it would be particularly unpleasant and so would reduce the attraction of the house to intruders.
Front gates are a good thing too as they not only provide a physical barrier which would need crossing, but also a psychological barrier (an intruder would be aware that they were entering a private space and feel uncomfortable). Be mindful of then creating as much visible surveillance as possible to act as a warning.
What types of technology are available which help with home security?
Technology has advanced over the years with CCTV systems which allow the monitoring of your home from a tablet, phone or any smart device, which is perfect for when you’re away, and some systems will even allow a message to be played if anyone comes near the house. For extra peace of mind you can also specify internal CCTV nowadays, which can be used as verification of anyone in the home.
There are some good locking systems out there too which have begun to feature keyless technology, and we are starting to look into the success of these. Some new door systems also use fobs in the same way as you would use them for cars. You do have to be careful though of technology which is entering into areas that have not yet been tested. I wouldn’t recommend buying a product unless it has been proven to work.
I know that lighting can help warn off intruders. Does this really work?
External lighting is a useful solution for preventing crime. I would recommend using a dusk-till-dawn low-energy lighting system around the house which will provide a constant level of light which will create a better opportunity to spot an intruder.
Passive infrared lighting is another option but this can bother some people with it going off if a dog or cat is in the garden, and particularly elderly people can be put off by these systems, but you should specify whatever is best for you.
Timers on external and internal lights are a good idea, and adjusting the timers to come on at different times is wise. The use of smart technology which turns lights on and off in different rooms around the house at different times is a great way of giving the impression of people being home too.
Is there a way of organising the internal layout of the home to help prevent crime?
At the end of the day once an intruder is in, they’re in, and will begin to move around the home, so avoiding this in the first place is a priority. It’s a given that you shouldn’t put valuables in a place which could be easily seen from the road, path, or even if a visitor was to walk up towards the front door — do anything you can to reduce attraction.
I would recommend a domestic safe in the house, and also try to ensure there are ‘active’ rooms on the most vulnerable frontage. A kitchen at the front of the house is a good idea as homeowners will be in and out of this room often which would improve visibility over the front elevation, while a lounge orientated at the back of the house would provide an outlook over the rear to spot anyone outside.
Note that you should never place a window at ground level on a vulnerable elevation as this acts as a target.