Guides Self Defense

Home Defense 101: Deterrence

Home defense is a complex topic, but one that is important and folks keep asking about. I don’t have all the answers, but this post gets into one of the aspects I consider to be most important. That aspect is deterrence.

When talking about home defense, or really any type of armed self defense topic, I find that most conversations focus on firearms and associated equipment and on occasion conversations will focus on shooting skills. I get it. Equipment and skills are critically important if one ever finds themselves in position with no other choice but to deploy lethal force. However, there is a lot more to home defense than shooting that is just as critically important if not more so.

On top of not being an expert in this area, I can’t hope to possibly cover every possible consideration for different types of homes, environments, and living situations. What I will do is share the things I consider and provide examples of what some of my friends have done to address concerns raised during considerations. I hope that this will help some of the folks who read this post get started with starting or improving their home defense plans.

A fight avoided is a fight won.

– Somebody

I don’t know or can’t remember who coined the phrase, “a fight avoided is a fight won.” Regardless, I find this to be an extremely valuable modus operandi as an armed citizen. Avoidance exposes us to the least risk. The name of the game is deterrence when it comes to home defense. Deterrence is accomplished by making an uninvited guest decide that breaking into that home is more trouble than it’s worth. Of course, that depends entirely on how motivated the individuals are in comparison to the perceived risk or effort required to do what they intend to do.

From what I’ve gathered from reading and training, the vast majority of criminals look for soft targets. They want an easy payday. They would rather avoid resistance. They don’t want to get caught. They most definitely don’t want to get shot. For all intents and purposes, unless the criminal is absolutely crazy, they will consciously or subconsciously conduct a risk versus reward analysis.

So how can one go about increasing the deterrence factor of a home? The first thing that comes to mind is exterior and perimeter lighting. Whether this is done with lights that are manually turned on and off or motion activated bright floodlights makes it harder for criminals to conceal their approach. I personally prefer using a combination of low wattage manually activated lights and stupid bright motion activated flood lights. By stupid bright I mean lights that are bright enough to get my neighbors’ attention since that might also increase the chance of having a witness or two rely on later should it be necessary. Furthermore, I really like bright floodlights with surveillance cameras attached to them because not only will they make a concealed approach harder, but it will also let a criminal know they are being recorded which increases the likelihood of successful prosecution.

Surveillance cameras and video doorbells increase the deterrence factor during the day. Remember criminals want an easy target. As such, daytime burglaries can be more common in some suburban neighborhoods since many adults leave the vicinity to go do their day job. This decreases the number of potential witnesses and increases the chance of finding an unoccupied home. Visible surveillance cameras and video doorbells let criminals know there is a chance inhabitants of the dwelling may remotely call law enforcement. This in addition to alerting a criminal to the increased likelihood of successful prosecution.

The visible presence of a home alarm system also alerts criminals to the possibility of law enforcement being dispatched. While I think a home security system provides a lot of value, it does require a financial investment. In terms of deterrence, the most valuable component of the home security system is signage which can also be purchased separately. Placing a yard sign and decals at potential entry points (windows and exterior doors) is relatively inexpensive and is enough to deter a fair number of criminals. I prefer to use consistent branded signage since I feel it creates a stronger perception that an actual professionally monitored alarm system is in place.

Up to this point, I’ve mentioned things we can do to deter a potential intruder and the reasons why those things might work. However, I’m going to flip the script here and focus on other deterrence factors with an example or two. This is because potential measures seem to me to be more situational. I could be wrong, but I still think it’s worth the exploration.

We’ve covered a few measures that increase the concern of being prosecuted for potential intruders. Along that line of thinking, I’ve mentioned measures that expose an intruder’s approach which also increases the concern of being spotted and seen. Extrapolating on that, there are other things we can do to limit an intruder’s approach and limit their options. For example, we can leverage landscaping to limit approach vectors and entry points. By planting vegetation that is difficult, or more specifically painful, to traverse we can make certain approaches and entry points less desirable and ensure the accessible approaches are well lit and limited in number.

As mentioned, most potential criminal intruders would rather not meet resistance. Anything we can do to make it appear that there are people who are awake in the dwelling can increase the deterrence factor. During nighttime, illumination is our greatest asset. In the daylight, sound becomes more important than illumination. As such, leaving an interior light on at night time or a TV on during the day goes a long way. However, one can’t or shouldn’t assume that potential intruders aren’t clever enough to figure out these types of statically observable measures are simply a farce or facade. That said, there are some simple things we can do to make it harder for intruders to figure out we are simply employing Home Alone tactics.

One of the simplest and lowest cost things we can do is change up the source of light in the evening and the source of sound in the day. This can be manually achieved, but it takes some effort. Without spending a bunch of money, we can level up this tactic by employing programmable timers throughout the dwelling that provide the light we need when we are home, but can also randomly turn things on and off when we are sleeping or not home. Randomness wreaks havoc on humans who are attempting to identify a pattern and routine.

Another thing we can do to increase the deterrence factor is limit the amount of information potential intruders can gather about the interior of the dwelling. Solar screens, blinds or curtains are essential for this and they are, in fact, critical for home defense. Let me explain. Imagine driving into an unfamiliar neighborhood or town without a map. It’s less than ideal, isn’t it? Now imagine the stakes of being caught in the middle of that neighborhood or town being shot or incarcerated because you weren’t supposed to be there. That’s effectively what blinds and curtains do. They prevent unwanted parties from mapping out a course through the interior of the dwelling you inhabit. Additionally, the lack of visibility into a dwelling makes it harder to determine if the interior lights and sounds are just Home Alone tactics.

I’ve written a lot about things that increase the risk factor in the risk reward analysis that a criminal might consider. What I haven’t really touched on is reducing the reward factor. One of things we could do is make our dwelling look like an absolute dump. This would imply that the potential reward is very low. However, homeowner’s associations and renter’s agreements make this option not viable. Even if it was viable, I don’t know a lot of folks who want to live in a place that looks like a dump. Honestly, I can’t even think of one at this moment. That said, there are measures we can take to reduce the perceived potential payout an intruder might find. Again, limiting visibility into the home plays a big part in this. Another thing we can do is park the cars in the garage or away from the home. A fancy car or two parked in the driveway is a tell-tale sign of potential valuables being present in a dwelling. If we are forced to park vehicles visibly outside and in the vicinity of the dwelling, then we can do what we can to limit how much they telegraph about us. I’m not saying don’t get fancy wheels or customize your vehicles. I’m just saying be aware that a vehicle, how much it’s customized/upgraded, and even decals can suggest a reward that is worth a higher risk to a criminal intruder.

This post has turned out to be much longer than I intended. So rather than going into other aspects of home defense, I’m going to stop here since I think we’ve covered quite a bit when it comes to deterring potential intruders and follow up with a few posts in the near future that cover the other aspects. Again, deterrence is high on my list of home defense since it decreases the likelihood of a home defense situation. Deterrence is a result of making a would-be intruder decide that the risk of a home intrusion is not worth the potential reward. Remember a fight avoided is a fight won.

Have another suggestion to improve the deterrence factor? Let me know in the comments below.


  1. I watched a show not too long ago where a hardened criminal (now reformed) rode along with a police officer through neighborhoods telling him exactly which houses he would break into and which he wouldn’t. As you mentioned, signage was a big deterrent, as was video surveillance.
    Wired not so much, as he could cut the wires. But wireless these days, he said, is so quick to notify the owners and/or law enforcement he just would avoid those homes all together.

    One thing that really stuck out for me was that he preferred homes that had bushes around them, citing that they would provide cover from the neighbor’s eyes (and surveillance cams) while he broke in. If the house was completely exposed, he would pass on it. He mentioned that multiple times.
    (I had JUST planted hedges that week for privacy, so we countered it with some signage.)

    Thanks for your posts. Always a fun read.

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