Patio doors are sometimes the easiest entry point for criminals. People leave them slightly open and think because it is not on the ground floor it is out of reach of criminals or putting a dowel in the track will deter criminals from entry. Unfortunately I have news for you: craftier criminals know how to get the dowel out of the way, and they can procure ladders. I was surprised to learn that Seattle’s own police department is recommending people put dowels in their patio door tracks to keep criminals from prying doors open. Of course this solution offers more security than not having a dowel, but I would hope that the police suggest that those who are concerned get a Charlie Bar or a patio lock with a spring-loaded bolt because it is a much better solution to the problem.
There are many ways to get in through a patio door for the criminal. Don’t worry, I am not divulging anything to criminals that they haven’t learned about in “Con College” here:
1. They can knock out the perforation in your patio door handle and unlock the door with a screwdriver. If there is a perforated round bit of metal in the center of your sliding patio door, that is to put a lock cylinder in. If you or somebody else knocks that perforation out of the patio door, the lock becomes accessible and anybody can then unlock the door with a flathead screwdriver. To prevent this, consider getting a patio door handle without a perforation or get a lock cylinder to put in the hole that results when the perforation is knocked out. This cylinder can be keyed to match your front door and they are available in a wide number of keyways. For whatever reason these are not standard key-in-knob cylinders. They are often cheap and of non-standard dimensions. My search continues for high quality patio door cylinders of the correct form factor, but until then we must make due with these which solve a big vulnerability.
2. If the homeowner wants to keep their sliding patio door slightly open for ventilation, they will often employ a dowel to keep somebody from opening the door further than a few inches. This is a bad idea. The reason it is a bad idea is that the criminal can stick a coat hanger or other thin device between the two sliding glass panels and flip the dowel out of the way. Now the door slides all the way open. I did this once when somebody’s deadbolt malfunctioned, locking them out, and the patio door was the only other door into the condo. It worked like a charm. Worse yet, there is no sign of forced entry and your insurance company may drag its feet paying out if you have insurance for burglary. I found out that criminals actually figured out this technique for themselves. To prevent this happening, you should consider installing a patio lock or calling me to install a patio door lock.
These patio locks are great because you can drill holes for every width you want the door to be open at, and a spring-loaded bolt attached to the sliding door will drop into these holes when you allow it to. If correctly installed our burglar will not be able to pry his way in unless he uses some really big tools and not without making some noise, so you can safely leave these doors slightly open.
3. The other method criminals use to get through a patio door is by trying to get them to fall off their tracks and pushing them out of the way. This happens when the installer does a sloppy job and doesn’t make sure the door is framed in tightly. The best way to prevent this happening is also an easy and cheap fix: you run some screws in the track so that the heads of the screws sit just above the sliding door. Three or four screws spaced evenly ensure that there is no way to lift the sliding glass door out of its track. If your sliding door is really flexible and thin or maybe not installed properly, you need to get that fixed by a professional door installer (not me).
Much of the same information here is applicable to windows. Windows are usually smaller than doors so they flex less. It may therefore be okay to use a dowel in some windows. That said, there are some very cheap ways to make sure that somebody can’t open your window past a certain point without a great deal of force. I like that first link and have it on my own window. For a few dollars, I can leave my window open and know that unless somebody has a bottle jack or something they aren’t going to open the window. You can drill holes in the frame for the wingnuts to go into to make it a little harder for somebody with a jack to open your window. If somebody is willing to go to such lengths to break in to your house you must have something very valuable and it may be worth your while to invest in some bars, a security system, etc. You will probably have the money to do so if thieves are using more sophisticated methods to get into your house like glasscutters or whatever other techniques might carry over from the movies into real life crime scenarios.
If you have window sash locks you ought to consider secondary methods of locking your window, because a lot of the houses I work on have really old windows with wood that is deteriorating and the small wood screws that hold these window sash locks on are often barely grabbing onto anything. When I point this out, some people propose simply screwing the window shut. That’s fine, it will secure the window, but it is a real shame not to get a breeze. I know my plants enjoy a little breeze in the height of summer.
All of the locks I have linked to except the spring-loaded patio lock bolts and the Charlie Bar are under $4 retail and most of them install with just a Phillips screwdriver. Some install with no tools but opposable digits! There is no excuse for not ordering a few of them and improving your security because the budget for doing so is less than an hour and under $20. The sliding door is perhaps the most vulnerable entry point to your home, but it is also one of the easiest and cheapest doors to secure. The more expensive spring-loaded bolts are only about $30 retail themselves and well worth the cost if you have a patio door. So do it yourself or call me, but for goodness’ sake install a sliding door lock!