Making Your Home Your Castle

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Everyone has heard the saying your home is your castle. It means your home is your refuge and fortress, and you can do what you please there and fight to defend it. The concept is as old as humanity, but it was formalized as common law by the English lawyer Sir Edward Coke in The Institutes of the Laws of England, dated 1628. The actual wording reads, “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium (and each man’s home is his safest refuge).”

Fine words and noble intent, but something that is not respected by a certain segment of American society. These days, if we want our home to be our castle, we must do the work to make it so. Nobody wants to live in a bunker, well, almost nobody, but securing our castle is a wise thing to do. Fortunately, there are numerous simple and inexpensive options to do so.

Home Invasions and Burglaries

There is no actual legal term for home invasions. Technically, most states consider a burglary a home invasion. If a burglary is committed when someone is home, the law tends to classify it as aggravated burglary. Home burglary is rampant in the United States.

According to the FBI, there were around 900,000 reported burglaries in the US in 2021. Around 70% of those were home burglaries. Of course, not all burglaries are reported, and not all data reaches the FBI, so the number is likely much higher. 

Pulling specific data from the FBI’s Data Discovery Tool isn’t easy, so determining how many of those burglaries occurred when someone was home is nearly impossible. However, gun violence data indicates that 29 people were killed and 53 injured in cases considered home invasions in March 2020 alone. That could add up to over 300 deaths in a year. It’s accurate to say that it is a real problem.

Simple Measures

Some home security measures, such as home alarm systems, are expensive and time-consuming to install. But many security measures are inexpensive and simple enough to do yourself.

Doors and Locks

The doors to your home are your first line of defense. Of the home burglaries reported to the FBI, 65% occurred by forcing the front, back, or garage entry door. In 12% of home break-ins, burglars found a hidden key or just walked in through an unlocked door.

The door itself should be well-made and sturdy. I recommend a door without windows. You can always install a doorbell camera or a peephole if you want to be able to see who’s there before you open it.

Deadbolt locks are a must. Look for a lock that is American National Standards Institute (ANSI) rated Grade 1. Most home deadbolts are Grade 2 or 3. It should have a 1″ bolt as opposed to the more common ½” bolt. If the door is solid with no windows, you can use a single deadbolt to facilitate evacuating the house fast in the event of a fire. But if the door has windows, or there are windows on the walls next to the door, use a double deadbolt lock. You can always place a key near the door inside the house where it can be accessed fast to open the door in an emergency.

With most doors that are broken down, the bolt is broken out of the door frame. Strike plates normally have ¾” screws, which really doesn’t secure them all that well. Replace these with 3″ screws. Angle the screws back as you screw them in so they catch the wall joists for added strength.

Film Your Windows

When I worked in conflict zones, the windows on our buildings were coated with a vinyl film that prevented them from shattering in an explosion. That same security film works great on ground-floor windows to prevent bad guys from breaking the window to get in, either by climbing through the window or reaching in to open the window lock. You can buy it online, and it is easy to install yourself. Be sure to buy security film, not the thinner stuff only designed to reduce sunlight.

Remove Things That Assist Criminals

Don’t make criminals’ jobs any easier for them. That means not leaving things like ladders next to the house where they can be used to access upstairs windows. If you have nowhere to store a ladder where it can’t be accessed, then secure it so it can’t be used. If it is an extension ladder, fasten the sections together with a bicycle cable lock so it cannot be extended.

Don’t leave tools around where a criminal can pick them up and use them to pry open a window. I had personal involvement with a case where an assailant used a BBQ spatula to pry open a window. He crawled inside and stabbed the young woman living there multiple times. Fortunately, she survived, but her life was changed forever.

Indoor Locks

Renters, and even many homeowners, don’t have the resources to build an actual safe room in their homes. But you can, and should, at least have locks on your master bedroom door. Bathrooms generally have locks, but most include a small hole in the center of the outside doorknob where a stiff wire or tool can be inserted to unlock the door from the outside. This is to prevent small children from locking themselves inside. Your situation will determine what, if any, locks you have on other interior doors besides your bedroom.

Patio Doors

Sliding patio doors are a weak spot in home security. Their latches are notoriously easy to jimmy, and many can be pried up and lifted right out of their tracks. Wedging a stick into the lower track will make them virtually impossible to open and much more difficult to lift out of the track. A cut-off broom handle will work just fine.

In the Garage

Attached garages are another potential weak spot in the security of your home. Too many people do not lock the door from the garage into the house. In reality, that door should be just as well secured as the front door. It should also have a deadbolt lock and be locked unless someone is actually in the garage.

The overhead garage door is not as secure as many people think it is. All garage doors have a disconnect latch to disengage the door from the garage door opener rail. That allows you to open and close the door if the power is off. The disconnect is usually a rope attached to the latch where the door connects to the opener. Pulling the rope down disengages the opener.

But the door can be disengaged from outside the garage when the door is down. All one must do is use a piece of thin bar stock with a hook bent into the end. By slipping the hooked end of the bar into the space above the closed door, you can hook the latch rope and disengage the door, allowing it to be opened manually. To avoid this, always be sure to lock the overhead garage door if you are going to be away from home for a long period. If you don’t want to lock the overhead door, at least be certain the door into the house is locked.

Alarms

I’m not going to go deeply into home alarms as there are other articles better suited to an in-depth coverage of home alarm systems. Suffice it to say that they have their benefits and drawbacks. Doorbell and interior cameras help provide a record of events if you have to shoot to defend yourself. 

If you do choose to install a home alarm, ensure it includes an audible alarm as well as recording and monitoring center notification features. It’s also wise to put the control box somewhere you can easily access it during a break-in.

TTP

TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) are most often associated with the military, but they apply to any tactical situation. TTPs are simply the result of planning ahead to address any situation that arises. There are TTPs for clearing buildings, lifting mines, and going on patrol.

You should have TTP for responding to a home invasion. Make plans and discuss them with everyone in your household. Ideally, if a home invasion occurs, you should retreat to a defensible room, arm yourself, and call the police. That may not be possible if you have family members, especially children, in other rooms. In that case, you may need to take a more active role. Things to discuss include:

  • What should children or other family members do in the event of a home invasion? This may be things like getting on the floor to reduce the potential of getting hit by stray bullets or going out a window to escape the situation. It is going to depend on you and your house/apartment.
  • Knowing the layout of rooms in total darkness so you can move more quietly and freely.
  • If multiple residents are armed, have a plan to ensure you don’t shoot each other.

These are just a few of the considerations you should be discussing. The important thing is to discuss the situation in advance and make a plan. Don’t wait until everyone is under pressure to try to decide what to do.

Tactical Advantage and Legal High Ground

There are very few situations where it is wise to leave your house during an incident. One is if a family member is being assaulted in the yard or street. Another is if someone is trying to set your house on fire. In both those cases, you would have to leave the house to respond to an immediate threat to life.

On the other hand, there are many reasons to stay in the house if the threat is outside. Think about any police or combat situation involving a building. The person inside the building has a definite tactical advantage over anyone trying to get at them from outside.

Staying in your house also gives you the legal high ground. Laws vary across states. Some have a Castle Doctrine, a few have a requirement to retreat, and others have neither. You should check your state’s laws so you will know where you stand. But regardless of the specific laws, most, if not all, allow you to defend yourself inside your own home. Once you step outside your home, you run the risk of switching from the legal defender to the aggressor. Don’t go there.

In Conclusion

It’s safe to say that if you are reading this article, you have already given some thought to making your castle as secure as possible. In my opinion, this is one situation where you cannot have too much of a good thing.

One of the best ways to look for weaknesses in your home’s security is to walk around it from the perspective of someone trying to break in. Leave no stone unturned and think outside the box as you look for ways to defeat your own security measures. You can even team up with a trusted friend and evaluate each other’s homes. In today’s world, there’s no such thing as being too careful.

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