Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Season of Taking

Now that the Season of Giving is more or less over (marked by the end of free shipping at Lee Valley...), we resume our regularly scheduled Season of Taking.  d'oh!

After typing that, I did a quick pass to the shop to make sure everything was locked up, again.  It's an annoying if healthy paranoia.

Before my day-job company closed between Christmas and New Years, we had a small pizza party and lots of conversation about anything but software.  One discussion stuck in my head: our president had his garage broken into and several custom bikes stolen (as in $1,700 wheels custom).  How they did it, and I'll discuss that below, is strikingly easy to do.  The interesting part is that of the 12 of us there, 4 had this exact same technique used to steal from their garages.  I knew of the technique because two of my neighbors were robbed the exact same way.

Likely your garage right now could be raided with this low-tech technique.

For fun, a few photos...

What you see here is my, er, somebody's shop.  Someone driving by can easily see there's at least $20 of tools in there.  Here's another view:

this is what the would-be thief would see after I close up for the day.

Now that we've seen the obvious, let's list what else these two photos show:

  • the shop completely fills the two-car bay; there will never be a car in there (even if I get a girlfriend... it's a pre-existing condition!)
  • the car is parked in front of the one-car bay.  It's likely the only car otherwise to use the car in the bay, you have to back out the first car to get at the garaged car.  Though the windows on the one-car bay are covered, this reasoning is pretty sound.
  • the guy might be silly enough to have a garage door opener in the car for when he comes back with another sheet of exotic MDF and doesn't want to have to go through the house to open the door.  Someone might find it easier to pop the car door to take the remote, although the tactic I'm gonna describe later is much easier than breaking into a car while owners are home.
  • windows.  The garage door has windows.

Next photo:

this photo tells us:

  • the car is gone.
  • as the car is likely the only car, nobody is home.

How does this ultra-easy break-in happen?  Someone pushes in one of the middle windows (they are held by metal clips; a baseball bat will make a loud noise when it pushes it open, but the 'glass' won't break; it's Lexan).  Nobody needs to crawl in... just reach for this:

Normally there's a pull-cord on the part connecting the door to the top rail.  Pop a middle window and you can easily grab the cord, pull, and you've released the door; lift at your convenience.  I removed the cord as a minimal deterrent; I routinely pop that release with a long clamp head when I install the red-neck A/C unit under the door.

Once inside the garage, they can close the door and watch through the window.  Grab some quick-sale stuff and go.  Worse... how many of you lock the door from the garage to the house?  I dunno if I have that key anymore!

Normally you can lock the garage door from the outside.  Mine could only be locked from outside so it was a major pain to do, plus the "locks" engaged these:

The steel cord went to the lock handle; when you twisted it to unlock the door, it pulled the spring-loaded latch out of the slot in the piece to the right that was attached to the house.  Problem is that if the door wasn't exactly lined up with the slot when you locked it, the tab never fell in the hole.  Silly.  I bet more modern houses have better systems, but a key here is that even if the locking part is better, most still use a steel cord to unlock; if someone pushes in a window, they might be able to use a simple hook to catch the cord, pull up, and unlock the door.  Worth considering even if you don't think you have lots of money in the garage; it isn't what you think the garage contents' value is, it's what the thief thinks.

Better deterrents, besides the obvious of keeping a half-starved Anaconda in your garage include:

Replace the door locks with latches and don't connect them to some goofy-ass knob on the outside of the door (i.e., no steel cords).  This is what I moved to:

I operate it by hand.  Push the rod into the door track to lock, press one of the releases to release the lock.  Someone would have to know that I have this latch and would have to stealthily reach from the window to move the bottom release to the side; not an easy trick.

That's one deterrent and it is quick to lock/unlock.  I also use a padlock in the track:

Uhm, I lock it usually :)  I keep the key very close by so for me to open it from the inside is very convenient.  If you have these locks, you don't need the latch I showed you earlier.  You also only need these on one of the two tracks for the door.

I also have one of these in the shop:

it's just a webcam connected directly to a computer on the second floor.  I haven't yet found something I like yet, but there are many security camera software applications out there.  Since the camera is there anyway for when I stream with woodworker friends ("shop at a distance" :) then I may as well have it record all day long.  It uses a roll-over buffer so I have the past 24 hours recorded at a slower frame rate to conserve disk space.  The monitoring software increases the frame rate when it detects motion.  Some applications allow you to set motion thresholds when it will send you a text message; when you get one, you can remotely access the camera with any browser and see what's going on.  When I find some software I like, I'll write up a post here with some configuration information.

It also wouldn't be a bad idea to occasionally take the video camera and walk the shop; open all the drawers, pan slowly, save the SD chip somewhere.  Makes a claim much easier.


  • Kristofer Bergstrom said...

    Hiya Paul! If you're looking for a free-software-based monitoring system, Zoneminder is really impressive. I set up a 16-camera system for our apartment complex and am really impressed with it. It's full-featured and reliable, function over flash... it's like the Festool of the software world. :)

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks, Kristofer... I'll give that a look. I only played with a few of them and wasn't very impressed. I'll give it a look tomorrow!

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Whoa, Kris... visited your site; I love Taiko! I go to LA fairly often and actually hang out in Little Tokyo and Gardena area (hey, I don't have a Marukai out here for all the Japanese things I need for cooking!) I'm going to bug you next trip out to see where your group is teaching or performing. Anyone wondering, the site is

  • Charles Neil said...

    good post Paul, however here in rural Virginia, we have a slightly different method, and its quite effective , we call it "DOG", a big nasty bad tempered one, works well :)

  • Anonymous said...

    I don’t know how much you feel the windows add to the aesthetic value of your house, but couldn’t you replace that top section of garage door with a solid section? I guess you could replace the existing windows with what looks like faux windows in the right hand door, however, couldn’t those be knocked out like the glass ones? Maybe replace the right hand door faux(?) windows with a solid section as well.


  • HalfInchShy said...

    Hi, Dean, I can replace the topmost segment of the door for about $300. I like the light I get from those windows, actually. Makes working in the closed garage feel less "dungeon". Next time I'm at Dunkin Donuts, I'll ask any police on hand if there are similar break-in methods for garages without windows; would be interesting to hear.

  • Pitbull said...

    Watch this.

    I use the sliding garage lock and big azz dog method. Plus people van use code grabbers to get your door opener code. I do not use
    electric door opener.


  • Anonymous said...

    Paul, thanks for your write-up. I'm only about 15 miles from you and have a very similar set-up...a two car garage (that we never park in)with windows and everyone and their mother in our neighborhood knows that I have a wealth of tools out there. I'll be implementing some of your suggestions to help prevent a break-in. Thanks again, Russ Tribby.

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Jason, the pitbull in your avatar looks friendly, but you've likely trained him on the importance of keeping your tools yours!

    Depending on the age of your house, Russ, you might have the same locks I originally had on my garage; they apparently were pretty ubiquitous 10-15 years ago, which is why swapping out the top panel for one without windows is difficult: few vendors have the replacements.

    I didn't know you had a dog, Charles... fess up! Which breed? If you say Chihuahua, I'll know it doesn't work :)

  • Charles Neil said...

    Paul got a yellow lab, usleless as a guard dog, but then I have a Red Bone hound, he is a bit different, he doesn't care for visitors alot and doesnt seem to bother discussing it, :)

  • pitbull said...
  original link was messed up...
    this is about break ins using bump keys

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks for updating the link, Jason; interesting video. I have one lock that could use replacing to fix that possible problem. Fortunately for me, at any one time, at least one of 3 of my neighbors is outside for a long time. That's a huge deterrent, too :) Plus, I don't need to walk my neighbors or carry a plastic bag!

  • JimE said...

    Now there's some stuff I never thought of.

    Thanks for thinking outside the shop and sharing it.


  • Vinyl Virgin said...

    I zip-tied the track disengage flipper thing so if someone was fishing with a rod or hangar, they're out of luck. We also have an alarm that is activated when any door opens including the garage door. Downside is that you have to get out of your car fast to get to the control panel that I installed in our detached garage. It's good exercise.

    Another great thing is having a huge Bernese Mountain Dog whose bark sounds pretty menacing.

  • wooddust said...

    Paul, You should check out the liftmaster 3800 jackshaft GDO. it has a rail mounted deadbolt plus the benefit on no overhead track.

    love your vids. thanks

  • HalfInchShy said...

    That lift looks very interesting. Would love to eliminate the top center rail and if it adds a deadbolt when closed, I'm very interested. I'll have to look into it more especially to see the costs to swap out mine. My overhead lift has also somewhat dented the top center of the door over time especially when some ding-dong forgets the lock on the rail when hitting the opener. D'oh!

  • Wonderwino said...

    Another effective way to disable a garage door is to lock a Vise Grip C-clamp on the tracks by the second wheel from the bottom. If they are tight enough, just about impossible to release unless you are already inside.