Saturday, August 16, 2014

A common weak link in home security

It's often the master bath window, or a similarly-configured window in another ground-floor bathroom of a home.
The increasingly-bizarre case of Houstonian Theresa Roemer's burglary illustrates this very well.  According to published reports, approximately $1 million worth of jewelry and consumer goods were stolen via the breakage of a window that, from looking at this photo, I estimate might have been worth about twenty bucks.

Image courtesy of this Houston Chronicle piece.  
Bathroom windows are very often the weakest link in the residential security chain for the following reasons:

  1. Most of them are fixed panes of glass and therefore they cannot be outfitted with alarm sensors designed for windows that can be opened.  
  2. Most suburban homeowners with standard-configuration lower-end security systems do not have glass break sensors, motion detectors, or security cameras installed in or near their master baths.  Those implements tend to be found in the main areas of the house such as in hallways, near entries, or in great rooms.  
  3. Even if there is a glass break sensor nearby, it is possible to penetrate typical bathroom window sheet glass without setting it off.   
  4. Most of these windows are single panes of glass and therefore easier to break through discretely than the coated double-paned energy-efficient windows typically found throughout the rest of the house. 
  5. As well as being single panes of glass, many tract home master bath windows are inexpensive and thin, making glass removal even more straightforward.
  6. Many tract home master bath windows are also large and situated close to the ground, allowing for efficient personnel ingress or egress.
  7. Master baths are typically located on the side or rear of the house, so they can be accessed without burglars being seen from the street.  

Typical greater Houston tract home master bath configuration, screengrabbed from a real estate listing chosen at random.  Behind those 2-inch blinds appears to be a thin sheet of plate glass.  Many homes in our area are constructed similarly.  
So what's the work-around to this potential point of weakness?
One of the easiest improvements is glass block.  While not foolproof, block presents a much more stubborn structural deterrent to would-be burglars.  Image screengrabbed from a real estate listing chosen a little less randomly. 
When I announced to my husband that we would be building our home with glass block in the master bath, he cringed.  "But I hate glass block," he lamented.  "It's so 1970's."  Which of course is true, especially given that our builder offered only one out-dated style of it.
I agree with my husband - it's out-dated.  As far as I'm concerned, the only thing that glass block is good for aesthetically is abstract macro-photography.  This is a photo I took of a blue clapboard home and its sunlit driveway with landscaping vegetation out in front, as seen through an inner-loop friend's glass block wall.  
So I gave my husband a choice.  I said, "Either we go with the builder's glass block option, or we let the builder install the usual flimsy plate glass and then we do our own custom overhaul of the window after we close on the house."  For simplicity, we went with the builder's option.  And of course it's not a foolproof security solution, but we also have brick facing on all sides of our house, so the glass block is set into the frame and the brick rather than into wood alone with a pressed board / Hardi siding surround.  It's possible to penetrate it, but not without a sledgehammer.  And if someone is ever dumb enough to try a sledgehammer, our entire cul-de-sac will become alerted to their activity pretty quickly.

Thus sayeth the previously-burgled blogger who has no desire to go through that kind of recovery process ever again.  Nothing is ever guaranteed, but an ugly window is a small price to pay for a bit of added protection, in my opinion.
Too bad this analysis doesn't break it down by which first-floor window is most often used for entry.

Screengrabbed from this Protect America info site.  No endorsement intended or implied.  


  1. I agree. We installed storm doors, front and back and new windows double pane. I watched a uTube demo of laminate windows. I installed a keyed dead bolt on the rear door. Our choices were prompted by break-ins of friends homes. The contractor told us IF a burglar broke the window, the neighbors would hear the equivalent of a shotgun blast.

  2. I put double-sided deadbolts on every door with all the hardware beefed up relative to typical consumer stuff. Those locks, too, drive my husband bonkers, but the only way to get through our doors without a key is to physically break them out of the frames, which would create a great deal of noise and draw attention. I mentioned in an older post that I was five months pregnant when my previous home was broken into and everything of value stolen (even my spare change jar). Talk about going through misery at exactly the wrong time in a person's life. There's a whole lot of fancy security in our current house to ensure it never happens again.


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