Copper Prices Rise, Units Damaged

December 22, 2006
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 Multiple factors affected the overall pricing and stability of the HVAC market this year. Copper, for example, experienced a sharp spike as energy prices fluctuated, especially over the summer.

According to the October 2006 Producer Pricing Index (PPI), copper and brass mill shapes increased 64 percent over 2005, and steel mill products increased 21 percent.

As the year progressed and material pricing and availability came into question, some contractors found themselves researching and purchasing raw materials from the Internet, helping them verify availability and price.

 Although shortages were not as drastic as last year’s post-Katrina and Rita markets, availability was a key component for pricing. As copper availability decreased, prices skyrocketed leaving contractors a new problem - a/c unit theft. Once the demand for copper began to climb and the price for the metal reached historic highs, thieves started following the money chain, stealing the copper content from outdoor units.
Scrap metal yards, construction sites, and external air conditioning units were among the most common targets for copper thieves, who sometimes caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to harvest relatively small amounts of copper.

“Whenever the cost of those metals go up, there’s a rash of thefts of them,” Orangeburg, S.C., County Sheriff’s Office Major Barbara Walters told the local newspaper, The Times and Democrat. “We believe the stolen copper and other metals are being sold for scrap metal.”

This includes cashing in on stolen a/c units, wherever they might be found or anchored.

Thieves are cleaning out outdoor units, like the one shown above, for their copper content.

“With the skyrocketing values of these metals, it makes it lucrative to steal the items and sell them,” explained Joseph Rich, owner of Sunshine Recycling, Orangeburg, S.C. “We’re paying $1.07 a pound for copper if it’s clean, free of contaminants.”
According to scrap metal dealers, it is virtually impossible to tell whether copper has been stolen. The metal has no serial numbers, and old and new copper wire or piping looks the same.
For the most part, police collectively believed the culprits were usually petty criminals looking for some quick money. Those arrested were often charged with burglary or larceny, depending upon the circumstances of the theft, and faced fines, probation, or several years in jail.
In response to the rash of a/c unit thefts and other copper-related incidents, many cities started requiring scrap yards to report the copper redeemed to the police department. Other cities were working to ensure that local scrap yards were licensed and collecting identification information from those who sell them the metal.
Publication date: 12/25/2006

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