Securing Windows

Don't forget your home's windows when it comes to safety.


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Window shopping is a favorite pastime for burglars. Inadequately protected windows are easy marks for intruders who have an arsenal of tricks for the quickest, easiest ways to force them. But safeguarding your home's windows is neither difficult nor expensive.

Start by taking a quick survey of your windows -- including those in the basement and the garage and any second-story windows that would be easy to reach from the ground. List each one on a sheet of paper, noting its type (such as double-hung or casement) and the kind of lock it now has.

You'll probably need to replace or at least augment the locks on most of them. As you consider the new locks and fastening devices you'll learn about here, also keep fire safety in mind. For example, if you install keyed locks, you'll want to keep keys nearby and make sure everyone in your family knows where they are in case of an emergency.

If you've identified a few windows that you think are especially vulnerable, you may feel that even sturdy locks aren't sufficient protection. In that case, consider replacing the standard glazing with impact-resistant acrylic or polycarbonate or with high-security glass. Or, where appearance isn't of prime importance, install a metal grille outside the window or a scissors-type security gate on the inside. Be aware that although some gates have quick-release levers for emergency exits, a stationary grille will render the window useless as an exit in the event of a fire.

The ordinary sash latches on double-hung windows may help squeeze out drafts, but they offer little protection against break-ins. An intruder can simply insert a knife up between the sash and flip the latch open, or if he's in a real hurry, force the lower sash and snap the latch off with very little effort.

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1. One of the easiest and least expensive ways to secure a double-hung window is with key-operated lag screws, available in kits at most hardware stores. Pre-drill the sash, and insert the screws through their recessed washers. Tighten the screws with the special key provided. Drilling additional holes in the upper sash will let you keep the window locked in a partially open position for ventilation.

2. Easier still is wedging the lower sash in its fully closed position with a length of scrap wood. Cut the strip to the exact size, fit it into the channel that operates the lower sash, and tack it in place. This solution is best reserved for windows you don't open often; it's not as tidy-looking as lag-screw locks, and it won't let you secure the window in a partially open position.

3. If you'd rather not drill extra holes in your sash but want the protection of a keyed window lock, replace the original sash latch with a key-operated lever. Be sure to keep the key near enough for a quick emergency exit but out of reach of a prowler's exploring hand.

4. A keyed bolt-action lock has the added advantage of letting you lock the window in various open positions -- just install additional brackets on the upper sash.

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Casement windows are one of the most secure types you can own. A casement that's strong and in good condition may not need a lock at all. If the window is large enough to admit an adult (and it opens to more than about 6-1/2 inches), simply consider removing the operator crank and keeping it well out of window reach. If, however, the sash wobbles when you operate the crank, needs to be propped open, or rattles in a high wind, read on.

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Install a chain lock (the same type used on doors) to limit the distance the window will open. For maximum security, fasten it to the sash and frame with the longest screws that the window will accommodate.

For additional protection, install a keyed lock along the sash rail. Be sure to keep the key in a nearby location where all family members can find it in the event of an emergency exit.

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Like sliding glass doors, most sliding windows are all too easy to lift out of their tracks or jimmy open with a pry bar.

1. To keep window sash securely in their tracks, drive sheet-metal screws partway into the upper tracks. Adjust the screws so the window barely clears them as it slides, with no wiggle room for maneuvering the sash up over the lower tracks.

2. A simple metal clip will prevent a burglar from prying open the sash by snapping the brittle metal catch that holds the window closed. Bend the clip to fit your window channel, and install it in the lower track wedged against the closed inner sash.

3. Although more conspicuous, a Charley bar also will stop an intruder from prying open a sliding window. When you don't need its protection, simply raise it to its "up" position and clip it against the inner sash.

4. Key-operated locks are perhaps the most secure way to protect sliding windows, and they'll work with vertical sliding windows, too. Mark the lock's position on the windowsill with the sash fully closed, and drill a bolt hole in the sill at that location. To secure the window in partially open positions, simply drill additional holes in the sill.

Basement windows (and, in older homes, unused coal chutes) are potential points of entry that many homeowners don't think about until it's too late.

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1. If your basement windows don't have locks, drive long screws into the stop on each side at a height that will let you open the window only a few inches. (Because the screws would be hard to remove in a hurry, reserve this solution for windows you won't rely on for exit in an emergency.)

2. A keyed sliding-bolt lock (or a sturdy hasp fitted with a keyed padlock) offers still more security and the opportunity to make a quick exit in an emergency. Keep the key nearby but beyond reach of someone outside the window.

3. If you're concerned about an intruder breaking glass to gain access, but you'd still like use of the window as an emergency exit, install a scissors-type gate secured with a keyed padlock. Again, keep the key handy and easy for family members to find.

Replacing your most vulnerable basement windows (and those old coal chutes) with glass block is an attractive low-maintenance solution that also offers maximum security.

4. Standard or custom-made grilles permanently mortared into the outside foundation will provide maximum security in high-crime areas, although at the expense of giving your windows a behind-bars look. As with glass block, these will render the windows useless as emergency exits in the event of a fire.

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