It’s 2 AM, and you’re lying asleep in bed. Your wife is snuggled next to you, and your young children are slumbering soundly in their respective bedrooms.
The sound of the creaking back door awakens you. You weren’t expecting any late-night visitors.
It could be an intruder . . . or not. Maybe you forgot to shut the back door all the way and lock it, and the wind’s blown it open. (Sheepdog Rule #24: Always check to see if the doors are locked before you retire for the night.)
How do you investigate this possible home intrusion quickly and safely? How do you navigate through your house in a way that maximizes your safety when there could be a possible attacker on the prowl?
Today we’re going to walk you through how to effectively clear your home. In the tactical world, “clearing a building” simply means investigating the premises for a suspected intruder. A building is “cleared” if you confirm the suspect isn’t there or you neutralize the threat.
First Rule of Clearing a House: Only Clear Your House By Yourself as a Last Resort
In law enforcement and the military, clearing a building is done in teams of two or more because it’s safer and more effective. That extra set of eyes allows you to have a 360-degree view.
If you’re clearing your home, it’s probably just you. Because you don’t have eyes in the back of your head, your field of vision is limited, leaving you vulnerable to attacks in your blind spots.
With that in mind, Mike recommends that you only clear your own house by yourself as a very last resort.
For example, if you arrive home and notice that a window is smashed or a door is open, and you suspect an intruder is still inside, don’t go in and clear your home alone. Stay outside at a safe distance and call the police to report a possible ongoing breaking and entering. Let the professionals take care of it.
If you live by yourself and an intruder breaches your place while you’re at home asleep, stay in your room, lock the door, call 911, and ready your weapon. Stay in there until law enforcement officers arrive. Once they do, make sure whatever weapon you’re using is holstered or put away, so they don’t mistake you for the bad guy.
The only situation in which you’d want to clear a home by yourself is if you have loved ones in another part of the house, and you’re worried about their safety. Even then, you must proceed with extreme caution.
Bottom line: clearing your home by yourself is a dangerous task. Only do it if you absolutely must!
Set Up Your Home for Successful Clearing
Clearing a building is dangerous because you can’t see through doors and walls or around corners. Consequently, several tactics must be used to allow you to navigate a house while reducing (but not eliminating) your chances of being blindsided by an attack. We’ll discuss those here in a bit.
To further reduce the risks of clearing your home, Mike recommends using technology and smart interior design to increase your field of vision without putting yourself in harm’s way.
First, install security cameras throughout your home. This will allow you to see where the possible threat is without having to expose yourself physically. Nest Cam and Ring make affordable wireless cameras that connect to your smartphone.
After you’ve installed these cameras, think about how you can decorate your home so that your ability to see around corners is enhanced. Place mirrors and reflective framed pictures in strategic locations so that you can see into a hallway or another room from a distant and concealed location. Motion activated lights are also an excellent addition to place the advantage in your court.
Preparing Your Firearm
Even though the rifle is a generally superior weapon, Mike recommends that most individuals use a pistol for clearing a house as it’s easier to maneuver with than a rifle or shotgun. With that said, if all you have is a rifle or a shotgun, use it. A firearm puts some much-needed distance between you and the possible threat.
Whichever type of firearm you go with, Mike strongly recommends having a light/laser sight mounted on it like a Streamlight TLR-2 with grip activation switch. This makes illuminating and aiming in low-light situations much easier.
Home Clearing Tactics
Choose Your Pace: Slow or Hasty
When you’re searching a building, there are two paces you can take: hasty or slow. Which speed you use depends on the situation.
If your loved ones aren’t in immediate danger, take things slow. It’s safer for you and allows you to be more deliberate when searching your home for intruders.
If you believe your loved ones are in immediate danger, do a hasty search. Even as you speed up the pace, however, you still want to practice good clearing tactics to keep yourself safe.
How to Hold Your Pistol When Clearing Your Home
If you’re clearing your house with a pistol, hold your firearm in a high ready position. This position allows you to maneuver throughout your home quickly and with a reduced profile while simultaneously staying ready to fire when needed.
Constantly Check Your Six
As you’re clearing your home, it can be easy to get “target lock.” You become so focused on clearing a corner or a doorway that you become unaware of what’s going on behind or to the side of you. As you clear different obstacles in your home, keep your head on a swivel. Don’t become so focused on one area that you become blind to everything else.
The Master Tactic of Clearing Your Home: Slicing the Pie
When you’re clearing a building, you have two contradictory goals: 1) find and eliminate the threat, and 2) keep yourself concealed from the threat. If you go bulldozing towards an intruder, you leave yourself open to attack. If you completely conceal yourself from your potential attacker, however, it becomes hard for you to spot and possibly neutralize him because doors, corners, and objects are in your way.
To navigate between this strategic Scylla and Charybdis, we’re going to use a building-clearing tactic called “slicing the pie.” Slicing the pie is also known as “threshold evaluation” or “angled clearing.”
Slicing the pie allows us to slowly increase our field of vision around corners, through doorways, and up and down stairs, all while keeping a reduced profile. When you slice the pie, you use an angle to keep yourself concealed and slowly step away from the apex of that angle to gradually reveal a new “slice” of the room. When a new slice of the room is revealed, quickly scan it from top to bottom for your threat or evidence of your threat. Once you’ve noted that it’s clear, reveal another small slice of the room and scan again.
While the general concept of slicing the pie applies to corners, doorways, and stairways alike, the details of how to approach each area differ slightly, as we’ll cover below.
How to Clear Corners
Corners are the most common objects in your house, and you don’t want to barge right around them because you might run right into your armed intruder. To traverse a corner safely, we’re going to slowly increase our field of vision around it while minimizing our profile by slicing the pie.
Start off by getting as close to the wall as you can without scraping up against it (you don’t want to make a lot of noise and give your position away).
Slowly approach the corner and stop about 3 or 4 feet away from it. Your pivot point will be the apex of the corner. Begin slicing the pie by taking one sidestep away from the wall. Make sure you’re in that high ready position. You don’t want your pistol or elbows poking out. Scan up and down the slice of the room revealed to you. Once you’ve cleared that slice, take another sidestep away from the wall. You should be making a semi-circle around your pivot point, until you’re parallel with the corner.
Continue slicing the pie around the corner until you’ve seen and cleared the entire room on the other side of the corner.
How to Clear Doors
Doors and doorways provide some unique challenges when clearing a home.
First, you have to open the door in a way that reduces your exposure to possible gunfire. Second, the doorway itself acts as a choke point, making you an easy target for a would-be attacker if you were to just run right through it. It’s for this reason that doorways are known as “fatal funnels” in the tactical world.
But with a bit of stratagem and some good old pie slicing, you can navigate through a doorway safely and securely.
First, you want to stay out of the fatal funnel even if the door is closed. Last time I checked, bullets can go through wooden doors. Stand to the side against the walls.
Check to see if the door opens in or out. You don’t want to waste time trying to push the door open when it actually pulls out. You can tell if a door opens in or out by checking the hinges. If you can see the hinge, the door is going to open towards you.
When you approach a closed door, do so from the side the handle is on. Keeping your pistol in the high ready position, put your non-dominant hand on the doorknob, turn it quickly, and swing open the door. Make sure you keep the muzzle slightly high, so you don’t point it at your hand while grabbing the knob. If you have to push the door in, make sure you push hard enough to open the door all the way, but not so hard that it hits the wall and bounces back towards you.
While you open the door, simultaneously step back. This provides some distance so you can safely slice the pie, and is called “ghosting a door” because from the perspective of the intruder, it looks like a ghost opened it.
Now we’re going to slice the pie. This time your pivot point will be right dab in the middle of the doorway. Sidestep in a semicircular path around the pivot point until you get to the other side of the doorframe. When you cross the fatal funnel during your pie slicing, pick up the pace. You want to spend as little time there as possible.
Once you’ve seen as much of you can into the room by slicing the pie, it’s time to enter. Even if you’ve cleared the room while pie slicing, you want to spend as little time in the fatal funnel as possible when you go through the doorway. With your pistol in the high ready position, enter the doorway from the side at an angle. Keep moving into the room at the same angle to get through the threshold as quickly as possible.
Another way to quickly get through a doorway is to buttonhook around the doorframe that you’re closest to.
As you navigate hallways, keep in mind that they’re just giant fatal funnels. To that end, never walk down the middle of a hallway. Stay close to one wall or the other.
How to Clear T-Shaped Hallways
T-shaped hallways are two hallways that intersect perpendicular to each other. They put you at a tactical disadvantage because you have two corners to clear and to clear one of them means you’ll have your back to the other.
We’re going to clear the left corner first, so we’ll need to be on the right side of the hallway. Get as close as you can to the right wall of the hallway and slowly approach the right corner. Stop about 2 to 3 feet in front of the corner. Slowly clear the left corner as much as you can without having your body enter the intersecting hallway.
Once you’ve cleared as much as you can, step back and move over to the left side of the hallway so you can clear the right corner. Clear the right corner the same way you did the left corner.
If you can’t get enough of a view using this technique, Mike says you could “quick peek” the hallway by quickly moving your head in and out of the intersecting hallway. Even if the intruder had a gun, his reaction time isn’t fast enough to pull the trigger while your head is poking in and out.
After clearing as much as you can, enter the intersecting hallway the same way you’d enter a door. As you’re going one direction, make sure to look over your shoulder to ensure the hall behind you is clear.
How to Clear Stairs
You may need to ascend a flight of stairs to completely clear your home. Going up stairs puts you at a tactical disadvantage, but with some more pie slicing, it can be done in a way that reduces your exposure.
Your approach towards steps should be similar to a hallway or corner. Slowly slice the pie up the stairwell before you enter it. In this case, the apex of your pie is the top of the stairs. As you walk up the stairs, keep your back close to the wall. Take slow steps up the staircase. As you go up a step, slowly slice the pie in the area above you. Only proceed up the next step once you’ve cleared that slice.
Once you get to the top, you’ll likely encounter a corner or a t-shaped hallway. Slice the pie and keep moving on.
Clearing Obstacles in a Room
Once you enter a room, make sure to clear places like the areas behind couches and drapes. Your apex on the couch would be the corner of the couch. Do not leave that room until you’ve cleared behind all the objects. As you leave a room, be sure to slice the pie on the way out through the doorway. The potential intruder might have moved there.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Clearing your home isn’t a skill you can just read about and expect to know how to do when you need to use it. You’ve got to practice it. Regularly. And it’s not difficult. As you walk through your house and approach corners and doors, practice slicing the pie. You don’t have to set aside special time for this. Just do it whenever you’re getting up to get a drink of water.
Besides these “greasing the groove” types of exercises, you should set aside time to practice clearing your home with a firearm. You need to get comfortable maneuvering while holding a pistol. Practice proper safety skills and make sure your gun is unloaded before you do. Practice ghosting a door with a firearm, slicing the pie in the high ready position, and clearing t-shaped hallways. Include this in your regular firearms training.
To reiterate, clearing your home is a dangerous activity; doubly so if you’re doing it alone. You should try to avoid it at all costs, but in the event you have to do it, you now have some basic knowledge to give yourself a fighting chance.
Last updated: July 13, 2017