In some cases, the proper HVACR tool simply doesn’t exist. In those instances, some entrepreneurial contractors take it upon themselves to craft their own solutions. Thus was the case with Mitch Livingston, his nephew Corey Livingston, and their ACAL-SHARK copper alarm.
Nationwide Epidemic

In 2006, the average price of copper skyrocketed from about 50 cents per pound to approximately $3.70 per pound. As the transition metal grew in value, it began attracting more attention from thieves looking to earn a quick buck.

In as little as 10 minutes, thieves may accumulate about 4 pounds of copper from a typical central air conditioning unit. The market value for copper currently stands at about $3.55 per pound, netting thieves less than $15 for each dismantled residential unit, and as much as $500 from several commercial/rooftop units.

“Many people began referring to this as an epidemic,” said Corey Livingston. “Copper theft was getting so bad in some areas that some cities have started task forces specifically for copper theft. These thefts cost people thousands of dollars, and leave some without power or heat during the hottest or coldest times of the year.”

While some municipalities have turned to stricter scrap yard laws, spray painting units to make them easily distinguishable, and placing air conditioners in cages, none of the solutions are enough to deter the craftiest of bad guys.

“There really is no one good solution to preventing these thefts from happening,” said Mitch Livingston. “A number of copper-theft deterrents are available, but the devices are inadequate, expensive, and cumbersome to install.”

Crafting a Solution

About two years ago, the Livingstons began assembling parts and ideas for their own copper alarm. After accumulating a garage full of various wires, gauges, bells, and whistles, the pair continued to hit roadblocks that kept the device from functioning properly.

“We spent thousands of hours designing the system, along with thousands of dollars in research and development,” said Corey Livingston. “We needed a system that would be easy to install, cost effective, and visually appealing to property owners.”

The duo continued their focus on creating a siren-based alarm that incorporated an integrated control board, thus eliminating the need for an indoor control panel.

“By including an internal control board, this would eliminate the need to run a set of wires to a control board inside the property, and another set of wires to the siren,” said Corey Livingston. “This would also drastically cut down installation time, costs, and would make the device more appealing to the user, as there would be no need for a control box inside the property.”

Eventually, the pair finally assembled their dream device, the Air Conditioner Alarms Strobe, Horn, and Relay Kit (ACAL-SHARK).

Shark Attack

The centerpiece to the ACAL-SHARK is a 120-db horn and strobe combo. The stand-alone siren runs off 12-vdc, and has an optional battery backup. A tamper switch will activate the siren if it is pulled from the wall, or the cover is removed. There are four wires that connect the siren to the system’s insides, connecting to a 110-vac to 12-vdc converter, and to sensors within the unit. These connections can be done using an 18-2 thermostat wire, which most technicians keep on their service trucks.

A voltage-monitoring relay operates using closed-loop solid-state circuitry. Two wires run to the primary side of the contactor assembly to monitor the unit’s voltage. A second set of wires connects to the pressure sensor, and two remaining wires are fixed to the siren. A pressure sensor is installed to a supplied tee on the liquid-side service port, which sounds the alarm if pressure falls below 5 psi.

“That is all there is to it. Mount the siren, run two sets of wire, hookup four wires inside the unit, install a pressure sensor, and it’s ready to roll,” said Corey Livingston. “If any of the wires are tampered with, or cut, the siren will sound. If the power is disconnected, the siren will sound. If the pressure falls too low, the siren will sound.”

After perfecting their Shark alarm last summer, they began marketing the unit on “An air conditioner is like a seagull on an island in the middle of the ocean. There are predators coming in at all angles, be it those seeking refrigerant, copper thieves, and others,” said Mitch Livingston.

“Corey and I both have day jobs, and we’re not doing this to make a fortune. We’re doing this to help those in need. As a contractor, you not only can offer comfort, but now, with this alarm, you can offer unprecedented security,” continued Mitch Livingston. “As HVACR contractors, we’re all stewards of promoting a higher quality of life. This is another step. Alarms make occupants feel safer, more comfortable, and ultimately, happier.”

The ACAL-SHARK also includes a refrigerant monitor, which triggers the alarm if the refrigerant line has been tampered with.

“Huffing and refrigerant theft is on the rise. Additional accessories, including tilt sensors and the ability to tie our unit in to an existing central alarm system offer a great deal of flexibility,” said Mitch Livingston. “Our dream, our vision, our desire, was to create a system that had absolutely everything that the competition was offering, but all rolled into one package, without any drawbacks. We also needed it to be affordable, compact, and attractive enough to not deter homeowners or contractors. We think we’ve accomplished that goal and we’re excited to share it with the industry.”

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Publication date: 1/21/2013