Well, there’s no letup in sight. And I’m not talking about the wildfires out West, though those started earlier than normal this year and don’t seem to be willing to end, either.
I’m talking about copper thefts. Thieves are targeting copper piping and wire inside of buildings and houses, some of which is from air conditioning units. These thefts are occurring in cities and towns of all sizes throughout the country.
These culprits aren’t getting a lot of money for their efforts. Copper is worth about $3.33 (as of last week) and depending on the size of the unit, what the coils are made of, and so forth, I’ve seen estimates that large rooftop units may produce about $100 for the copper. Residential-sized units produce even less. Meanwhile, a/c units at homes, schools, churches, funeral homes, and other businesses continue to be vandalized, and the cost to replace the air conditioning units rise into the thousands of dollars, costing the business owner or homeowner a great deal more to replace the ruined a/c unit than the value of the metal taken from it.
I even have read about copper being taken from supermarket refrigeration units.
But the HVACR industry isn’t the only industry facing the problem of copper thefts. Utilities also use a lot of copper, and thieves are striking at substations and other utility locations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) website acknowledges that copper theft threatens critical infrastructure in the U.S.
So even if a building or home’s air conditioning unit is intact and in good working order, there’s a chance that it might not cool the building or home down to the requested temperature if the electricity to it is disrupted.
Congress has caught wind of the situation. Back in 2008, bill HR 6831, the Copper Theft Prevention Act of 2008, was introduced in the House by Rep Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and more recently, the Metal Theft Prevention Act of 2013 was reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and in the House by Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., earlier this year. The Metal Theft Prevention Act of 2013 covers metals other than copper, but is intended to prohibit “stealing specified metal being used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, the theft of which harms critical infrastructure, including metal used as part of an electrical substation, power line, cellular tower, telephone landline, highway equipment and facilities, railroad equipment and facilities, water well, reservoir, or sewage line. In other words, it does nothing to prohibit copper theft from HVACR units.
More has been done at the local and state levels to fight copper theft, though much more needs to be done.
I wonder what the HVAC industry is doing to help fight this problem? Are you taking any action to help stem the tide of copper thefts? Do you talk to your customers about copper thefts and measures they can take to help prevent the destruction of their air conditioning unit and the theft of its copper? Do you recommend or quote a/c copper theft devices on any of your jobs? Do you use anything to mark an identifier of any kind on the copper? Have you talked to any lawmakers in your local, state, or federal government about this problem? Are you designing units with material less desirable to thieves or making to harder for thieves to extract and/or sell the copper they steal? Are you doing something else to discourage copper theft?
Let me or the HVACR community as a whole know what actions you take or have taken regarding copper thefts. Sharing ideas and information on this hopefully will help the industry, and maybe even other industries, deal with this scourge. As Red Green used to say on his show, “We’re all in this together.”