Before you pack your bags for that holiday visit or end-of-year vacation, take a safety survey to make sure your empty house isn't putting out the welcome mat for burglars. Walk around the perimeter to observe whether your shrubbery is obscuring your windows and, if so, cut it back. And a lock that's strong and sturdy can thwart crimes of opportunity. Only one of the dead-bolts tested by Consumer Reports resisted typical break-in techniques.
Here are some other suggestions from the experts at Consumer Reports and the National Crime Prevention Council for keeping your possessions safe while you're away.
- Before you leave let one of your neighbors know where you're going, for how long and the best way to contact you.
- Double check that all doors and windows are locked.
- Make sure your house appears lived-in by setting household lights (inside and out) on timers.
- Have a neighbor park a car in your driveway to make it appear as if someone is home.
- Have your newspapers and mail held or ask a friend to pick them up every day.
- Invest in an alarm. An alarm system controls access points to your home and lets you know if someone has invaded your space.
In our labs, we discovered that many of the dead-bolt locks we tested didn't provide the level of protection you might expect. A few well-placed kicks or a standard cordless drill was all it took to defeat every lock except the Medeco Maxum 11WC60L, $190.
Alarms, especially noisy ones, can provide an extra layer of security. Almost 80 percent of homeowners with alarms rated those systems effective at protecting their homes in a nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. But before you get an alarm or switch monitoring companies, check whether your area requires a permit, and be aware of the following contract clauses:
Early-termination charges. These can leave you liable for up to 80 percent of the costs of the contract's term, even if you move.
Exclusions. A contract we saw warns that promises made by sales staff or in ads are not binding if they're not in the contract.
Limited liability. If you suffer a break-in, even due to the alarm company's negligence or failure of the equipment or service, the company isn't responsible and won't reimburse beyond a specific amount, $300 to $1,000 on the contracts we reviewed. You might also forfeit the right to sue the company for additional money.
—Mary H.J. Farrell