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Copper in Boston Plumbing Still A Target Of Thieves

Copper theft is on the rise and Boston has seen a rash of thefts involving copper plumbing. Boston Housing Authority employees are facing a Civil Service Hearing related to accusations that they illegally removed copper plumbing from a public housing complex in Roslindale.

Last month, two men were arrested in New Hampshire in connection with the theft of copper from National Grid in North Andover in two separate incidents. Police estimate that the National Grid copper was worth more than $30,000. Later in the month, National Grid also reported the theft of about $6,000 worth of copper from a power plant in Whitman.

Copper theft isn’t limited to commercial properties, though. Last month, a New Hampshire man was arrested after attempting to steal copper plumbing from a home for sale in Manchester. In that theft, the combined damage total from the copper theft and leaking water was estimated at $3,000.

Scrap copper is worth about $2.50-$3.00 per pound, and the cost of copper is rising slightly. That puts homeowners with copper plumbing at an increased risk of copper theft. Exposed copper connections on central air conditioning units are also becoming a favorite target of thieves.
What can you do to protect yourself? We recommend that you sheathe any exposed (outdoor) copper pipe with flexible conduit to shield the copper from view. That’s not going to stop a determined thief, but out-of-sight, out-of-mind sometimes works.

Empty residential buildings are at the greatest risk of theft. Removing copper does take a bit of time, so thieves will be looking for opportunities to work undisturbed. Motion alarms, burglar alarms and observant neighbors may deter some thieves, but few things will dissuade a determined thief from getting in.

One approach to consider when a home is empty is turning off the water at the main and draining the plumbing system. That won’t prevent copper theft, but it can prevent resulting water damage to your unoccupied home. Maintain your insurance coverage on the structure, and your loss will be limited to the value of your deductible.

Draining the plumbing in an empty home isn’t a bad strategy, even if copper theft isn’t on your mind. When your pipes are empty and the water is turned off, you avoid pipe damage that might occur during an extended power loss. If you know you’ll be gone for an extended period of time and you would like help draining your plumbing or your boiler, contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to drain your pipes and winterize your boiler. Upon your return, we’ll repressurize the systems, and bleed residual air from radiators and plumbing lines.

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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.