Ten Layers of Snowbird Security

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Cameras are priceless for peace of mind all year round. Allow plenty of time to research, install, test and tweak before departing


Security is essential for snowbirds who travel hundreds of miles away from their primary home for an extensive time, strategically planning for the best outcome of no major issues while away. For improved peace of mind, not only while in your warm weather home, but all year round, increasing your security system is well worth the effort. It's amazing how much better we felt after installing security cameras. Not only can we check out what is or isn't happening at home, we can also see what is going on with our neighbors, the weather and if/when our driveway is plowed or a package is delivered. Cameras help us feel connected. As summer winds down, take time to review, plan and improve your security systems so the work is completely finished and field-tested well ahead of your departure date.


Ten Layers of Security for Home and Away

Many people tend to put off making investments in their security systems until there is a problem. The problem may be encountered by a neighbor or loved one, even if not your own residence. Remember, the households with the most lax security measures will be the preferred targets.

What is your weakest link? Probably an unlocked door or window. Don't overlook the core basics. The best security systems are comprised of many layers: physical barriers, lighting, alarm systems, cameras, noise and more. Plus your barking dog, of course. The following ten layers of security can be applied to both your primary and southern residences. Although anyone renting their snowbird home will have much less flexibility, it's an opportunity to get creative.

Physical Barriers

1. Gates, fences, landscaping

The first layer of security starts with your environment. Fences, gates, and strategic landscaping, such as low, prickly bushes under the windows all play a key role. If your landscaping has grown up over the windows and around the exterior doors, cut it back. Don't provide an easy hiding place for someone checking out your home.

2. Locks

I don't know of anyone who doesn't have locks on their doors, windows and vehicles, but I do know of many people who are lax about using them. Be consistent, especially at night. Set up a daily routine of who is responsible for what so that closing overhead garage doors, locking vehicles, doors and windows is an ingrained habit. Locks are the most basic form of security, so stick with the basics, whether at home or away.

Styles and Layers of Locks

Keypad entries or twist-style knob locks combined with chain locks are good for exterior doors. Deadbolts are the best. If your home doesn't have deadbolts on every door, it's another easy, basic strategy. Your weakest link is any door without a deadbolt.

Layer your doors and locks. If you don't already have storm doors for each exterior entry, add them. Not only do they provide an extra barrier of entry, they will help with hot and cold weather drafts. It's not too much to have locked storm doors combined with a twist lock and a deadbolt.

Locks on your interior doors are also important. Install a safe bolted to a shelf in a closet with a locked door. Lock your file cabinet drawers too.

Keypad entries for overhead garage doors are an easy, cost-effective method for allowing access to your home without a key. If a trusted neighbor needs to place your mail or a package in the garage, they don't need a key. It's easy to change the code periodically as needed. However, don't leave for the season without first changing the battery on your keyless entry.

Don't forget to have a plan in place in case you get locked out of your home. There are many creative ways to hide keys, including small keypad cases that can be discreetly mounted to an exterior wall. For your rental snowbird home, make sure you memorize the keypad code and/or can easily contact the property manager if you get locked out.


3. Signage

Simple, strategic signs placed on your windows and near exterior doors can prove effective, whether or not you actually employ the measure. "Property Under Electronic Surveillance," "Protected by: XYZ Security," "Cameras in Use" and "Beware of Dog" signs are all popular. Signage that can be removed from your southern rental upon departure is fair game. Bluffing works when playing card games and is also a good security strategy.

4. Lighting

Another basic strategy: lighting. Yes, it costs money to keep your porch or yard light on for a period of time every night, but is well worth it for the improved security so you can see your driveway, yard and front entry. Install a timer so the light will turn on at dusk and off by itself a few hours later, regardless if you are there or not. Measures that make it appear someone is home year round help deter criminals.

Motion-activated flood lights require more work to install, but are great for areas such as your side or back yard.

There are monitoring systems that offer multiple levels of features, including the ability to turn on lights from an app.

5. Alarms

Alarms are highly beneficial for not only security, but fire and flood as well. There are many reputable companies who offer various packages and plans. Not only do you receive the benefit of 24/7 monitoring of your residence, check with your insurance agent for an annual homeowner's discount if available.

When installing an alarm system, plan well in advance to do your research, select a company and get scheduled for the installation.

Allow plenty of time to learn how to use your system, as well as the features. Some systems have more than one option for tripping the alarm, such as laser beams that will be triggered upon motion of any kind; glass break sensors for your doors/windows and extra loud sirens.

Features of Monitoring Systems

There are monitoring systems that allow you to turn the alarm on/off from your cell phone app and computer. Priceless for the snowbird who wants to absolutely ensure the alarm is set or needs to turn the alarm off to allow someone access to their Northern home while hundreds of miles away. Being able to control an alarm system from afar goes a long way for peace of mind.

Our system allows us to assign specific entry codes for each family member, neighbor or friend and then compiles a list of who entered our residence from distinguished doors on a given date/time. For example, Person A entered the house through the kitchen door on 1-18 at 13:23 hours. On many occasions throughout the year, we've used this information to verify that in fact, someone kept their word and didn't just lead us to believe they were there, when in fact, they were not or vice versa.

6. Cameras

I can't say enough good things about installing security cameras

screen shot of security camera settings, easy to use and adjust
Camera settings can easily be adjusted from anywhere your phone can access Wi-Fi

in and around your home. Cameras keep you connected, emotionally and physically. My only regret is wondering why didn't we install them sooner?

Make a list of the most important considerations, do your research, select a product and install the cameras. Field test your system well in advance of departure so you can tweak it before hitting the road. For example, before departing for our time away, we installed a camera inside the garage in what to us was the perfect vantage point. We quickly realized our "perfect" camera angle was completely obstructed by the overhead garage door when it was open.

Objectives for your Security Cameras

Our initial goal was to install cameras trained on every exterior door. However, after being away, it became important to me to view not only each exterior door, but to see in every direction outside our house: East, West, North, South. It's kind of like knowing a storm is approaching, but not having a window on that side of the house to see it coming. When you're away, you fully realize how important it is to see every view, not just limited views.

For us, the important camera-system features are:

--No monthly contract


--Easy to install and operate

--Modular, so we can add more future cameras

--High image quality during day and night lighting conditions

If you have a camera malfunction during your time away, have a plan in place for someone who you can call on to investigate the issue and be able to correct the problem. Examples, include replacing burned out batteries; wiping bird droppings, dirt, condensation or fog from the camera lens; adding, replacing and/or repositioning camera/s; and resetting or troubleshooting issues with the sync module.

Cameras in Your Snowbird Home

Security cameras may be in use on the premises of your Southern residence. Inquire about them so you know where they are and if they actually function. Then make an effort to park your vehicle and stay within view of them at night.

Another strategy we have used in our southern rental home: web cams. We place a laptop computer facing the entry door when we're out to dinner and then check in periodically to make sure all is well and our dog is not creating a nuisance by barking excessively. It's a relief to see him sleeping comfortably by the door, waiting for our return.

With the portability of modern camera systems, it's easy to temporarily install cameras in your snowbird home and monitor them via your phone.


8. Dogs

Don't underestimate your dog. Even small barking dogs can be a good deterrent because they create noise. However, since your dog will likely be with you in your southern home, use that as a layer of security while there since it's not possible to install permanent alarm systems in your rental property. However, as mentioned previously, web cams or removable cameras are an ideal temporary solution. If you own your snowbird home, installing alarms and/or cameras are a solid investment.

This is also why it's super important to have other layers of security in your Northern home to make up for the lack of your dog's protection while you are not there.

9. TV/Music in Use

Since you can't leave your music streaming device or TV on at your primary home while away for weeks/months, use the technique in your snowbird residence with the caveat it will not disturb your neighbors. Noise is effective as a deterrent.

Home and Away Teams

10. Trusted neighbors/family/friends

Snowbirds know they absolutely need to rely on a trusted "home" team to help as needed. We've had fliers and packages inadvertently delivered to our doorstep that need removed; items that have to be retrieved from our home and shipped to us as well as other issues that have come up.

A member of our home team plows the drive and walkway as needed so it looks occupied. We have our mail brought in every few days and our neighbors know to watch not only our home, but the one across the street from us because they, too, are snowbirds.

We also have built an "away" team of friends and neighbors who all look out for each other.

It all boils down to the basics. Set up your layers of security systems, consistently follow your procedures and trust that the best outcome will be to encounter no major issues.

Note: Content is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended for any purposes other than that. This report does not take into account the personal objectives, situation or specific needs of any particular recipient.

"Security is a process, not a product"

-- Bruce Schneier, Internationally Renowned Security Guru

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