Low-Cost Home Security Solutions

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Thanks to her stint in the military, Mary F. was used to moving around. However, after settling down in Texas and enduring the unpleasant experience of having her home robbed, she decided that feeling like a sitting target was something she didn't want to get used to. "I knew I had to do something, but as a single mom of two young kids I wasn't sure I could afford home security, so I shopped around."

Mary shopped for a week before deciding on an option that satisfied her needs, from both security and budget standpoints.

According to the FBI's "Crime Clock" statistics from 2008, property crime happened once every 3.2 seconds in 2008, and a burglary happened every 14.2 seconds. While automated security systems are becoming more of a standard for new homes, many homeowners have to make smart choices when it comes to securing their houses the right way.

This guide reviews several simple home security methods available to protect your family and home from invasion. And peace of mind may come cheaper than you think.

Lock up at all times

This may seem like common sense, but Louis Stilp, founder of LifeShield Home Security, says "Some people may neglect to lock their doors while they run out quickly to the grocery store or post office." He points to research from SuperHomeSecurity.com, which finds that 34 percent of burglars enter homes through the front door, and to an article from The Washington Post that states burglars spend an average of 8 to 15 minutes in your home. Leaving your door unlocked, even only for a few minutes, provides easy access to potential burglars. (Cost: $0.)

Keep the lights on

Dark homes make for easy break-ins and exits. Keeping the entrances and walkways to your home well-lit makes your residence a lot less appealing for burglars who are looking for an easy target. Light makes it much easier to identify a burglar, should a neighbor or passerby notice their misdeeds. Timer-based or motion-sensor lights are more energy-efficient and worry-free options, since they negate the need to remember to turn lights on at night. Motion-sensing lights also serve to startle anyone (or anything) that walks within range of the sensor. Installing these lights yourself will keep costs down, but having someone else install them for you raises the price tag of this option. (Cost: $50 to $400, plus minimal electric bill increase.)

Trim hedges and shrubs

That's right -- those bushes that surround your home can actually help you keep your home protected. Trimming hedges and shrubs might not appear to be anything more than an exercise in improving aesthetics, but keeping them low and well-groomed will eliminate hiding spots for any potential burglars. For homeowners who want to take this a step further, planting "defensive shrubs or thorny bushes" around your basement or ground-floor windows will make it "difficult for the bad guy to get through," according to Robert Siciliano, security consultant to ADT.com. (Cost: $0-$50.)

Put on a show

Making it seem like someone's home can go a long way to deterring burglars. This can be as easy as leaving some lights on when you're away and as strange as using a life-size cutout of yourself (or someone else) and placing it a few feet from a window. Other simple ways to give off the impression that the home is occupied include: leaving the TV or stereo on, making sure that a car is parked in the driveway, asking someone to pick up your daily mail and newspaper deliveries (or suspend the delivery of both) while you're away, and keeping your lawn maintained.
Though seemingly silly, putting up intimidating signs (mentioning video surveillance or menacing dogs, for example) can also help defend your home, even if what they say is untrue. Whether it's while you're away for an extended vacation or just during the day (when 80 percent of break-ins occur, according to a study conducted by The City College of New York and the University of Pennsylvania), taking these simple measures can help fake out burglars and stop potential break-ins. (Cost: $0-$75.)

Secure doors and windows

Alarms that play sounds (like a barking dog or a siren) when a door handle is jiggled, or alarm-sounding security bars that wedge under door handles, can also be effective deterrents against break-ins. Also, locking windows and installing brackets to prevent them from opening more than 6 to 10 inches can help protect your home, according to Siciliano. He also adds that using window film (which is often priced per square foot) can be an effective form of protection because it makes it difficult to break glass -- it also doubles as an energy saver. (Cost: $5 and up.)

Watch what you say (or tweet)

Some of the best ways to keep your home safe appear to have nothing to do with your house's security at all. For instance, be wary of what you share online, especially on social networking sites like Twitter. Many people tweet about where and when they're going on vacation, which is akin to shouting "Please rob me!" Off-line, don't reveal your first name on your mailbox or in the phone book, and don't leave a greeting on your voice mail or answering machine saying that you'll be away for a period of time. Sometimes, not doing certain things can be just as effective as taking measures to protect your home. (Cost: $0.)

After researching and calling some of the big home security companies out there, Mary chose to go with a wireless security system from LifeShield. She loved that it fit her budget and that no matter where the military next stations her, she can take her wireless home security system with her and knows that "no matter what city we are in, my family is safe."

Mary decided to go with one method, but no one has to limit themselves to just one option. As Thomas N. Davidson, a retired police officer, says, "The bottom line here is: Like putting on extra blankets when you are cold in bed, layer yourself in these prevention and deterrence techniques."
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