Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A more secure front door

Almost two years ago, I published an account of a burglary that my family experienced while living in Pearland.  Since that time, I've also talked about new technologies such as security cameras, but there are a few basic physical loose ends that I never got around to covering. 

And now is a good time to do it, given that we're in the holiday season when there's typically an escalation in bizarre burglaries.  This is the time of year when a certain segment of our population realizes that they've over-spent on crank to the point where they have no money for holiday gifts, and so they better go steal something to cover the gap.  It was just over one year ago that the lady on Walnut Pointe emerged from her shower to find that men had broken into her house

As always, this is not legal or professional advice I'm supplying here, and I'm not a home security expert.  These are just some personal observations as to what I've chosen to do, and why.

My Pearland burglars gained initial access to the house by using a battering ram to break the frame of our front door.  The door itself was a heavy solid mahogany number and would not yield, but the frame was simply builder-grade pine plus common hardware and it splintered accordingly.

This was the same approach used back in August of 2012 by the individual(s) who apparently attempted to break into that home on Cypress Pointe.
Except in that case, they targeted the BACK door rather than the front.  That attempt was not successful, but the door and frame were reportedly damaged beyond repair (according to the account published in the neighborhood newsletter).
Screengrabbed from www.crimereports.com
And by the way, it's been delightfully quiet around here lately, crime-wise.  This grab shows reported incidents from August 1, 2012 through November 27, 2012.
Why do burglars insist on breaking down heavy doors when every house has about fifteen fragile ground-floor windows they could choose instead?  I don't know - perhaps it's just a failure of imagination - but they do this fairly predictably, so here is a photo sequence showing how we reinforced our front door several months back.
Well, a partial photo sequence at least, because my husband had already commenced this particular honey-do before I had the camera ready.

Basically our front door has this very common configuration: door knob below, and deadbolt above.  As delivered by the builder, each of these components had its own separate small strike plate held in place by two screws (you can see the original holes here). 

My husband went to the hardware store and bought a single larger, thicker strike plate which fit this standard spacing (I believe it cost about ten bucks).  However, given that the frame had been fitted with the original separate plates, he had to trace the outline of the new one and then use a chisel to chip out the extra wood, so that the new larger plate would sit flush with the frame.  This job is a pain in the lower anatomy requiring patience, but it doesn't require a lot of skill or special tools.  What you see here is the finished chisel-out. 
Here's the new single-piece strike plate dry-fitted in place.  Notice how it has nine screw holes instead of the original four that the two smaller plates had. 
But THIS is the picture that really tells the thousand words.  That screw on the right is one of the original screws installed by the builder.  The one on the left came with the new strike plate.  Which do you think offers more protection: four of the right screw or nine of the left? 

The reason why doors break down so easily is that the frames are pretty flimsy.  These longer screws were designed to anchor way back into the stud wall and provide substantially more strength. 

I can't imagine what it would take to break down this door with this new hardware installed.  I think the door itself would have to be reduced to splinters (and it's mahogany, so it's stronger than it looks).  The frame is a lot less likely to let go now. 
Of course, all this effort would be for naught if it were not coupled with the use of double-sided deadbolts:
It took us a while to get to this frame-reinforcement honey-do, but I had a locksmith installing these deadbolts within 48 hours of us closing the contract on this house.  The original house came with one-sided deadbolts, meaning, there was a knob you turn on the inside to open it. 

With this configuration...
You need a key to get into the house.
You also need a key to get out of the house.
This idea freaks some people out, but let me explain.
If you don't use double-sided deadbolts, you can have the strongest door and door frame in the world and it wouldn't amount to a hill of beans because the burglars can simply pop a small hole in that door glass, reach in, turn the latch, and walk through your now-unlocked door. 

I can't remember who put me onto the idea of double-sided deadbolts.  It may have been the Pearland police officers who investigated our burglary, because I've used double-siders on every house I've owned since that time. 

This idea scares some people because they think, "OMG, what if there's a fire and I can't find my keys?!  I'll be trapped!!" 

Well, first of all, exercise a bit of self-discipline and keep a spare key near every double-deadbolted door, but keep them:
  1. Beyond the reach of anyone who puts an arm through the door glass, and
  2. Near the door but hidden.
We do this in my family and it's not a burdensome procedure - we're accustomed to it.  And woe to anyone who screws up and moves a key from its assigned location. 

Secondly, remember that you still have your fifteen-odd ground-floor windows to choose from if you need to get out in an emergency.  Overcome psychological inertia and see the senselessness of requiring a door as an egress point in an emergency. 

Double-sided deadbolts also offer the following additional advantage:  They impair a burglar's ability to get back out of your house if they do get in, say, through a window.  Even if they come in by the riskier means of a window (visible window transits clearly signal something wrong at the house - door transits may be ambiguous and less noticeable to neighbors and passers-by), they're most likely going to want to exit through a door because they'll be carrying your goodies and it's inconvenient to try to muscle flat-screen TVs and other items out of windows that were never designed for such activities.  Faced with these kinds of efficiency barriers, they may just conclude, "Oh, to hell with this!" and go find an easier target. 

Our back door is a different configuration and I'll try to deal with that in a separate post.  In the meantime, may your holiday weeks be burglar-free. 


  1. I agree with your opinion. Your suggestion is very important for me. This post aware the new technologies which is widely used for security purpose. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  2. Hi, The topic that you have discussed in the post is really amazing. Thanks for sharing such a great information about Security doors

  3. Where did you get the brown/bronze double strike plate and what brand is it?


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