Got stuff? Stuff you’d prefer not to lose to a scumbag thief? Most of us do. Whether it’s a roll of gold coins to help survive the upcoming Zombie apocalypse, or a treasured 8-track tape of Liberace’s greatest hits, we all have things we’d like to hang on to. Unfortunately, there are a lot of parasites out there who won’t hesitate to make YOUR stuff THEIR stuff, if they get the opportunity.
We’ve been burglarized twice; once many years ago when we lived in Phoenix, and more recently in a house I had purchased and was renovating in Pittsburgh. The Phoenix incident felt far more personal – the perpetrator(s), who were never caught, trashed the house as they went through all our stuff, taking our cash, stereo, firearms, and what little jewelry we had, including my wedding ring. The Pittsburgh caper, which I believe was carried out by a subcontractor who had recently done some work, or by friends of his, cost me thousands of dollars worth of tools. No one took the fall for that heist, either. Both instances left us feeling violated, frustrated, and angry.
Try to Keep the Lowlifes Out
There are many precautions and preventive measures you can take to avoid becoming a victim of these lowlife vermin pond scum losers (I hope I’m not being too subtle about my feelings regarding thieves—I may still have a little residual anger). Most measures are obvious, common sense steps you can take, such as keeping your shrubbery trimmed low to avoid hiding places, having good lighting, including motion-detector lights, buying good quality deadbolt locks for your doors—and USING them, keeping your windows and garage doors locked, using light timers indoors when you’re away, not letting mail and newspapers pile up when you’re away, not advertising your absence on Facebook, and so on. If you can afford it, a security system is an excellent deterrent, as is installing security cameras, which can also be configured to record footage when activated.
When I researched this article, I was surprised to learn that most burglaries occur during daylight hours, with the highest percentage between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. When you think about it, though, that’s when most HONEST people are at work or out running errands, leaving many homes unoccupied. The thief will come in and head for the master bedroom and home office areas, as that’s where the goodies tend to be stashed, and will grab any other small, high-value items he comes across on the way. Laptop computers, iPods and other small electronic devices, cash, jewelry, firearms, and prescription drugs are some of the most popular items he’ll be after.
I also learned that the average intruder is in your home for between 8-12 minutes. The longer he’s in there, the better chance he has of getting busted. Therefore, one good way to keep more of your stuff is to make it harder to find—don’t keep all your jewelry in a box on the dresser, and the cash in a lock box (with a convenient carrying handle!) in the closet or under your desk. One good way to get some of your valuables out of sight, while also providing some measure of security for them, is to install a hidden wall safe. There are a variety of models available, ranging in price from under $100 to as much as you want to spend. The lower-end models are generally not fireproof, and are not super-beefy, while some of the higher-end units are very sturdy and fire resistant, but may not fit into a standard wall.
In Case They Come in Anyway…Slow ’em Down
I was recently called on to install a LockState LS-52EN wall safe as part of a renovation I was working on. This safe is not fire proof, but is fairly heavy, about 37 pounds, and seems very well made, of heavy gauge steel and with two 5/8” locking bolts. It is sized to fit between standard 2×4 wall studs spaced 16” on center, is just over 20” high, and is designed to be installed in an already-finished wall. This safe is an excellent way to stash cash, jewelry, handguns, valuable coins (gold or silver, anyone?), passports and other important papers (again, most lower-priced models are NOT fire proof), and other small valuables you have lying around. This type of safe is designed to be hidden behind a piece of furniture, a poster or painting, or a mirror, as it sits almost perfectly flush with the wall; the LS-52EN protrudes barely 1/8”.
When you get the safe, check it to make sure it works properly before you install it. The LS-52EN, like many others in this price range, comes with a digital keypad, allowing you to set your own 3 to 8 digit code after inserting the batteries. They also come with backup keys in case the batteries die, or you forget your code. Hint: DON’T lock these keys in the safe! The one-page instruction sheet that came with the safe wasn’t very complete, but LockState has a better installation and operation manual in PDF format available on their website.
Choose a Good Mounting Location
When choosing a location, try to make sure it’s somewhat centered on the wall, or part of a grouping, so it doesn’t seem out of place. Avoid exterior walls, so you don’t have to mess with insulation. Make sure the studs are a full 16” on center (leaving 14 ½” between); use a stud finder, or probe with a small finish nail to make sure you have the full width necessary to install it. Also, be sure to verify, as the TSA would say, that the cavity is clear, and there’s nothing in them thar’ walls to thwart your installation – wiring, plumbing, and air conditioning or heat vents are the most likely culprits. You may also want to locate it somewhere away from the typical mother lode areas—in a family room or living room, perhaps, or even behind a spice poster in the kitchen. At the very least, installing it in a secondary bedroom will make it less likely to be discovered. Given enough time, the scumbag will find it, but again they want to be in and out quickly, and even if it IS found, the thief may not want to take the time to find a pry bar and mess with trying to get it open.
Make a Hole!
When you think you have a good spot, cut out a small square first, maybe 4×4”, so you can peek and poke around inside and make sure it’s clear. That way, if you goof, it’s a lot easier to patch. Make one vertical line right at the edge of a stud, and measure and mark your other three lines. Most likely your other vertical cut won’t be right at the stud; most of these safes are slightly narrower than the full 14 ½” normal space between studs, to allow for slight variations in spacing. On the unit I installed, there was a gap of about ½” between the next stud and where the edge of the safe would be, so I screwed a 3 ¼”x22” piece of scrap ½” plywood to the edge of the stud so the safe would fit snugly between.
After finishing your cutout, push the safe all the way into the opening to make sure it fits properly. While pushing it back, mark the holes for mounting, then remove the safe and drill, baby, drill! Now pop the safe back into the opening, and bolt it into place.
For some reason, the mounting hardware provided with the LS-52EN consisted of expansion bolts, which would more typically be used for mounting to concrete. I pitched ‘em, and traipsed off to the local hardware store for four 5/16” lag bolts 1 ½” long, which set me back just over a buck. They fit perfectly in the pre-drilled mounting holes in the safe, and provide a good, solid attachment.
If you have an impact driver, this is a perfect opportunity to put it to use; unfortunately, I didn’t have a driver bit big enough to fit the head on the lag bolts, so I snugged them up with a ratchet and socket. An open-end or adjustable wrench would work, too. Just be careful not to over-tighten the bolts, as you don’t want to distort the frame.
And that’s pretty much it! Hang a poster, a mirror, or your velvet Elvis painting over the safe, or put a piece of furniture in front of it, and watch it disappear! This type of safe won’t stop a determined thief; if he has a crowbar and wants to spend a couple of minutes (and make some noise) prying it out, it can be done. But it WILL slow him down a bit, upping his chances of being discovered, and first he has to find it. Hopefully it will be hard enough to find that if some turdball leech DOES break into your place, you’ll get to keep at least SOME of your stuff, be it gold coins or solid gold hits!