The booming $77 billion scrap-metal industry has generated 450,000 jobs, more than $10 billion in state and federal tax revenue -- and a nationwide wave of metal theft. Copper wire is a prime target, and the U.S. Dept. of Energy estimates that utility companies lose $1 billion of wire each year to scrap metal theft. But the average home contains about 400 pounds of copper, and residential property is also vulnerable. Homeowners can take a variety of steps to protect their homes against copper wire theft.
Strategies to Prevent Copper Wire Theft
Choose copper-clad wire rather than traditional copper wire for home electrical systems. Property owners who are building new homes, and those who are planning major renovations, additions and makeovers, can opt for copper-clad wire, which is steel wire coated with an external layer of copper. Some major utility companies are switching over to copper-clad wire, which provides the same level of conductivity at a significantly lower cost. The bimetallic wire prevents thefts because it's difficult to cut and almost worthless as scrap metal.
Protect your air conditioning unit. Scrap metal thieves target air conditioners for their copper wiring and coils. Some homeowners and small businesses have been able to prevent theft by encasing air conditioners in steel mesh cages. Others are installing pressure switches in their air conditioning systems that detect when Freon levels suddenly drop after copper is cut. The pressure switches, which cost about $200, are tied into home security systems and trigger an alarm.
Install security devices such as alarms and adequate lighting to provide a first line of defense. Keep bushes trimmed so metal thieves have no place to hide. Scrap metal theft is frequently described as a crime of opportunity. Make sure your home provides as few opportunities as possible.
- Scrap metal yards have taken on much of the responsibility of reporting theft, but communities can help. If you have a neighborhood crime watch group, discuss the problem of copper wire theft and how to recognize and report the crime before it happens. If you do not have a crime watch organization and you live in an area that has been hit by scrap metal theft, consider launching one in your neighborhood.
Laura Scott has been reporting for Gatehouse Media New England, Essex County Newspapers and other regional publishers since 1997. She won several New England Press Association awards for her coverage of the fishing industry and coastal communities. Scott is a graduate of Vassar College and has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. She also attended art school in Italy.