How to prevent a burglary – security experts share their top tips for protecting your home

Don't fall victim to this common crime – learn to deter burglars with top tips from home security experts

Burglary, sadly, is a fact of life, whether you live in a dense urban area or the countryside. The last year has seen a decline in burglary numbers, thanks to many of us staying home. However, now restrictions are lifting burglary are expected to bounce back. So we have rounded up some expert advice on how to prevent burglary and scare away burglars.

Prevention is always better than cure, so choose the best home security system with the help of our guide

Burglaries happen in all kinds of neighbourhoods, and there’s some evidence that they are more common in otherwise low-crime, affluent areas. It’s important to remember that many burglaries – nearly half, in fact – are opportunistic crimes that are easily prevented. Here’s how to do your best to protect your home from burglars – and what to do if, despite your best efforts, you have fallen victim to one.

Don't fall victim to this common crime

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How do burglars choose houses?

To have success preventing a burglary you first need to learn to think like a burglar. What features do they look for before they break into a property? 

1. Windows without curtains or blinds

This may seem like an obvious point, but leaving your interior on display is a form of asking for it when it comes to burglary.

‘The first thing a burglar will do is check the front of your property – if your windows aren’t obscured they know you don’t care very much about security,' explains former burglar turned security expert Michael Fraser. 'Always leave your blinds down when you’re out of the house to prevent people from seeing what’s inside.’

2. A poor lock

Lock picking is still very widely practised by burglars, and you will be surprised by how many locks aren’t up to the task of resisting being tampered with.

A great tip to see if your cylinder is an ideal target for lock snapping attacks and should be replaced is the £1 tip. Get a £1 coin and if your cylinder is protruding more than the depth of a £1 coin, then it can easily be attacked by criminals.

3. Old door handles

Door handles are often a sign to criminals that your home security isn’t up to scratch either. If your door handles are starting to become loose, then experts would recommend making an upgrade – you can even fit a door handle yourself if any need replacing. Nothing signals to a burglar that you’re skimping on security more than a handle in poor repair.

4. Doors or windows left unlocked

The old cliche that an open door is an open opportunity is true. In the UK, nearly a third of homeowners don’t bother locking side and back doors or windows when they are going out – sliding doors to the garden can be particularly easy to overlook.

5. A dark back garden

Back gardens need as much protection as your front door. In fact, back gardens with good side access without motion sensor-activated floodlights are a boon to burglars. Security lighting to the side and back of your property is therefore essential.

Security experts from (opens in new tab) recommend smart security lights that you can link to your phone. Like smart CCTV systems, a smart security light sends a message to the user if it has detected movement, meaning the owner does not need to be at home to have control of the situation.

For more garden lighting ideas take a look at our gallery for inspiration. 

House viewing checklist

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

6. Fencing that’s style over substance

As security expert, Leigh Barnes from Jacksons Fencing (opens in new tab) explains, ‘too many fall into the trap of prioritising aesthetics, without considering quality and effectiveness. One of the main culprits of poor security design is generic steel palisade fencing, commonly used for houses that back on to public areas.’

Never pick a fence just because it looks good – consult a home security expert for an honest assessment of whether a particular type or style of fencing will actually do anything to protect your home. 

7. Oversharing on social media

People can often put their home at risk by posting their whereabouts on social media. If your social media security settings aren’t up to scratch, anybody can have access to your account and discover if you’re out for the day, the weekend or even when you’ve jetted off on holiday. This means any burglar can enter your home virtually undetected and can even have a rough idea of when you’ll be returning.

More disturbingly, there is research that shows that burglars often are known to their victims, so you may need to be more careful about who you give access to your social media posts.

What is the best way to prevent burglary?

Armed with the knowledge of what burglars look for, you can make important changes to your home security to scare away burglars and prevent a break-in. These are the most important areas to consider, according to experts. 

1. Schedule deliveries for when you are home

Whether you’re ordering groceries, parcels, or even milk, having things delivered to an empty home is a dead giveaway to any would-be burglars in your area. If they are left outside it’s a clear indication that the home is unoccupied and vulnerable – even if the delivery person knocks to no answer it’s a sign. Ensure that you schedule deliveries to arrive when you are at home, to avoid this problem.

2. Check front gate for weaknesses

Make sure there are no areas of weakness in your gates or backdoors that burglars could capitalise on.

‘Check back doors and gates around the perimeter of the home are locked and working effectively,' says Leigh. 'Ideally, hinges and locks should be galvanised to provide added protection against rust. Choose a gate where the hinge and gate sit closely together to deter people from using the hinge as a foothold.’

3. Create a living fence

A fence is good, but a fence with thorny or spiky plants on top is even better. ‘Let nature lend a helping hand in creating an effective anti-burglar boundary on your side of any fencing, and especially around any side access points. Stocking up on ‘‘defensive’’ plants such as Berberis, Hawthorn or roses can help create an impenetrable barrier that the majority of burglars won’t want to entertain,' suggests Leigh.

Just be careful about adding extra structures such as trellis on top of your fence. If this takes your fence to an overall height of over two metres, you will require planning permission.

‘However, growing a thorny plant along the top of a two-metre fence – provided it does not feature any support structures – does not require planning permission – unless there are local restrictions in place. Check with your local planning authority first.’

4. Invest in a good lock

Lock snapping continues to be a threat, this is where an intruder gains entry by breaking the cylinder lock in your door, so the quality of your lock cylinders is more important than ever. Yale recommend checking that your cylinder is rated at TS007 3-star Kitemark and consider changing it if it isn’t as this assures you that it meets the standards set out by the BSI.

5. Look into extra front door security options

Upping the security of your front door is also paramount, so you should consider if additional security measures are required. A door chain can add protection again opportunists, whereas a letter plate restrictor can help prevent letterbox fishing. Having a visible security camera can also be a helpful deterrent, take a look at our best security camera guide for more advice. 

Look into extra front door security options

(Image credit: Future PLC)

6. Don't underestimate visual deterrents

Visual deterrents are a very effective way of keeping burglars at bay any time of the year, in fact, Which? Revealed that 71 per cent of burglars are put off by an alarm system having a visual siren, displayed on the outside of a home. 

Considering a house alarm with a bell box or CCTV system can be a great way of reassuring you and your family that your home is securely protected at this time of year. Both home alarm systems and CCTV work as effective visual deterrents for burglars, causing them to move on to another target.

Even a video doorbell can help. You can browse the best video doorbells in our buyer's guide.

7. Lay a gravel pathway 

It might sound simple, but anything that might make noise such as a gravel path will deter thieves.  ‘Burglars prefer to work under cover of darkness and in complete silence when entering a residential property, so a trick to stopping them is to thwart this,' explains Robin Knox, Security Expert & CEO of smart home security company (opens in new tab).

'Simply laying down gravel outside your house’s points of entry (doors, windows, etc.) will make them think twice about giving away their anonymity. Similarly, motion-triggered lights are a great deterrent to thieves wanting to slip in and out of your house unnoticed.’

Does leaving a light on at night deter burglars?

In a word, yes. Leaving a light on at night is an old-school burglar deterrent that has been proved time and time again to work.

'Lighting has the power to create the illusion that someone is always at home, which can be a fantastic deterrent for criminals,' confirms Somfy (opens in new tab). 'The use of smart lighting allows the user to switch lights on and off remotely with ease.'

'Such lights can easily be pre-programmed to go on and off at specific times during the day, or alternatively can be controlled at any point with a simple touch of a button from a phone or tablet.’

‘Making it seem as if you are at home in the evenings will act as a deterrent to burglars,' adds Robin Knox. 'While we are not suggesting you go full Kevin McCallister, things as simple as putting your lights on a timer (either via a smart alarm or with a timer at the switch), leaving the TV or radio on, or even investing in a cardboard cutout to put in place of the window, can help give the impression you are in.’

Door with white walls curtains and carpet on flooring

(Image credit: Ti-Media)

What is the worst season for burglaries?

Autumn and winter are traditionally the worst seasons for burglaries, with Bonfire Night alone seeing an increase of 115 per cent in home insurance claims, according to Aviva (opens in new tab).

There is some evidence that this long-established pattern is becoming more complex in light of Covid. 'As the nation emerges from its various lockdowns we are likely to see a spike in burglaries,' Robin shares. 'FOI data from last year suggests that the number of burglaries was +26% higher in July as it was in May when the country was still in lockdown.’

In other words, any period of time when people are out for long periods of time sees an increase in burglaries. This year, it’s likely there will be a spike in burglaries when the final Covid restrictions are lifted and people can dine in restaurants and travel, but the real challenge will come in autumn when people are back in workplaces and the nights start getting darker. 

What to do after a burglary at your house

Sadly, even if you follow all reasonable precautions, a burglary can still happen. If you are unlucky and you have been burgled, it’s important to follow these steps:

  1. Call 101 to report the burglary. You’ll be given a crime reference number that you will need to quote to your insurer. 
  2. Don’t touch anything. A burglary can feel very distressing and your first instinct may be to clean up all signs of the break-in. Don’t do this until the police have arrived and collected any evidence such as fingerprints from your home. 
  3. Take photographs of any damage. Again, you will need this for insurance.
  4. If your wallet has been stolen, cancel all banks cards.
  5. Make a list of all the items that have been stolen and try to find any receipts you may have kept.

Related: The common mistake millions make that invalidates home insurance – are you guilty?

Don't be caught out by a silly mistake and follow these steps to protect your home.

Anna Cottrell is Consumer Editor across Future's home brands. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening.