Living Alone: Home Safety Checklist
Whether it's your first time living solo, or you're a seasoned pro at enjoying the many advantages to having your own place, when you live alone or even as a single parent, there are some extra safety concerns that a person should keep in mind. By employing a safety checklist, you can enjoy all the great parts of living on your own, while also having the peace of mind that you are well protected.
For some, living alone can create anxiety, while others hardly give a thought to the extra safety precautions that living alone demands. Either way, if you're living in a new place you're going to want some additional safety tips and a checklist you can follow to keep yourself protected.
This guide will help both categories, allowing people to feel safer while also giving advice that will improve overall safety. Safety is one of the things you have to look for when buying a home no matter the neighborhood. Additionally, there are some specific groups that should take extra precautions while living on their own. We've got that covered as well.
A Guide to Living on Your Own Safely
1. Get to Know Your Neighbors
Whether you live somewhere urban or rural, when you're on your own, having neighbors can prove an invaluable resource. Whether you suddenly find yourself in need of a cup of sugar or dealing with an unexpected crisis, neighbors are the closest people you can call on for help. When you move into a new place, make a point of introducing yourself to those who live nearby, whether they live across the hall in a building or down the street.
2. Consider a Security System
While these can be pricey, there are more affordable security system options than ever before. However, the most effective security system is still a monitored one, which does fall on the higher end in terms of price point. If you travel a great deal and are concerned about burglary, or just feel that peace of mind is priceless, this can be a worthwhile investment. It doesn't matter if you're living in a small rental or a luxury home, a security system will go a long way in keeping you safe. There are monitored home security systems available for everyone from apartment renters to homeowners.
3. Smart Technology Is Your Friend
Even if you decide against a traditional monitored home security system, smart technology allows you to create a pretty extensive DIY home protection system. You can easily install motion-activated cameras throughout your house, as well as installing one with your doorbell. The doorbell camera is generally motion-activated, so it will let you know when someone is at your door when you are both away from home and at home, letting you more carefully screen who you answer the door for, and who's been knocking (or not knocking) while you're not there.
Another great option for home security is smart lights. This allows you to easily set timers for any lights throughout the house and will allow you to control the lights from your phone while not at home. There is nothing like a well-lit house showing regular activity by lights turning on throughout the evening to deter a burglar.
4. ALWAYS Lock the Door
It can easy to become lax sometimes when it comes to some very basic safety precautions. Perhaps you live in a low-crime area and think it's ok to run out for a little while and keep the door unlocked. Or maybe when you're home you don't always remember to lock the door, taking for granted that no one will attempt to enter while you're home. These are dangerous assumptions to make. It takes just one incident to put you at risk for property loss or worse. Whether you're coming or going, get in the habit of locking the door and then checking it twice. And be sure to check it before bed too.
Along with locking the door through which you generally enter and exit, it's also important to lock all other potential entrances, from side doors to garages, windows, and basement access. When you first move into your home, do a thorough check to make certain you are familiar with what constitutes a locked home. Get to know how all the locks operate. It is a good idea to create a checklist that is specific to your home that will help you get in the habit of securely locking up.
5. Keep Locks in Good Repair
Of course, a locked home is only as good as a well-maintained and functional lock. When you first learn your home's locks don't just check how they work, also test how well they work. Are all the locks in good repair and capable of doing their job of securing your home. If you have windows that are loose or a door lock that is less strong than a deadbolt then it's time to contact your landlord or make replacements.
6. Be Smart with Your Keys
Finally, a lock only works to keep out people who don't have keys. If you tend towards forgetfulness, it may be so tempting to leave an extra set of keys "hidden" outside your home. But burglars know this routine, and they're not going to limit themselves to checking under the doormat. You may think that fake rock is an ingenious trick, but at the end of your day, you're leaving your key right outside your front door whenever you're home and away. It's not a good idea.
If you need a way to gain access without having to remember a set of keys, the smart way to go is by using a smart lock. This lets you unlock the door by entering the correct pin into the keypad. This is also a great way to securely give others access to your home, as you can assign specific codes and then deactivate them, much more secure than lending someone a set of spare keys.
When you do move into a new home, whether it is one you own or rent, it is best to get a new set of locks installed. You never know who has had access to a set of keys to those locks before you got there. And do take care when lending spare keys. If someone you don't fully trust has had possession of your keys, it's best to assume a copy you don't know about could have been made, so guard those keys wisely.
7. Have an Exit Plan
When you live alone there's no one else in the house to help in case of emergency. It's critical you have a way out of your home as well as an alternate exit as well. This is important in case of fire as well as intruders. If your bedroom is located on an upper floor consider a ladder that can attach to a window to create an extra exit. Having an exit plan is instrumental in the event someone tries to break in.
8. Think Worst Case Scenario
When planning for emergencies it is always best to think in terms of worst-case scenarios. This can mean putting yourself in the mind frame of a potential intruder. Examine your home from the outside at different times of the day. What would an intruder see? Would it be obvious that a person lives alone? Can they see valuables from the street? Does the house look empty when you are at work? Are there entrances that look vulnerable?
Planning for the worst-case scenario also means being prepared for natural disasters. Unfortunately, extreme weather events have become more common, so no matter where you live you should be prepared with some basics:
- Bottled Water
- Canned Goods/Non-Perishable Foods
- First-Aid Kit
- Spare Batteries
- Battery-Operated Radio
If there are disasters that are common to your area, then you will want to have supplies and plans specific to that occurrence available, for example, access to a tornado shelter or a hurricane evacuation plan.
9. Be Smart Online
No one needs to know you live alone, least of all strangers on the internet. But if that is something that you choose to share, be extra vigilant about what information you share along with that. Are you letting people know your daily routines? Is it obvious when you go on vacation? Be particularly vigilant that you are not revealing clues as to the actual location of your home for those online to identify.
10. Be Careful on Vacation
In addition to not giving it away on social media that you are away from home, find additional ways to protect your home while enjoying your vacation. This is a great time to use automatic or smart lights. A lit-up home looks like a lived-in home. Smart lights can make it look more natural than when all the lights spring on at once at 8 PM.
It's also great to have developed those relationships with neighbors while on vacation. You'll definitely want to let those neighbors you trust know when you're away, and even ask them to keep an eye on your house for any strange activity or things looking out of place. If you haven't quite yet established those relationships, consider paying someone you trust to look in on the house while you're away.
11. Practice Good Fire Safety and Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Not all the dangers come from without. A fire can start anywhere. Be prepared. Have a fire extinguisher handy, especially in the kitchen, and always make certain your fire alarm is in good working order with up-to-date batteries. When you live alone you don't have anyone else to help alert you to a fire. That is why it's so important to be extra vigilant. Practice basic fire safety rules always, use caution with candles and keep any flammables far from flames. Make certain that electrical wiring and any gas or fuel sources are well-maintained and up to code.
Living alone also can put you at greater risk for carbon monoxide poisoning as there won't be anyone else to help raise the alarm. That is why it is so critical to keep a carbon monoxide alarm monitoring all areas of your home. Fortunately, these are often combined with a fire alarm, conveniently providing protection for both.
12. Have a Check-In System
Accidents happen as does illness. You never know when something might happen that incapacitates you. If one of these emergencies should occur, you want to be able to be found as soon as possible. Have a check-in system with a family member, a close friend, or even a neighbor. It could be as simple as knowing you'll be missed at work, but make certain that someone will miss you and check up on you.
Another option is to purchase a personal safety alarm. Some function like a home monitored security system, but for looking after a person's whole being, while others are more automated. They can sound a loud alarm, or alert the authorities to an emergency.
13. Throw a Party
Securing your home when you live alone may not be all fun and games, but it can include them. Burglars are much less likely to strike a home that is regularly buzzing with activity. Host dinner parties or invite people over to celebrate it being Friday. You'll be having a great time while making your home safer.
14. Get a Dog
While this is optional, having a larger dog can have nearly as much of a deterrent effect on burglars as a monitored home security system. A dog can also go a long way towards providing peace of mind while living alone, especially seeing as your new best friend comes included.
Checklists for Specific Groups Living Alone
For Seniors Who Live Alone
1. Get Rid of Tripping Hazards
As you age, potential falls become much more serious. You may even end up disabled from one trip and fall. You face the risk of injury that will take a long time to recover from. It's important to carefully go through the home and find any potential tripping hazards and remove them. This could include wires, area rugs, and even uneven floorboards. These are all potential dangers that must be taken care of.
2. Protect Against Slippery Surfaces
Hardwood and tile can both easily become slippery. Invest in carpet and rubber treading. Many seniors will find themselves living alone as they begin to age and one slip and fall could cause a far more serious injury because of their age.
3. Good Lighting
It's much easier to have a trip or fall if you can't see the hazard in front of you. Our night vision diminishes as we age, making it all the more critical to have good lighting. This is especially important for those who may have hearing loss.
4. Safety Railings
Older people need more support. A railing on both sides of the staircase or places to hold onto in the bathroom can help keep you safe. Here's our guide on how to make your home handicap accessible.
5. Keep Supplies in Stock
For older people, it is extra important to have a well-stocked supply of food in case you can't get out to the store for a few days or longer.
6. Keep Medications Organized
It's important that you keep track of the medications you take, so you neither miss a dose and risk illness nor accidentally take extra doses. A pill organizer can be a huge help in this. Keep a master list of all of your medications handy. It's also a good idea to keep an extra supply of medications on hand to ensure you don't run out. Many insurances will allow you to buy a three-month supply at once.
7. Skip the Yard and Housework that Can Cause Injury
Just because you used to do it, doesn't mean it's a good idea any longer. For chores that require getting up on a ladder, such as cleaning the gutters and house painting, it is best to enlist the help and services of others. Avoid the heavy lifting as well.
8. Have a Safety Plan in Place
As an older person, you have to accept that you are more likely to experience a situation that could incapacitate you. It's extra important for you to have a check-in system. If you do experience a sudden injury or illness what would happen? You need to have a plan for this scenario.
For Women Who Live Alone
1. Think Safety When You Choose Where to Live
Unfortunately, women have to take extra care when it comes to safety. This can affect location—it's a good idea to research crime statistics in the areas you are considering. It can also affect your choice for the type of property whether it's a specific house, apartment, condo, or townhome. Are doors and windows secure? Is the area well-lit? What other potential threats or vulnerabilities can you spot?
2. Don't Let People Know You Live Alone
Of course, it's fine to celebrate with friends and family that you've just gotten your own place, but outside those you trust, consider that information to be on a need-to-know basis. After a divorce many of your friends will know that you moved out and now live alone, be careful who you give your new address to.
As a woman living alone, you have to be extra vigilant about what you post online, and what you let strangers know about your daily routines and locations.
3. Be Careful Who You Let In
Don't just answer the door, always check who is on the other side. And it's fine to refuse to open the door to someone you don't know all the time, no exceptions. Even if they look harmless you don't know. For scheduled appointments, from the cable or gas company, for example, make certain they show proper ID before letting them in. For unscheduled appointments, it's ok to not let them in, or insist on having a friend or neighbor come over.
4. Close the Curtains
When you're a woman living on your own, it's extra-important to not let people know you live alone. Just like you should be careful what you share on social media, also beware of what information you're sharing through your window.
5. Name on the Mailbox
A woman living alone can be a target. Consider using just your initials on your mailbox in place of your first name, or only use your last name.
6. Let People Know You've Made it Home
It's important to have a robust check-in system when you're a woman who lives alone. When you are out in the evening it's a great idea to make a plan with friends to check in to let them know you have made it home safely.
If You Live Alone in a House
1. Think About the Landscaping
Is your landscaping encouraging potential intruders? Cut back shrubbery to eliminate places near your home where intruders could lurk. Make certain you have a clear view of your home's immediate surroundings.
2. Install Outdoor Lighting
Motion-activated lighting is inexpensive and an excellent intruder deterrent. To be caught in the spotlight while up to no good will make anyone think twice about what they're about to do.
3. Don't "Hide" Your Keys
When you live in a house, it may seem like there are so many excellent hiding places, but all it takes is one person observing your hiding place, and your most basic protection is blown. If you hate carrying keys, invest in a smart lock.
If You Live Alone in an Apartment
1. Use the Peephole
Don't just answer the door. Get a visual look at who you're opening the door to. If you need to see ID, ask to see it.
2. How Do People Enter the Building?
They say you're only as strong as your weakest link, and this is especially true of security. Your apartment can have great security, but it will only do you real good if you're building is secure as well. If it is not a doorman building, are there two doors that are kept securely locked between the street and your apartment? Do people buzz others in without knowing who it is they are letting in? Is it customary that residents hold the locked door open for strangers and delivery people? Have a talk with your landlord or building association to discuss safety concerns.
3. Hallways Must Be Well-Lit
This is important and is the responsibility of your landlord or building association.
Final Thoughts on Living Alone and Staying Safe:
Your Real Estate Agent should be able to help you find a great home where you can live comfortably and feel safe - this is part of their job, to look out for your well-being. While they may not be able to share every neighborhood statistic due to fair housing laws, a quick google search should give you the information you need to understand where you feel safest.
We wrote this article to help protect those individuals who are living alone so they too can know how to stay safe. If you know someone who is moving somewhere new and could use a great guide to staying safe, please share this safety checklist with them!
Hi there! My name is Ryan Fitzgerald, and I am a REALTOR®. My goal is to help you learn more about real estate through our Real Estate Blog! Hopefully, you enjoyed the above blog post and it found a way to provide help or value to you. When you're ready to buy or sell a home of your own let us know here. Please feel free to join the conversation by dropping us a comment below.