Why Bother to Secure your Garage?
A garage door can be the biggest (get it? I’m here all week.) liability to your home’s security. We’ll show you practical and affordable garage security tips you can use to secure your garage from exploits like accessing the emergency release. There are a few reasons that garages can be attractive targets.
- Garage doors are usually weak structurally and can be easily kicked in if the home is isolated.
- The perceived security of the outer door causes people to neglect the security of the interior door. They may be unlocked or often do not have deadbolts.
- Tools! Air compressors, drills, and snow blowers are easy to turn into cash for someone willing to bring a vehicle to load up on goodies.
Garage Security Tips
With that being established, how should you go about securing your garage?
Shut the door!
This should go without saying but leaving the garage door open while you run an errand or overnight is a bad idea. You are just asking for someone cruising the neighborhood to pull up and steal your things. So, make sure you only keep your garage doors open when you need immediate access and are in a position to keep an eye on things.
If you have a hard time remembering to close your garage doors, you can buy a closer that works on a timer and will close your door for you. If you’re interested, you may also read our tips on how to lock your garage door. Of course, if you are working in the yard and don’t want the door to close, you can manually override the timer as well. There are a couple of these units advertised, but the one below gets the best reviews on Amazon.
Or, you could go use the opportunity to invest in a home automation system to make sure your door is closed from anywhere you have a cellular connection. Just over to our home automation product comparison page to see all of the options for garage door openers that are out there. We’ve covered several WiFi and Z-Wave versions in detail like the Quirky Ascend, the Linear Z-Wave opener, Garageio, and our home grown solution. To save on the cost, you can also explore a number of open source home automation software to use on your garage.
How to Secure Your Emergency Release
I’m being perfectly honest when I say that I was clueless about this garage door security vulnerability until I saw a video of it.
The 6 second claim in the title is no lie.
I mean, it’s obvious that garage doors can be a soft spot in the sense that they can just be kicked in if you don’t have any close neighbors. But, did you know that a burglar could open most garage doors in a matter of seconds? If you don’t believe me, jump over to Youtube and search for it. The video has a 1M+ views, so it’s hard to miss. I’m not going to show it here because I think it’s better not to propagate a video tutorial.
The Weak Link in your Garage Door Security
I personally think that it’s not wise to go into great detail about how to exploit the vulnerability itself, but it isn’t rocket science once you are told it exists. I’ll try to dance around the detailed walk-through (tough to do for a vulnerability this obvious) but still convey what the fix is. After all, criminals will already be familiar with this technique, and you should be too. Go look at your garage door opener’s emergency release mechanism and think about it as if you were a burglar trying to get into a house. How would you exploit it from the outside?
Now, the release is there for a good reason, to free someone who may get trapped under your garage door if other safety mechanisms like the obstruction sensors fail to work properly. Or, in case of an electricity failure during a fire. But, as is often the case, the implementation of the safety measure is done in a way that creates an easy entry into your garage from the outside as well. After gaining entry, the thief can close the door back for privacy while he proceeds to break into the secondary door into your home, possibly using tools that you’ve left laying around in your garage. Congratulations, you just helped someone break into your house.
On the unit installed in my house, a very light pull is all that is required to release the garage door and let it be opened with minimal resistance. I was pretty surprised at how easy it was, actually.
So what can you do?
It depends on the construction of your garage door opener. Go inspect the release mechanism and see if you have enough clearance in the holes where the spring is mounted to add a supplemental device to make it harder to pull. If there are two pretty large holes, you can do the following:
- Get a zip tie that is small enough to feed through both holes and large enough to add enough resistance to the release latch so that it takes a firm pull to open it (after all, it just needs to be stronger than a coat hanger in most instances).
- Run the zip tie through the hole in the release lever that the string is tied to and the hole on the piece that slides to actuate the door.
- Tighten the zip tie and test that you can still release the door from the inside.
- If so, install another zip tie and you’re done.
Here’s a more detailed write-up, if you need it. Congratulations, you have just improved your garage door security!
The one downside to this approach is that it may not be sufficient if the burglar has a stiff wire and can apply sufficient force to the release. Another issue, and this was the case on my garage door opener, is that the traveler that attaches to the garage door may not have a good place to attach the zip tie to. If that’s your situation, then take a look at what I did for additional ideas that could help you. And, even if you can implement the zip tie successfully, the steps that I’ll outline here can still harden your door to a criminal.
Here’s what you’ll need:
This is how you secure your garage door:
- Measure the barrier material (a wood paint stirrer, in my case) that you are using and mark it at a length that will obstruct access to the release mechanism.
- Cut two pieces at this length.
- Use some high strength glue that works well on multiple surface types (I used a Gorilla Glue clone)
- Attach the barriers on both sides to shield the release mechanism.
- Clamp it and wait for it to dry.
- Add an additional barrier to prevent sliding something in between the barriers.
Now, you may be able to skip the last step. The reason it was critical to me is I have windows in my garage door, and it is just too easy to see what you’re doing when you try to break in. So, I added one last addition to make it hard to slip something between the barrier and hook the release.
Here it is:
Duct Tape! I know, redneck right? The duct tape gives an extra barrier that makes hooking the release tough to do. Remember, anything you can do to keep the burglar standing outside your house trying to break in is going to increase the chance that he just finds another target. These are long seconds that could lead to him or her being spotted in the act.
There is one more consideration that you may want to address. The release string and plastic handle was way too long on my opener. That’s because the manufacturer doesn’t know how high the unit will be mounted off of the ground. In my case, it could have been pulled all the way to the door itself and released directly by hand. So, I removed the plastic cap, cut the string, and tied a knot to be much shorter but still long enough to comfortably reach it from the ground. The knot will be important to have adequate grip on the release in the event than you need to pull it from the inside but will still be tough to hook from the outside.
All total, this took about 15 minutes of dedicated effort and cost less than $5 (and that was because I didn’t want to use silver duct tape). That’s a small price to pay for better sleep from here on out.
What do you think about my fix? Let me know in the comments below.
Don’t be satisfied with just this fix either. Be sure to secure the other doors to your house as well to eliminate any weak links!
Other Garage Security Tips
Next, if you are building a new home, consider a garage door without windows so that criminals can’t look inside to see if you’re home or scope out the easiest way to open the door.
If you have an existing door, then a replacement is not practical unless you also have other reasons for getting a new door. So, to prevent a burglar from seeing into your garage, you could just add some film to the glass that is frosted. It will still let light into your garage without being easy to see through.
Third, you may also want to consider adding security laminate to the glass in the door(s) so that the window can’t be easily broken in order to access the emergency release. If you are already installing security film (or having it installed) at your house, a few extra windows won’t likely break the bank.
The laminate will hold the glass together even after it’s broken, and force the burglar to make more noise and spend more time outside of your house trying to get it. Seconds standing out in the open with the chance of neighbors seeing them while they beat a laminated window into submission are going to be a great deterrent.
Lock the Door when You’re Gone
If you are leaving town for a few days, another garage security tip is to use garage door locks so that it can’t be opened. That involves the opener as well as a physical lock on the door itself. It may add a little time to your return home, but it is a fool-proof way to keep your garage door from being easily opened.
Hide Your Remotes
If you leave a car in the driveway with a remote in it, this may be especially poignant. Stolen cars are hard to get away with and turn into cash. But, a stolen garage door opener remote can give quick access to a home with cash, jewelry, electronics, and medication that is much easier to trade or sell. Along with the address on your vehicle registration, it’s a ready made burglary. After all, you’ll be busy talking to the police about the broken window in your car at the mall parking lot.
A remote that you keep on your keychain or that integrates with your car will be the most secure. Barring that, the next best thing is to hide the remote out of plain sight so that your car doesn’t become a target in the first place.
Secure the Door to Your House
Just in case someone does walk or break into your garage, it makes sense to do what you can to harden the door to your house. At a minimum, that involves adding a deadbolt to the door to make it harder to kick in or slip the lock with a plastic card or wire.
If you live in a high risk area, you may want to do more. If you haven’t already, see what your probability of being burglarized is using our calculator.
Then, depending on your risk, you may also want to consider the additional front door security tips in our previous article on the subject like reinforced strike plates and door stop plates.
Congratulations on a Job Well Done
Now, you can rest a bit easier knowing that these garage security tips will keep out all but the most determined burglars.
Hi, I’m Jody. I graduated with honors with a Masters of Science in Computer Engineering and have over 15 years of experience working as an engineer with electronics products. I’m a lifelong learner and tinkerer and enjoy automating things around the house so I can solve bigger problems than getting out of bed to check if the garage door is closed . . . like too little sleep!