Friday Question of the Day

IMG_5984, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I know we’ve sort of covered this before but I’m wondering what the threshold is for deciding on installing bars on your windows? (Ed. note: I’m not talking about basement window bars I’m talking about first floor window bars and God forbid second floor window bars.) I figure if all the houses on the block have bars then you should probably get bars too? But what if only a few houses have bars, then do you get them also? I mean many of the homes in Dupont Circle used to have bars but they don’t have them anymore? So what is the threshold for taking the bars off? You get what I’m saying right?

27 Comment

  • I think more than one burglary on a block in a given 6 month period or one home invasion in 2 years. Since where I live has had zero break ins since I moved in 10 years ago, but many stoop/porch burglaries, everyone took their bars down when they remodeled in the last 5 years.

  • I moved from my last place after 3 robberies (1 per year)….1 was inside the house (right upon move-in and no bars/security)..1 was at the car (not inside house) and the last was a shock–during a showing, the agent called me to say ‘something was wrong’…although I had my bars on– the alarm was off for showings. My place was robbed–yet again…this time, they tore the bars OUT OF THE BRICK (how brazen)….and went in through a window. it definitely was an organized operation (found out that 6 other places on the block were also hit)….

    In that neighborhood–I know that I was robbed the first time because I was one of two places that didn’t have bars……(ground level place)….the last time–how can you expect to have someone pry the bars out of the bricks…

    The key here is that the more barriers you have-regardless of how it looks-the better. Now, there are many things you can do to secure the home without bars. Lights, leaving music on/etc are cheap fixes but likely won’t deter. Certain shrubs and outdoor light in front (AND BACK!) are another way. (you are more likely to get robbed from the rear of the house in most neighborhoods than the front). Bars on all lower windows are must in almost all dc neighborhoods–seriously, don’t risk it! As for 1st floor–I would definitely recommend a rear yard fence, if possible, motion lights and then bars on as much as you can on the rear. I hate bars on the 1st floor of homes..and quite frankly, an internal security unit with crash sensors/motion sensors focused on that area is a help and can mitigate someone coming in the front..sure-they may break in, but they won’t be there long without an alarm.

    Here’s a tip as well–make sure your windows are locked! Have you ever taken your screen out and slid your window up for cleaning/other? Yeah–pretty easy! Now, imagine if there is a criminal that wants in..? easy-right?

    Nothing can mitigate the watchful eyes of nosey/involved neighbors! The best deterrent is an active neighborhood that is totally involved in the policing of the street. No matter what your thoughts are on the police here, they will not be there for you–until after an incident…(sorry, it’s just the facts as they are pulled too thin and have different and competing priorities then to patrol side streets). When I lived in ward 5 (aweful btw)…there are scores of complaints of not seeing one car drive by after 3 robberies at the windows cafe (RI and 1st NW)..In fact, there was an entire debate on whether someone should expect to get robbed/mug/other as a DC resident. I can’t agree with that even after three personal robberies.

    Still-safeguard as much as you can!

  • hmm, I have no bars on any of my windows, including the basement and have not had any problems in 2 years or any attempted break-ins. I live in Petworth not far from the metro. I do have an alarm system. A friend of mine in Shaw has had 3 attempted breakins in the same time period…different neighborhoods, different crimes I guess. Anyway, if my house had bars on it when i bought it i probably would have left them on, but since it was bar-free i have no intention of adding them. They’re insanely expensive and not very attractive…

  • Curious – what was stolen in the break-ins? I have an alarm (well advertized), no bars (exept on basement windows, locked fence gate and motion sensitive light in back. Thinking about a security camera back there as well as someoned tried to steal my wifes ’99 ford escort out of my drive way – funny thing is it was parked next to my Audi. Anyone have any thought on the cameras you can hook up to your computer?

  • When we moved in to our house almost six years ago we compared the costs of getting bars installed versus an alarm system. The installation and a three year contract for the alarm system was still less than half the prices we were quoted for getting bars installed. Aside from not liking how they look, the bars just make me nervous about getting out in case of fire or something like that. The alarm system is much more flexible. The only downside is that you have to have a landline for the alarm to connect.

  • Laurie- You don’t have to have a land line anymore– this is a fairly new development. I think you do have to have some sort of phone system- like VOIP though, which is pretty cheap if you already have wireless internet. You do have to get some sort of wireless thingymajig though, to ensure connectivity in the event that your VOIP line craps out. Some of the alarm companies will give you a discount or pay for this device, some won’t- best to negotiate it.

    I also have an issue with not being able to get out of a barred window. Probably a lesser frequency risk of being robbed than your place catching on fire, but still- to me, I’m more comfortable with the idea of someone getting in, then not being able to get out.

  • When our security system was being installed, they guy told me that a great majority of all break ins happen through doors, not windows. Therefore, he basically said spending money on wiring the windows was not worth it. From that one can derive that, depending how secure you want to be and/or feel, installing bars on WINDOWS may not be _always_ necessary. Securing dors with bars could be then the priority, including to help avoid situations where you open the door and somebody forces their way in. Having said that, we have neither on first floor – stupid or not, not sure :).

    Basement/undeside of the porch we have barred.

    Stickers on all windows and doors indicating you do have a security system installed may deter a bit.

    But I guess, especially when the house is empty, if there is a will there is a way to break in.

  • Question: when were the bars on windows installed on most buildings in DC? was it after the riots? if it was one major event (i.e., the riots) that triggered putting them up, will there ever really be an ‘event’ that would make people take them down?

  • When I had my security system installed the wireless thingymajig did not pick up a cell signal. They had to put a “witches hat” on the roof to make it work. These row houses are well built and don’t always get good cell coverage.

    I have noticed in the post DC section on Thursdays that many breakins occur when window AC units are shoved backtrough the windows. The solution to that is to have a second sensor installed for when the winow is partially open an the AC is in. They will have to open the window to get in the house once the AC is going and the alarm will go off.

  • Bars were still going up on renevations on Captial Hill in early 2000.

  • This is something I have though long and hard about. I will not have bars above the basement. I simply will not live like that.

    I used to think the same way about alarms. And I still HATE my alarm. But…

    When we moved in (2/90), there had been no burglaries on the block since the late 60s. We put bars on the basement windows and didn’t worry.

    About a year later, 2 houses on the block were robbed, ours and the one 2 over. Someone had been watching and KNEW when we weren’t home. (basement doors kicked in) Both houses were robbed again a year later. (front doors crowbarred open)

    13 years went by, again, no burglaries on the block. Then one day it became obvious someone was watching. As SOON as I left for work, someone came along and knocked on our door and the other house that has been robbed 13 years before. When nobody answered, they began to break in. Luckily this time, someone was home in the other house, and figured out what was going on (He hadn’t answered the door because he was in the shower.). He called the police, and then he and his dog scared the robber away. We only lost a few things that time. (basement door had a panel knocked out)

    Last November, we were robbed again. The other house was not. (mail slot pried off, arm through door, door unlocked, walked in) We lost very little, but that was the last straw.

    Now we have an alarm, and so do our neighbors who have the same track record. I hate it.

  • Hey Saf – does your alarm contact the police directly? Anyone have any expereince with alarms that do? I wonder if the police response time is quick enough to actaully foil & catch any of these burglers.

  • This is not an add, but I accidently left a door slightly adjar and the wind below in open setting off the alarm. ADT called me and I asked them to call police. They were there within minutes – they had to wait at the house 20 minutes until I could tromp home.

  • No, it calls the company. It’s gone off once, and the response was pretty quick. As above, not an ad, not it’s BRinks.

  • I don’t think any of the companies call the police directly- with the amount of false alarms, I doubt any emergency services would tolerate that. I do have some panic-button type things that, if pushed, the company will automatically dispatch the police or fire without the normal call-back to see if everything is okay.

  • When installing an alarm system I wouldn’t recommend connecting to VOIP or a Cable based phone system. If your power goes out or the cable goes out (that never happens right?) the alarm company/police wont be notified. With a regular phone line (power comes from telephone company) or cell phone system (battery powered) the line is always powered and usually backup systems have a battery installed. (if they dont you should make sure the do)

    Just throwing that out there for those that are considering an alarm system.

  • Unfortunately I think alarms systems are a fact of life where every you live. My parents live on a farm in the sticks of Alabama and they have one – red neck meth heads rob folks blind down there for dope money.

  • I’ve read the blog haven’t had a good chance to chip in yet.

    I own and renovate houses throughout the city, and making the houses secure is always a huge issue, both during renovation and once the houses are complete.

    You don’t need a land line for most of the major alarm companies these days (ADT, Slomin’s, etc..) They use something called a remote dialer. It costs about $50 when you buy the system, and then $5 more per month (a scam, if you ask me). But it solves the problem of not having an active land line at the property.

    When your alarm goes off, ADT or whoever calls you on whatever number you give them- your cell, your house, and asks if you want them to send the police. If they don’t reach you, they send the police. You get three free police visits, and after that they charge you something like $30 per trip.

    Window bars are a more expensive option (typically about $250-$300 per window), but they are effective. The truth is that if someone really wants to get in, they will find a way, but you want to deter them as much as possible. I recently had a property buglarized off West Virginia Ave where I had an alarm AND window bars, and the criminals pried the entire door out (frame and all) and then broke in. The stole a gas range and a washing mashine before the police arrived!

    As for the fire issues, its required by code now to have window bars that open from the inside on the rear of your property. You won’t pass your final C of O inspection if you have bars that don’t open. Basically, they have a little latch on them, so you can open it from the inside, but you need a key to open it from the outside. There is an iron plate to block someone from reaching around and unlocking it from the outside.

    Motion lights are by far the most inexpensive and effective option. For about $30 you can have a light that not only illuminates the house, but notifies your neighbors that someone is messing around at your property.

    Hope this helps,


  • A couple more things I wanted to mention….first of all, my first alarm system was with ADT and they were AWFUL. The people that came to the house to install the system were so sketchy acting that I felt like my house was getting cased. Once I got a guy in his 50s who did not know how to use a drill and proceeded to screw up my wall by repeatedly trying to screw a panel directly into plaster with no anchors. After something like 5 visits they still couldn’t get the system working; meanwhile every couple days the alarm system was going off when no doors or windows were open – freaking out me and everyone on my call list. I just felt like ADT would hire anyone…really scraping the bottom of the barrel. They even made the Comcast guys look like geniuses. Anyway, I finally went with Slomin’s – they charge half the monthly fee as ADT and I haven’t had a single problem with the system once it was installed.

  • I’m a small, single woman who doesn’t own a gun or a ferocious dog– I have to have window bars, absolutely.

    I’m really surprised so many of you don’t have them. Just because no one’s ever broken into your house doesn’t mean no one will ever try to, and it’s best to discourage break-ins as much as possible.

  • Also, in response to Dave G, when I tried to set up an ADT system 6 months ago they said there was no possible way to do it without a landline. Is the remote dialer a very new thing?

  • I have ADT and though the set-up guy was a bit of a doofus, the service itself is pretty good. They have called me every time the alarm has been set off and asked if i wanted the police to be notified, though one time I had to call the dogwalker to make sure it was him, and when i called ADT back to confirm, they had me on hold for about 5 minutes, which didn’t make me too comfortable. They do offer a VOIP option.

  • First off… PoP thank you for this thread, it is very informative. As for us, we have an alarm system with motion detection and we have security doors on the garage door and basement doors; however we have no basement window bars. With all the talk about alarms and the recent developments of the Sean Taylor murder, did any of you think about a burglar cutting the phone line and how that impacts the alarm system? I know there’s a backup system; but that takes care of an electricity outage, not the phone line. So, I’m assuming in this situation the alarm will go off; but the monitoring company would not be notified. Am I correct? ALSO, don’t forget your roof access. There have been several reports about homes being robbed by burglars gaining entry to the home through the roof!

  • Amel- I know that my alarm (with Safe Security- I’ve had ADT too, as far as I’m concerned, I’d rather not deal with any of them, but Safe was slightly easier for me to handle) there is a cut line feature that automatically notifies the dispatcher if the line is cut. There is a little warning sign on my phone line too, communicating that idea to any would-be vandals who take the time to read warning labels.

    Southwest- The remote dialer is pretty new- I think the companies take a loss when they provide them- they charge you a certain amount, but there cost is higher (I’m sure it will go down as the supply and demand for the technology rises though) so it wouldn’t surprise me if alarm companies are very reluctant to make this option very apparent, depending on who you talk to.

  • i live in 16th street heights. we have no alarm system (eesh doesn’t all that beeping whenever you open a door or window bother anybody?), no bars (how ugly!), and haven’t had a dog for 6 years, and have never, ever been robbed.

    it helps that our front porch looks like something from a haunted house, and is about to fall down (wheras the inside of the house is georgous).

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