In these challenging times a new revenue-generating idea can be like a breath of fresh air. This became quite literal during an encounter I had with a Northern California-based integrator who is carving out a niche with a remedy to combat air conditioner theft. The AC units have become easy pickings and are typically stripped for their copper, which has become a hot commodity on the black market. While copper theft has received some attention, I believe protecting it remains an underserved yet viable opportunity.
Several events conspired to make this a topic I could not ignore. I became acquainted with an ex-installer now marketing an AC antitheft device; I received copper crime-stopping success stories from the head of a video product manufacturer; and a representative of a well-known surveillance solutions provider sent me staggering statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Those stats show 96% of 25,000+ metal thefts from 2009-11 were copper; Ohio and Texas are the states most heavily hit; the primary targets are infrastructure, farm equipment, vacant buildings and construction sites; and the top three stolen items are piping, air conditioners and wiring.
Let’s circle back to my new NorCal friend. Scott Colvin, who founded Sacramento’s First Solutions in 1998, told me the pressing need to safeguard AC units became apparent when 20 rooftop models atop a customer’s office building were destroyed. Shortly after, another customer had $80,000 worth of damage to eight rooftop units. When the air conditioners were replaced, Colvin secured them with plunger switches installed on the tops and access panels of the appliances, programming each with its own zone to identify which unit is in alarm.
“Within one week of the new units and security systems being installed, both buildings were hit again!” says Colvin. “However, due to the horn with strobe and plunger switches, the thieves ran off before any damage was done and have not returned. Light beams and horns with strobes are very successful in deterring potential thieves. A ‘hot spot’ for activity seems to be rooftops well hidden from the street view.” He charges $150 to $300 per unit, depending on the roof layout and how it impacts running wire and conduit. On top of that, the ongoing AC unit monitoring adds recurring monthly revenue.
Dan Dunson had amassed extensive experience selling and installing electronic security systems, as well as managing rental properties, by the time he launched Starlite Security Devices out of Griffin, Ga., and introduced The Whip product last year. “We quickly became aware of the need for reliable and easy-to-install HVAC theft detection product when our air conditioners began to disappear from our rental properties as well as those of other landlords we knew,” he says. “The Whip monitors the pressure inside the copper tubing of air conditioners and heat pumps, even when power is out. It provides a simple contact closure security dealers are very accustomed to working with.”
While Keith Jentoft is officially the president of Videofied, a brand of motion-activated video security products, he is perhaps even better known for his industry involvement. He is a vocal proponent of combining video surveillance with intrusion detection to increase apprehensions. “Our technology works outdoors and goes for years on a set of batteries. All that is needed is a cell signal. We are effective enough to secure the critical infrastructure of the nation and affordable enough for residential homeowners to install,” he says. “We have established dealers that are targeting copper theft applications that are doing very well; more than doubling their business.”
Keith Harris, law enforcement technologist for Supercircuits, whose offerings include DIGIOP’s video and data management solutions (VDMS), also advocates surveillance to fight copper crime. “The No. 1 opportunity is leveraging VDMS software that includes notification capabilities, such as event-based triggers,” he says. “I’ve heard of people alarming their AC unit housing to their alarm system. You could easily duplicate this alarm function in your camera recording system to capture the video evidence and notify via E-mail or text message.”
Hopefully you find this compelling enough to jump on the opportunity. If not how about if for no other reason than to reduce your clients’ likelihood of having to suffer through the sweltering summer months with no AC?
Editor-in-Chief Scott Goldfine has spent more than 13 years with SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION. He can be reached at (704) 663-7125.