Copper Thefts Target Boston Plumbing and Air Conditioning

In today’s post, I turn my attention to a growing problem in the Boston area: copper theft. Unfortunately, copper is in high demand right now, making plumbing and air conditioning installations prime targets for copper thieves. How can you protect your Boston plumbing and air conditioning from scrappers?

The price of scrap copper has risen steadily in the past few years, making copper an attractive theft target. The Federal Bureau of Investigation targeted copper thefts in an 2008 report, indicating that the volume of copper thefts was posing a threat to critical national infrastructure including electrical power sub-stations, landline telephone wiring, cellular towers, railroads, water wells and construction sites. The report indicated that vacant homes are also a favored target of copper thieves. The demand for copper is expected to continue as developing countries, such as India and China, develop their fresh water, electrical and communications infrastructure.

To combat copper theft, utilities are increasingly being encouraged to install video monitoring systems in unattended substations, rooftops and other facilities that contain a large amount of copper. The average residential unit has about $25 worth of scrap copper, but thieves can cause thousands of dollars in damage just to get the copper that’s inside your A/C unit. Homeowners may not be able to add video surveillance to their arsenal of defense, but here are some tips most homeowners can use to help discourage copper theft.

Fence off your outside air conditioning unit. Installing a lockable fence or cage around your air conditioning unit can help discourage copper theft. A determined thief may still target your outside A/C unit, but if other easier targets are nearby, he’s likely to leave yours alone.

Install motion-activated outdoor lighting. Outdoor lighting can help you deter theft. Motion-activated lights can also cut down on your electrical use, while still providing protection when needed. If a thief thinks he’s been spotted, he’s likely to leave the area rather than risk being caught.

Join or create a Neighborhood Watch group. Thieves don’t like neighbors any more than they like lights and locks. Watch your property and your neighbor’s properties, and report any suspicious activities. Be especially mindful of vacant homes in your neighborhood.

Talk to your local police department. Community outreach officers can give you information about theft trends that are occurring in your neighborhood. Share the information with your neighbors and ask them to report any unusual activity back to the police department.

Keep gates closed and locked. A determined thief will get into a locked yard, but getting tools in and stolen property out can be more difficult. Make it as hard as possible on the thief, and chances are good that he’ll go looking somewhere else.

Landscape for safety. Consider installing shrubbery around your outside air conditioning unit. Rose bushes, vines and barberry bushes make great deterrent landscaping. Just remember to clear leaves, petals and other debris away from the unit periodically.

Relocate your cooling equipment. This is somewhat drastic, but if your air conditioning unit is an easy theft target, moving it to a less accessible location may discourage thieves. Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating can help you reposition your outside A/C unit to discourage theft.

Hire a plumber to install slimduct. Slimduct is a plastic sleeve that encloses your exposed copper piping and helps protect it from theft. The more work a thief has to do to get your copper, the less attractive your copper becomes.

Consider installing a copper alarm. Yes, copper alarms exist and can detect when a refrigerant line or the power to your A/C unit has been cut. Consult your favorite Boston heating and cooling contractor for help in discouraging A/C unit theft.

Consider getting a dog. Thieves don’t like dogs because they’re noisy, territorial and unpredictable. A thief doesn’t want to guess whether your dog is the friendly type or not, and it certainly doesn’t want your dog to warn you or your neighbors that something’s amiss. A dog isn’t a guarantee that your copper won’t be stolen, but it does complicate the job for the would-be thief.