Lighting up your yard will keep the burglars away, right? That’s mostly true, but like a lot of things in life, it’s not that simple. A brightly lit yard could make it easier for the bad guys to see during a break-in.
From street lights to porch lights, studies show that better outdoor lighting reduces crime. But those same reports say that security lighting works best as part of a plan that takes into account what crooks look for.
The basic advice from law enforcement, insurance companies, and home security system vendors is, don’t just flip on the yard light before bed. In fact, you may want to turn it off before turning in.
The goal is to make it look like people are home. Turning lights on and off gives your home that lived-in look. And if you’re not there, well, there’s an app for that.
Here are six tips to electrify your outdoor lighting tech and increase the security of your home.
1. Think like a burglar.
Intruders tend to enter a home through a door, and they’d rather you not be home, so they watch for signs that people are at work. That’s why most burglaries happen in the day, and why leaving your lights on all day and night, or when you’re on vacation, can be an advertisement that no one’s home. Do keep the yard lit while you’re up and around to show normal activity—turning off the porch light at bedtime can be a sign to a potential intruder that someone is in the house. Pay attention to spots that could cover up a break-in—keep trees and bushes trimmed.
2. Light for the right reasons.
Are you trying to light a walkway for guests or keep intruders away from an entrance? Place lights so they achieve your objective. And safety isn’t just about reducing crime. A well-lit outdoor space can also prevent trips, falls, and other accidents.
3. Enlist technology.
Electronic timers and lights that turn on when they sense motion can give the impression that someone’s home and can light the sidewalk when you return from an outing, without leaving the lights on all the time. Increasingly, lights and fixtures can be linked to a smartphone so you can turn them on and off while you’re out and about.
(Left) Electronic timers and lights that turn on when they sense motion can give the impression that someone’s home. (Center) From street lights to porch lights, studies show that better outdoor lighting reduces crime. (Right) Many outdoor lights and fixtures, like the Ring smart bulb shown here, can be linked to a smartphone so you can turn them on and off while you’re out and about. Photos courtesy of Ring.
4. Weigh the pros and cons of a home security system.
Security cameras, alarm systems, and protection services offer a wide range of conveniences including fire protection or checking whether your pets hop onto the dining table when you leave. A security camera can also help identify someone stealing a package delivered to your doorstep. They can be expensive, so do your research carefully, and know what you’re trying to achieve.
5. Protect yourself from internet hackers.
Internet-connected devices can be hacked by digital-savvy troublemakers. Whether it’s a security camera or a smart light bulb, they offer cyber crooks a way into your personal information. The basic internet security advice is to have strong passwords and change them regularly, especially on your home’s central router. Keep software updated on your devices—those updates often add the newest cyber protections. Even though it’s tempting, don’t use social media to tell the world you’re on vacation. Consider sharing your travel photos after you get back.
6. Go old school.
Besides electricity and technology, use people to reduce crime. Invite a police officer to give a safety briefing at a neighborhood meeting. They can describe the best steps for your area. And of all the crime-
reducing tips, experts say the best one is to get to know your neighbors, who can recognize and report any out-of-the-ordinary activity.
Lighting the path to safety, it turns out, involves making a plan, wise use of technology, and a little help from your friends.
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.