In the world of Prepping, we group our topics that people want to learn about into just a few major categories when you think of it. The overarching goal of prepping or survival is to stay alive, but the disciplines that feed into Survival could be broken simply into food, water, shelter, self-defense, and first aid. There are many other branches but is a simplistic way of looking at priorities. Self Defense is one that has more urgency, and our home fortification plans are some of the most important parts of initial survival we can discuss.
As a parent of small children when I first got into prepping, it was hard to say which item I cared about more, but I know home defense was near the top. The thought of someone breaking into my home and harming one of my loved ones was scarier than just about any hypothetical armed combat against mutant zombie biker gangs in a post-apocalyptic world. Break-ins happen every day so my goal as a father along with providing for the general welfare of my family was keeping them safe.
Home fortification is a complex subject though for a couple of reasons. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions. We can make certain assumptions though and understanding that the Prepper Journal’s audience is primarily located in the US, our collective home situations share similarities.
Most modern US construction is comprised of an outside siding layer for appearances, not structural integrity – followed by plywood over 2 X 4 studs and finished with drywall on the inside. Roughly 6-8 inches of surface we insulate with fiberglass to keep our home cool in the summer and warmer in the winter.
We close that in with large windows and doors made from wood or fiberglass usually filled with lots of glass also. There are exceptions of course, but I would bet this is the same for most of our readers.
Contrast that home construction in other countries where it is very common to have homes built with much thicker walls constructed with concrete block or poured cement. There may even be outside concrete-walled “fences” to form a courtyard 10 feet high and doors made from steel. Our fences are usually only 4 -5 feet high and see-through in many cases. Easily scaled by just about any kid in the world.
Again, I am going off most homes in the US. You may have a fortified bunker and if so, that is great. This article is not for you. But for those of us in the US (myself included) who do have these comparatively weak home structures we call our castle, there are ways we can improve our chances of keeping someone out without breaking the bank.
How should you think about Home Fortification?
When I think of home fortification it is always from the lens of buying time. In the case of a burglar when I am not home, I want them to walk away without gaining access. If I am home, I want my home fortification preps to give me time to get a firearm and prepare to deal with the threat.
I do not look at any structure that I have or could build as being an impenetrable fortress that would hold off a horde of rioters or some gang. With enough time, a dedicated force will get into your home or destroy it with you inside.
We can make our homes harder to get into certainly and that is easy to do, but it will not turn your home into a medieval castle. Any steps I take that can first alert me to the fact that someone is outside trying to get in and then as a bonus buys me time to act are enhancing our security.
The choice of how I respond to someone trying to gain access will completely depend on what threat I am facing. Again, home defense for me as a scenario is not a last stand if I can avoid it. If forced to flee from my home to save my life or the life of my family, that is the plan.
Another consideration with any of these home fortification tips we are going to discuss is the type of threat you are facing. For most of us, home defense is going to be against burglary or home invasion. Our job is to make it hard on the person who is trying to break in or in a better case, not worth the effort and skip our house entirely.
I will also cover some ideas for home fortification in a total anarchy situation too where your neighborhood HOA will not give a rip what you do to the yard or the situation has gotten so bad you do not care. We won’t really be covering the prospect of a sniper looking to pick you off through your kitchen window but again, that is a possibility in a grid-down world where you have food and someone is starving.
Thinking of Home Fortifications in layers
For defense we are not concerned with people inside our house normally, it is those outside trying to get in. Working from the most important to the least, the first layer of defense begins with your actual home and any access/entry points someone could use to get in.
You may be thinking, why not your property edge? Wouldn’t you want to know if someone was in your yard well before they were at your door? Yes and No. Yes, it would be helpful to know if someone is in your yard, but they could be in your yard by mistake. They could also never try to get into your house.
The flip side is that to me, it does not matter if you know they are in your yard, but they can walk up and kick in your door. Knowing they are coming is not the most important thing to worry about. Preventing them from getting in as long as possible is more important to me. We will cover both below.
Home Fortification of the Structure
According to ADT, These are the most common points of entry for home break-ins:
- Front door: 34% of burglars twist the doorknob and walk right in.
- First-floor windows: 23% use a first-floor open window to break into your home.
- Back door: 22% come in through the back door.
- Garage doors: 9% gain entrance through the garage.
- Basement: 4% choose the basement as a point of entry.
- Unlocked areas, sheds, and storage: Another 6% will simply try for any opening that is not locked down.
- Second-floor window: A daring 2% will go for the second-story window.
This information shows that you should focus on any doors and windows on the first floor as the priority for a home fortification security plan. Yes, you can harden that second-floor window too but that can be done later once you have taken care of the routes that 88% of bad guys commonly use to get into a house.
How can we make those relatively weak doors in your home much stronger and harder to get into or less desirable for a bad guy?
Security Camera System
Why a camera system? Purely for advance warning, some documentation evidence should you need to give something to authorities and to large extent the deterrent factor. A security camera allows you to see who is coming to your door. There are many options for security cameras out there with options on battery vs wired, Wi-Fi vs cable connected, and on-premise storage vs in the cloud. Many now even let you hear and speak to the person at the door.
One option I have purchased is the Wyze Cam Outdoor – it is battery powered, connects to your modem, and sends notifications via their app to your mobile device. Ring is another option with a different price point but Amazon has a good reputation with the system if you don’t count some bad press due to hacking last year.
A security camera can be mounted up high enough over doors for visibility and at least one study from the University of NC at Charlotte showed that 60% of burglars would avoid houses with security systems and a camera watching your every move counts as a security system.
One obvious downside to anything technical like a security camera is that it needs power and in this case internet. If the grid is down, even with a generator you are not going to be able to use a Wi-Fi option most likely.
But the security camera is only one piece, the physical door is the real weak link. When you consider what holds the door secure to your house, the connection points are very thin. Wood doors, especially hollow core wooden doors are less resistant to physical abuse than a steel door. In the US, this is not a solid steel door, it is steel panels wrapped around a frame, but this is a better skeleton for you to start with.
Steel replacement doors are relatively cheap and if you do not add a lot of glass to them (~ $200), they are a better choice for home security. They will last longer as well.
Now that you have a steel door, it is time to really address the problems with doors in the first place. A modern American door with a deadbolt is mounted on hinges with screws normally no longer than 1 inch long. The deadbolt and lock mechanism are routed into the door leaving no more than ¼ of the door surface left on either side usually.
The lock housing takes up most of the door, but the meat of the wood that is supposed to keep that lock-in (and you safe) is woefully inadequate to withstand the force of a good strong kick, much less a battering ram or pry bar type of penetration.
Most door failures come at the point of the lock housing since the wood and generally, the screws holding the plates into place are not sturdy enough.
Enter Door Armor.
Door Armor (formally EZ Armor) is a simple to install aftermarket set of thin steel braces that dramatically increase the amount of punishment your door can take by reinforcing the weak points. There are covers for the hinge plates, the lock cores, and the jamb itself along with 3 ½ inch screws.
I installed this on our exterior doors and the process was quick and painless. Now we have a door that is much harder to breach with normal means.
A relatively cheap addition or alternate to the Door Armor solution is one that does look a little more medieval. It is a simple bracket that you can slide a 2×4 through that further reinforces the door. Mount the brackets to the wood that the door jam mounts to and insert a 2×4 between the door and the brackets.
This is just one example here but there are lots of (cheaper) door barricade brackets meant to hold a 2×4 to act as a door brace. You could save the install of these for when the grid actually does go down.
These door security improvements though depend on you locking the door and implementing these defenses. Many of us leave our doors unlocked while we are home because we live on a quiet street, or “the neighbors watch out” for us. Whatever your excuse, if your doors are not locked, you are defeating the purpose of home fortification regardless of how much abuse your doors could withstand.
Coming in as the second most common entry point for burglars, windows are harder to secure but there are methods you can use to slow someone down or make them try another house.
The first is obvious. If your windows are unlocked, you are giving an intruder an easy way to get in. We have vinyl replacement windows with a catch mechanism that prevents the windows from being opened further than 6 inches or so. If we have the windows open, this will prevent anyone from climbing in, but it is not foolproof. Someone could reach their hand in, flip that catch and open the window to its full height.
Regular windows are shattered easily as you may know but window film is a great aftermarket solution that can be installed by you or by a professional team that can add serious protection. A film like 3M’s Safety and Security film fortify the glass against intrusion and break-ins. The video below shows the increase in protection. Their tests say that their film will give you up to 2 minutes more time when someone starts trying to get in. Imagine what you would be able to do in 2 minutes.
In my house, I have 27 individual windows (some are combined) on the first floor. We do not have a large house, but we have several picture windows so that adds up. Security Window Film is not the cheapest option, but it is not insanely expensive when you consider the advantage you get. The window film is virtually invisible, but we get the added protection to buy us time.
There are many security window film options out there and if you install it yourself, you can save money. Window film has an adhesive backing, so you install it just like a window tint for your vehicle. It takes patience, but it is easily a DIY project. If you can operate a rubber squeegee and a squirt bottle you should be fine.
Additionally, many of these window films cut down on UV so they have other benefits as well. Security Window film would seem to be the best/only option for patio doors as well.
Window Security Bars
A more conspicuous option, window security bars will keep anyone from gaining entry via your windows. Window guards typically will not stop the window from breaking or a smaller object from entering either. You typically see these in high-density complexes like apartments or ground floor windows in some buildings. Some are designed to keep children from falling out, but they do make external window guards that can have the reverse effect.
A more serious option is plywood over your windows. You see this primarily in homes that are foreclosed or during hurricane season along the Eastern Coast. Plywood will protect your windows, but you do not get to see out and I am not sure I would ever want that.
You could cut shooting slots into the plywood, but that would weaken them and if you are doing that, the bullets are probably already flying through the house anyway. Plywood would ideally be pre-cut and ready to hang but that is a pretty good cost to outlay for the off chance you might need it.
Additionally, you must store that plywood while you are waiting to mount it. 27 sheets of plywood take up a lot of room AND, it’s not cheap either right now with a 4×8 sheet running almost $50 where I live.
Important Note – Ensure that your escape from your home is not blocked. If a fire occurs you should be able to get out quickly and safely. Make sure your defenses do not prevent you from escaping if needed.
Detecting when someone is outside
Motion Sensor Lights
Motion sensor lights have been around for a long time and they do help but I think only a very scared intruder would be frightened by lights going on. If you have motion sensor lights around your house, they probably turn on all the time anyway so would you or your neighbors be alerted if they came on again?
They do help and if someone is outside your home, it’s better to be able to clearly see them instead of allowing them to hide in the shadows.
Mans’ Best Friend
Pound for pound, you will not find a better method for detecting when someone is outside your house than a good dog. Now, there are a lot of other things that go along with having one of these 4 legged critters in your life besides protection, but they are invaluable at that.
Even the smallest little ankle-biter can alert you when someone is outside. I recommend a dog that is big enough to make the person think twice before entering though. They do not have to be trained killers, but the person breaking in does not know what that dog is capable of.
Detecting people at your property edge
The last line of defense for me is your property’s edge. Depending on the size of your property, this could be simple or more complex. If you live in an apartment complex, your property may just begin at the front door. Those with some acreage could have their property several hundreds of feet away from their home.
For the purposes of this article on home fortification, we will assume you have less than 1 acre, so it is easy to see all your property borders. In a housing development you most likely have neighbors on at least two sides, maybe three.
Property Edge Intrusion Alerts
For most of us, I think that anything besides visual detection is problematic. You can have trip wires and motion sensors, and both could be set off by animals, sticks, or leaves falling. Enough of the yard alert going off at 3 in the morning and you will disable it, which defeats the purpose. If you have tripwire alarms set up, you could potentially have to reset them every time some rodent crashes into it.
Additionally, someone in your yard isn’t necessarily a threat. AND, it is not a case you can usually justify deadly force.
Hopefully, this gives you some ideas on how you can make your home fortifications more substantial with relatively low-cost solutions. If you win the lottery and decide to build that mountain bunker, please send me photos.
For the rest of us, absent a total grid down anarchy, the steps above will make your home much safer for you and much harder to get into. What home fortification tips do you have?