The Most Vulnerable Point in Your Home

On Thursday night, 1/26, a home in the northeast section of our neighborhood was broken into while the homeowners slept.  The entry point was the sliding glass door.

We all lock our deadbolts at night (I hope), and many of us lock our garage doors.  But how many of us have thought about entry via our sliding glass doors?

Sliding glass doors are typically found on the rear of homes, and this provides an excellent entry point for criminals for two key reasons:

  1. Stealth – Once a burglar is in your backyard, the likelihood of them being seen drops dramatically.
  2. Sliding glass doors were not designed to be secure.

To address #1, consider leaving your back light on.  Unfortunately, our houses are so close together that if you have a light bulb that does even a halfway decent job of lighting up your back yard, then you’re also doing a decent job of lighting up your neighbors’ houses, which can be an annoyance for them at night.  Consider replacing your back yard light fixture with one that allows you to direct the light to the yard, rather than in all directions.  If you’re going to change light fixtures, you might as well get one with a motion sensor.  Many models are available, including ones that are off entirely until motion is detected, and those that are on a dim setting, then increase in intensity with motion.  Be advised that changing an exterior light fixture does require an Architectural Change Request form.  I’m working with the Board of Directors to obtain broad pre-approval for exterior light fixtures that meet certain criteria, and will post more information here as that plan comes together.

You might also consider installing low voltage lighting in your back yard.  This lighting adds security, looks nice, and many systems use less power than your average motion detector flood lights.  There are even systems that are charged up by solar energy during the day, then run all night, with no wiring needed.  Solar powered landscape lighting generally doesn’t provide enough light to be useful for identifying people, but may still have a benefit as a deterrent.

You should also consider making it more difficult to access your back yard.  Consider putting a lock on your gate.  There are many inexpensive options available that still offer a good level of security.  I recommend a combination lock, so there is no key to lose.  I also recommend you make sure the lock is rated for outdoor use.  You may want to use a lock with a longer shackle (the metal loop that goes through the holes in the gate latch, so that the lock hangs down nicely, but most of these are keyed locks.  Ultimately it comes down to personal preference.  If a criminal wants in that badly, they’ll just jump the fence, so you don’t need a high security, pry-resistant, cut-resistant lock.  I bought a 4-number combination lock that offers the ability to set my own combination, and the lock itself has a vinyl coating around it to prevent corrosion.  I want to say it was under $10.  $10 to secure the “walls of your castle”?  I’d say it’s worth it.

To address #2, sliding glass doors are insecure by design, but thankfully, there are some easy steps you can take to improve the security of this point of entry.  Ever wonder what that little plastic clip in the door track is?  I hope you didn’t remove it, because that’s the only thing that prevents someone with a suction cup from lifting the door up in the track, then pivoting the bottom of the door out of the track (thing along the same lines as hanging a closet door), then removing it completely, granting them access to your home.  If you did remove it, fear not; it’s as easy as driving a screw up into the door frame, leaving enough of the screw exposed so that the door just barely clears underneath it.  This will prevent someone from lifting the door out of the track.

Now let’s deal with the latch.  The latches on sliding glass doors are hardly what I would call “secure.”  They’re relatively easy to manipulate from outside.  Thankfully, the solution here is just as simple.  A 4-foot section of wooden dowel can be bought for about $5 (Lowe’s and Home Depot carry this, as well as Fred Meyer, by the paint counter).  Cut the dowel to length (mine was 33″ or so), and place the dowel in the track.  Make sure to cut the dowel just a bit short, so you can easily place it in the track.  If the fit is too tight, it may be difficult to get the dowel in or out, and in the event of a fire, that could spell disaster.  I left about a half-inch gap between the door and the dowel, and it seems to work well.

If you’re put off by the notion of having to move the dowel every time you want to open the door, make it easier for yourself by eliminating the need to bend down.  Drill a hole through the dowel across its width, and attach a length of string between it and a hook you mount on the wall; one of those 3M command strip hooks would probably fit within the door frame itself, concealing the string from view, for those concerned about aesthetics.  For those with little ones, where lengths of string might not be a good thing to have laying around, consider a short length of string making a small loop (perhaps 2 inches across) and attach one of those sticks that you commonly see on horizontal blinds to adjust the angle.  Get creative here to find a solution that works for you.

There are also commercially available products, usually made out of aluminum, that usually mount part-way up the door.  Asking at a hardware store for an aluminum sliding glass door security bar should get you pointed in the right direction.

Lastly, being a large window, sliding glass doors are both vulnerable to, and appealing to criminals to just break the glass.  Federal law requires glass within 18″ of doors or floors to be tempered, which strengthens the glass somewhat, but it’s main purpose is to cause the glass to shatter into small chunks when broken, rather that large, jagged shards, reducing the chance of injury.  To increase your sliding glass door’d resistance to shattering, consider having a security film over the glass that will help prevent impacts from breaching the window.  (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/Window_Film/Solutions/Markets-Products/Residential/Safety-Security_Window_Films/)

The reality is that no home can ever be 100% secure.  The key is to make it difficult enough to enter your home that a burglar will decide it’s just not worth the effort.

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2 Comments »

  1. Yvonne Perry said

    I have installed a motion sensor light and a gate lock at the back about 6 months ago. It works exactly like you said. It lights up a good section of the back yard so we can see out when it is activated. I now I have to go through getting 4 of my neighbors to sign the form. It shouldn’t be a such a hassle to improve the neighborhoods safety. Now that these crimes have happened in our area maybe people wouldn’t complain about the lights turning on or being too bright and the Board can make an easier pre-approval so all the homeowners can get the much needed safety lights right away. How can you complain of some needed home safety lighting being irritating when it only benefits all of us in the end?

    • Agreed, Yvonne. There is a preapproval process that I’m trying to initiate with the board, so that exterior modifications can be made without having to file an ACC form. An example is the storm door that has been preapproved. If I can get preapproval for motion sensor lights, you’ll see me post about it here.

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