In recent years, a certain type of crime has increased significantly in suburban America – people stealing the outside units of heat pump and air conditioning systems. These criminals typically abscond with HVAC compressor/condensers not because they want to use them for cooling or heating. Instead, they covet the valuable copper, platinum and other metals that these units are manufactured with, which can be sold for a modest profit.
In some cases, the thieves are stripping them of desired metals on-site, though some are so brazen that they’ll pull a truck right on your property and take the whole unit.
This crime has received the most attention when it occurs at institutions such as churches, medical clinics and daycares. A New York Times article in 2011 documented numerous cases where AC and heat pump outside units were ripped off. In one case cited in the article, nine air-conditioning units were stolen from the back of a large Houston church. The thieves stripped all nine industrial-sized units and drove off. They left some $60,000 in damage just so they could make off with about $400 worth of scrap metal, most of it from the copper heat-exchange coils inside the units.
But it’s not just churches and the like that are being hit with this crime. Homes also are vulnerable. From the thieves’ point of view, if they can reap $60 or $70 for an hour or two worth of work, they’re not doing too bad.
The good news is that it’s not rocket science to prevent this from happening on your property. Following are some effective ways to discourage or stop thieves:
Five Methods to Prevent Outside AC Theft
• In the area near where the outside unit of your split-system AC or heat pump is located, install motion-detecting lights. Thieves usually will take off if their nefarious activities are suddenly exposed by bright lights.
• If possible, make sure the outside unit is installed in a fenced yard. It’s even better if a large, loud dog occupies that yard. Lock the gate, too. Some experts favor locating the outside AC or heat pump unit within clear view of the street, if you get regular traffic driving past your house. Thieves aren’t crazy about being easily spotted by passers-by.
• Secure the outside unit to a concrete base that’s been firmly anchored into the ground. Connect the unit and the concrete base with a sturdy metal chain and bolts. While thieves can defeat nearly any security steps, they generally won’t select a target that’s difficult and time-consuming to steal, especially if there’s easier prey just down the street.
• Consider purchasing a custom-made steel cage for the outside unit. These products typically will have a hatch for easy access to the machinery for repairs and maintenance, which can be secured with a sturdy lock.
• Install an alarm that can sense when anyone is messing with your outside AC or heat pump unit. For example, one type of alarm will go off if the refrigerant line is cut or detached, something that will happen when a thief is trying to swipe the outside unit. You also may be able to connect the alarm to your home’s security system.