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10 Tips to Protect your AC unit from theft

October 3, 2013 | Blog

10 Ways how to keep your expensive outdoor air conditioning unit (condenser) from being stolen.  

AC copper thieves in arizona – don’t let these guys on you property

If you pay attention closely to news circuits there is typically at least one or more case of Air Conditioner theft every day.  Most go unreported.  Here are a few articles just in the past ~week alone that have sparked interest on the subject.

New Jersey – AC Theft

Virginia  – Man on Trial for stealing Units

Pennsylvania  – air conditioner thieves in Philly

New York  – 20 units stolen

Alabama – Criminals target churches in Selma

What the thieves really want is the copper from these units.  No they are not taking it to their house to cool it down.  Often times these ac unit snatchers will 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.

Police after copper theft from air conditioners

The saddest fact of this process is that scrap price vs new installation price is vastly different.  It would not be unheard of for an ac unit someone stole to be scrapped for $50-$100 yet the replacement and repair cost would be $2,500-$4,500.  Destruction of value – vandalism – pure and simple.  Yet another issue at play making these criminal acts more egregious is that in order to remove the unit quickly the refrigerant lines are snapped allowing freon/puron to flow freely into the atmosphere making it an EPA violation as well.  Thus adding Ozone Depleting materials to the air.  Click here for a good video on how units are stolen.

In our market of Houston, TX this kind of theft is fairly common place.  My own office building had several units vandalized or stolen this past year.  One on our suit had the freon lines clearly cut but the condensing unit was still there which means either the thieves got spooked or they were trying to incur major brain damage and get ‘high’.  Fortunately for us we could repair it quickly but not without adding several hundred dollars in refrigerant.  Several hundred dollars!!

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 nighttime.  We were called out to a strip mall this year were 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 A/C, was the fact that the strip mall had insufficient lighting.

Just this week a friend in the Greater Heights right off of height’s blvd called and said his brand new unit was not running only to find out someone had vented all of the freon out of it.  Again, maybe there were trying to steal it or maybe they were huffing it.


1. Lock Down the Disconnect Box

Naming of kitchen appliances is much like naming of air conditioning parts.  Condensers condense, Evaporators evaporate.  So what does a disconnect box do?  Yes, you guessed right, it disconnects.  Not the unit from the system but from electrical power.  Thieves, at least smart ones (yes there are smart ones) typically want the power to the unit OFF so that they can remove the condenser as safely as possible.  If you prevent them from opening the disconnect via a lock then you increase the likelihood that they will leave you alone.  NOTE: Always remember where the key is or get coded locks.  Your friendly neighborhood AC guy doesn’t want to get shocked either when he is performing his bi-annual maintenance or service.

2. Add lighting around the unit

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

3. Add Security Camera’s near the unit

Not a full proof way but again under the same principles as before.  If they know they are being watched they are less likely to do it AND/OR they are more likely to get caught after the fact.  Like the following picture.  Police could use the video to place the people and the license plate of the truck.

Air Conditioner Theft from church caught on camera

4. Apply Unit Fence or Cage

Of all the options this is probably the most full proof.  Thieves will typically just move onto the next unit that will be much easier than yours.  You can either buy pre-fab cages OR you can have them customer made by an ironworks company.  If someone makes you a cage be absolutely certain that the unit can STILL BREATH.  If you restrict airflow or allow build up of leaves and debris the unit will suffocate and not operate efficiently.  Always consult an ac professional if you are at all uncertain.

Air Conditioner Cage installed prevent copper theft

5. Lock all Property Gates or Fences to prevent easy access throughout the property.

You’d think this would go without saying but you would be surprised on the number of times we get called on this kind of thing because someone didn’t lock their gate.

6. Remove or Secure Ladders to decks 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 on the hoodlums than it needs to be.  Locking ladders are a must.

7. Add AC specific Alarm

There are a few products available for this kind installation.  Several prominent brands include.  Here is a link to one of the more prominent brands www.copperwatcher.com

8. Tamper Resistant screws

I’ve seen a few groups recommend this.  This should be much lower on your priority list so I would only do this if you are trying to go the distance.

9. GPS tracking on the unit

Again, another OCD option.  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 are vacant before completion or sale and remove them when the family moves in.  Often times they will also paint copper installed in homes.  This does two things, tricks thieves to think that it might not be copper and secondarily if the shyster knows that it is copper they know they won’t get the same value for painted copper at a scrap yard.

10. Get a Dog 

Sorry, cats don’t do the trick.  Dogs on the other hand can be a great deterrent especially big ones.


AC units vandalized for copper at a church

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