Software engineer Casey Friday had a burning desire to live in a tiny home, so he spent two years and over $35,000 on material to build his own on a wooded lot in Spring Branch, TX. Yet one day in December 2013, while he was away, he got a call informing him of a burglary on the property. No, a thief hadn't broken into his house. The entire house had been stolen.
"I cannot properly describe how low my heart dropped in my body, except to say that it was the worst panic attack I've had in my entire life," Friday recounts on his blog, caseyfriday.com. The home was eventually recovered by police, but nonetheless Friday is leery of living in it now, and has placed it in storage.
Suddenly the risks of living in a home that's essentially portable seem all too clear.
"We really want a dog, and I can imagine leaving the dog in the house while we run an errand, thinking the whole time, 'Will someone steal the house with the dog inside?'" Friday says. "Or what if these crazy crackheads try to steal it while I'm gone and [my partner] Jessica's alone? Just can't do it."
Tiny home = big risks?
Home burglaries can happen to anyone -- but having your entire house picked up and dragged off is unique to the burgeoning trend of tiny homes. While no national statistics on the theft of tiny homes exist, Casey's story became a wake-up call for the entire community and those who are thinking of buying in: What can you do to keep a tiny home safe from theft?
Probably the biggest problem is the fact that tiny homes are often on wheels. This makes the place convenient -- not only for peripatetic homeowners, but also for creative (and ambitious) thieves. And it turns out your basic tricks for holding the home in place won't cut it.
"It isn't enough to just put blocks in front of the wheels. Anyone who is motivated can just move the blocks," says Ben Kennedy, president and founder of Brighton Builders, a custom homebuilder that specializes in tiny homes in Bluffton, SC.
As such, the best way to prevent the whole home from being stolen is to remove the wheels.
"Just put the house up on supports," Kennedy says.
But what if you really want to keep your home somewhat mobile? Putting the wheels back on would be a gruesome chore.
So if you want to leave the wheels in place, the best approach is a two-part security plan. First, install locks on the individual wheels. Sold at most home improvement and auto parts stores, wheel locks make it incredibly difficult to move the wheels once locked into place.
Next, lock up the tongue, the part of the trailer that is attached to the hitch of a vehicle. Kennedy recommends Master Locks with a hidden shackle padlock. "They can't be cut with bolt cutters," he says.
With solid locks in place, would-be thieves won't be able to attach the trailer to a vehicle.
If you want to go a more economical route, weaving a steel cable through the wheels and locking both ends together with a padlock will provide some security, but not the best you can get. After all, "you don't want to go cheap when it comes to home security. You really want something that has some substance to it," Kennedy says.
Tips to protect the inside, too
Tiny homes aren't necessarily any easier to break into than traditional homes, but "they might look more accessible" to would-be robbers, Kennedy says.
Since your home may have only one door and a few small windows, that door will likely be the target area if someone wants to get inside. Stop that from happening (or at least make it really difficult) with a deadbolt lock.
"Always put a deadbolt on your door that truly engages into the frame of the tiny house," Kennedy says. Put into the frame, the lock will be more secure if someone attempts to kick in the door.
If that doesn't feel sufficient, consider the structure of the door. "If you really want to be super secure, don't put any glass on your door," says Kennedy.
Make sure windows are double-paned, and have good, functioning locks, even if the window seems too small to crawl through.
What to do while you're away
Whenever you're going to be away from the home, make sure you test all the window, door, and wheel locks. Look for any signs of obvious damage that may warrant buying a replacement lock. And don't forget to take all the keys with you, always. Often homeowners will leave the key to the wheel or tongue locks inside the home -- so if someone breaks in they'll not only have access to all your stuff, they could also drive away with the entire home.
This is the type of advice Friday wish he'd known, which could have kept his tiny home safe.
"I'll be completely honest -- I didn't even know that a hitch lock was a 'thing' before our house was stolen," he admitted on his blog. "I only researched them after the house was gone. I am now WELL aware of multiple forms of security that I hope ALL tiny housers will implement."
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