DEFENSIBLE HOME DESIGN

Having lived in highly dense cities for most of my life, I’ve locked up doors and windows for many years with a healthy understanding that intruders are always a possibility. I wanted to understand how homes can be more secure, without having to fortify them. Fortification was easier back in the time of forts and castellations, due to the technology of the intruder and the near unlimited resource of the castle owner. Today though, we need to be creative and secure our castle with updated solutions.

I wanted to share some ideas from reading an article by Jeff Cooper while researching on home safety. Jeff Cooper is an accomplished teacher, one of his main subjects was on self defense. He published a book called “To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth” and in it is a section titled “Notes on Tactical Residential Architecture”.

I believe he shares some practical ideas which are useful for what I am building. After all, my goal is to empower people to build their own homes in remote places. If you are wanting to build in a remote location, you would consider how you can keep it safe. Being out there means you have limited access to resources including assistance.

empower people to build their own homes in remote places. If you are wanting to build in a remote location, you would consider how you can keep it safe.

The book lists 4 key considerations in keeping your home safe. I paraphrase them into these 4 items:

1. BEDROOM SECURITY

For the most part, it means you are going to sleep when you are using the bedroom. That means an intruder would know at night, you are most likely to be in this part of your house. All the while an intruder has this info, you are unconscious and unaware in that one room. You are at a disadvantage on multiple levels.

You must keep the bedroom secure. Give yourself the ability to lockdown in the bedroom so that when you hear an intruder in your home, you have time to react. Even better, when they try to go to your room you wake up to the rattle they make trying to see how they can get thru the bedroom door.

This definitely means putting in a proper lock on your bedroom door, ensuring it is a sturdy door and has the hinges set properly. There are many ways a basic door is installed improperly-like when your door latch does not fully engage – particularly the dead latch/guard bolt. Other than simply properly installing it, you could also reinforce your door at the hinge and latch connections to the frame. There are kits available for these.

Consider also how your windows are easily broken into. If the window is on the far side of your home, you may not hear it breaking at 2 in the morning. You could install security grills on your windows-but even though they are decorative they typically don’t look great. The don’t look homey, and – well they give that prison feel.

An alternative could be to use window security film like the 3M Scotshield. From the material on the 3M website they don’t market it for home security-probably for some legalities they may have encountered. There are other manufacturers offering and marketing it as security film. They seem to give your window a similar effect to having laminated glass, where a film holds the glass together despite cracking. I’m going to bet the protection will still vary greatly on what your glass is made out of (thickness and treatment). My hope is that this product is an easy to learn and install product. I’ll share more info on this product when I get a chance to test it and (hopefully) swing at it with a hammer. Here’s a video on some product testing.

2. DOOR MANAGEMENT

The second consideration is to be mindful of where you locate your doors. It doesn’t make sense to locate a door in a blind spot where you cannot see what is going on from inside. Yes, peepholes and Ring doorbells exist, but these are workarounds to a problem. Most door locations nowadays are dictated by aesthetics, how they look on the exterior and where in the plan they fit. We need to give more thought into locating doors so that you can see who is there from multiple safe vantage points. Maybe visible from a 2nd floor window or a window on the side in a different room.

Once again, there is the option to install security grills. This works better for a door than a window so I can see this working better. Main entry doors would be made of metal, so the weakness would lie in the framing and the door hardware-especially your lock. Once again, the latch must work properly and the framing must be sturdy.

3. ABILITY TO VIEW PERIMETER FROM INSIDE YOUR HOME

I see this is not as common nowadays-as most architects will avoid having windows on the west side of the house. There’s also usually no windows in your garage so wherever the garage is that side of the house is blind.

There is a huge benefit of being able to scan your property from the safety inside your home. Whatever danger is, you can check it from a point of safety. If there is an intruder, they still need to get in your home to get to you. In a suburban home the advantage of this makes sense. In a remote property this advantage is HUGE. For one you can look out and see if there are any vehicles other than your own. You can check thru the bedroom window and see your barn if there’s any signs of activity.

To this you can also add wireless cameras view the rest of your property. A camera in the barn would be great-so you don’t have to go out in a jacket and pjs in a cold Texan winter night to check if anyone or anything is messing with your tools.

4. INTERIOR COURTYARD FOR OUTDOOR LIVING SPACE

The book references how during Roman times, the wealthy had concerns living in an urban setting. Thus their homes were built out to the outer limits of their property and had very narrow windows. The outdoor living space was provided by an inner courtyard. This outdoor space is more secure than a yard would provide. Obviously this is more rare today in the US due to our zoning laws and building setbacks from your property line. And homes in the urban setting which have zero lot lines rarely include an inner courtyard since the goal is to maximize floor area and home value.

It is unfortunate that a courtyard provides less appraised value than an interior finished space. This is yet another example of how policies can skew proper design and limit providing homes/results that can truly improve our lives.

It is unfortunate that a courtyard provides less appraised value than an interior finished space. This drives the program of most property developers and thus drives the design of their architect. The benefits of an outdoor space are hard to quantify-they are life changing in my opinion. This is yet another example of how policies can skew proper design and limit providing homes/results that can truly improve our lives.

The book, being written by Jeff Cooper, is from the perspective of mostly a newly built home. He writes with the expectation that you as the homeowner should be ready and capable of defending it with your weapon-as you should. The keys to the design revolve on limiting access into your home, delaying the intruder til you can react, and having visibility to them thru proper placement so that you can shoot back and protect your family and property. He explains this mindset well in the article, and he wrote this with some reflection from observing some homes where the plan was to wait for the police to arrive.

Waiting for police to arrive is not a great plan if you are in a remote area. It’s not even a great plan when you are in an urban area. There’s some great concepts in this book which we don’t really apply to modern home construction. I’ll be digging into these concepts more and will be including them in future designs.

Resources and referral links:
Link to a short bio on Jeff Cooper.
Link to his book To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth


Alt-Ark‘s goal is to make architecture more permaculture. We seek to empower the creation of forever homes that allow families the freedom to live the lives they choose.

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