As long as copper prices remain above normal, expect the thievery to continue.
Like it or not, there is gold in a/c units - and that gold happens to be the metal copper. Because copper prices are at all-time or near all-time highs, thieves are going behind residential homes and sneaking atop commercial buildings in order to get the copper content inside available a/c units. Those who are really bold are actually stealing the entire outside unit - hook, line, and copper.
How bad is it? Here are some of the daring moves:
"As soon as the â€˜for sale' sign goes up, it's like a red flag [for thieves]," McNutt told the Chattanooga newspaper. And McNutt is the senior vice president of development for Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprises, a local nonprofit seeking to provide affordable housing to local residents.
Also in this neck of the woods, someone took the copper pipes connecting a church's two a/c units to the building. It cost St. Mary's CME Church a total of $1,500 to repair. This price tag does not surprise Mike Jenkins, owner of A Tech Heating & Air Conditioning, Chattanooga. According to Jenkins, copper thieves tend to do more than just break air conditioning units. Most of the time, he said, they destroy them. Victims of metal theft always must replace their units, he said, so a robbery of just $20 or $30 worth of coil actually costs the a/c owner $2,000 to $5,000.
According to the Florida Times Union, Putnam County police handled 17 reports of stolen air conditioners in the first five months of this year - up sharply from the eight such thefts last year, according to Major Keith Riddick, chief of detectives for the Putnam County Sheriff's Office.
"We even had five stolen in January," Riddick told the local newspaper, "so you know that's not due to the heat."
In nearby city Pleasanton, police detective Jerry Nicely said some incidents involve people breaking into sites to rummage through a dumpster, but at other times, thieves are breaking apart new air conditioning units to get wiring that is costly to replace.
"They get 20 bucks of copper and a $5,000 air conditioner is garbage," Nicely told the newspaper.
"We ask that neighbors be vigilant in noticing their surroundings and whether anything strange is going on," Fulton informed the Associated Press (AP).
Dianne Schultz, a retired city employee, reported to police that she could not use her air conditioner on the hottest day of Detroit's summer because her a/c unit was stolen from her yard.
The good news: Schultz told United Press International (UPI) that her insurance would cover most of the $1,400 to replace the unit. The bad news: She is responsible for the $500 deductible on the claim.
Meanwhile, Noreen Alexander, a 62-year-old retired social worker, was in her Detroit home one hot morning during the summer when she heard a strange noise out back. About 10 minutes later, her nephew noticed that the outdoor unit of her central air conditioning unit was gone.
"I never believed anyone would steal an air conditioner that size, period," Alexander told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). "Was I mad! I was hotter than the weather."
Meanwhile, in a later report - Sept. 16, to be exact - Chattanoogan.com, reported that two males were found loading a $3,000 air conditioning unit from a local business, Maintenance Services. According to the police report, the men said they had planned to take the unit to a scrap metal business the next day. The men-in-question were given $4,000 bonds on the charge of theft over $3,000.
"They unscrewed the top and pulled the guts and left the shell there," Frick, a campus minister, told WSJ.
The rental home's owner, John Beeler, noted that the thieves probably did not get the market value for the stolen unit.
"I would have preferred if they had just knocked on my door and asked for $100," Beeler was quoted as saying.
Sidebar: It Takes a (Creative) Thief...When it comes to thieves, expect the unexpected. Just ask Butch Welsch.
The owner/president of Welsch Heating and Cooling in St. Louis relayed a creative tandem that played havoc this past spring on a relatively new residential subdivision in Welsch's service area.
"A guy would drive up to a home in an unmarked, but service-looking, van, knock on the door, and if no one answered, he would evacuate the refrigerant from the unit, disconnect the lines and electric," said Welsch. "A few moments after he pulled away, another truck would drive up and remove the a/c [unit] from the premises. This occurred at three or four homes before a next-door neighbor saw it in action and notified the police."
Then again, not all thieves are as creative. Again, just ask Butch Welsch.
Not too long ago in his service area, two installed a/c units were stolen from two different jobs. They both happened across the Mississippi River in Illinois. In a display home in this new subdivision a thieve stole one of three units.
"This would seem to indicate they were looking for a particular size and not just taking the unit for the components," thought Welsch.
Meanwhile, in a different subdivision, an outdoor unit was pulled away from a new home that was nearly finished, but not occupied. In fact, the house was scheduled to close in only a few days before the thief - or thieves â€“ did the sloppy heist.
Sloppy? Yes, sloppy, assessed Welsch.
"Our guys felt the people doing it were not real experienced," he said, "because the way they cut the lines in both cases, they sprayed refrigerant and oil all over the siding of the house."
- Mark Skaer
Sidebar: Tell Us Your Side of the StoryAs a contractor, have you heard about air conditioning units being stolen or gutted out in your service area? Has business picked up for you due, in part, to a/c units being gutted out or stolen from residential homes and/or commercial buildings? What is the boldest a/c unit theft (or worse) that has occurred in your service area?
Translation: Let The NEWS know of how this rash of stealing/gutting out a/c units has affected (or, not affected) your business. Supply as many details as you can or desire to relay. Please pass along your observations to NEWS senior editor Mark Skaer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 10/30/2006