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According to the Central Statistics Office, in the past year over 26,000 burglaries took place in Ireland.

The first six months of 2014 alone saw almost 18,000 break ins and it’s during the winter months when days are shorter and darker that most of them happen. How can you keep your home safe from attack? Are your locks fit for the job intended and how are intruders breaking into our homes so easily?

The dark evenings make it easier for intruders to identify unoccupied homes and the Christmas and New Year period are, naturally, an added incentive for a forced entry. Burglars tend to go for what they view as easy targets – houses with no lights on, no alarm, or unsecured doors and windows. As a basic guide you should make sure all doors and windows are secure, even when you’re at home as there are many instances of goods being stolen even though the house was occupied at the time. Interestingly, burglars are most likely to break into a house through a rear window (28% of cases), followed by a front door (27%) and rear door (25%). Finally, don’t rush out without setting the alarm, a few seconds is all it takes.

Prevention better than cure
It sounds obvious to say so, but simple things like locking everything, including upstairs windows, at night, is a good first step to securing your home. Leaving a spare key, ‘somewhere handy just in case’, even if you think you’ve been clever about the location, won’t be smart enough to beat an experienced burglar, according to An Garda Siochana.

Security specialists recommend fitting timers to light switches and even to televisions or radios to make it appear the house is occupied and are an especially good idea if you plan on being away from home for a few days. Some modern timers can even connect to the internet using your home’s WiFi and be operated remotely from your smartphone, giving you an extra degree of peace of mind and control.

In rural areas, sensor lights and a monitored alarm shouldn’t be an option but a necessity. For people living alone, the Gardai recommend investing in a door chain and spy hole to see who it is without opening the door, and never allowing a stranger into your home. Asking trustworthy neighbours to keep an eye on your house when you’re away is also a good idea.

Home invasion
Intruders are employing innovative and unfortunately, more effective ways of gaining access to our homes. A recent development has been ‘fishing’ burglaries whereby the intruder uses long rods to steal car and home keys through the letterbox. Figures from the Garda show that around four burglaries every week now involve the use of adapted fishing rods or long bamboo canes to snag keys left on hallway tables. Hooks or powerful magnets are attached to the end of the rods to catch the unsecured keys, often left within a few feet of the front door. Gangs are then able to steal cars without triggering alarms or break into homes without smashing windows or doors.

Traditionally, an opportunist burglar spends three minutes trying to gain entry, and, if unsuccessful, moves on quickly. A new phenomenon, one that is not deterred by alarms and cameras, is the burglar who monitors his victims carefully, noting regular times of arrival and departure during the day and when rooms are used. They are equipped with all the tools needed to break and enter an average home and often steal to order.

Lock bumping and lock snapping
Lock bumping is a lock picking technique for opening pin tumbler locks using a specially-crafted bump key. Whilst locksmiths have always been aware of how it is possible to open a lock by dealing it a blow and turning it at the same time, recently burglars have developed their own DIY technique of cutting a special bumping key, which is inserted into the lock and struck with a blunt object whilst being turned.

Unlike other methods such as picking, lock snapping does not require experience, precision or skill, relying instead on sheer brute force. Using tools such as hammers or screwdrivers to snap the locks, it can take criminals just seconds to gain access. The locks most at risk of lock snapping are those with a Euro profile cylinder, popular in uPVC and composite doors installed in the last 15 years and operated in combination with a multipoint lock.

The security industry has developed products to counteract lock snapping burglars and advise homeowners to upgrade their cylinder to one that is specifically designed to prevent attacks and meets the TS007 standard. This is a security standard introduced in response to the growing threat of burglary as criminals’ methods of breaking in to homes become more sophisticated, and is the most robust of all. The standard uses a three star system in which the cylinder, or a combination of the cylinder and security furniture, must have an accumulative three stars to meet the minimum-security requirements.

Safe and secure
Without dismantling it, you can’t tell from the outside if your lock is at risk. Although this is fairly simple to do, you’re generally advised to contact the manufacturer for advice. A sash lock joins a latch and bolt and has a handle either side of a door, they are mainly fitted to back or side doors.

A sash lock should always have five levers when installed on an external door and carry the British Kitemark for the best level of security. Two or three lever locks should only be used on internal doors or those where a low level of security is required.

A night latch, which operates with a cylinder is placed on the outer rim of the door frame and when the door closes, the lock engages with the deadlock and requires a key to open. At night, if the snib is pushed up the deadlock cannot be opened by the key. The snib can also be used to lock the night latch in the open position. A good standard of lock will carry the BS 3621 rating. As a safety precaution, in the event of fire a spare key should be kept nearby.

External timber doors should be secured using a mortice lock and/or night latch that meets British Standard BS3621:2007 and if you have a uPVC or composite door then it is a good idea to upgrade the euro profile cylinder in your multi-point lock to the British Standard TS007 three star system as well, (look for the Kitemark on lock packs and on the lock itself).

It is important to note that locks that only have a BS TS007 1 star rating would need additional 2 star rated security handles or guards. Upgrading your cylinder locks to a snap-secure product is a simple four step job that should take no longer than five minutes and can save you around £30/€38 per lock. Note that it may be necessary to loosen the handle screws to take tension off the cylinder while removing or inserting the new lock.

  • Open the door and locate the fixing screw and unscrew it
  • Remove the fixing screw, insert the key and turn slightly, withdraw the cylinder by pulling on the key
  • Prior to fitting the new lock, insert the key and turn slightly to align the cylinder so that it can slide easily into place. Also ensure the side marked EXT is on the outside of the door.
  • Once in place, replace the fixing screw to secure. Finally make sure the new cylinder is operating correctly by locking and unlocking your door

This process is suitable for the majority of doors, the exception are French doors which require a professional. If you have an old uPVC door it is also recommended that a professional locksmith should perform the upgrade to advise on the quality of the door and the condition of existing security of the multi-point door bolt.

Windows and glazed doors
By tripping the catch from the outside with a knife blade or by removing enough glass to reach and release the catch, windows can provide a very simple point of access to a burglar. They are the most frequent point of entry during warm weather months and are left unlocked at a much higher rate than doors. An open window visible from the street may be the sole reason a house is targeted, and one with only a locked window screen is particularly inviting to thieves; access is quick, easy and silent.

All accessible windows should be fitted with key-operated window locks in addition to the latch. Wooden sticks or dowels work well with horizontal sliding windows whilst through the frame pins are appropriate for vertical windows. For ventilation, leave no more than a 4 – 6”/100 – 150mm window opening and make sure that it’s not large enough to allow someone to reach through to unlock the door or window.

Ground floor windows are the most commonly used points of entry but windows on upper floors accessible from flat roofs or drainpipes shouldn’t be neglected. It’s not particularly expensive to have window locks fitted and there is a wide range for every type of window to choose from including wood and those with metal, aluminium or uPVC frames. Basement windows are also an easy target since they’re low and usually well hidden. To prevent access, a steel bar can be wedged across the window or alternatively, a lockable metal grate can be installed.

One of the most vulnerable entry points of any home are sliding-glass doors. Burglars like them as they’re the easiest way to remove bulky or heavy items. Apart from smashing the glass, standard factory locks can often be opened with relative ease and even locked doors can be lifted off their tracks for a quieter break-in – one that can be done without tools. A flat-head screwdriver makes the job even easier. Two relatively simple methods of preventing or slowing entry are a wooden dowel jammed into the track to prevent the door from opening or a sliding bolt can be secured to the frame to prevent the door from moving even if it is lifted off its track.

The demand for better security of windows and doors has led to the industry responding with what are claimed to be the first, guaranteed, burglar proof windows and doors.

Locks – what should you use?
External Doors – All external entry doors should be fitted with good quality locks. Five lever locks provide the best protection against any type of forced entry.

On wooden doors, a mortice deadlock provides the best protection against all forms of forced entry including picking, drilling and hacksaw; it consists of a single bolt lock which is inserted into a hole, the mortice, which has been cut into the edge of the door. These locks are all the same size, meaning that an old two- lever mortice dead lock can be replaced by a new five lever model of the same size (with very little additional prep work). A five lever lock will cost more but provides better security than a two or three lever lock.

Door Viewers/Security Chains – A restraining chain – tested to TS003 – is a simple and low cost method to stop the “foot-in-the-door” or shoulder barge attack, whilst a door viewer allows you to identify your visitor before opening the door.

Checklist

  • Lock all windows and doors, even if only leaving the house for a few minutes.
  • Never leave keys in sight of or within easy reach of windows and doors and try to avoid obvious places such as a board on the wall.
  • Do not leave spare keys in a garden shed or garage.
  • Fit key operated locks to all windows
  • Fit – and use! a visible burglar alarm 
  • Leave lights and the radio on a timer for the evening if you go out and draw curtains if dark.
  • Secure your garden with a good fence, padlocked gate and locked garden shed.
  • Don’t leave tools or a ladder a burglar might make use of outside.
  • Valuable, easily lifted items like laptops, handbags and jewellery should not be visible from the window.
  • Do not leave cash, documents with your name, address or other personal details (such as a bank statement or bill) that fraudsters could use lying.
  • If going on holiday, arrange for a friend or neighbour to collect the post and put the bins out.

How to protect your home from burglars

  • Use a maximum security British Standard lock on your front and back doors and use more than one lock on them; a deadlock on the front door (to prevent burglars using it as an exit), and mortice security bolts on the back door.
  • Do not give a burglar the tools to break in (see above). Make sure sheds and garages are locked, burglars can also use wheelie bins and garden furniture for climbing, so secure these also.
  • Secure your windows as described earlier, especially any above a flat roof. Visible locks are a useful deterrent. Use curtains and blinds to make your front window and back windows difficult to see into.
  • Don’t leave a calendar showing appointments easily visible through the window!
  • Don’t give a burglar hiding places in your garden. Use motion-detection security lights and trellis on top of your walls.
  • Do your best to make your home look occupied when you’re out.

Locks are only as good as the door and the frame they are attached to, so keep them in good condition and buy the best you can afford.

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