Kya de Longchamps on how to secure the manor before that well deserved holiday.
Potential thieves are experienced at identifying a soft target — an easy few minutes of deftly applied criminal skills for a quick financial reward.
The house with the uncut grass, letters spitting out the letter-box, cars clearly absent for several days — it’s too easy in the excitement to get out the door and onto warm sands, to unwittingly flag that your house is unoccupied and under-secured.
1. Hire a house sitter
This could be a member of the family, or a trusted friend. It’s important that they are adult, responsible and know how you like things done. Returning to a rave ravaged casa mia is not the best end to a vacation. If you like the burglar alarms set every time you are out — make this clear.
According to a recent survey by Liberty Insurance of Irish households, 65% of us don’t bother to use our alarms at all. A good neighbour, in fact, a really great neighbour- will trade roles — minding your house with regular checks, feeding the cat, giving the front lawn a quick swipe and parking their car about the place by night.
Remember to give them a really good gift (one bottle of airport wine for two weeks hassle really doesn’t cut it), or return this favour in full.
2. Use timers for lights, or radio
Now, it’s important to apply an intelligent strategy here. If the house is blazing with lamps with the TV flickering at 2am every morning, it’s something of a giveaway, and may even encourage an opportunist.
Set the units to come on at expected hours in various rooms or use a random setting within natural times of occupation and activity (7am-1am). A 24-hour mechanical timer (like a simple immersion switch) by MasterPlug costs just €4.99. Woodies DIY. If you have a home network, smart LED bulbs (from €30) can be timed to work from a dedicated App.
With curtains open 24/7, you really are staging the shop window — very helpful for crooks swinging from the silver birches. Blinds are a good compromise, with venetians set facing the ceiling to allow light in but an obscured view.
Move real goodies, like fabulous electronics and valuable artwork out of view, and consider putting smalls like jewellery and antique pieces under lock and key elsewhere.
3. Don’t announce your departure
Over-sharing online or posting real time videos and images of your trip on the internet is unsafe — even if your Facebook page isbristling with privacy settings.
Wait until your return and enjoy posting those holidays snaps, but otherwise, presume for security purposes that your social media pages are wide open. Hootsuite is one of a number of Apps that allow you to post on your social pages when you are not at home. hootsuite.com. Tell trusted neighbours who you know will be discreet, and keep quiet in the pub, supermarket and otherwise out and about.
4. Go monitored
Wireless alarms allow discreet installation of an alarm system in a standard four bedroom house in one afternoon. With a monitored, wireless or wired system networked to your mobile phone, the cosy addition of a key-holder and 24/7 vigil by a gallant receiving centre — your insurer and your nerves will thank you.
An alarm, flashing, whining and dutifully texting the neighbours, will certainly cut down on the browsing time of intruders. Choose an alarm to the EN50131 standard, a member of the Private Security Authority (PSA), and shop around for the best deal over at least two years.
5. Lock up properly
Security specialist Cathal Daly of Secure Your Home (secureyourhome.ie), reminded me recently that it’s a mistake to put hardware (that is good doors, windows security and locks on window and doors) ahead of software (ie, an alarm). Choose exterior doors and frames, with strong, anti-bump, anti-snap cylinder locks matched to deadbolts. Prices for a retro-fitted modern cylinder that will resist tampering start around €80, (including VAT installed).
If you don’t have a multi-point locking system where the door latches into the frame, including any garage door into the house, install a five-lever mortise to EU standard EN12209. Check with your window supplier before adding stopping devices to PVC windows — it may void your warranty. Sliding doors can be muscled up with a sash jammer or Iviss lock. €35 from ivesslock.net. A keyless cuff is ideal for French doors where the handles meet at the centre.
6. Fit motion-activated floodlights outside
Mains or solar powered, being under a spot is extremely off putting by night. This, married to a CCTV notice really give pause. Use judgement in the placement of your lights if you have close neighbours and ensure they are well out of reach.
Include alarms and infra-red lighting to outhouses and sheds where valuables such as ride-one mowers and tools are stored too. Lock up your ladder or chain it to something heavy and immovable.
Check your buildings and home insurance are in place, combing through the small print if possible. The cover on some policies can become invalid if a home is left unoccupied for more than 30 days.
At least if the worst happens, you won’t be paying the price in full — if only in material terms. Insurance companies warn against printing out your home address on your luggage labels. Information that’s easily spotted by cunning rogues at airports and train-stations.
7. Get the right alarm
Alarms are a security enhancing product, but with or without one, it is unrealistic to expect the gardaí to act as 24-hour guardians of your home while you are away, especially if you live down the country. That said, I have always told my local station when I have gone away, and I know from reports from my neighbours that they have stopped by regularly, and for that I am very grateful. The gardaí are not bound to attend a house solely because of a ringing alarm, without verified signs of a criminal activity.
That means in short — if your neighbours don’t call it in, or forward a community text alert of odd vehicles pootling the lanes, the gardaí may not have the resources in that moment to prioritise the matter.
Audible alarms alone really are the tree falling in the forest — they go unheard or ignored most of the time. If your alarm goes off three times in a three-month period, if the gardaí attend the scene and the alarms are clearly false (if the gardaí arrive at a premises and the key-holder is not there, the activation is treated as a false alarm), they can withdraw response.
Auto-diallers with monitored and unmonitored alarm systems should not be programmed to call the gardaí. The force is doing a fantastic job currently with Operation Thor and Operation Exit, which has, according to the Cork County Joint Policing Committee, reduced non-aggravated burglaries by some 42% in just the first quarter of this year using checkpoints.
The policy on alarms according to An Garda Siochana is that there should be two verifications of a break-in designed into your monitored alarm system.
“All alarm systems, including domestic, should have dual verification. Your alarm installation company will explain this in detail, but essentially, it involves verifying an alarm activation by means of two or more detection devices which send two separate alarm signals to the monitoring station” — Gardai.ie.
And if you do get someone to stay or look over the house every day — as well as operating an alarm system — ensure your key-holder is utterly familiar with the protocol, and activation and deactivation codes for your alarm.
Enjoy the break.
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