10 Ways to Keep Burglars at Bay Without a Security System

Watchdogs come in all shapes and sizes. Roland Kokke/Shutterstock

Tis the season for residential break-ins!

But with a bit of commonsense — and maybe the assistance of a miniature poodle, a well-placed rose bush and a cheeky doormat — it doesn’t have to be. For those who may not see the need or who may not have the funds to pay for professional installation of an expensive home security system or for those who aren’t looking to transform their homes into an impenetrable fortress of paranoia, there are plenty of practical and budget-friendly ways to protect yourself against burglaries not just during the holidays but throughout the year. Here are 10 of them.

1. Invest in smart EDs

An LED light bulb against a blue background
Smart LED bulbs can be turned on with an app from your phone or tablet, making it a breeze to make it seem like you're home when you're on the road. Kostsov/Shutterstock

Creating the illusion that you’re home (when in fact you’re gallivanting around the Mexican Riviera for 10 days) can be just as effective at repelling burglars and other unsavories than an expensive alarm system or a well-trained Rottweiler. In addition to saving homeowners money on monthly electric bills, smart LED light bulbs can be remotely turned on and off via smartphone, tablet or computer whether you’re at work, stuck in traffic or out of town for a few days. And with most smart LEDs, you can program the lights to change on a schedule, which has the potential to really throw off would-be burglars — provided that they haven’t noticed that no one has come in or out the front door in several days.

And if remotely turning on and off light bulbs with an iPhone is just too technologically advanced for your frazzled brain, you should, at the very least, consider investing in a motion-activated exterior floodlight or connecting other exterior lights such as porch lights to a timer switch. Or, you could recruit your kindly retired neighbor to come and manually turn lights on and off — and water the plants and bring in the mail — while you’re away, because a porch light left on 24/7 and an overflowing mailbox can be an open invitation for break-ins.

2. Get a dog

Chihuahua bares its teeth like a guard dog
Don't let his tiny size fool you: dogs of any kind can be a burglary deterrent. Eric Isselee/Shutterstock

When most folks think of canines in the context of home security, they think of German shepherds, Rottweilers or Doberman pinschers. While these breeds are certainly capable of scaring off potential burglars if trained to do so, you don’t necessary need to enlist a proper guard dog to protect your home. Many burglars will steer clear of homes where any sort of dog resides, be it a Brussels Griffon or a Bullmastiff, because dealing with one can be unpredictable, time-consuming and complicated. And while small breeds like Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds don’t exactly scream “vicious attack dog,” they do make for excellent watchdogs that can make a whole lot of noise — read: horrible, incessant yapping — if they sense that something nefarious is afoot.

If caring for a canine companion/four-legged security system isn’t in the cards but you still like the idea of protecting your home with one, there are numerous types of electronic watchdogs on the market, motion-activated alarms that emit barking noises. Plus, you should never underestimate the burglar-deterring power of a well-placed dog bowl that reads “Killer.”

3. Leave your car in the driveway

A row of houses with cars in the driveways
A car in a driveway is an additional layer of security for your home. Daniel Krylov/Shutterstock

Many folks, particularly those with driveways and carports instead of proper garages, feel safer leaving their cars in a secured airport parking lot when traveling and for good reason: Leaving a car, particularly one without an alarm, unattended for several days in a driveway may make it a potential target for auto theft and vandalism. At the same time, a car sitting in a driveway can add an additional layer of home security by warding off burglars who automatically assume that a car parked in the driveway means that someone is home.

And then there are online booking services like ParkatmyHouse that enable traveling homeowners to temporarily rent out their driveways to those who desperately need them (i.e. the guy who works down the street who you always see circling the neighborhood in search of non-metered street parking). Not only does ParkatmyHouse provide absentee homeowners with a source of additional income, but also provides the “added feeling of security that having a car in an empty driveway brings.”

4. Lock and secure windows and doors

A deadbolt on an isolated white background
A deadbolt is an easy way to help secure your home. You Touch Pix of EuToch/Shutterstock

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many homeowners neglect to take this most basic step in home protection (an estimated 40 percent of break-ins occur without the use of force), so if you’re going to forgo an electronic security system, use those deadbolts, latch those windows tight and place a strong dowel or rod on the back track of your sliding glass doors if you have them.

And if your windows are due for replacement, consider smart, security-minded window options such as Verilock. A collaboration between leading window and door manufacturer Andersen and Honeywell, the Verilock system includes tiny, battery-operated wireless sensors that are integrated into a range of Andersen windows and doors. If a door or window is left unlocked (or left open), the homeowner is alerted immediately via smartphone or tablet. In addition to security, a much-welcomed bonus of the Verilock system is energy savings, as a locked window is more efficient than an unlocked one.

5. Don't showboat

A box for a 42-inch TV sits in a cluttered living room
First, don't put this TV near a large window. Second, discreetly dispose of the box instead of just tossing it by the curb. Jamie McCall/flickr

Another rather obvious, common-sense-y addition to the list: If you acquire a bunch of super-expensive electronics or what have you, don’t go shouting it from the rooftops by putting them in a conspicuous, easy-to-spot area of your home like in the front window. If you do, a potential burglar may consider the flaunting as an open invitation. But seriously, you wouldn’t leave a diamond tennis bracelet and a Birkin bag sitting unattended on a Starbucks counter, would you?

Even if you aren’t in the habit of installing ginormous, visible-from-the-sidewalk flat-screen TVs in your living room, it doesn’t hurt to be discreet when publically disposing of boxes or packaging that may scream “I just bought a whole bunch of pricey stuff from Best Buy and Neiman Marcus.”

6. Mind your landscaping

A home with plenty of shrubs and trees in the yard
You don't want your yard to become a jungle, but you also don't want your otherwise perfectly placed shrub to block eye lines to doors and windows. karamysh/Shutterstock

While thorny bushes, plants with barbed leaves and rose beds strategically placed under windows may deter burglars who didn’t bother to bring their gardening shears along with them for the job, homeowners should be mindful not to let their back and front yards turn into overgrown jungles as it will provide unsavories with additional cover if they decide to hide out on your property. Keep hedges, shrubbery and large ornamental plants thinned out — doors and windows should be left visible to the street — and keep a special eye on any trees branches that, however lovely and privacy-providing, may provide burglars with easy access to second- or third-story windows.

And if you plan to go out of town for an extended amount of time, don’t let that immaculately groomed patch of turf out front get out of control. Career burglars that consistently patrol the same neighborhood(s) may take notice if a normally well-manicured lawn is looking a little neglected, so hire a landscaping company or recruit a friend to mow your lawn while you’re traveling.

7. Place security system signage around your property

An ADT security sticker in a window
Even if you don't actually have the security system in place, a decal or sign may make home invaders think twice. Mr.TinDC/flickr

You don’t have to have an expensive actual security system installed to ward off potential burglaries but you can use plaques, decals and yard signs alerting bad guys to the presence of one. This extremely budget-friendly method (most of these signs will cost you only a few bucks) of protecting your home isn’t foolproof — some career burglars who take the time to case out your home may call your bluff — and won’t win you any points in the yard décor department, but most burglars won’t bother if they think that your home is armed with a security alarm.

Similar, low-cost items to consider along these lines are dummy security cameras — how about one that doubles as a birdfeeder?

8. Place a mannequin in your window

A female woman sits on a couch next to a male mannequin
Mannequins may make would-be burglars think that someone is always home. Alan Bailey/Shutterstock

Like security system decals prominently displayed without the presence of an actual security system, experienced/non-idiotic burglars may call your bluff if you place a mannequin or dummy in a window while you’re traveling for long stretches of time. In fact, it may attract them instead of repel them ("Hey Vinny, there’s a lady wearing a nun habit and pink novelty sunglasses in the upstairs bedroom window that hasn’t moved in five days ... these people obviously aren’t home...").

Still, this method has proven successful for some folks including this Detroit homeowner who, in addition to guard dogs, security lights and bars on his windows, has placed CPR dummies dressed as gang members in visible spots of his home as an addition level of protection. “A car will come by and they pick my place because I keep it nice. They'll slow down, see the dummies and take off. They come back around and look again. Eventually if they figure out they are dummies, they are also figuring out that now they're being watched. They keep moving. They don't stop,” the homeowner tells KARE News.

9. Accidentally leave your youngest son at home by himself while you go on a family vacation to Paris

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Although inadvertently abandoning her 8-year-old son during the holidays resulted in a great amount of emotional distress for Kate McCallister of Winnetka, Ill., just think of what would have happened if precocious booby trap enthusiast Kevin had actually made it on that plane to Paris with the rest of his family — the McCallisters would have returned from Europe to a burglarized home and a floode basement!

While we’re not suggesting that you actually re-create the plot of “Home Alone” as a means of deterring potential burglars during the holiday season, you got to give props to young Kevin’s creative yet sadistic methods of defense while experiencing invasion carried out by two bumbling crooks: A BB gun to the groin and forehead, a blowtorch to the scalp, a burning doorknob, a flying paint can, a toilet filled with lighter fluid, a falling steam iron and strategically placed nails, Micro Machines and shattered glass Christmas tree ornaments. Also, a tarantula. “You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?”

10. Invest in a theft-deterring doormat

And finally, here’s a very well spent well spent well spent $50 that could change everything.