Turn your home into a fortress — on a budget

Thieves broke into an estimated 2.1 million homes in 2011, costing homeowners an average of $2,185, the FBI says — not to mention their sense of well-being. But there are low-cost ways to keep your home from being a target. Take a look.

Solidify your door

Most burglars enter through the front or back door, so it’s important that you have a secure door that cannot be kicked open. The best doors have solid wood cores or are metal and have a heavy-duty deadbolt lock with a 1-inch bolt, says Chris E. McGoey, a California security expert who calls himself the “crime doctor.” These doors can cost anywhere from $100 to $2,000.

McGoey also suggests adding a door jamb, especially a heavy-duty one with a strike plate that is held in place with four 3-inch screws.

Also: Install a wide-angle peephole in the door, and tell your children never to open the door to strangers.

Secure sliding doors

Burglars can enter through an older sliding-glass door, even when it is locked, by simply popping the door off the frame. To protect your home, cut a dowel, a 2-by-4 or the handle from a hockey stick to fit the track of your sliding-glass door or window when it’s closed. When it’s laid in the track, sliding the door or window open is almost impossible, McGoey says.

Lock or block your windows

Ensure that windows on all floors are not an easy point of entry for burglars. Make sure the locks work properly — and make sure that you use them.

No lock? You can stick a pin or nail into the window frame to stop the window from moving more than a few inches. If you have wooden window frames, you can drive a screw into the top of the frame so it protrudes about a quarter-inch. It won’t interfere with your window opening, but it will keep someone from lifting the window out of its track to get inside.

Reinforce your basement windows

Because of their location, basement windows can offer an easy way for burglars to get inside your house. Make sure bushes or other plants don’t hide your windows and hide a burglar’s handiwork.

If possible, reinforce your windows with tough, shatter-resistant glass, security bars, wire mesh or Plexiglas. Don’t forget that your bars must be installed so that you can exit the house in an emergency.

You can also buy security film for $40 that can add a layer of protection in case the glass is broken. The film keeps the broken glass pieces together, making it tougher for someone to enter.

Illuminate your yard

Outdoor lighting can be a great deterrent at night because it lights up any of those places where an intruder might hide, such as behind trees or in stairwells, alleys and entryways.

For about $20 to $25 apiece, homeowners can replace existing light fixtures with motion-sensor lighting at entry doors around the house, McGoey says. They light up automatically if someone moves within the area. Because they activate and deactivate on their own, they also can save you money on energy bills.

Make sure, however, that your light fixtures aren’t placed in spots where it’s easy to reach up to remove or break the bulbs.

Remove telltale traces of your traveling

Make your home look lived in. Get rid of the obvious signs that you’re away for long periods of time. Have someone bring in the mail, place a stop on your newspaper delivery and have the lawn mowed or the snow removed. Lamp timers are a good idea, and you can also buy a $35 light called FakeTV that flickers at night to look like your television set is on.

“The No. 1 thing you can do is free: get to know your neighbors,” says Rein Tedder, president of Hydreon Corp., which makes the FakeTV. “They know you and know your patterns, and they’re more likely to spot something going on.”

Lock your garage doors

Garage doors can offer an easy way to get inside a home, not to mention a jackpot for burglars, since your garage may contain some of your more valuable possessions. Secure your garage by adding a high-quality deadbolt and lock to the door.

One-piece, tilt-up garage doors can easily be popped open even when locked. For more security, you can add a latch with a single throw bolt at one side of the door. It should be securely bolted to the outside of the door, and you will need to drill a hole into the jamb for the bolt to fit. Add a padlock to keep people out.

Don’t advertise what you have in your garage to would-be thieves by keeping your garage door open, and do not keep your garage door opener in an unlocked car in the driveway.

Good lighting outside your garage also can scare off burglars, and writing your name on belongings can make them tough to pawn, if stolen.

Trim those bushes

All those beautiful bushes along your walk and near your doorway may look nice, but they can also create great hiding places for intruders. Low tree limbs can also provide access to the second-story windows of your home. Pull out the pruning shears to thin shrubs and tree branches, and plant thorny bushes as a natural defense.

Designate a safe room and an escape route.

Safe rooms are typically the domain of the rich and famous, McGoey says, but any homeowner can create such a room with relatively little effort and expense.

A deadbolt on the door of your home office or den, for instance, lets you create a room where you can lock yourself if you’re threatened. Stock the room for an emergency, McGoey says. Include a cellphone, a flashlight, first-aid kit, food, water, defensive weapons and a way to barricade the door.

More elaborate safe rooms can resemble bunkers or can be secret hiding places to store cash, jewelry and collections.

Also: Consider an escape route in your home, even adding a rope ladder in a room upstairs.

Consider a coded door lock

While it might seem handy to keep an extra set of keys under a doormat or under a planter, it’s not always a good idea. Someone could watch you retrieve it, giving away your hiding spot. Instead, give a spare set of keys to a trusted neighbor.

A coded garage lock can be another easy way to get inside your home without keys — especially if kids are staying home alone. It can cost as little as $75.

By Jennifer Alsever of SwitchYard Media