Why Are People Stealing AC Units?

Air conditioners are hot items for thieves, but they are not being stolen to cool their homes. Ever since the demand for copper began to climb and the price for metal skyrocketed, thieves have been following the money, stealing units located outside from backyards and on top of buildings, mainly for the copper content. Where there is copper, there is big money to be made.

Never mind that copper prices have stabilized, somewhat, this has not stopped thieves who are a mission. Scrap metal yards, construction site locations, and any external air conditioning units are still among the most common targets for copper thieves, who sometimes cause thousands of dollars in damages in order to harvest relatively small amounts of metal.

What Does It Mean?

Thieves can sometimes net $100 to $200 dollars for the copper in one air conditioning unit. These numbers inflate with more copper collected. This makes it very lucrative for thieves looking for quick cash. Because stolen or stripped AC units need to be either replaced or possibly repaired, the end result is more business for heating and cooling contractors. In a Wall Street Journal report, Brenda Hawk, an office manager for Camair Inc., said that the Orlando, Florida based contracting firm was getting about four times as many calls compared to the previous summer regarding stolen or gutted a/c equipment.

Who Else is Benefiting From This Trend?

In addition to contractors, security companies are getting a boost in business due largely to a/c thefts. Alarm companies are being asked to add theft sensors to the air conditioning units as well as motion-sensing lights and secure fences. The bottom line is this: if copper prices remain at their current level or possibly soar higher, we can expect more of the same in regard to a/c thefts.

What Can Be Done To Stop It?

According to scrap metal dealers, it is virtually impossible to identify stolen copper. Metal bears no serial numbers and old and new copper wire looks the same. The guy who used to collect beer and soda cans for redemption values can now get 10 times the money for a fraction of the work by stealing air conditioners.

Cities Are Cracking Down

Cities across the nation are starting to crack down using a variety of methods. Montgomery, Alabama, for instance, passed an ordinance to require scrap yards to report the copper they take in to the police department. Detroit is monitoring their scrap yards making sure they’re licensed and collecting identification information from those who sell them the metal. This is all good but, what can the average homeowner do to prevent their a/c units from being stripped or stolen?

  1. Homeowners should secure the crawl space under their homes.
  2. Homeowners can hide their outdoor a/c unit with a fence or shrubs.
  3. Homeowners can secure their a/c units to the house with a padlock and chain.
  4. Homeowners can install an air conditioner cage.
  5. Homeowners can install an air conditioner alarm.
  6. Homeowners can organize a neighborhood watch.
  7. Homeowners should keep track of the serial numbers on their a/c unit, especially if it is stolen.
  8. Homeowners can put up signs in visible locations in order to deter this crime. “Beware of Dog” or “Premises protected by XYZ Alarm Company” can make criminals fell less comfortable choosing you for a target.
  9. Homeowners should let neighbors know if they are going to have any work done on their house or property and let them know who will be doing the work. Never assume that service people and vehicles are legitimate. If concerned, homeowners should contact their local police. As long as there is a market for the copper coils inside a/c units, we will all have to be more vigilant or pay a hefty price for repairs or replacement.

This article was written by Nick Quinlan.  Nick is an electrical engineer in Orlando, FL and has been researching and writing content for Facemyer AC for the past year.  If you would like to read more of Nick’s work you can visit his Google+ page!