In parts of the country where winter brings new construction to a halt, builders have returned to fu

Building Materials Attract Thieves to Construction Sites

Weekends, and under the cover of darkness, construction sites are vulnerable to having building materials stolen. Depending on the phase of construction, different materials are brought to the site at different times. And until the building is “securable” (the roof, walls and locked doors are in place), it is difficult to safeguard these materials. The more popular items for thieves are tools, lumber, cement mixers, appliances and even sod!

Builders will typically wait until the final stages of a home being completed before bringing in the appliances. Washers, dryers and dishwashers are tempting items, especially if they are still in the box prior to installation. Like most thefts, these are usually committed by unsophisticated people, and don’t normally touch heavy construction items, such as backhoes and “Bobcats,” which are typically left outside until no longer needed for the project. But these have been known to disappear as well, but are more often stolen by more organized individuals who have the knowledge to start them and have access to trailers to transport them off the site to be sold. These are big-ticket items and are worth protecting.

On-Site Trailers Are Often Protected by Alarm Systems

Construction trailers are a common sight at commercial, industrial and multihome construction sites. These trailers provide a temporary office for supervisors and foreman. As such, they will often have common office equipment: photocopiers, computers, printers, fax machines, etc. Alarm dealers are often contacted by construction companies to protect these mobile offices with a security system.

Because of their size, they don’t need a lot of coverage; usually one or two doors and a motion sensor (PIR) will do the trick. A wireless system is a good application in this case, being that it can be installed in just a couple of hours. Although these trailers usually have a temporary phone line installed, it typically is at high risk to being cut by the intruder, rendering a standard digital communicator useless.

This is an ideal application for long-range radio or cellular communications, since the phone line is so vulnerable (just make sure to update your central station whenever the trailer is moved). Since trailers are often situated in remote areas, many builders prefer not to have a siren included with the system. Instead they prefer a silent alarm, hopefully resulting with the police responding in time to make an apprehension. Of course, this depends on the situation and what the builder is comfortable with.

CCTV is also an option. Because outdoor cameras would be vulnerable to attack (and even theft) in this application, they can be mounted inside the protected trailer, looking out the window at vulnerable areas. This also eliminates the need for outdoor camera housings.

Going Beyond Physical Security Is Frequently Necessary

Tradesmen will often leave their tools and smaller materials on the job site locked in a container about the size of a small garbage Dumpster, which has wheels for easy transport and so it can be rolled to different locations on the site. They have locking lids or doors, and are usually chained and locked to an unmovable object, such as a steel post, when the worker goes home for the day.  These are brought to the site and left there for the duration of the project. They are great timesavers, since the worker doesn’t need to bring all of his or her tools to the vehicle at the end of each day, and then reverse the process upon returning the next morning.

Made of heavy-gauge steel, the containers themselves are fairly secure. But if the chain and the lock are not of good quality, they can be cut and the container can be rolled onto a pickup truck and be opened later.

Physically protecting assets such as these should always be the first line of defense. But since locks and chains don’t always prevent theft or vandalism, alarm dealers’ expertise comes into play. To electronically protect items of value, again, using a wireless system with transmitters makes a lot of sense since these systems are used temporarily until the job is completed and then can be reused for the next project.

With the wireless control panel located inside the construction trailer, transmitters and wireless motion sensors can monitor different objects of value. Even items left outdoors can be connected to a transmitter mounted indoors and by running a cable outside to form a protective loop around the object to be protected. Using quick-connect cords and plugs, these items can just be “plugged in” at the end of the workday. With many wireless manufacturers making equipment with a range of 1,000 feet or more, and the number of individual zone identifications available, this makes perfect sense.$1.50 Trap Catches AC Compressor Criminal

One homebuilder I know was having an unusual problem. Thieves were stealing the outdoor compressor units for the air conditioning systems. In one month, he had lost three. They would simply cut through the Freon lines with a hacksaw (at this stage of construction, there was no Freon in the lines yet), cut the wiring and take the unit. I thought this was strange because I was under the impression that the outdoor compressor was useless without the A-Coil (the unit mounted inside the furnace). I guess I was wrong because somebody was stealing them.

One of the electrical connections for an air conditioning compressor is a low voltage (24VAC) wire for operating the contactor, which is a relay inside the compressor. This wire is run alongside the insulated suction line with tape or plastic tie wraps, and terminates inside the compressor. I tampered the compressor by running my own wire to it, making it look like a contactor cable. Inside the compressor, I terminated my cable with an E.O.L. (end-of-line) resistor. Back at the control panel, I connected it to an unused zone and programmed it for 24-hour operation. The homebuilder insisted that I program this zone as silent.

It cost me $1.50 worth of wire and about 45 minutes of time to complete. I was convinced I would never hear from this job again. But, I was wrong again. Three days later, I got a call from the builder telling me our trap paid off. Two people were caught in the act of carrying the compressor to a waiting van. After further investigation, they were also charged with the thefts of the other missing compressor units.      It’s Hard to Say What Someone Might Take

Some things that are stolen just don’t make any sense to me. A homeowner I know woke up one morning and turned on his television to watch his favorite cable news channel, but his cable wasn’t working. He called the cable company, and a service person was dispatched.

After a couple of minutes, the technician asked the homeowner to take a look in his backyard. There, on the wall where his cable interface box used to be, was a blank spot that revealed the previous color of his house, screw holes and cut cables (see photo above). Someone had cut his cables and removed the interface. I never really thought about tampering a cable interface box before. What for, perhaps to prevent someone from stealing it? Your guess is as good as mine!

Tom Hagedal is a technical expert with more than 18 years of experience in the security industry. Be sure to check out his online technical Q&A column as well as Tech Tidbits in Security Sales’ Product @lert!(r) E-newsletter (both may be accessed at To share tips or ask questions about installation or troubleshooting, E-mail Hagedal at

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