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10 Tips to Protect your AC unit from theft

October 3, 2013 | Blog
AC copper thieves in Arizona

The AC condenser (outdoor unit) is usually the last thing about a home that homeowners think to protect from theft. However, AC theft is much more popular than you think. Use these 10 tips to secure your AC and keep it safe.

Why steal and AC?

What the thieves really want is the copper from these units. AC unit snatchers will often remove the system and take it to a local scrapping company. Scrapping companies are not required to ask where the units came from — only to take down the EPA license and Driver’s license. The AC unit can then be scrapped for $50-$100. While the thief gets $100, the victim pays thousands of dollars to replace their air conditioner.

Police after copper theft from air conditioners

Houston AC Theft

In our market of Houston, TX, this kind of theft is fairly commonplace. My own office building had several units vandalized or stolen this past year. Other areas we have noticed this kind of vandalism to occur has been in more densely populated areas or in office complexes that are not occupied at night. We were called out to a strip mall this year where two units on top of the building were cut and dropped from 2 stories and hauled off.  The biggest issue we saw there, other than no AC, was the fact that the strip mall had insufficient lighting.

Just this week a friend in the Greater Heights called and said his brand new unit was not running only to find out someone had vented all of the freon out of it. It was either stolen or huffed to get high.

Prevent AC Theft With These 10 Tips

1. Lock Down the Disconnect Box

The disconnect box houses the unit’s connection to electricity. If thieves are smart, they want the power off before removing the condenser. If you lock the box, it makes your AC less of a target and deters potential thieves.

NOTE: Always remember where the key is or get coded locks.  Your friendly neighborhood AC guy doesn’t want to get shocked when he is performing his bi-annual maintenance or service.

2. Keep the Unit Well Lit

Thieves aren’t looking to get caught. The more visible they are during the heist, the less likely they are to bother your home or office.

3. Install Security Cameras

This has the same effect that lights do. If thieves know they are being watched, they’re less likely to do it. If they do it anyway, police can use the video to find them.

Air Conditioner Theft from church caught on camera

4. Apply Unit Fence or Cage

Of all the options, this is probably the best. Thieves will typically just move onto the next unit if there’s a physical barrier. You can either buy pre-fab cages or have them custom-made by an ironworks company. If someone makes you a cage, be certain that the unit can still breathe. If you restrict airflow or allow debris buildup, the unit will suffocate and not operate efficiently.

5. Lock all Property Gates or Fences

You’d think this goes withoutt saying, but we often get called to replace a stolen AC because someone didn’t lock their gate. Simply doing this is usually enough to deter thieves and secure all of your property — not just your AC.

6. Remove or Secure Ladders to Deck or Roofs

This typically applies to office buildings. Rooftop package units are stolen when the AC system is easily accessible. Don’t make it any easier for thieves than it already is.

7. Add an Alarm

There are several alarm systems made specifically made for air conditioners. If you’re looking for extreme security, this is the way to go.

8. Tamper-Resistant Screws

Tamper-resistant screws aren’t the most effective method, but they make a good extra layer of security for those looking to go the distance.

9. GPS Tracking on the Unit

If you’ve gone this far, I’m very impressed. Some builders use GPS on big appliances for homes that are being built. They apply them when the home is vacant before completion and remove them when the family moves in. They will also sometimes paint copper installed in homes. This does two things: trick thieves to think that it might not be copper and prevents them from getting as much money at the scrapyard if they take it anyway.

10. Get a Dog

Dogs are part of your family, but they also serve a greater purpose. AC thieves and burglars alike will be deterred by a guard dog, even if you secretly know that it won’t hurt a fly!

For more information, contact Mission AC & Plumbing today.

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