Establishing Your Home Workspace

Home Business Security and Safety
Protecting your family from criminal intrusion and creating a safe working environment should be high on your list of priorities. Unfortunately for home business owners, the most common crime in the United States and Canada is home burglary. The potential loss is even greater for business owners with expensive computer equipment, cash, and specialized tools commonly on-site, making residences a tempting target, because experienced burglars know which homes contain businesses.

As a rule of thumb, criminals look for items that are small, valuable, and easy to sell, such as notebook computers and digital cameras. Even worse, with the increase in identity theft and e-fraud, your clients could also become crime victims if their financial and confidential information is stolen from your business. For these reasons, all home business owners have to go out of their way to secure their homes and businesses for the protection of their families, businesses, clients, and neighbors.

Building Alliances with Neighbors
One of the simplest and least expensive ways to begin securing your home, family, and business is to forge close relationships with your neighbors, so that you all can help each other by watching out for suspicious activities. Knock on a few doors and introduce yourself to your neighbors and suggest setting up a simple neighborhood watch, if there is none already in place. Establish a system so that when residents are away their neighbors will pick up their mail and park in their vacant driveways so that the home seems occupied. Property crimes can be greatly reduced when neighbors report suspicious activities to the local police. And most police departments have information available about how to set up neighborhood watch programs; some even have neighborhood watch programs in place already.

It also helps to keep shrubs and trees trimmed back from your exterior entrances and window areas, to make your home more visible from the street and from your neighbors' homes so they can keep an eye on your property and you can watch their properties.

Home Security Alarms
The next logical step in protecting your family and business is to purchase and install a good quality, monitored home alarm system complete with glass-break detectors, interior motion detectors, and window and door contact point detectors. Home security alarms provide three major deterrents to theft. The small alarm company sign that can be displayed around the outside of the home informs thieves that the home is protected. There are also window and door stickers to reinforce this message, which is another deterrent. Last, the alarm that blasts an ear-piercing screech after a contact point has been disrupted or a motion detector triggered is definitely a deterrent.

You can also buy home surveillance systems that are hooked up to a digital video recorder and installed for less than $500.

Most home alarm companies offer free, comprehensive written quotations. Be sure to get three, so you can compare features, benefits, and costs of having the alarm system installed and the monthly monitoring fee. There are also monitored alarm systems available that detect smoke and carbon monoxide, as well as break-ins. Two major players in the home security industry are ADT Security Services and Brinks Home Security. Both companies offer numerous home alarm systems and monitoring options that can be tailored to individual needs and financial budgets.

Securing Doors and Windows
In over 70 percent of home thefts, entrance was gained through a door or window using no more than a simple screwdriver or pry bar. Conse-quently, you want to beef up locks, consider installing heavy-duty entrance doors, and take a few other simple measures that will make your home less of a target for theft and more secure for your family and business.

Entrance Doors
If your home or apartment does not currently have steel or solid wood entrance doors, you should consider upgrading to heavy-duty steel doors. It is a wise investment that not only can help keep your home secure, but also can be a business tax deduction if the improvements are made in conjunction with starting your home business. Deadbolts can be installed to prevent entrance by means of twisting or prying on locks and jambs. These heavy-duty locks are not very expensive, easy to install, and available at your local hardware store.

Patio Doors
Sliding glass doors, commonly known as patio doors, are another easy entrance point for thieves, mainly because of inferior and defective locks. The doors are also easily lifted from their tracks. However, if you spend just a few dollars on an anti-lift device, such as a pin that extends through both the sliding and fixed portion of the door track at the bottom, can make it impossible an outsider to slide the door open or lift it from the track. Locking pins are cheap, quick to install with basic hand tools, and available at any hardware store.

Windows
Windows also make easy entrance points for brazen thieves; windows are often left open for ventilation in warmer weather, making a thief's job that much easier. Ground-floor windows, of course, are more susceptible to break-ins; upper-floor windows become attractive targets if they can be accessed from stairs, a tree, a fence, or an extension ladder left lying beside the house. Most windows have basic latches instead of keyed locks, but the addition of simple blocks and pin locks can prevent an outsider from prying windows up, out, or over. They are easy to install, cheap, and available at your local hardware store. You can also install security bars on the windows. But be cautious here: the design of some window bars can prevent people inside the home from escaping through the window in case of emergency.

Security Lighting
Indoor and outdoor lighting also plays a major role in home security, especially when darkness makes your home more vulnerable to burglars. You should purchase and install good-quality exterior lighting with motion detectors to keep the outside of your home illuminated at night as needed. Motion-sensitive lights will serve a dual purpose. First, when thieves approach your home, a sudden light may surprise them into fleeing. Second, a motion-sensitive light makes it safer for you to enter your home. Exterior motion-detector lights are very inexpensive, approximately $50 each, and can be installed in a few minutes by novices with nothing more than basic hand tools.

Interior lighting is also important, as it indicates activity inside your home. If it's dark, especially for extended periods of time, burglars are likely to assume that nobody is home. To confuse burglars, you can purchase inexpensive light timers and connect them to key interior lighting visible through front and back windows. When interior lights come on and turn off at various times, it appears that someone is home, which is the number-one deterrent to thieves.

Going High Tech
The latest in high-tech home integration packages, with HD CCTV (high-definition closed-circuit TV), can provide clear photos of who is outside your front door or on your property--and even send you photographs via e-mail. If you prefer to watch your home over your cell phone, the Motorola Q Phone is one cell phone that gives you that possibility. Full-integration technology can now allow you to see visitors at your front door either on your computer or even, if you are away from your desk, on your laptop or notebook. The latest devices also allow you to regulate lighting from afar via your computer, so if you are away for a few days, you can still turn the lights on from time to time and get alerts if anyone is on your property, so you can call the local police if necessary. Ask security companies in your area about home integration technology.

Home Office Safes
Purchasing and installing a safe is another way a home business owner can protect his or her valuables and important personal and business documents. There are various styles of home office safes available at many price points: flush wall-mounted safes, portable lockbox safes, floor-mounted safes, and safes that are disguised as pieces of office furniture and equipment. Ideally, you want a safe with a long burn rating and one that can be securely anchored to the floor or in a wall to prevent thieves from stealing the safe to get its contents. In addition to cash, safes can be used to store key client files on disk, business documents such as incorporation papers, backup CDs of customer data, insurance policies, personal and family documents, and copies of important documents, such as your will or your drivers' license.

You should do a little research to determine which safe will best meet your specific needs. You can learn more about home business safes, features, and costs by visiting these websites:

Fire Safety
Like property and personal security, fire safety is another high-priority issue for home business owners. While having sufficient fire insurance is certainly a must, it is not the sole answer to all fire safety concerns. The following are a few tips to help protect your family and your business:

  • Carry sufficient fire insurance.
  • Install hardwired smoke detectors with a battery backup system on each floor and in the home office.
  • Install emergency battery-powered lighting in hallways and stair corridors.
  • Purchase fire extinguishers and keep them in key areas of the home, such as the kitchen, your home office, and the upstairs hall closet.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Install second-story fire safety ladders or ropes.
  • Purchase fireproof lock boxes for important business and personal documents.
  • Develop an emergency fire plan and make sure that all family members know it well. It should include an exit strategy for each room of the house, contingency exit points in case of fire blocks, and a central meeting place outside, at a safe distance.

To find out more about fire safety, visit the U.S. Fire Administration website, at usfa.fema.gov. On the site you will find fire safety tips for your home and business.

Home Office Safety
In addition to security and fire concerns, you also want to ensure that your home office is a safe working environment for you, your family, and visitors. Believe it or not, the vast majority of preventable accidents and injuries happen at home, not on the highways, so take extra precautions to make sure that you develop and maintain a safe working environment. Here are a few great tips to help you:

  • Keep emergency numbers for the police, ambulance, and fire department in a visible place by the telephone.
  • All electrical outlets should be the grounded, three-pronged type. It's easy and inexpensive to switch from ungrounded outlets to grounded outlets, which are readily available at hardware stores everywhere.
  • Use surge protectors to protect expensive computer equipment against voltage spikes in your electricity service. You can also get an uninterruptible/universal power supply (UPS), so you're prepared in the event of a power outage. This will keep your computer running so that you can close down all important files rather than losing them.
  • Do not store toxic materials, such as paints and cleaners, in your home office.
  • Secure top-heavy or unstable furniture and equipment such as file cabinets firmly to the floor or walls.
  • Avoid loose wiring. Make sure all wiring, cables, and extension cords are secured to the walls or floor.
  • Keep a flashlight in an easily accessible location in case of power outages.
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