Physical Security


The second and certainly the most important level of security is what can be called simply “physical security” The key here is to ensure that your home is physically harder to enter! This is what is referred to in the security trade as “target hardening” the home. The idea is to secure the outside perimeter of your home against forced entry. Most new homes are similar in their construction, and requirements can generally be summarized as follows:


Think of a door as a “locking system”, with the overall security being only as good as the weakest link. All exterior doors must be of solid construction, equipped with deadbolts of adequate quality, properly installed with solid steel strikes of 10 inches in length. (As a rule, cedar doors tend to be of weaker construction than solid core or steel doors). The strike should be mounted with six – 3 inch screws that pass through the door facing into the wall stud/frame of the house. Each of the hinges should also be attached with at least one 3 inch screw – again, through the facing into the wall stud. This will make the door substantially harder to kick-in (Note: Many new homes with door frames having glass panels on the lock side of the door will require additional steel re-inforcing on the inside face, since what appears to be a stud is actually just the door and window frame stapled together, and covered with moulding). A simple 12″ strip of steel on the inside directly behind the deadbolt, secured with half a dozen 3″ screws into the wood perpendicular to the door, will help greatly to strengthen that weak frame.


Wooden doors can have vertical deadbolts installed which are inherently more secure against kick-in attack than are the traditional horizontal deadbolts (Locking bolt extends horizontally outward from the door). These are deadbolts which lock vertically into two rings mounted on the frame of the house and are commonly referred to as “jimmyproof locks” because the physical locking of the deadbolt to its strike provides protection against spreading the door away from its frame. Never buy very cheap versions of this style of lock, since they are made of brittle material to save money during manufacture (translation – spend at least $40 at retail for the lock. Stay with established brand names such as Dominion, Lori, Weiser, or Schlage, and away from the “branded versions” put out by retailers who have their own name put on off-shore products). On the newer homes, here in the Ottawa area, staying with locks on a Weiser keyway will also ensure that all locks can usually be keyed alike when changing locks. (Hint: When purchasing your locks from a large retail outlet, and if you intend to install them yourself, ask to have the locks rekeyed to a relatively new, unused copy of your existing house key. This will cost $5-10 per cylinder, but save you the price of a locksmith coming to your home to do the same thing)


Horizontal deadbolts mounted in wooden doors should be reinforced with a “wraparound” plate which serves to reinforce the bolt area where it sits in the door. This helps prevent “kick in” of the door, where the bolt itself breaks through the door ( A deadbolt mounted in a door has only a half inch of wood on each side of the bolt – not a very strong arrangement!)


New homes built today usually have a long glass panel beside the lock side of the door. As we’ve mentioned before, it is mandatory that this strike area is further reinforced on the inside with at least a foot long piece of one inch wide by three sixteenth thick steel secured with at least six three inch long screws going into the frame perpendicular to the door itself. Failure to do this will almost guarantee that one or two good kicks will break these doors inward allowing quick entry into the home.


Don’t feel you have to spend additional money on high security locks such as Medeco, Abloy, Abus etc. These are an absolute must on most any commercial establishment, but are generally “overkill” on a house. These locks, practically speaking, cannot be “picked” (not a problem in a residential situation anyway), and are VERY expensive and bothersome to rekey. The primary thing they do for you is to prevent unauthorized duplication of the keys, which should not be a problem if you guard your keys properly! .The bottom line is that you can have your home rekeyed several times for the price difference between any quality lock and a high security lock. Remember, any reasonable quality lock properly installed will afford you more protection than the highest security lock improperly installed !!! (Note: Ottawa police several years ago cracked a ring of thieves who indeed were picking locks to gain entry. However, given the rarity of the situation, we still do not feel high security hardware is warranted in most residential applications – the obvious exceptions being the properties of collectors of stamps, coins, firearms etc, who should definitely take additional security precautions, as well as increasing their insurance coverage)


Horizontal or vertical deadbolts mounted on doors equipped with windows should be double keyed (key-locked on the inside as opposed to locked with a thumbturn). For those worried about fire exit, there are two options. First is to install a second double cylinder lock above the first, on the same key combination. Then simply use the original thumbturn equipped lock on the bottom during the day or evening, and lock both the locks when the house is empty. This then not only prevents the thief from breaking the glass, reaching in, and opening the thumbturn from the outside, but it also measurably increases the strength of the door against kick-in ! (A good solution provided you don’t mind that “New York” look !) Second, the glass in the door can be covered with a non-breakable plastic – on the outside, installed with one-way security screws that cannot be undone. Current purchase price for “Lexan” is about $8 per square foot, purchase price.(However, bear in mind that this material is plastic, scratches easily, and eventually turns milky from the ultraviolet rays of the sun). For all practical purposes, ordinary 1/4″ plexiglass will do just as well,and has the added advantage of being much less expensive. As well, modern doors equipped with double or triple paned windows , and / or doors with tempered glass are reasonably secure against glass breakage. (A far greater risk lies in the weak frames into which the deadbolt fits, since they can be so easily be kicked in !!)


Basement and other ground floor low-lying windows, and windows opening upon a fire escape are an easily accessible way into a home. The only real solution to this is to install security window bars. Some words of caution are in order here. Stay away from many of the pre-made, flimsy bars you find in hardware stores – many are a waste of money, and can give you a false sense of security, as they are easily compromised. For almost the same amount of money, there are versions available from established locksmiths, custom metal working firms, and security companies that are custom made and fitted to the window, and (very important) are properly anchored into concrete or strong wood studding. These need not be ugly – there are versions available that are quite attractive – but stay away from the very fancy designs. These are more expensive and can be flimsy if not properly designed, due to the filial decoration inherent in that design. Secondly, any window covering an area used as a sitting room or bedroom should be equipped with window bars mounted on the inside that can be opened. A key for any associated padlock should be hung down below the window, out of sight and out of reach of the window, preferably accompanied with a decal clearly indicating its use. A replacement key should be put away for safekeeping in case of loss of the original. If more than one window is padlocked, all padlocks should be on the same key. Also, be sure to obey the fire regulations in your particular area (including smoke detectors ). Nothing you own is worth the price of the life of a loved one trapped in a bedroom during a house fire!!


If you do not wish to go to the expense of professionally installed bars (average $60 and up per window, or $8 – $10 per square foot of coverage), there is a “home handyman” solution available. This is to cover the window with several bars made of 1 inch waterpipe, no more than 6 inches apart, with each pipe secured into the stud on either side of the window with attaching screws, or cemented into the concrete itself. This affords a low cost, non-removable solution to securing those windows not often opened. In my opinion, such a solution is far superior to the flimsy bar arrangements sold in stores for $15 to $25 each. (Note: Since this article was first written, there are now bar arrangements available that you can purchase from outlets like Home Depot for about $30 to $50 a set. While still not the quality of custom bars, they are not too bad, and will do the job adequately!)


We are often asked which window designs are more secure than others. In the newer homes built in the last few years, casement windows are common. These wind out with crank handles on the bottom, and lock with small pull down clamps along one side. These are relatively secure, and can only be forced open by significant effort with a crowbar or like tool. Generally, horizontal sliding windows are much more prone to forced entry, with the older “glass on wood frame” Pearson windows the absolute worst in terms of security (and heat retention).


Recently, young thieves have begun to access homes through windows left open on second floors of the home. This is a potential risk if the window is accessible above a verandah or garage roof. Keep them locked at all times when they are not in use. Block sliding windows with tight fitting pieces of wood, and (where possible) with screws above the window in the track to keep the window from being lifted out. In some cases , where the window is a double slider, the outside sliding half of the window must be actually screwed shut to prevent it being opened. This will restrict you to opening the window using only the other inside portion of it, which you can then block, with a tight fitting stick in the inside track.


Patio doors are another high risk access to the home. The simple solution is to block the moveable patio door from being pryed up and out of its track by putting screws into the frame above the door where it sits when it is in its closed position. (Check the non removable door to ensure it is truly that !) Then install a “swingdown” bar across the non-removable door on the inside that blocks the removable door from being forced open. A tight fitting stick in the track will do almost as well, but the bar being visible will discourage them from prying on the door and damaging it, before they notice the stick in the track ! Also be aware that some thieves have learned to use a notched paint scraper to slip the wood out of its track from the outside). Make sure the bar you purchase is compatible with the type of door frame on the patio door – aluminum, wood, or plastic – since you can’t screw very well into plastic (or use very short screws that now come with one brand called a “charlie bar”) Wood and metal doors can take advantage of bars held in place with screw-secured brackets, while plastic framed doors generally should use “friction fit” bar arrangements (with the exception noted).  Regardless of the bar installed, it must be kept tight at all times to continue to be effective. The commercial bar being visible, may deter them from prying on the door when they don’t see the stick in the track (These patio doors are expensive, and if they are damaged, you will be asked to pay the amount of your insurance deductible – often as much as $500)


We are often asked the best way to secure a cottage against break in. Considering that most cottages are isolated, it it almost impossible to prevent robbery – especially during the winter months – by thieves accessing these areas by snowmobile. During the summer months, a lockable chain gate can in many instances provide a very slight amount of extra security, by preventing thieves from driving directly up to your cottage. The best advise I can give is simply not to leave anything in the cottage which you can’t afford to lose. If you must leave valuables, take great care to hide them well (such as in an attic). Alarm systems are only useful if there is a neighbour present to hear the horn. Even if police are called, response time will be significant by which time they are long gone. The best you can hope is the alarm horn will scare them away. Realistically, they may well feel they have the time to disable the system due to the remote location of your cottage.


Today it is increasingly common to have small business ventures co-located in the home. Typically a business will have a PC , Talets, Laptops, and data systems , all of which are prime targets for thieves. If the business is located in the basement, ensure that basement windows are covered with blinds at all times so that people looking in cannot see expensive office equipment. The old saying “out of sight, out of mind” applies here.You may want to consider fixing the CPU to the desk with equipment commercially available at computer stores. Remember to back up your hard drive files to ensure you are not out of business if equipment is stolen, and to protect the privacy of your customers. Inexpensive storage solutions make it very easy to do this today. Don’t keep the backups anywhere they can easily be found or picked up during a robbery. Data encryption software, or a simple password required for access to your hard drive, adds some small measure of security against misuse should your customer data be stolen. Be aware that in the Ottawa area, computer theft is rampant, so take special care in regards to guarding these prime target items.


Walk around your home on the outside pretending to be a burglar assessing the risks of breaking in!! You will quickly see the areas that require attention to decrease the risks to you. Follow your instincts and attend to them right away. Human nature being what it is, if you procrastinate, chances are one day you will be saying to yourself “I should have done that before they broke in….!!” (Keep in mind that statistics show that fully one third of break-in’s are through kicking in the weak front doors of most new homes; one third are via entry through basement windows, and the remaining one third are through unlocked doors …..!!!!!!)


The next  steps to take, and the last ones in order to consider, are in the area of Electronic Security