Your home very well may be the biggest investment you ever make — and if you have a family, your home also is a haven for the people you love most in the world. How can you keep your property and your loved ones safe, especially if money is tight? Here are some ideas to try if you simply can't afford to install an effective alarm system. Some of these suggestions will cost you a little bit of money, but several of them won't cost you a dime.
1Beware of glass in risky spots. Look for windows or glass partitions that may be located in vulnerable places around your home, such as near doorknobs. You could replace the glass in those areas with polycarbonate that is shatter-resistant.
2Pay attention to your exterior doors. Ideally, all of your home's exterior doors should be solid, not hollow. This is the kind of home upgrade that could quickly become expensive, but if you're on a budget, start out small. Maybe replace your front door if necessary, and then gradually replace other exterior doors.
3Think about your locks. It's a fairly low-tech solution, but it makes a big difference: Be sure you have good deadbolt locks for all of your exterior doors and windows.
4Make it difficult to get inside. If your home has sliding-glass doors, place a strong bar along the track when the doors are closed and locked. A sturdy baseball bat or broom handle can do the trick.
5Remember your garage door. The rest of your home may be nice and secure, but how easy is it to enter your garage? Be sure the garage door's lock is strong, and don't forget to lock inside doors that lead into your garage. If you have a garage-door opener, choose remotes that automatically change the signal code every time they're used.
6Keep your bushes and trees trimmed. It's hard to hide in properly pruned shrubs — and tidy landscaping also will make it easier for your neighbors to see if anyone is lurking on your property. Check the trees around your home to make sure they don't provide easy access to second-floor bedroom windows.
7Love the light. Motion-detection lights outside your home can stop intruders in their tracks and possibly make them reconsider their dastardly plans. Also, keep some interior lights in strategic locations on timers so it always appears that someone is home — and that someone might be awake. Get a timer with a battery backup system in case of power failures.
8Devise a workable plan when you leave town. Make arrangements to have a friend, relative or trusted neighbor bring your newspapers and mail in each day and also mow your lawn while you're gone. You also could keep a radio tuned to a talk radio station so it sounds like people are conversing inside the house.
9Participate in a Neighborhood Watch program. You and your neighbors can band together and agree to help each other out by keeping an eye on things in your area. Some neighbors even set up systems for alerting each other via e-mail if suspicious activity gets spotted during the day or night. For details about how to start or join a Neighborhood Watch program, visit USAonwatch.org (www.usaonwatch.org).
10If you have an alarm system, keep it activated. Many homeowners end up deactivating their alarm systems for extended periods of time because they don't want to trigger false alarms. Be sure you understand the system well enough that you're confident enough to use it.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); USAonwatch.org (www.usaonwatch.org); Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org)