Home Security Upgrades For the Holiday Season

Dec. 4, 2011

Dec. 04--The holidays are a time of good cheer, giving thanks and heightened vigilance since the pace at which burglaries occur tends to pick up at this time of year.

Last year, burglaries jumped by 27 percent from 410 in November to 520 in December, according to Albuquerque Police Department crime statistics.

Common sense precautions are key to reducing the odds of your house -- and your gifts -- becoming the target of a break-in, said Steve Sink, manager of the APD Crime Prevention Unit. Steps as simple as locking doors and securing windows are important.

"A lot of residential burglaries involve nonforced entry," Sink said. "That means somebody left a door unlocked or a window open."

The bottom line is that improving the security of your family and worldly possessions doesn't have to cost you your holiday budget. Peace of mind can range anywhere from a few dollars for an upgraded deadbolt and strikeplate to a few hundred for iron bars or a full electronic security system.

Iron-clad security

A popular layer of home protection is security iron screen doors and window guards, which have deep roots in the culture of New Mexico.

"I bet Albuquerque spends the most per capita on ironwork in the country," said Ryan Bogue of familyowned Action Security Iron Inc. "It's one of the few pockets in the country where it's so widespread."

In most metros, security iron on residences is usually associated with inner city and so-called "war zone" neighborhoods, thus it carries a stigma of high crime rates. But it's a common sight in Albuquerque and elsewhere in New Mexico.

"Iron working is one of our artisan crafts dating back hundreds of years," said Matthew Rembe, a specialist in Spanish colonial art and executive director of Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm.

For those who could afford it, iron grates on windows provided security on the untamed frontier, he said. Architect John Gaw Meem incorporated iron work prominently in his designs in the early to mid 1900s, although not as grates on windows.

Security iron was used as much for ornamentation as it was for protection in the 1940s and 1950s, before gradually taking on its utilitarian role in home security in the 1970s, Bogue said.

"Ironwork is a physical barrier," he said. "If you have a security door and window guards, even if the thieves have tools, you'll have time to dial 9-1-1 and run or load your gun."

The cost of a security screen door starts at about $400 installed from a local security iron company, Bogue said. You can get an imported security screen door from a home improvement store chain for about $300 installed.

Fixed window guards start at about $75 installed for a standard-sized window, while a bedroom window guard with an emergency exit starts at about $150 installed.

"The trend in the past 10 years has been not as many window guards, but certainly a lot of gates and doors," Bogue said.

He attributed the decline in popularity of window guards to the vastly improved windows available today compared to the extremely vulnerable casement windows that were once the standard in Albuquerque.

Sounding the alarm

Security alarm systems are another layer of protection, with the small sign typically posted in front of the house serving as the visible deterrent to would-be burglars.

Nine out of 10 new systems installed in the Albuquerque metro area are monitored, said Tim Lease of the family-owned Modern Security Systems Corp. Monitored systems are those where a private company keeps watch 24/7, alerting police if something goes wrong and you cannot be contacted.

Monitoring subscriptions can run from month to month or up to 36 months, the website Homesecurity. org says, advising that you should obtain multiple quotes to get the best value. Monitoring costs about $25 a month and up.

If you sign a contract, make sure you know the financial costs of early cancellation if you are not happy. Many security companies place limits on their liability if a break-in occurs, even through their negligence.

As far as the cost of the system itself, Homesecurity. org says buying a system starts at $400 to $500 for a 1,200-square-foot home, plus the monthly monitoring charge.

If you own a home in the Albuquerque metro area built within the last 20 years or so, there's a good chance it was prewired for a security alarm system, Lease said. Check the master bedroom closet to see if there's a blank plate on the wall at switch height and an electrical outlet below -- that's the giveaway.

If you lease a system, start-up expenses range from zero to $99, plus the costs of a monitoring package, Homesecurity. org says. Start-up systems usually provide security alarms on a limited number of doors and no windows. Companies make money when the homeowner adds to the limited start-up system.

Alert neighborhood

Of course, home security starts at the doorways to your house.

"Statistically, the door kick is the most common means to break into a house," Sink said.

An easy -- and inexpensive --way to improve the security of doors is to replace the short screws, typically 2 inches, that secure the deadbolt strike plate to the door jamb with longer four-inch screws. Or install a heavier-duty strike plate that requires four or more screws instead of the standard two screws.

"That slows them down and may even prevent a break-in," he said.

But the most fundamental safeguard against home break-ins and related property crimes is one's neighbors, Sink said.

"All the legitimate members of our community need to look after one another," he said. "Be aware of what's going on in your neighborhood and report suspicious behavior. A crucial part to all of this is trusting your instincts, like when you see something that makes you go, 'Hmm, that's strange.'"

The Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this story.

Home security on the cheap ...

Kicking in a door is the most common means of entry in a home burglary. As a result, strengthening doors, or more particularly, the strike plates on door jambs, is key. Gary Brunk of Sandia Safe & Lock in Nob Hill offers these pointers:

Check to see if there is a gap between the door trim and door frame or stud. If there is, a piece of lumber must be cut and installed to fill the gap. Otherwise, strike plate screws are fastened into just the trim and, if the screws are long enough, a little bit of the door frame for a weak connection.

Replace the pair of standard 2-inch screws in a basic residential deadbolt strike plate with longer 4-inch screws for added strength. Cost is pocket change.

Upgrade to a longer deadbolt strike plate with four 3- to 4-inch screws, which cost in the $7-$8 range.

Upgrade further to a metal box with a strike plate, where the dead bolt goes into a metal box for additional resistance to a kick. Cost is $12.50. Installation requires drilling and chisel work.

Upgrade to an 11-inchlong, double-security strike plate for both the deadbolt and door knob. Typically comes with 8 or 9 longer screws and costs in the $15-$20 range.

On the hinge side of the door, replace one of the 2-inch screws in each hinge into the jamb with longer 4-inch screws.

... and the not as cheap

Iron work on windows or doors: $75 to $400 per unit.

Security alarm system: $400-$500 installation fee, plus monthly monitoring charge.

Copyright 2011 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.