By Brian Ramsey – Amalgamated Security Services
Periodically, one reads about thieves who force their way into a home through one of the doors. Indeed, at one time, there was a phrase used in Guyana to describe these thieves— ‘kick-down-the-door bandits’.
Undeniably, external doors are one of the first entryways considered by thieves and therefore should be a priority security area for homeowners. While many homeowners definitely consider security when selecting an external door, a lack of understanding sometimes leads to poor selection, or sometimes good selection but poor installation. In this article we will address not just the physical door, but the security of the doorway, as at times it is the other elements of the doorway that are the weak points.
All exterior doors should either be made of solid wood or metal as those materials are difficult to break through. While solid wood doors can be used, there may be difficulty in obtaining these as most commercially manufactured doors in the Caribbean are actually wood panel doors.
On wood panel doors, the sections that hold the panels in place are very thin, short and glued into place. These doors can easily be kicked apart. Similarly, many wood flush doors are actually plywood sides with a hollow interior, so they can be easily kicked apart as well and thus should only be used as interior doors.
Doors that are called ‘steel doors’ come in several designs; they can be hollow steel doors, wooden steel-backed doors or ribbed steel doors. The minimum acceptable security specification for a hollow steel door would be two sheets of 18-gauge steel (1/20 of an inch each). While this specification is the minimum, it can be penetrated by a determined intruder who has pre-planned his attack. Therefore, it would be better if the steel is thicker, such as 1/10 of an inch.
A wooden steel-fronted door can also be used as a security door. In that design, the wood thickness should be three-quarters of an inch and then 12-gauge steel (1/10 of an inch) placed in front of the wood. The steel should be bolted to the door with the nut end of the bolt on the inside of the door and so not accessible to an intruder. When cladding steel to a wooden door, the steel must wrap around the top, bottom and sides of the door so that it cannot be pried away from the wood.
A ribbed steel door would be one where the steel on the door would be 1/8 of an inch and then reinforced with steel ribs on the inside.
There is now also the option in the Caribbean to purchase doors that have a decorative facing but with a steel sheet inserted inside the door. Many of these doors come with 3, 4 or 6 deadbolts built into the door (top, bottom & sides) so that when the door is locked, all the bolts engage simultaneously.
All exterior doors should be made to swing outward. When an intruder attempts to force their way into a building, they will apply force to the door to push it inward. By having the door swing outward, it means that the intruder will be applying force in the opposite direction to which the door is made to swing and therefore it becomes harder for the intruder to force the door open.
All exterior doors should be constructed in a metal frame of steel, aluminum alloy or solid hardwood core. The door frame can sometimes be the weak point in the security of a door and allow an intruder to enter notwithstanding how good the door and locks are.
Hinges are generally screwed into the door frame and if the frame can be jimmied away from the wall, then the frame can be moved. Frames should therefore be made of solid construction to prevent it from being forced apart.
The tolerance between the door and the jamb should never be more than 1/8 of an inch. A wider tolerance means that the door can be forced open or that the bolt for the lock is exposed, allowing an intruder to see the bolt.
If not correctly installed, hinges may contribute to the weakness of a door. If hinges are surface mounted, so that the mounting screws or hinge pins are exposed on the exterior of the door, intruders can quickly remove the screws or pins and gain entry by opening the door from the hinged side.
Ideally, hinges should be mounted on the interior of the door so that they are not exposed to an intruder. If the hinge is mounted on the exterior and cannot be relocated to the interior, then the hinge pins can be welded or flanged to prevent removal. An additional protective measure would be the use of hinge protectors, which have bolts that extend into the door and the door frame so that even if the hinge pin is removed, the door cannot be detached from the hinge side.
Another alternative regarding hinges is to install ball bearing butt hinges. This type of hinge has a cap, like standard hinges, but does not have a pin. Therefore, even if you remove the top of the hinge, there is no pin to come out. Instead, there are ball bearings inside which cannot be removed. This hinge is therefore suitable for external use. Even if the cap is removed, the intruder would not be able to do away with anything else, and therefore would not be able to get the door off.
External doors are an important component of the security of a home and so care must be taken in selecting the type of door you use. The care must, however, extend beyond just the door and include all components of the doorway. In another article, we will address the use of locks on external doors.