[Yahoo Homes editor's pick, 2013: Every December, we look back at our most popular stories of the year. We've had some terrific inspirational ones recently, like the amazing artist who hand-carves soaring, swirling caves where none existed before; and the architect who, hit by foreclosure, built a tiny house for $11,000; and the young artists who quit jobs to build glass cabin in the woods. But some of our biggest hits offer practical advice, like this story we published in May. We think its lessons are particularly relevant during the holiday season, when so many shiny new temptations are around for the criminal-minded. ]
If you think you're not at risk of being a victim of burglary, think again. If there's an opportunity to invade your home, no matter who you are or where you live, burglars will take the chance.
"Burglaries are considered 'crimes of opportunity' because the criminal is looking for the easy way to get into your home - the unlocked door, open garage door or open window," says Charlene Miller, Crime Prevention Neighborhood Watch director at the Boise Police Department.
Fortunately, "There are practical security measures you can take to make it so difficult for burglars that they'll go somewhere else," Miller adds.
Want to learn what these measures are? Here are nine things you can do to make burglars think twice before trying to enter your home.
#1 - Secured Doors and Windows
In approximately one-third of home burglaries the burglar comes in through an unlocked door or window, according to the "Burglary of Single Family Houses"guide, published by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
"The first line of defense in your home's security is having solid core exterior doors with high quality grade 1 or 2 deadbolt locks," Miller states. "French doors can be secured with a quality deadbolt lock and a slide bolt penetrating the upper or lower doorframe."
Miller notes that sliding glass doors are especially vulnerable if they do not have proper locks, so check with the manufacturer for the right ones.
"A snug-fitting dowel (a piece of cylindrical wood - similar to a broom handle) in the lower track of the door will also prevent it from being opened." Miller also recommends installing eyebolts in the frames of sliding windows to allow for ventilation without leaving enough room for an intruder.
#2 - A Loud Dog
Dogs are not only "man's best friend." They can also be a burglar's worst enemy.
In fact, COPS reports that most burglars avoid houses with dogs. "Burglars don't want to be seen or caught; they also want to avoid pain," agrees Miller, who adds that dogs that bark - even small, noisy dogs - can be an effective deterrent.
And while you might feel safer with a large dog that could do bodily harm, like a German Shepherd, Miller says the most important aspect is having a dog that sounds an alarm with its bark.
#3 - A Home Security System
If you want something that not only makes noise when there's an intruder, but also calls for help, consider installing a home security system. Home security systems detect when someone enters your house uninvited, sets off an alarm, and also notifies authorities of an invasion.
"If you have valuables that need protection, rampant burglaries in your area, and are away from home for long stretches, a home security system could be a good option for you," says Miller.
She recommends doing some online research and checking with local alarm system companies to find the best system for your needs.
#4 - Motion Sensor Lights
Installing sensor lights (which turn on when they detect motion) is a great way to illuminate portions of your property only when needed - like when someone enters the area.
Sensor lights will come on as soon as someone enters under cover of darkness - as a burglar would.
"Outside lighting is one of the cheapest and most effective deterrents to crime," states Miller, who adds that "motion sensor lights give you the ease of having lights come on automatically."
#5 - Surveillance Cameras
A video surveillance system can be a bit costly, but it could help you sleep better at night.
"Installing a video security system can give you peace of mind and act as a deterrent to burglars, especially when you're on vacation," Millers states.
However, if you don't want to go the full route of installing a system, think about putting up a "dummy" camera or two to give the illusion of protection. And while Miller agrees installing a "dummy" camera could intimidate a burglar, she says the downside is it can't provide evidence if a burglary occurs.
#6 - Protection Warning Signs
Got a dog or a home security system? Share that information with signage on your fence, door, or window. Much like putting up security cameras, letting a burglar know you are well protected makes you less of a target.
"It's important to look at your home from a burglar's point of view," shares Miller. "Burglars who think they might be seen or caught will think twice before targeting your house."
Miller cautions that while having this kind of signage can be to your advantage, it could also make burglars wonder what you have that's worth protecting.
#7 - A Trimmed and Tidy Yard
Untrimmed trees and shrubs provide good hiding places for burglars and can obscure their entry into your home.
To get a better sense of what she means, Miller suggests the following: "Stand out on your front sidewalk and take an objective look at your house. Do you have trees or shrubs providing hiding places for someone?" If so, Miller recommends trimming tree branches up to six feet from the ground and shrubs down to below window sills.
A shaggy lawn - especially one that's usually trimmed - can also indicate to a burglar that you're likely on vacation, or simply away on business for a prolonged period of time. Consider hiring someone to mow your lawn if you're going to be out of town for more than a week.
#8 - The Appearance That Someone Is Home
Burglars know your routine, and when there's a break in that routine - like when you're on vacation - it's a signal that your home is clear for a break-in.
With that in mind, Miller says that "the goal when you're gone is for your home to appear lived in."
To accomplish this, Miller suggests using motion-sensor lights and timers on your radio and TV to simulate occupancy and create the illusion that you're home.
Corvallis, Oregon home insurance professional, Bonnie Lundy, agrees: "Anything you can do to make your home look occupied while you're away is a good thing - and timed electronics are great for that."
She does caution, however, that burglars are aware people use timers, and recommends some variation in the pattern.
#9 - Helpful Neighbors
We just talked about making your home look lived in while you're away. And while simulating occupancy can get tricky, the good news is you can enlist help. The best recruits? Your neighbors.
Whenever you're away, Lundy highly recommends asking your neighbors to get your mail and newspapers, and check for any deliveries. Miller also recommends asking them to put garbage bags in your garbage can.
And that's not all. You should also "ask a trusted neighbor to park their vehicle in your driveway occasionally while you're out of town," suggests Miller.
Any sign of activity at your home is enough to deter most burglars - who count on an empty house.