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How to burglar-proof your home: 9 tips to prevent break-ins

You don't have to channel Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone to protect your home from burglaries. Just follow these easy steps to keep yourself and your property safe.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Moving into a house can be exciting, but putting safety measures in place to keep it protected can feel a little overwhelming. The good news is, burglary is becoming less common every year. But even with dropping rates, FBI data shows that burglaries occur in the US roughly once every 30 seconds.

To help you with your home security checklist, we put together a guide of the nine best — and most affordable — steps you can take to protect your home and deter would-be intruders from breaking in.

Secure your doors and windows

Locking your doors and windows is the first and easiest defense against home intruders, but how many of us are doing it consistently? Burglars are often looking for easy targets, and an unlocked door or window is just that. Even when you're home, it's good practice to keep them locked. And when you're leaving the house, double-check doors and first-floor windows to make sure they're all secured.

Some devices can also help you keep track of your entryways. Door and window sensors can track whether a door or window has been left ajar, and smart locks can be scheduled to lock automatically at certain times. Which brings us to our next tip.

Upgrade your door locks

Locking your doors and windows may not be enough if you don't have high-quality locks. First, make sure all exterior doors have a deadbolt, making it more difficult for intruders to break in. While you're at it, make sure your door frames and hinges are strong enough to endure an attempted break-in -- older doors or exposed hinges can pose an unnecessary risk. Finally, as mentioned above, you can upgrade to smart locks, which you can engage remotely.

Buy a home security system

Installing a home security system is one of the most effective ways to prevent intruders from entering and to alert you if there's been a break-in. Data shows that a home without a security system is roughly three times more likely to be broken into. If an intruder spots a security camera or a sign indicating you have a security system, they'll likely keep moving.

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Home security systems are one of the best all-around defenses against would-be burglars.

David Priest/CNET

Home security cameras are a great option to add another layer of home protection. Security cameras can alert you if there's movement in your yard or on your front porch, and door and window sensors will let you know if someone has entered or is attempting to enter your home. Depending on your security company, they may also alert law enforcement on your behalf.

Security systems also don't have to break the bank. There are plenty of affordable security cameras and great DIY security systems, in addition to stand-alone devices, out there that you can install yourself on a budget.

Keep your valuables hidden

Some burglars may scope out potential targets ahead of time, ensuring they hit houses where they can get their hands on valuables. As a result, it's best to avoid keeping your expensive items where intruders can easily see them as they pass by. For example, avoid leaving expensive tools or bikes out in the open, close your garage door, and don't leave expensive electronics, purses, jewelry, cash and other big-ticket items in front of open windows. You can also consider installing window treatments like curtains or blinds to keep out spying eyes. 

Install outdoor lighting

Burglars don't want to feel like they're on display when breaking into a home, and outdoor lights can help to do just that. Since these crimes are often ones of opportunity, outdoor lights may encourage the intruder to keep moving. Rather than keeping your outdoor light on all the time, consider investing in motion-sensor lights that illuminate the yard when they detect movement. The light will catch an intruder off-guard and potentially scare them off. 

And if you would like to take the extra step, there are plenty of outdoor security cameras on the market. From high-end devices to budget-friendly options, boosting your video-surveillance system can keep your loved ones and your property as safe as possible. 

Lock your garage

People put a lot of effort into securing their homes but often forget entirely about their garages. Unfortunately, that can be an easy way to gain entrance into your home. First, be sure any regular doors and windows to your garage are locked. Next, consider keeping your garage door opener in the house rather than in your car where someone could steal it. Finally, you should also keep the interior door from your garage to your home locked. That way, if someone does gain entry into your garage, they still can't get into your home. 

As with door locks, buying a retrofit smart garage door opener is an option. These devices allow you to check the status of your garage while you're away, control it remotely and schedule it to shut at certain times.

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Spare keys are a lifesaver if you get locked out of the house. But they can also make a burglar's job much easier.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Be smart about your hide-a-key

If you have a house key under your doormat or flowerpot on the porch, rethink its placement. Intruders know these popular hiding places for spare keys, and those are the first places they'll look. Instead, consider giving the extra key to a trusted neighbor or friend. If you must have a spare key outside your home, look for safer alternatives such as a concealed combination lockbox — or at least a discreet and unexpected location far from your doorway. A little extra caution and mindfulness can go a long way in keeping your home safe. 

Make it look like someone is home

Most burglars don't want to enter your home when you're there. They'd rather find an empty home and be in and out as quickly as possible. Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent intruders is to make it look like someone is home at all times.

During the workday, this might include leaving an interior light or the TV on. When you're gone for a longer period of time such as a vacation, make sure to have a neighbor or family member collect your mail, since mail piling up can be a giveaway that the homeowner is gone for a while.

Smart lights can create an even more convincing effect: many can be programmed to turn on and off periodically to simulate a person being home.

Consider buying a safe

In a perfect world, intruders would never make it into your home, and so you'd never have to worry about your valuables being stolen. Unfortunately, even the best-laid plans can go astray. And on the off-chance that an intruder does make it into your home, you want to make sure they can steal as little as possible.

First, consider buying a safe or lockbox where you can keep things like cash, jewelry, important documents and other items you wouldn't want a thief to walk away with. As far as bigger items such as electronics, you can make them more difficult to steal by putting them in a concealed place when you aren't using them. Thieves want to be in and out of your home as quickly as possible, so even the smallest deterrent can help.

The bottom line

No one wants to become the victim of a home invasion. Implementing the tips on this checklist will help discourage and prevent burglars -- and keep your family and belongings safe. You can start small and pick just a couple of things on this list to focus on. Once you've got those down, you can move onto other items on the checklist. Each small improvement you make will ensure your home and loved ones are that much more secure.