It’s easy to spend a lot of money on home security. According to FBI statistics, victims of burglary suffered an average of $2,799 in property losses in 2018 (the last full year for which data is currently available), so it’s only natural for some homeowners to make a huge investment in securing their home. But the good news is you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on technology to make your home safer and more secure. After all, $500 will go a pretty long way with one of our picks for the best cheap home security systems of 2020 — many of SimpliSafe’s device packages, for instance, cost less than $300 as of this writing.
Here are a few additional DIY ways to get started on home security with $500 or less.
“Surprisingly, when we do assessments, we find a lot of people in $20 million homes who still leave a key under the doormat,” says longtime independent security consultant Michael Silva. “Don’t do this,” he says. “It costs you nothing, and it’s one of the easiest things you can do.”
If you’re prone to lockouts, Silva suggests “spare keys, if needed,” adding, “[the keys] should be left with a trusted neighbor, family member or friend who can bring them to you when you’re locked out.”
Cameras and systems are available in all shapes and sizes, but even before getting into that level of security, Silva recommends starting “with the physical stuff.” Getting a good lock, reinforcing door frames and windows, adding interior protections — all of these go a long way toward stopping burglars. Even some of the best smart locks cost less than $100 these days.
“Most of the people [breaking into homes] . . . really aren’t concerned about consequences,” Silva says. When it comes to newer digital devices like Ring, he says they’re helpful. “They’re good for allowing the homeowner to assess who’s at the door before they come to or open the door,” he says.
Secure doors and locks are key. Silva recommends replacing existing exterior lock sets with heavy-duty lock hardware. For the best security, Silva says, “Consider using high-security lock cylinders like ASSA or Medeco to reduce the risks of picking, bumping, and unauthorized key duplication. You can get a good, high-quality deadbolt for $150,” Silva says, along with a cost-effective smart lock.
Along those lines, if you have a wooden door frame and an older house, the latch on your door likely connects to a brittle wood frame. “Just a couple of kicks can swing the door wide open,” Silva says. Reinforce your door with a standalone gadget like the Prime-Line U 10539 Lock and Door Reinforcer or a frame reinforcement kit (average cost $120) such as the StrikeMaster II Pro.
How about sliding doors? Silva says: “We recommend a sliding-door supplementary locking device[…] They’re available in a wide variety online and in home improvement stores,” such as the Ideal Security SK110 Patio Door Security Bar.
“Don’t leave your windows open, especially when you leave,” Silva says. ”Always keep the exterior door and windows locked.” He adds that statistically, many break-ins are a product of non forced-entry burglary, meaning the burglar simply walks in or climbs through a window to perform the theft.
In older homes especially, windows can be very vulnerable, according to Silva. “If your house has been built in the last five or ten years, the hardware has gotten a lot better,” he says. “Chances are good that you’ve got good locks and windows already.” But prior to that time frame, locks weren’t designed to resist force, he says.
He also recommends having a professional install security window film, which runs about $15-25 per square foot. “It will hold the glass together and make it more difficult to get in.” Window film is used in a lot of storefronts and you can order it online. “But it’s not something the average person can easily apply,” he says, so you might want to consult an expert.
It’s nice to have a lovely landscape around your house, but overgrown trees and shrubbery can block your home’s view from the street and neighbors, creating an ideal condition for burglars to break in unobserved.
“We recommend that recognized Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles be used when installing and maintaining landscaping at the home,” Silva says. According to these principles, shrubs and other ground cover should be trimmed to no higher than three feet tall, and bottoms of tree canopies should be pruned back to six feet from the ground.
Many homes have no additional locked doors or barriers inside, so once a burglar makes his way through an exterior door or window, he has free access to all areas of the home.
“A fundamental element of providing good security involves a concept called Concentric Circles of Protection,” Silva explains. The basic premise being that you can greatly improve security by providing layers of security.
Installing a deadbolt lock on the master bedroom door and the master bedroom closet, for example, to keep these rooms closed off while you’re away. “You can store your high-value jewelry and create a three-layer security condition,” Silva says. That way, if a burglar were to access your home, they would have to first break through the exterior doors and windows, the master bedroom door, and the master bedroom closet door.
Bonus: A master bedroom or closet with a deadbolt can also serve as a secure place to hide if someone forces his way in your home while you’re inside.
Protecting your home doesn’t have to be expensive. By following a few easy and common-sense steps and using one of the best cheap home security systems, you can more effectively protect your home on a budget.
Virginia Brown is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for Safety.com and elsewhere.