Open-and-shut case: Owner has a lock on home security

SATURDAY'S HERO

October 15, 1994|By ROB KASPER

National Crime Prevention Month sneaked up on me. We were halfway through October before I knew it was the month that, according to the nation's locksmiths, I should be making my home a tougher target for burglars.

The news caught me with my defenses down. The lock on the gate on our backyard fence was out of service. When it stopped working I had carried it down to my neighborhood locksmith, who looked at it and decided that it was time to retire the old lock from service.

I bought a new lock and the locksmith "rekeyed" it so that the keys that opened the old lock would work on the new lock. This was important to me, since by my calculations, about 10,000 people, some of them relatives, have keys to the gate.

I felt pretty good until I got to the office and read the home security checklist. One thing you shouldn't do, according to the checklist, is have 10,000 keys floating around. Instead you should have a few keys and have them all accounted for.

The checklist contains lots of questions about doors, windows and locks. It is being used by locksmiths around the nation who, in honor of National Crime Prevention Month, are making home-security checkups. According to Bob DeWeese, president of the Maryland Locksmiths Association, the nationwide program works this way. You call a national hot line (1 [800]-771-2562, weekdays 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern time) and are given the names of several local locksmiths participating in program. Then you make arrangements for one of the locksmiths to visit your home. The visit is free and without obligation. You pay for any locks you decide you need.

Using a copy of the locksmith checklist, I gave my house a security once-over.

Right at the back gate, there was a violation. I had purchased a new lock, but had not gotten around to putting it in the gate. That meant that the only thing between my back yard and "the criminal element" was a little latch. You had to reach around to the other side of the gate to open that latch, but I had the feeling that the clever members of the criminal element could figure out how to unhook a latch.

Almost faster than you could say "perpetrator," I got to work. Following the instructions that came with the lock, I slipped the latch in the gate, then put in the interior cylinder, then the exterior cylinder, and then added the lock covers and the lock guards, and lined up the machine screws that hold the assembly in place. It only took me two or three attempts and the help of an assistant -- that is what kids are for -- to get it right.

This was a double-cylinder deadbolt lock, which meant that you had to use a key to get either in or out of any door it was securing.

This was a kind of lock that locksmiths approved of. In a phone interview, DeWeese told me that double-cylinder deadbolt had two advantages. First of all, he said, it stops a burglar from getting in your house by smashing the glass section of your door, then reaching in and unsnapping the door lock. Secondly, if a burglar comes in through the window of your house, he has to get both himself and his loot out through the window. The door is locked and the burglar doesn't have the key.

"If somebody is carrying your TV out your window, it looks more suspicious than if somebody is carrying it out your door," DeWeese said.

One drawback to using a double-cylinder deadbolt is the danger it can present if the home catches on fire and the door is locked. For that reason, a key should be kept near the door, in spot familiar to all family members, DeWeese said.

I had trouble figuring out how to answer the checklist questions about window security. The list wanted to know if all my windows had sash locks. My answer was "Yes," and "No." All the windows that go up and down had locks. But I have several windows in my house that haven't moved for years. They are stuck shut. If a burglar ever gets them open I may consider hiring the guy to help me free the other stuck windows.

Finally, some of these windows are covered over by kamikaze storm windows. At the slightest contact, the springs holding up these cheap metal frames give way and the entire storm window comes crashing down.

If a burglar got near one of these crash-prone storm windows, he would probably end up with 50 stitches.

So while some of my locks may need improvement, I have killer windows.

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