You may have seen recent headlines in the news with tales of copper theft. Copper pipes and tubing have become a hot commodity as thieves make shady deals with even shadier scrap metal companies to convert their pillages to quick cash.
Just today, the headline from The Newton Bee reports that, “Police are investigating rash of copper thefts.”
Police report they learned May 5 that unknown persons had been stealing an extensive amount of copper piping and copper wiring for an unknown period of time from Cochran House, a large vacant building at Fairfield Hills.
How can this affect you or your home plumbing? Think about copper tubing in your outside air conditioning unit. How about the copper pipes that run at the base of your older home? If a thief was motivated, they could steal either of these items and then you are on the phone calling us, calling your heating/AC service company and then the police, who won’t be able to do much about the copper theft unless you have them caught on camera. If you are building a new home or remodeling an existing one – copper wire, tubing and pipes are very vulnerable during construction. The thefts will cause delays, more expense and frustration in the already daunting task of building your home. Copper theft can happen in the middle of the day while your team is distracted and has left their supplies or trucks unattended.
If you have a water heater in your garage and you leave it open, it can also be vulnerable, depending on the type of water heater you have.
For those honorable people reading this, you may ask WHY are people stealing copper?
Easy – the value of scrap copper has gone up.
The US Department of Energy estimates that copper theft, a once minor problem, has exploded into $1 billion a year nightmare. Construction sites, abandoned buildings, and commercial heating and air conditioning units have been the biggest targets for these thieves. More often than not the damage caused obtaining the copper vastly exceeds the value of the copper, but this does not deter the thieves. There have been numerous reports of air conditioners, valued at over $3,000, completely destroyed for no more than $25 worth of copper.
People living in neighborhoods and apartment buildings can take some steps to deter thieves and keep from having to fix the damage and replace the copper. Some of these tips are more useful for those with commercial construction sites:
Preventing Copper Theft Around Your Property:
Paint Copper Black
An easy and inexpensive way to help prevent copper theft is to paint all copper components black. This causes the copper to look like regular, worthless plastic tubing that no one would waste the time to steal.
Fence Areas with Copper
Areas containing items with copper in them are always a potential target, and depending on the value of the item, a fence may be worth the investment. The amount of copper in most commercial air conditioners is never worth a great amount, but the real cost comes from the destruction of the unit and the time it takes to replace it.
Install an Alarm System
Installing an alarm system to prevent copper theft is a great way to deter potential thieves and to catch those who do. There are many varieties of alarm systems, and choosing one will depend on the location and type of the object in need of protection. For heating and cooling units, for example, there are alarms that are triggered if the unit stops working.
Aside from deterring would-be thieves, surveillance cameras can aid police in capturing thieves resulting in either the return of stolen goods or incarceration preventing future thefts.
Hire Security Guards
Approximately 90% of all copper theft takes place during nights or weekends, which is logical since these times are when places are most likely empty. Recognizing the increased risk of theft during these periods can greatly reduce the chances of having copper stolen. Hiring staff or security personal to monitor your facility during these periods can greatly reduce the chances of a serious loss.
The police department in Ft. Wayne, Indiana has some tips, too:
- Remove the exterior of your exterior air conditioning units and spray paint the copper tubing with a florescent orange or green paint. Then replace the exterior.
- Use microdot or DataDot® technology on your tubing in place of spray paint. Another helpful product is called SmartWater®, which can be used on any property. See http://www.datadotusa.com/index.htm andhttp://www.smartwater.com/Video.aspx for information on these products.
- Remove the landscaping or fencing from around the air conditioner unit to improve the surveillance of the area.
- Install or improve the lighting over your air conditioner units.
- Use an engraver to engrave the address of the property onto various places on the air conditioner units. Avoid using the property owner’s information since this may change often, whereas the property address will remain the same.
- Spray paint or use microdot or DataDot® technology for the copper found in utility rooms, boiler rooms, etc.
- Engrave any copper tubing with the address of the property along with any other of the previous ideas.
Copper theft prevention doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Better safe than sorry!