Fortify your doors

By thc0655 on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 - 2:09pm

Fortify your door!

I handled a burglary recently which illustrates several facts about securing your home from burglars.  The victim in this case lives in condo in a building with 6 floors and 24 units.  The victim’s condo would probably sell for over $300,000 and is in an upper middle class neighborhood which normally experiences very little crime.  The victim’s first floor unit is the first one you see when you enter the building’s front door. The public front door is controlled by an electronic security system that keeps the door locked magnetically unless you enter a security code or you are “buzzed in” by a resident.  At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.  It’s quite common for unmonitored security systems like this to be defeated simply by a criminal loitering near the security door and casually walking in behind a resident entering with her security code or walking in as a resident leaves the building.  It almost never happens that a resident sees someone do this and calls police to report a suspicious person entering the building or personally confronts the person entering (not advised, unless you are prepared for a violent response from the stranger).  People give strangers entering the building “the benefit of the doubt” almost every time.

The victim in this case was counting on that unmonitored security door keeping a burglar from getting in front of her door to attempt a break in.  That’s the first place where her security failed her.

The victim had installed quality, tasteful security bars on her other door (which leads to the outside of the building on the first floor) and all her windows.  This is what they look like:


This heavy duty, quality set of security bars covers the glass transom above the double doors and the doors themselves.  Criminals don’t even attempt entry through these.

Security bars installed inside these first floor windows are barely visible from outside.

This is what the same window security bars look like from inside.  The square in the center is a locking mechanism secured by a padlock.  This set of bars are a two piece unit which are hinged on both sides of the windows.  The bars can be quickly and easily swung open from the center in an emergency or for window cleaning.

The daytime burglar in this case successfully stood in front of her front door.  He either lives in the building (don’t discount that possibility) or, more likely, walked in casually when a resident entered or exited.  Once in front of the victim’s door, the burglar attempted to open the door quietly to avoid attracting attention.  The burglar attempted to pick the locks on the door knob and the deadbolt, but succeeded only in damaging the locks.  The modern locks foiled this attempt at picking: the door knob and deadbolt remained locked.  Next, the burglar attempted to pry the door open with a tool which left marks on the door and frame.  This attempt also failed.  Finally, the burglar gave up on stealth and simply kicked the door open which shattered the cheap, soft wood of the door frame.  Once inside, the burglar closed the door and ransacked the house looking for valuables.  None of the building’s other residents, if they were even home at the time, called police upon hearing the noise of the door being kicked in.  Interestingly, the victim’s home has an electronic alarm system which had a sensor on that front door.  However, the alarm system was not activated because the elderly resident finds it too cumbersome to operate.  We can be 97% sure the burglar would’ve run away if the alarm system had sounded when the door was kicked in. He certainly wouldn’t have spent 30 minutes searching the house for valuables like he was able to do in this case.

Here are pictures of the door and it’s frame illustrating the damage done.


Notice the prying tool marks above and below the deadbolt, and at the door knob.  None of those prying attempts breached the locks or the door.


This is the door frame.  Notice the metal strike plate for the deadbolt was ripped out of the frame when the door was kicked in.  The strike plate for the doorknob remained in place.  This view clearly shows the damage to the wood of the frame and decorative wood molding.  That little bit of soft wood is the only thing keeping the door from being kicked in.  People are often advised to use 3” screws in the strike plates to replace the tiny 1/2” ones that are typically installed in them.  This is not bad advice, but an adult can still kick in the door in one to three kicks even with 3” screws.  The strength of the door frame is the main issue.  A steel frame or a wooden frame reinforced with steel is a much more secure option.

I tried to convince the victim to resume using the alarm system installed in her home.  Instead, she has chosen to get another steel security door installed over this door which was kicked in.  That will work just fine.  She was just glad she wasn’t home asleep when the burglar came in.  So am I.

In response to a question about door security, I previously offered these suggestions :

Swap out all the screws in your door system: jamb/frame, hinges, and strike plates with 3" or 3-1/2" screws.  You can kick in a door and most of the time reuse the lock in a new door afterwards.  The short screws tend to rip out of the wood easily allowing the bad guy in while your door hardware is still in good shape.

Reinforce your door (hinge side and lock side) and your jamb with steel.  A good example is

Install two deadbolts: one above the door knob, and one below the door knob.

If you really want to go "whole hog" install a Fox Police Lock: the absolute top choice for those who live in REALLY bad neighborhoods. This system unlocks in the center of the door which pulls two heavy bars inward.  The hinge side and the door knob side of the door are both locked with this system. It takes even a Fire Department or SWAT team a lot of time and noise to overcome these locks.  


Fox Police Lock<pastedGraphic.png>pastedGraphic_6.pdf

Swap out your whole door system with a new steel door in a steel frame with some of the above hardware options.

Install a steel security door with a steel frame on the outside of your entry door.

Install an alarm system and USE IT AT ALL TIMES.  Most burglars are opportunists (not professional criminals who have actual skills and go in for detailed mission planning).  Most burglars won't even attempt breaking in to a house with an alarm system, and many of those who do run away as soon as they hear the alarm sounding.  You could almost leave your door unlocked if you have a good alarm system and decent police response time (5-10 minutes for burglar alarms).

When you want to be extra secure while you're inside your home, install a "Door Club"


or a "Katy bar" system:


or a zombie bar system:

The ultimate in door security is making sure that at all times there is behind your door a household member who is armed, trained and mentally prepared to repel home invaders using surprise, speed and violence of action!


By the way, I have dealt with the subject of personal safety and home defense in great length in two previous posts and a wiki.  If you haven't already seen them on this site, you might find them beneficial:


thc0655's picture
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What happened to all my photos?

Anybody know where all my photos disappeared to when I posted this?

shastatodd's picture
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postings like this make me so happy i live in a place where locked doors are uncommon.

capesurvivor's picture
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Thanks, Tom, interesting post, very comprehensive.

The movies are still up.


thc0655's picture
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nigel's picture
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Tower House lessons I think you should have a look at the link, page 266. It's a really cool study by queens university on the design of doors in tower houses to repel people. It shows that it will take a group of 5 men and 2 women about 5 minutes to remove a solid door anchored into a solidly constructed masonry. About 50 strikes to fully remove, about 10 to rip the door off the hinges. The zombie bar would be next to useless if you anchor it to a modern lightly framed home, and it would be rather difficult to put in place when you leave the house for the day. In addition to that, a single man fence post driver filled with concrete would make an easy battering ram that would probably remove the zombie bar, either by stripping the thread on the nuts or just by removing walls.

jtwalsh's picture
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A Thought on Alarm Systems

Owning a cabin in a sparsely populated area, that we only utilize part of the time, presents problems with protecting the structure and contents when you are not there.

For years I had rented a cabin from a friend.  He had stickers on all the doors stating the premises was monitored by XXX Security company. We had stayed there several times before it dawned on me that I did not have a security code and had not seen a key pad or any other type of security equipment in the cabin.  When I asked about it he laughed and said he did not have a system, only the stickers saying there was a system.

When we purchased our own place someone broke in the first week we owned it.  I went to my local big box super hardware store and purchase a set of stickers which were intended to go with their do it yourself alarm system.  I put the stickers on every door.  It has been three years and we have had no further trouble. When we are not at the property we close all the shades so no one can see inside.  No one can tell if we have a system or not.  My neighbors have reported a couple of times seeing strange vehicles in the driveway but no one has tried to get in.

Tom is correct that even the threat of an alarm system will deter many potential bad actors.


shastatodd's picture
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signs as deterrents

when i worked at our local hydro electric facility, we had (i assume) kids doing all kinds of mischief... until we posted "danger high voltage" signs all around on the locked gates/fences... which 100% eliminated the issue.

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