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Burglar-proofing your home

When we were kids the milkman delivered milk bottles to our doorstep. A produce truck stopped in front of our home at least twice a week. It was always loaded with farm-fresh fruits and vegetables. Best of all, we never found it necessary to lock our front door. Friends and family would knock and then walk in, "Hello, are you there?"

Things, it seems, have changed. Today, leaving a door unlocked can be dangerous. The need for home security has become a necessary part of our lives. Last year more than 4 million residences were burglarized. Folks with home security systems are 15 times less apt to be burglarized than families without them. Doors are the first place that burglars try. So, invest in strong doors with even stronger locks. Don't rely on latch that can be opened with a knife or credit card.

Key-locks on sliding windows are good deterrents, but they're expensive. Drilling a hole through both middle frames and inserting a steel pin is almost as effective. A broomstick in the sliding door track is another inexpensive locking method.

When you're going to be away from home for a while, don't leave on just one or two lights. Purchase small timers and connect them to several lights and preset them to turn on and off at irregular intervals. This gives the house a lived-in look. And, be sure to have ample exterior lighting. Burglars use the dark to cloak their activities.

When you're away from home for an extended period of time, your neighbors can be your best allies. Encourage them to report irregularities to the police. Point out your special concerns to them. For example, some homes give crooks more opportunity for entry than others. A second-story deck, a walk-out basement and windows or doors behind shrubs are just a few examples of areas where special attention is prudent. You can offer the same courtesy to your neighbors. Have them pick up your mail, newspapers and other parcels left at your door or have the post office hold your mail and have your newspapers held by the carrier.

With or without an electronic security system, these precautions will help to reduce the chances of burglary in your home. Both of our homes, incidentally, have perimeter and internal systems including window and door sensors, motion detectors, pad detectors, smoke detectors and heat detectors. Remote controls are also available that activate the alarm with the push of a button. If you are considering an alarm system, there are two basic guidelines that will help you decide how to configure it. If protection while you are at home is critical, monitoring the perimeter is important. If protection while you are away is your primary concern, interior motion detectors will do the job. Pad and motion detectors can be activated by small animals. So, pets need to be a consideration as well when designing the system that's right for your home. And speaking of pets, most burglars avoid houses where a dog can be heard barking.

Beware of door-to-door repairmen. They may be con artists casing your home for a future burglary.

When enlisting the services of a repairman, make sure that he is licensed (where required), and get more than one estimate. Be sure to do a background check on the business. Check for a permanent business address (not a post office box), at least three trade references, bank references and, most important, references from previous customers. When working around the house, lock windows and doors. A quick entry and exit by a skilled burglar while you are in the backyard pulling weeds can net him a VCR, stereo, television and assortment of other easy-to-grab valuables.

Finally, make sure that your lawn is mowed regularly. Tall grass serves as camouflage for burglars. Thick shrubbery, tall brush and other landscaping should be thinned and well illuminated.

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James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.

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