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3. Break In TimeOne of the most important areas to use time against a thief is in break in time. Burglars generally don’t want to spend more than a minute breaking into your house, especially if they’re out in the open. It’s also your last chance to keep them out of your home.
Over a third of forcible entry attempts fail before the burglars get into a home, so this is a good area to spend some time on.
Harden the Target
Once you’ve forced a thief to break something to enter your home, the next step is making it harder to break in, called “hardening the target.”
How you do that depends on your resources and imagination. There are lots of resources available on the internet and at your local police crime prevention unit to help you. Below are lots more ideas.
Remove Tools from Your Yard
Most thieves do not bring their own tools, because they don’t want to be caught walking around with them. If they do bring tools, they may not be the ones they need.
Look around your yard for “tools” that a thief could use to get into your house. Any tools lying around should be kept locked up, especially axes, sledgehammers, shovels, etc..
Think like a thief. Decorative stones sized between a brick and a cinder block are convenient for thieves to break windows and door locks. Thick pieces of lumber or firewood can be used as a battering ram to break open your door or garage door.
Door Jamb Reinforcement
53% of burglars enter through a door, and the most common forcible entry is to kick in a door. Doors should get a lot of your attention.
I kicked in a door myself once (shown in the picture) and found that this is remarkably easy. I had left some tools in my detached garage that I needed on a job site. On our lunch hour a friend drove me there, but when we arrived I remembered that I had left my garage keys in my truck. It was a 25 minute drive back to the job site and I didn’t feel like wasting another hour driving back and forth to get my keys. I had been meaning to reinforce the door jamb anyway, so I tried kicking the door open.
Even though it had a deadbolt, it opened on the first kick. The kick popped out the strike plates for the deadbolt and door knob, splitting the door jamb where the strike plate screws went. This is pretty common. The jamb was so weak that kicking in the door didn’t damage the door or locks at all. After the deadbolt hole is drilled in the jamb, there just isn’t much “meat” left there to hold the deadbolt.
You can see from the pictures that the deadbolt extends through the strike plate into the door jamb, which is 3/4″ thick wood. There are a couple studs in the door frame, but most strike plates are installed with screws that only go into the weak 3/4″ jamb.
Even if the screws do go all the way into the door frame, there is an air gap in between the jamb and frame used to shim and adjust the door. The strike plate is just too far away from the studs in the wall to make the door jamb strong enough.
A number of companies make door jamb armor, which replaces the strike plates with a single steel plate running nearly the entire height of the door jamb.
In a kick-in, the deadbolt and door lock hit the door armor, which spreads the force out along many feet of the door jamb. The door jamb armor is screwed all the way into the door frame with many screws, instead two short screws of the strike plate.
The same problem of door jamb reinforcement goes for sliding glass doors, which are notoriously easy to break into. The sliding door lock usually latches by a hook sliding into a slot in relatively thin aluminum jamb. It can be ripped right out. Many of these doors can be pried off their tracks as well.
One of the simplest security devices for these types of doors is a Charley Bar. I’ve cut 1″ wooden dowels and dropped them in the track for this purpose, and also lived in an apartment that had this particular one already installed, which worked really well.
Door Lock Reinforcement
Once the door jamb is secure, the next part to worry about is the vulnerable area between the locks and edge of the door. Even new steel faced security doors like the one in the picture are vulnerable to the deadbolt ripping out of the door.
Door reinforcers can help hold your door together. The best type clamp under the dead bolt and wrap around the front, side, and back of the door.
They’re available in a number of finishes including white, brass, nickel, stainless steel, and even antique brass.
Screw Your Hinges Into the Door Frame
Most doors come pre-hung with short screws that only sink into the wood of the door jamb (usually only 3/4″ thick). Usually these screws are never replaced with longer ones. The hinges should be screwed through the door jamb into the wall studs for strength and security, especially on exterior doors. Doing so also helps with many common door problems caused by loose hinges. The tiny original screws on the closet door in the picture pulled loose right after I put a hinge pin doorstop on it.
For exterior doors, buy some corrosion resistant flat-head Phillips screws, 2.5″ or longer (galvanized, stainless, or brass). Remove the hinge screws one at a time, and replace them with the bigger ones. For screw holes near the outside of the door jamb, make sure to aim the screws inwards towards the stud (you may need to pre-drill them).
Door ReinforcementOnce the door jamb, locks, and hinges are reinforced, the next part that will fail is the door itself. If you’ve been meaning to update your doors, do so. It will be cheaper than a gun safe and help keep all of your valuables secure, not just your guns.
Install Security Window Film
But once your doors are resistant to kick-in, the next thing to worry about is your windows. After doors, the next most common area of forcible entry is a first floor window at 23% (second floor windows are 2% of forcible entries).
3M and a number of other companies make security window film which is remarkably strong at resisting break in.
They also offer security films for enhanced privacy that make it harder to see in your house, and tinted window films that can keep you home cooler in the summer. Tinted films may make the project tax deductible as an energy saving home improvement.
This video is a little long winded, but around 4:30 it shows attacks to a window by throwing a cinder block at it, hitting it with a baseball bat, and later hitting it with an adjustable pipe “monkey” wrench.
Here’s a real security video showing a store window with this film getting attacked.
If you have old fashioned multi-lite windows with multiple panes of glass, security film may not be as much help. The muntin or interior wood frame between the individual panes of glass adds another failure point. Also installing security film on all those panes will take longer, but it could help you if a thief tries to break a single pane to reach in and unlock the window.
If you get window security film, go with a name brand like 3M. Some of the generic products have problems with creases, scratches, foggy areas in the film which you’d then have to look at every day. A lot the cost of installing security film is labor, so using cheap materials that you might have to install twice could be a big time waster.
Upgrade Your Window Locks
Many windows have old locks on them that can be pried apart with a pry bar or don’t even line up and lock anymore. Replacing these locks with higher security versions is a great idea.
Secure Your Garage
After doors and windows, the next most common location of forcible entry is the garage. Garage doors are notoriously weak entry points.
The burglars who attacked this gun safe with a Sawzall got in through the garage door in the middle of the day. They opened the garage door in seconds using a coat hanger and a garage door emergency release attack similar to the one in the video below. The gun safe was in the garage, so they sawed it open and left with the guns after only a few minutes.
Just putting a cable tie (Panduit) on that latch can prevent this type of attack.
Other ways to secure your garage door are:
- Lock the door between your garage and house when you leave
- Change your wireless garage door opener code
- Put your garage door opener on a switch that you can shut off when you’re on vacation
- Board up the windows on your garage door or put tinted security film on them
- If your garage door is old anyway, get a better one
4. Finding Your Valuables
Once a thief is inside your home you want to make it take as much time as possible to find your valuables. The better you hide your valuables the more likely he is to leave without your good stuff.
If he’s just looking for valuables, he will probably grab as many things as he can find in a few minutes and leave. That is, unless he sees something worth staying for like a gun safe. If the thief knows ahead of time that you have guns, he may keep looking until he finds them.
Don’t Put Valuable in Commonly Burglarized Places
Look at the most common places burglars look and avoid storing things there.
Locate Your Gun Safe Intelligently
Put your gun safe in a location that makes it less vulnerable to thieves. More on this in the next article Where to Put a Gun Safe.
Buy a Tool Box Instead
If you’re looking at gun safes, avoid models that don’t have a UL 1037 Residential Security Container (RSC) rating as a minimum. These start around $800, or $1000 for made in the USA.
Maybe you don’t want to spend that much, just want something to keep your kids out, and/or realize you can’t afford the protection you want right now. If this is the case, a toolbox is a great choice.
Job Box or Gang Box style toolbox storage chests make great horizontal gun safes. They are cheaper than a gun safe because you don’t pay for useless cosmetic features like chrome handles. They will generally give you better protection for your dollar than a cheap gun safe, too.
Tools are a popular item for burglars so a toolbox isn’t an ideal hiding spot. But, it’s better than a gun safe which immediately says “guns inside!” A tool box is less conspicuous. Depending on the size, you even can load the toolbox it in your truck and take it to the range.
Make sure you bolt the tool box down or chain it to something for the same reasons as a gun safe. Also, as a reader pointed out, locks are the weak point of job boxes. Make sure to buy the best locks you can find. Also, a job box will probably not be the best choice for high humidity locations, even with a gun safe dehumidifier.
Toolbox storage chests are convenient too because they open up so you can see inside. They’re big enough too to leave your guns in the cases. When you want your gun just unlock it, grab your cases, and go.
If you ever upgrade to a gun safe you can use the tool box to lock up your tools, ammunition, use it to store your empty gun cases, or sell it in the classifieds for a decent return. You can probably find a used toolbox for cheap on online classifieds like Craigslist if you have time to wait.
A reader of this site took my advice and looked online for a toolbox. He found a few but then wondered, “What could I get today?” An hour later after a $250 trip to Home Depot he had the tool chest in these pictures, and is very happy with it.
No one notices it in his basement. If he gets a gun safe, he plans on using it for tools or empty gun cases. He’s also going to enclose and reinforce this part of his unfinished basement, making it into a closet gun safe big enough for his reloading bench.
Buy a Locker Instead
A school or military locker is often harder to break into than a cheap gun safe and are a lot cheaper. They have the added benefits of not looking like they have guns inside and are easy to camouflage.
Build a Hiding Spot into Your Home
Instead of a gun safe, you can build a spot in your house to store your guns like a false wall, floor, or ceiling panel.
One guy in a forum realized that the floor joists ran parallel to his bedroom closet. Instead of getting a gun safe he cut a 2′ x 4′ rectangle in the carpet inside his closet, cut the subfloor so it overlapped the joists, and built a box to store his guns between the floor joists. He mounted the carpet back to the section of subfloor, which made the carpet line hard to see when the hiding spot was closed. A couple pairs of shoes and boots on top made it very inconspicuous and easy to get to.
He said it worked so well that when he moved out he forgot to lock the door and the stuff he hadn’t moved yet got stolen. The thieves didn’t find his guns though, which were still in the floor. You can do a lot with some carpet, drywall, plywood, lumber, paint, hinges, magnet latches, cabinet locks, and other common hardware.
All it takes is some imagination and labor. It will be much cheaper than a gun safe and less likely to be found by burglars.
Build a Hidden Gun Safe
There is no limit to the ways you can hide your guns in plain sight. Look around your home and think of items which could be used to conceal your guns and valuables.
Whenever hiding your guns, make sure that you design something that is secure but can be accessed easily. An overly complicated hiding spot which takes too long to access won’t get used. And, you’ll wind up leaving your guns outside it defeating the purpose. Put some thought into this before you start building.
Also, some types of “hidden gun safes” are difficult to lock. If you have to control access to children, your options will be more limited.
One gun forum member’s father made a gun safe out of an old refrigerator. This was the type of refrigerator with a single door operated with a big latch and a small ice box inside. He removed the drawers and ice box, put some carpet and shelves inside, and installed a gun rack. After replacing the door latch with a key locking version, he put it in the basement utility room between the hot water heater and a real spare refrigerator so that it looked like it belonged there. You could do something similar with an old freezer chest.
Who steals clothes? That’s a question asked by Skinner Sight’s HTF Tactical Garment Bag. Hung in your closet, it looks like a mundane garment bag holding an old suit.
Open it up however, and you’ll find accommodations for a 40″ long gun, two handguns, 3 rifle and 8 pistol magazines, and also pouches for knives, flashlights, and accessories.
It also doubles as a way to conceal guns on the way to the range, and you could use it as a low-profile bug-out bag.
If you or your spouse are handy with a sewing machine, you could buy some ballistic nylon, elastic, and Velcro and custom make your own out of an old garment bag in your attic. Customize the interior for whatever you want, and you could add a locking zipper.
Hollowed out books are classic hiding spots. You can make one yourself to fit a gun, or buy one already made for you. Artists make books cut out to fit pistols from full size 1911’s to Glocks to the Ruger LCR. To find them, search for “book safe” on Etsy.com, a website where people sell homemade craft items. These usually go fast and are limited by the availability of large enough books. An artist might do a custom one for you if you ask, especially if you already have a big enough book.
Horizontal gun safes are convenient for storing long guns. You could hide and lock your guns in a horizontal filing cabinet with drawer labels like “Tax Returns 2003 to Present” or other place that thieves aren’t likely to look. Robust long horizontal filing cabinets with key locks can usually be found at Used Office Supply stores for a fraction of the original price. Most models sold at office stores these days are too flimsy and overpriced.
Hidden gun safes can be made from old wardrobes, armoires, chests, or other large pieces of furniture. Make a false back or bottom to it which will fit long guns and handguns. They’ll be much less likely to get the attention of a thief than a gun safe, and you can even lock them.
A bedside dresser drawer can be converted to a hidden gun safe by buying a UL 768 Group 1 electronic keypad and installing it so that it locks the drawer shut.
You can make a wall safe out of an old electrical panel by screwing it in your wall between the studs and getting a locking handle for it.
You could take an old water heater and rig the shell so that it slides up and down to reveal your guns inside. A water heater gun safe wouldn’t get a second look in your basement or closet.
I’ve also seen pictures of old soda vending machines turned into hidden gun safes.
You could remove the fold out bed from a couch and weld in a secure box using a UL rated electronic lock, hiding the keypad under an armrest.
For more inspiration, see these sites for ideas:
- 36 Sneaky Hidden Compartments
- Hidden Storage and Secret Compartments
- How to Make Secret Compartment Furniture
- New Jersey Concealment Furniture
Hide Your Gun Safe
Gun safes are pretty conspicuous. Instead of using it as a show piece, one of the best things you can do for security is to hide the thing.
An old refrigerator can be hollowed out so it fits around your gun safe. You open the door to the fridge and then unlock the door to the gun safe or gun cabinet.
One forum member picked up large boxes of feminine hygiene products at Costco. He cut them out to cover his gun safe. A burglar probably isn’t going to go rummaging around in an industrial sized tampon box.
You can make a fake wall, bookcase, or access panel that swings open to reveal the door of your gun safe.
A reader used a flatscreen TV to conceal the built-in area for his old tube TV. This type of area could easily conceal a handgun safe and other emergency supplies.
A flatscreen TV is mounted on a hinged wood frame which swings open for access to his ammo and shooting bags. A positive latch is hidden on the bottom right corner of the frame. The latch release protrudes through a small hole underneath. When closed, there is little evidence that anything is behind the TV. He’s since finished the molding and built out the back of the frame so it locks into the wall opening for strength.
Of course, a burglar may try to steal the TV and find the cache behind it. But you don’t have to use a burglar target like a TV for concealment. Given how common built-ins are in houses, the options are endless.
Even just putting your gun safe in a closet other than the master bedroom closet (which thieves are sure to check) can increase its security significantly.
You can conceal a wall gun safe with a framed picture or mirror hinged to the side as well.
Concealing your gun safe is a great option, but don’t do so at the expense of overall convenience. Put some thought into how quickly you’ll be able to gain access to the gun safe before you start building. If you’re planning on a hidden wall for example, a removable panel will get annoying and scratch up the wall when you set it aside. Instead attach the panel with hinges and magnet latches.
Lock Up Your Gun Safe
It may seem silly to lock up your gun safe, since your gun safe is supposed to lock people out all by itself. But if your gun safe is located in a closet or other room with a door on it, why not lock that door too?
This will serve two functions in helping to hide your gun safe, and keeping burglars out before they even know what’s on the other side of the door. A deadbolt and a solid core door between a burglar and your gun safe will add another layer of protection to your guns.
In most of these cases the hinge pins will be on the “wrong” side of the door, but that doesn’t mean you can’t secure the hinges anyway. You have lots of options:
- Replace the hinges with security hinges that have non-removable pins
- Replace the hinge pins with security hinge pins that screw to the door and are only removable with the door open
- Install a passive hinge jamb pin deadbolt between the door and jamb through a few hinge screw holes
The last option is the cheapest and works the same way that the fixed locking bolts on a gun safe keep the door closed even if the hinges are cut off.
To put a passive deadbolt between the door and jamb, first remove a matching pair of screws from both door and jamb in the middle of each hinge. Then install a HingeMate insert, hinge jamb pin, headless nail, or piece of all-thread deep into the screw hole of the door jamb, leaving it to stick out about 1″ to 3/4″. Finally drill out the screw hole on the door side. When you close the door, the deadbolt will fit into the hole in the door, holding the door on even if the hinge pins are removed.
A sign on the closet door like “Cleaning Products and Chemicals, Dangerous to Children, Please Keep This Door Locked” will also help act as a deterrent to anyone that might wonder “Why does this door have a deadbolt?”
Camouflage Your Gun Safe
If you can’t hide your gun safe, maybe you can camouflage it to make it look like something else. This will be easier if you get more utilitarian model with a locking lever instead of a multi-spoke locking handle. Alternatively, you can replace the multi-spoke locking handle with a lever yourself.
Did you save money by buying a beat up used gun safe or scratch and dent model? Paint it electrical cabinet gray and pass it off as an electrical closet.
Mount it in the corner of a utility room or closet and attach fake electrical conduit out the top and/or sides. A Danger Electrical Hazard sign on the front will complete the camouflage. You can conceal the lock on the front with a double gang junction box with a hinged cover. Or if you have an electronic keypad lock, you or a safe technician can move the keypad to a fake wall mounted junction box.
Or you can make your gun safe look like a chemical cabinet that stores pool chemicals, fuels, acids, reloading powder, pesticides, or something else that isn’t of value to most thieves. Paint your gun safe an appropriate color and include the proper signage.
Use a Decoy Cheap Gun Safe
If you’re worried that people know you have guns and someone may break in looking for them, try a decoy gun safe. Decoys are also one of the few solutions for a robbery situation where a thief is threatening if you don’t open the safe.
Get a substantial safe or gun safe to store your real collection and hide it well. Let few people know about this. Then get a decent cheap Residential Security Container gun safe or gun cabinet. Put it somewhere that is easy to find but won’t attract unnecessary attention, like the corner of your bedroom or closet. Store your lower quality guns in the decoy gun safe. An added benefit is that your rusty old barn shotgun and the .22 LR that grandma used to use to shoot crows off of the bird feeders won’t take up room in your expensive gun safe. If you want to put your ammunition in a gun safe, put it in the decoy safe so that it can’t ruin your good guns in a fire.
If someone breaks in, the decoy gun safe is likely to keep them busy. If they’re able to get inside they’ll probably leave with your crappy guns without finding the real stash.
If your spouse were to return from getting the mail with a gun to her head, you’re going to open the safe and hand over your valuables. With a decoy gun safe, if the robber is convinced with the contents, you have an extra chance of getting him to leave without finding your good stuff.
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