Air conditioner theft: How to safeguard your equipment from criminals

Air conditioning thieves are targeting homes and businesses. Owners should take precautions as criminals might strip A/C units of copper and brass.

Consider more than maintenance

As the weather gets warmer, you should be getting your air conditioning ready for summer. Besides an early or preseason check-up, you should think about protecting your cooling equipment from thieves.

We are seeing more thefts of air conditioning parts and even entire units as thieves remove and sell the copper and other metals as scrap. Cash for scrap is a fairly easy process and with copper prices being higher than most other metals, it presents too much of a temptation for some thieves, especially if a unit is easy to access.

A theft may not be discovered until someone notices a loss of cooling, only to find most of the outside condenser unit has been stolen. New construction sites are also targets. Using cordless drills, screwdrivers, cutters or saws, a thief can remove copper pipes and brass fittings in a few minutes, often leaving behind the carcass of a compressor and cabinet.

A profitable plunder

The metal is sold for cash at a recycling or salvage center. A typical commercial air conditioning unit might contain 20 pounds of copper/ aluminum coils worth around $2 a pound at recent prices. These prices vary daily, and have been twice as high in past years (which sometimes triggers an increase in thefts).

However, the cost of repairing or replacing entire condenser units (usually cheaper), can be several thousands of dollars, in addition to the cost of business interruption, extra expense and spoilage of food or other goods/products.

When thieves cut refrigerant pipes and vent refrigerant they are hurting the environment and contributing to global warming as ozone-depleting refrigerants are released. Many commercial units use 20 or more pounds of refrigerant.

Even a residential central air conditioning system may contain six pounds of refrigerant. Refrigerants should be recycled and reused; not vented. Note, however, that recyclers will NOT accept air conditioners or A/C coils with refrigerant still inside.

How do you protect your equipment?

This season, take these precautions to protect equipment from vandals and thieves:

  • Install an audible alarm. For about $200, alarms are available to monitor refrigerant pressure and alert when lines are cut (or leaking).
  • A similar alarm is available that activates a siren when an attempt is made to move an outside unit.
  • Wireless GPS products designed to discreetly monitor expensive items such as jewelry can also be used to track air conditioning equipment if stolen.
  • Gate-locked fences around and in some cases above A/C units can help deter many thefts. Keep in mind that poorly designed enclosures can impede service personnel and/or block needed air flow that is necessary for A/C unit to operate properly.
  • Video surveillance equipment may also deter thieves.


© 2015 The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. All rights reserved. This article is intended for information purposes only. HSB makes no warranties or representations as to the accuracy or completeness of the content of this article.


  • Do have sources where the alarms and gps systems designed for ac units can be purchased and how to you determine which products are good?

  • I never thought about the air conditioning unit being subject to theft. I guess between the precious metals and the actual equipment it might be worth it. I think I will have to put in an alarm system. Thanks for the information.

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