Country houses for sale

How to defend your home

Forget digging a moat around your house: these days, increasingly sophisticated and affordable technology is making security easier, as Roderick Easdale discovers.

An Englishman’s home is said to be his castle and we can still draw plenty of lessons from how such imposing fortifications were constructed when it comes to protecting our valuables today. Says Andrew Cheney of insurers Hiscox: ‘The principle has always been for concentric rings of protection, which typically used to be a moat, two walls and a keep—a layered approach, with the most valuable assets protected behind the most layers.’

Digging a moat round your place in the country might seem a little excessive these days—and quite possibly impractical as well—but a ha-ha could fit the bill as a modern-day substitute ‘as many burglaries are carried out by people driving in across a field in a 4×4’. The equivalent of the drawbridge of yore is the electric gate.

Balance is required between what deters and what attracts and what impedes burglaries and what becomes an impediment to homeowners enjoying life. The most secure buildings in the land are prisons, but you wouldn’t want to live in one. Home security that’s too ostentatious can itself attract burglars—that someone is prepared to go to such effort and expense may suggest that they have something that they consider worth protecting.

Security systems and alarms
Any chain, real or metaphorical, is only as strong as its weakest link, so joined-up thinking is required when planning a security system. Hugh Martin of security risk managers Hawki explains that the three stages of protection are deter, detect and react. When asked to inspect security systems, he says he often finds that homeowners have covered the first two well, but ‘if the alarm goes off—what happens next? Some people haven’t actually thought too much about that’.

The system should also be regularly inspected to ensure it remains in good order. Burglars have been known to test their potential targets in advance—such as by taking out a security camera with an air rifle— to see whether the system is monitored or active.

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As many burglar-alarm firms have merged or been taken over, the alarm casing on the outside of your house may have an outdated brand name on it, a sign that the system isn’t modern or may not be still operative. In such cases, Mr Cheney recommends getting the casing replaced by an updated branded one and, if necessary, ‘reminding the company that the reason it has its name on the box is for marketing’.

Check your locks and gates
All aspects of security should be assessed in terms of potential threats. Locking gates with a padlock can be relatively cheap and effective, but Mr Cheney cautions that he’s been to a number of properties where the end of the gate that opens is securely padlocked, but the other end can simply be lifted up out of its hinges.

Embrace technology
The good news is that increasingly sophisticated and affordable technology has made security a lot easier. A mobile phone can now show live pictures from a camera at home and apps can be used to let people in when you’re out. For example, a delivery man could call your mobile to be let into an outside storeroom or a porch way—after being checked out over the live camera feed if needs be—to leave the delivery in a place secure from the elements and the temptation of any passer-by.

Mr Martin adds: ‘All technology tends to start as bulky and expensive, but becomes smaller and affordable—GPS started with the American military and now it’s given away free inside smartphones.’ CCTV cameras are becoming cheaper and the picture quality better and, ‘in five years’ time, private houses will be using infrared cameras with a colour technology that will make it look as if the pictures are shot during broad daylight’.

Security cameras are increasingly becoming a plus when it comes to selling your house, says Tony Wright of Carter Jonas in Harrogate (01423 523423): ‘It’s becoming the norm to have three installed on the exterior of the properties and buyers of high-end homes are attracted to houses that have such installations.’

Make illustrated household inventories
Finally, ‘make sure you have a list of your valuables together with photographs of them,’ counsels Harry Fitzalan Howard of Gauntlet Insurance Services. This not only helps with claims, but also aids the police in recovering items. However, if this were to fall into the wrong hands, it might seem like a shopping list to the unscrupulous, so ‘don’t show this to anyone—and that includes your insurance company’.

Security specialists
Hiscox (020–7448 6000;
Hawki Security Risk Management (020–3542 1500;
Gauntlet Insurance Services (020–7394 2400;