How to Secure Your Windows on the Cheap
So you’re living in the city and you’re not exactly neighbors with the governor or any good Ponzi scheme operators. You’re pretty sure your place isn’t too secure, because the other night a drunk let himself in through your bathroom window thinking it was his own apartment. You’re also on a budget because you’re not a Ponzi scheme operator (good for you!), and your landlord seems to suffer from amnesia whenever you mention the security upgrades he promised just before you signed the lease. It’s time to take matters into your own hands.
What to Do with Windows
Doors are easy to burglar-proof. You throw on a couple of hardened-steel locks using pencil-sized screws, and you’re all set. Windows are little more complicated. The main question to ask yourself is whether you need just a secure lock for the window or you want to protect the entire opening, so that the window remains secure even if the glass is broken. (How drunk was that guy?)
In many residential situations, a locked window provides adequate security because breaking the glass is likely to draw attention, inside or outside the home. Would-be intruders pass up the home because of the risk of being heard breaking the window or being seen crawling through it.
Window locks are readily available, easy to install and inexpensive. But many are just plain cheap (as in crappy). Your local hardware store or home center is sure to have a lock for your type of window, in addition to old school locking devices like wood dowels or broom handles. Keep this in mind, though: Just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, a lock is no better than its weakest part or connection. You can splurge on high quality locks for your windows, but if they’re screwed into soft or thin wood or the screws are short, the strong locks won’t do you much good. So be sure the lock itself is sturdy and you’ll be able to make a strong connection to the window or frame.
The store staff can help you find the right locks for your window type, whether it’s a
- single-hung (one sash goes up and down)
- double-hung (both sashes go up and down)
- slider (slides open to the side) OR
- casement (uses a crank to open like a door)
In addition, here are a couple of down-and-dirty options: For single- and double-hung windows, drill a hole through the meaty part of the wood where the two sashes meet (don’t go all the way through the outer sash) and insert an eye bolt to pin the sashes together. For sliders, a wood dowel laid in the track makes a good lock.
However, sliders are designed to lift out of their tracks for replacement. That means a thug with a crowbar can do the same thing on the outside. Eliminate this vulnerability by driving a few screws straight up into the top window track, stopping when the screw heads are just above the window sash. Do this only on the “closed” side of the window frame, so you can still lift out the sash when the window is open.
Secure Window Openings
When you’re not willing to live with the reality that the only thing between your private nest and the crime-ridden streets is an old windowpane, you’re ready to shop for window security bars. These come in lots of different styles and configurations, but basically they’re all metal bars or gates that mount to the inside of your window frame and lock, with or without a key. For any window in your living space, you want a bar system that opens easily from the inside, in case of an emergency. Be sure to keep any keys stored where they’re easy for you to reach but impossible to grab through the window opening.
Choose and Install Window Bars
Window bar prices vary widely, so shop around for a basic, adjustable device that will fit your window. If you’re renting, there’s no need to pay extra for decorative bars or any bells and whistles. You only have to secure the opening so that a body can’t fit through it (drunk or otherwise). Security bars typically install with hidden or tamper-resistant screws—just make sure the screws are going into meaty wood or, preferably, the wall framing. If your landlord balks about all the screws in his window frames, assure him that you’ll patch and paint the holes when you move. He’d hate to have to use his own caulk—most likely toothpaste—on “your” security upgrades.
For help with any of these projects, hire a reliable handyman.
Updated December 21, 2017.