Crime is a growing problem in many parts of the country, and it’s affecting HVAC contractors. Thieves are stealing tools out of work trucks, along with the catalytic convertors — and in some cases, they are stealing the trucks. Thieves are also targeting the copper and other metals inside of HVAC units, and sometimes even the units themselves.

AC Mechanical and Engineering, a commercial HVAC contractor, serves the greater Denver metropolitan area. Until recently, that included downtown Denver. The company recently made a public announcement that it would no longer service businesses in this area. Operations manager Tony Cirbo told a local news station that crews have come across drug paraphernalia, including needles, and were worried about being robbed.

A viral video from Florida shows the kind of incident technicians worry about. It shows an attempted robbery of an HVAC contractor’s vehicle in broad daylight. According to a release from the Fort Walton Beach Police, a man named Elijah Sutton pulled a technician from Emerald Air Heating and Cooling out of his truck while the technician was stopped at a gas station.

Sutton tried to run down the technician, but he ended up hitting another car and a fuel station. He then attempted to drive away but crashed into a utility pole. Police arrested him at the scene.

“They took anything that’s pretty much HVAC-related.”
Zach Arena
Owner, Sky Heating and Air Conditioning

Multiple Break-Ins

Some HVAC contractors don’t even have to leave their shops to fall victim to crime. At the end of 2020, thieves broke into Sky Heating and Air Conditioning in Lincoln, Nebraska. Then it happened again eight months later. Owner Zach Arena told a local TV station that the thieves took torches, copper cases, power tools, and thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment.

“They took anything that’s pretty much HVAC-related,” Arena told the TV station.

Thieves don’t even have to get into a building to rob an HVAC contractor. Some of the most prized targets are sitting outside the building, underneath the fleet of work trucks. A plumbing company in Rochester Hills, Michigan, reported that thieves stole the catalytic convertors off all nine of their trucks, costing them not only the price of repairing the vehicles, but also a day’s work.

Catalytic converters, which are found on all vehicles since the 1975 model year, contain valuable metals such as palladium. High commodity prices have made these units targets for thieves because of the metals. These metals are also found in air conditioning units, which have made them targets as well. HVAC units have been stolen everywhere from new-home developments to churches.

There are a number of steps HVAC contractors can take to protect their employees and their property. They can mark the catalytic converters to improve the chances of recovery. They can also place a cage or steel shield over the converters.

Some business owners are experimenting with placing GPS devices inside of the converters. These have proven useful in tracking down stolen vehicles, and one new-home developer used these devices to track down stolen HVAC units. If technicians take their trucks home at night, it’s recommended that they bring any tools inside with them.