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5 ways to crime-proof your cottage this winter

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There’s no more heart-sinking feeling than pulling up to your cottage on the May 2-4 weekend and seeing a door forced or a window broken. Even if thieves only make off with your 30-year-old VCR and a couple of Air Supply cassettes, you’ll still have damage to repair—both to your property and your family’s sense of security.

Preventing an off-season break-and-enter starts now—before you’ve closed the cottage. Follow our tips to help make your home-away-from-home as safe as possible.

Lock everything

It sounds pretty obvious, but did you make sure the second-storey windows were locked? How about the shed? Did you lock away your propane tanks? Any open door or window is a temptation for thieves—even ones that look like they might be inaccessible.

Remove all valuables at the end of the season

Take home anything that could be temptation for thieves—TVs, microwaves, cameras, video games, jewellery, and anything else you couldn’t bear to lose. As well, remove any alcohol you may have lying around. Yes, it’s a pain, and yes, it’s more to pack—but better not to tempt burglars in the first place.

If you do leave things at the cottage, engrave them with an identification number—the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) suggests using your driver’s license number or your license plate as an identifier. Use an electric engraver (which you can borrow from the OPP) on electronics, and a ballpoint pen on the inside of expensive clothing. For more information on marking your property, check out the OPP’s fact sheet.

Invest in some DIY tweaks to secure doors and windows

Make sure your doors’ strike plates and hinges are secured with three-inch screws, rather than the standard ½-inch ones. (You’ll likely have to replace them yourself). Your deadbolt should penetrate at least one inch into the doorjamb—if it doesn’t, replace the lock. And exterior doors should be solid rather than hollow. 

For patio doors, install screws in the top track about 10 inches apart, far enough in so the screw heads sit just above door level. This stops someone from lifting the door up and out. And jam the door with an old hockey stick or broom handle to prevent it from sliding.

Secure double-hung windows by drilling a downward-slanting hole from the top corners of the inner sash into (but not through) the outer sash. Slide a nail or screw into the hole when you leave to prevent the windows from being opened.

Finally, add security film to patio and French doors, and to the sidelights around your door. This prevents your windows from being easily broken.

Make friends with your year-round neighbours

If you have neighbours who live in the area year-round, ask them to keep an eye on the place for you. Give them an extra key and make sure they have your city contact info just in case anything goes wrong—and then cook them a really nice dinner when you get back in the spring. A nice bottle of wine wouldn’t hurt either.

Also, if your area has a winter cottage watch program, make sure you sign up. Some cottage-country property management companies offer a regular winter check-in service, which could be a good investment for peace of mind.

Keep your exterior (and possibly your interior) nice and visible

Put away storage benches and deck furniture and trim your hedges—don’t give thieves a place to hide. There’s some debate about whether or not to pull your curtains—if you’re leaving appliances and electronics (even though you shouldn’t), it’s probably best to hide them from unwanted visitors peering through the windows. On the other hand, if your cottage is mostly empty, keeping your curtains open may show thieves there’s nothing to steal—and may save you a broken window.

For more useful tips, check out our closing up Q and As.