Last summer, my friend Kurt loaned us Jowerses his lake house for a week. Kurt, gentleman that he is, met us at the house and showed us how to work all the appliances, the multi-lever outdoor shower and the mosquito-proof tree house. When he was done with the orientation, I had just one question: "How do I lock the place up when we leave?"
"I've got a key hidden over there in the bushes," he answered, "but I don't use it. If somebody's going to come in and steal my stuff, I want him to just walk in and walk out. I don't want to have to fix a broken door."
There's a lot of wisdom in that. I lived in my parents' house in South Carolina for 27 years. We didn't have, or need, a lock on the door until year 22, when my old high-school girlfriend walked through the back door and stole all of my new girlfriend Brenda's clothing, toiletries and set-abouts. That motivated me to put bolts on the doors.
Well, don't you know, the old girlfriend came back for more, and she couldn't get in the back door. So she broke out a window. Believe me, when you've got a girlfriend war on your hands, you just don't have time to fool with a lot of busted glass and window putty. Might as well leave the house wide-ass open and hang up a banner: Welcome Old Girlfriend. Please Help Yourself.
I know that rubs the hair of human nature the wrong way, but the truth is, anybody with a thimbleful of brains and a few crude tools can break into any house anytime. Most doors fly open with just one good kick. Heavy doors with multiple locks can't stand up to a crowbar. Windows can't stand up to a 105-pound girlfriend with a rock in her hand.
Just for fun, though, let's say that you could make your doors and windows secure enough to keep out evildoers. If you could do that, they'd probably be so secure that you couldn't get out if your house caught on fire. Burglar bars and security doors have trapped people inside burning houses. There are new and improved burglar bars, which can be opened from the inside, but opening them takes timesomething you're not likely to have if your house is on fire. I say never install burglar bars, and get rid of them if you have them now.
Even a house with perfectly secure windows and doors would be an easy target. Some years back, there was a "hole-in-the-roof gang" here in Nashville. They'd just climb up on a roof, cut a big hole, then drop down into the house. Once inside, they'd push all the soon-to-be-stolen goods up to the front door. Then they'd call their buddies in the getaway truck and drive away with the whole load within minutes. The poor homeowners were left with gaping roof holes, which are not easy to fix.
If your house has vinyl siding on the outside, anybody with a box cutter and a sturdy pair of wall-kicking shoes could get through your wall within minutes. Busting through a brick-veneer wall would take a little longer, but it wouldn't be a particularly hard job. And if you've got that fake stucco on your outside walls, you should know that it's not much stronger than a saltine cracker.
So if you want to keep burglars out of your house, what do you do? Plant prickly bushes around the windows? Get a bad-ass dog? Well, no. Sooner or later, somebody will have to paint your house, and the prickly bushes will stick the poor painters just like they'd stick burglars. Bad-ass dogs are worse than useless. They do most of their barking at squirrels and meter readers, and most of their biting on undersized family members.
Which brings us to security systems, which sound alarms and/or call police if a burglar gets inor tries to get into your house. I say those things are worse than bad-ass dogs. From what I've seen, they do most of their alarming at pets, thunderstorms and homeowners who forget their code numbers.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not in favor of being soft on people who break into houses. If there were a security system that never gave a false alarm and never mistook an innocent for a criminal, I'd be in favor of rigging up gizmos to dole out harsh real-time penalties for housebreakers, including automatic gunfire and cruel Vietnam-style booby traps. But that's just not practical.
Best I can tell, there are just two good ways to deter burglars. One is to rig up some little cameras that will take pictures all day and night, then store them on your computer's hard drive. The cameras might not keep criminals out of your house, but they could take pictures of a criminal, his car or even his license plate. The pictures might get the criminal caught.
The other good security system is a fake security system: fake cameras, with fake blinky-lights and fake signs that might trick criminals into thinking the house has a real security system. Best feature: no false alarms.
You can deploy either of these systems for a few hundred dollars. But you might not even want to mess with this either. After all, a criminal could up and steal the cameras too.