First Line of Defense: The Front Door

Although it’s a good idea to keep a gun in your home for self defense, ideally you don’t want to have to use it or even show it to anyone. You’re far better off and safer if your home is too difficult to get into in the first place. This is one of the first rules of urban survival. Unless you live in an upstairs apartment, I would put bars on the windows. But obviously you can’t bar the front or back doors. So what should you do about these weak spots?

First Line of Defense: The Front Door

Your front door is only as strong as this thin piece of wood.

Your first idea might be to go buy more locks, deadbolts and chains, but is that really worth the trouble? You’ll be standing there for several minutes while you unlock and lock 5 or 6 bolts every time you leave or arrive. Besides, these locks won’t actually deter criminals. Despite what is shown on TV, most criminals don’t even know how to pick locks. But they do know how to kick through a door, and all your extra locks aren’t going to stop them from doing it. The fact is, your door is only as strong as the jam it closes against, and most criminals will only need a few tries to kick it open.

Most doors come to the house or apartment pre-hung which means the door and hinges are already attached to the jamb and ready to go. Next, the door and jamb is placed in an opening between the studs. Finally, the assembly is pinned in place with shims and nails. Many carpenters, especially those in a hurry, only use a few of these. This means all those bolts are pretty useless if there are only a few nails keeping the jamb in place. It’s like putting a combination lock on a cardboard box.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Reinforce the jamb. First, pry off the doorstop. This is the trim that the door closes against. Now find where the jamb has been nailed through the shims.  Remove each nail and replace with a very long screw (long enough to reach a couple inches into the stud). Once the screws are flush, put the doorstop back and you’re done. Now the jamb will be almost impossible to kick through.
  • Reinforce the hinges. Most hinges have short screws that don’t reach very far. Here, the same principle applies: replace the short screws with long screws that will reach all the way into the studs. Now the door is secured to the jamb and the house frame.
  • Reinforce the strike plate. This is the small piece of metal in the jamb that holds the latch or bolt in place. This is  particularly important. Because the jamb is chiseled out to make room for the keeper, this is a weak spot where the jamb can easily split apart. Once again, you’ll need to replace the short screws with ones that reach through into the stud.

Now the jamb and both sides of the door are attached to the frame of the house making a very formidable barrier. There is no way you can make your home completely burglar-proof. But if your door is strong enough, it is more likely they will give up trying to kick it down and move on to the next house or apartment.

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