When it comes to home security, attached garages are a weak link.
They’re a notoriously easy route for thieves to get into your home. Not only are many garages vulnerable to break-ins, but they provide the perfect hiding place for criminal work. The bad guys can just close the garage door behind them and hide from the neighbors’ eyes as they force their way into your house and clean you out.
That’s why it’s worth a little extra effort and vigilance to safeguard your attached garage. Here are the suggestions we gathered from Detective Pat McMillan of the Akron Police Department and Dave Kopp, owner of the garage door repair and installation company Above & Beyond Door Systems.
Opener no guarantee
If you think your automatic door opener secures your garage door, think again. A thief can snake a wire through the door and use it to pull the emergency cord or pull down the carriage release lever, disengaging the opener.
To prevent that, Kopp suggested securing the latch with a light-duty plastic zip tie. You just thread the tie through openings on the lever and the carriage and connect the ends.
Using a light-duty zip tie is important, because you need to be able to break it easily with a sharp tug on the emergency release cord. That’s essential, because the cord serves partly as a safety measure. If a person or pet gets caught under the door and the door doesn’t reverse as it should, you need to be able to disengage the opener quickly.
In fact, that’s why Underwriters Laboratories, some garage door manufacturers and their trade organizations recommend against the zip tie trick. They fear it will hinder the operation of the release cord.
Removing the knob at the end of the rope instead of using a zip tie is another option. It won’t necessarily stop a thief from disengaging the lever, but it at least makes doing so more difficult by preventing him or her from hooking onto the rope and pulling.
You’ll have to use your own judgment. If you do opt for a zip tie, test one first to make sure you can break it readily.
Bring remote with you
Remote controls for garage door openers create another vulnerability. In the wrong hands, a remote control is essentially a key to your garage.
If you park your car outside, don’t leave the remote where someone can see it, McMillan said. It’s best to bring it indoors with you.
Take the remote control out of the car whenever you leave the vehicle in someone else’s hands — say, a mechanic or a restaurant valet. If you have an older style of remote control, someone can open it, copy the code and then use that information to code a different remote, McMillan said.
Kopp said openers made in the last 10 years or so typically use a rolling code that changes every time you hit the button, making them more secure. But if you have an older opener and you’ve never changed the code from the factory setting, you should, he said. Thieves have been known to drive around pushing the button on a remote control with a factory code setting, just hoping to find that garage door opener that matches.
Service door vulnerable
Your overhead garage door isn’t the only way into your garage. Most attached garages also have a service door that leads to the outside.
Often those doors are secured only by a door knob lock, making them fairly easy for a thief to kick in. McMillan recommended installing a deadbolt, which makes breaking in harder. A door-frame reinforcement is another option, Kopp said.
Install a deadbolt and possibly a reinforcement on the door from an attached garage to the house, as well. And be sure to lock that door, especially at night and when you leave the house, McMillan said.
Of course, even a good lock won’t stop the most determined thief, which is why Kopp also recommended installing motion-sensor lights near all the garage doors. Thieves want to work where they won’t be seen, and the harder you make it for them to do that, the more likely they are to pass by your house and look for an easier target.
Keep door closed
Many of us keep our garage doors open when we’re home so we can get in and out easily, but McMillan urged breaking that habit. It makes it easy for thieves passing by to see in and take note of items they might want to come back to steal.
It’s not unusual for a thief who sees an open garage door to knock on the front door of the house to see whether anyone’s home, he said. If someone comes to the door, the thief just makes up a reason for the knock. If no one answers, he or she gets to work.
Even if you’re working in your garden or mowing the lawn, a thief can slip into your open garage, pick up a few valuables and make off without your even noticing. Better to keep the garage door closed when you’re distracted. If you don’t have a keypad you can use to get in, carry your remote with you.
Other tips for securing your garage:
• Whenever you leave your house in your car, pause long enough to make sure the garage door closes completely and stays closed before you drive off. Otherwise the door could bounce back up if something interferes with its path.
• Give the neighbors a list of phone numbers where you and your family members can be contacted when you’re not home. If they see your garage door open when it shouldn’t be, they can alert you.
• Lock your garage door when you’re on vacation. If your door doesn’t have a lock, you can buy one that fits into the door track. Just remember to unlock it before you try to open the garage door.
• If you’re buying a garage door and want windows in it, choose some that are high on the door so it’s harder for a thief to see in. Or consider frosting the glass to block the view.
• Install a peep hole in the door between the house and the garage. If you hear a noise in the garage, you can check on it without opening the door.
• Occasionally take pictures of the things stored in your garage. Recording makes, models and serial numbers is an even better idea. If you do become a victim of theft, you’ll have an easier time documenting your losses.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.