Home Safe Home: Safety Tips

Is your home protected from fire, floods, lightning and other hazards? Are you doing everything you can to prevent a burglary? Here are some helpful home-safety tips and new products.

Illustration by Chris Gash.

A household break-in happens every 13 seconds nationwide. According to the FBI, it’s the most common threat to our homes. There are nearly 2 million reported burglaries each year; a whopping 30 percent of those are through an open or unlocked window or door. What’s more, burglaries usually occur in broad daylight, when homeowners are at work or school.

Experts suggest basic steps that can reduce the risk of your home joining those statistics.

Home Security

Take simple precautions. Remove your name from your mailbox and don’t leave a key stashed in an obvious location.

Don’t advertise you’re away. Have a neighbor collect your mail when you are on vacation. Use automatic light timers inside your house so it appears occupied. Take security one step further with blinds and drapes that you can lower and raise remotely. Wireless technology lets you use your smartphone to operate your window treatments from anywhere in the world—poolside in Bora Bora, for instance. Available in New Jersey at Metropolitan Window Fashions. Check out: hunterdouglas.com.

Secure doors and windows. Unlocked windows provide the easy access for would-be burglars. It’s no surprise that July and August have the highest burglary rates, when windows are often left open. Keep them locked. Most forced break-ins are through front or back doors; for added protection all entry doors should be solid core or metal. Sliding doors are particularly vulnerable. They should be outfitted with a metal or wooden dowel in the track in addition to the lock. Basement windows should be secured with impenetrable metal bars. Ask your local locksmith.

Install a deadbolt lock. Security experts say deadbolts should be at least one-inch long. Many new locks no longer require a key and are more secure than ever; advances include touchscreens, keypads and Bluetooth models. Check out: schlage.com.

Light your property. Burglars are less likely to target your home if it’s well lit from the outside. Install motion sensor lighting at each entry point, especially in the rear. Use strategically placed spotlights on timers to illuminate your home from the street.

Invest in a home security system. Reports show that homes without security systems are up to 300 percent more likely to invite break-ins. The price of a home security system varies wildly—and the technology keeps improving. Reactor Home Security Systems is a motion sensor designed to alert you before intruders enter your home. The system detects low-frequency vibrations that could indicate a break-in. The vibrations trigger a siren and a high-powered LCD light. Check out: safeguardtheworld.com/products-reactor.

Go wireless. Wireless devices you can control from your phone have advanced significantly in recent years. We like Canary, a small device requiring no installation. Simply plug it in and download the app to connect to Canary by Wi-Fi. When Canary senses anything out of the ordinary, you’ll receive a notification on your phone. Canary’s HD camera sends video in real time to your phone.  Check out: canary.is.

Smoke, Fire & Carbon Monoxide

It’s astonishing: Firefighters nationwide respond to a home fire every 86 seconds. Cooking fires are the most common cause; frying poses the greatest risk. Other triggers include unattended candles and smoking materials, electrical problems and appliance malfunctions (clothes dryers account for 92 percent of appliance fires).

Be armed with alarms. We all know the importance of smoke detectors, but they are worthless if not functioning properly. Experts advise checking all units monthly, and replacing the batteries every six months —at the beginning and end of daylight savings time.

Every home also should have a carbon monoxide detector. A plug-in device can cost as little as $20. Or go with First Alert’s Onelink,  a combination smoke and carbon monoxide detector that will ping your smart phone about problems at home ($109.99 at sears.com). The Wi-Fi-enabled detector works with Apple’s HomeKit system.  Check out: firstalert.com.

Lightning Strikes

Lighting strikes cause an average of 22,600 fires per year. The National Fire Prevention Association warns that the danger peaks in the summer, during the late afternoon and evening hours. According to Vaisala Inc., which collects weather data, New Jersey averaged about 47,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes a year from 1997-2011—ranking 27th in strikes per square mile among 48 states. A fraction of those hit homes, of course, and yes, it’s unlikely to happen to you. Still, you need to be prepared: A single lightning strike can produce up to 200,000 amps of electricity in a microsecond.

Protect the exterior. Lightning rods, invented by none other than Benjamin Franklin, don’t prevent lightning from striking but help direct it away from your home. A pointed metal rod attached securely to the roof of your home, the rod is connected to a length of copper or aluminum wire that’s embedded in the earth. If struck, the rod provides a low-resistance path of electrical energy to the ground. Lightning strikes are rare in the Garden State, and systems tend to be costly. If you do opt for this level of protection, make sure to use an installer certified by the Lightning Protection Institute, such as Zeus Lightning Rods, which does installations throughout the state. According to Zeus owner/installer John McGinley, a typical installation can run from $2,800 to $5,800 or more. Check out: zeuslightningrods.com.

Protect yourself. Beyond the fire threat, a lightning strike can damage your home’s electrical system, as well as your appliances—essentially, anything that’s plugged in. The best way to prevent damage is to unplug everything when you hear the first clap of thunder. Surge protectors can help but are not fail-proof. Plumbing is a favorite lightning path—and pipes are excellent conductors—so stay away from all plumbing, including toilets, sinks and showers. Additionally, refrain from using wired electronics, including phones, computers, video games and power tools, since wires are another common lightning path. Cell phones are safe.


Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States, causing $2.7 billion in losses between 2001 and 2010, according to the National Flood Insurance Program, a government-sponsored provider of flood insurance for homeowners. As New Jersey residents are all too aware following Superstorm Sandy, floods can be devastating. And your homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t cover damages; you need to buy a separate flood insurance policy. Since 20 percent of flood claims occur in places where the flood risk is low, according to floodsmart.gov, it’s a good idea to review your insurance options and take adequate precautions no matter where you live.

Stay high and dry. According to Houselogic, there are several steps to protect your home from water damage:

Fix leaks immediately. A leaky roof  can weaken the structure and allow water to get into your home. Have a professional check your roof for loose shingles. If you install a new roof, add a waterproof barrier—a rubber roof underlayment—that protects your home from water intrusion.

Patch foundation cracks. Use mortar in combination with masonry caulk, an inexpensive, do-it-yourself solution to fill  gaps. It’s more effective than mortar or cement alone, which can crack again.

Clear gutters and drains. These systems should carry water away from your home. They should regularly be cleared of debris to assure that they function properly. If your gutters are too high for easy access, call a professional.

Invest in a battery-powered sump pump. An electric sump pump does no good when the power is out. A battery-powered model will pump water from your basement or crawl space even in dire conditions.

Move valuables upstairs. Store special possessions like family heirlooms, photographs and important documents on an upper floor to protect from flood damage. ■

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