First LIne of Defense is at the Door
While isolated rural living is peaceful, away from traffic and noise, it can feel less than peaceful if you are concerned about how to make an off-grid or rural home safe from break-ins. Isolation has its downside, because the country dwellers are often far away from watchful neighbors and police service.
After many years of country living, I've learned a few things about security on the back roads. One of the first things to do is to get to know the neighbors. They may not be in direct line of sight of the house and property, but if they have an idea of who belongs in the area, they will have an idea of when someone is suspicious. I would introduce myself and my immediate family, and explain what kind of visitors might be coming by.
Security lights can be counter-productive. If no one is around to make note of who is standing in that light, it just gives a thief better light for breaking in. Security lights attract animals and insects as well, which can be an annoyance and a health hazard. They are expensive to keep, they disrupt sleep and they have to be maintained. They are a big drain on batteries off-grid. A completely dark yard is more discouraging to a thief than a well-lit back door.
The second line of defense is a good lock. A properly installed deadbolt for the times the residents are away or asleep will stymie a casual thief. A snap lock in the doorknob is almost an invitation to put a hammer or screwdriver into the frame and pop it. A really secure deadbolt that takes a key on both sides will prevent thieves from cutting into the door and just turning the inside latch.
A solid door with a deadbolt is the best door defense. Windows can be jimmied with a screwdriver or broken with a rock. If no one is around, a determined thief will take a sledgehammer to a reinforced window, or even to the door frame. Make sure the solid door is installed correctly so that it can't be battered in easily.
A Modest Proposal
It is tempting to dress up the house and yard a bit, and maybe more than a little bit. We all like to have pretty things around us. But too much is just an advertisement that there is more inside. New model cars and elaborate outdoor furniture are a target, but they also signal to a thief that this house may contain other items worth stealing. Having the high-end appliances and electronics may be possible when the property cost less than an equivalent house in a suburb, but they are also easy for a thief to fence or sell. Obvious ownership marks that can't be removed or obscured will signal to a burglar that the television and laptop aren't worth taking. Because rural thieves are less concerned about being discovered in the act, they are more likely to clean out the house of everything marketable. It might be better to have less to steal, or items that have lower market value so that even if the house defenses are broken, the thieves may be less tempted to clean it out.
Barns and outbuildings are often too accessible. Strangers have taken good antique tools out of my sheds when I was away for the day, and replacing hay-fork and scythes is expensive. Hasps and padlocks will work fine if they are heavy enough and installed properly. Ask, "Could I take that off with a crowbar or a hammer?" If the answer is yes, upgrade to a better grade of hasp and padlock. Padlocks work best if they are bolt-cutter proof. Tractors, field equipment and even hay can be targets for thieves if they know they have plenty of time. Make equipment that is left outdoors as inaccessible or get it out of sight behind a building. Removing a key component required to operate a tractor or field equipment may work as well as a padlock. For instance, take the spark plugs out of an old tractor, or remove a steering wheel. Remove wheels and store them separately in a locked shed. The best line of defense, though, is to have a family member of friend stay on the farm if a prolonged absence is necessary.
There are some elements of defense that a rural resident may consider that wouldn't be obvious to a city dweller. While barred windows and grated doors are the opposite of what most of us want in the country, the old solution to enclosing a house was the shutter. Heavy, solid plank shutters, which can be made in the home workshop, are hinged so that they cover the window and are barred or locked from the inside. They can be painted to enhance the appearance of the house. Not only are they useful for barring thieves, but they are good in really bad weather, to insulate or to cut down drafts.
Another rural defense element is the old-fashioned, and very necessary, bear bar. This is only good if the residents are inside the house. When we lived in the mountains, in a tiny cabin both off-grid and off-road, the bear bar was peace of mind every night. Two heavy brackets are bolted into the wall on either side of a solid door; a long piece of 2×4 or heavier lumber is cut to rest across them. Close the door, drop the bar into place, and even a large black bear catching wind of just-baked molasses cookies won't be able to get through.
A vicious dog is not a good idea for protection. This is a home, not a scrap metals yard. An animal who is trained to fear and attack humans will be a hazard to family and friends, and a huge legal liability if it should harm anyone, even a thief. A dog that will bark, kept inside, may be a lot more effective. If someone should break in and the dog put on a show of self-defense, many people will back out rather than risk injury.
Most jurisdictions require that a warning sign be posted if a dog is present in a fenced yard or an accessible area. One issue about keeping a guard animal is that a determined thief could harm the animal with a weapon or poison. A fenced yard with a flock of geese, a donkey or llamas may be more effective than a dog. Many people will not want to enter an area with farm animals that have uncertain temperaments. Geese and donkeys are particularly good at alerting their owners to invasion and trouble.
- Author’s personal experience.