Local News

Copper stolen out of air-conditioning units

Posted June 18, 2008

— Thieves are going after air conditioning units around the Triangle, hoping to sell copper piping they take from inside them.

In recent weeks, there have been a number of thefts in Durham. Police said AC thieves are stealing from homes, churches and businesses.

Sandy Winchester's Hair Salon in Durham was among the businesses targeted.

"You see how they had to come back in through here to get these things out of here,”  Winchester said when describing how two AC units were stolen from behind her salon.

The thieves cut the units off the wall and carried them away.

They hit two more businesses in the same shopping center, too.

Heating and air conditioning specialist Brian Ellerson said the thieves are looking to steal copper from the units as scrap metal.

"We have homeowners asking us about it all the time," he added.

Ellerson also said the money that thieves can get from selling the copper is small, compared with the problems they leave behind.

Thieves can get "15 to 20 bucks per house, but the damage they cause is in the thousands," he added.

Insurance will pay for Winchester's missing AC units; however, she said she lost customers because it was too hot inside her salon to work.

Ellerson said he has even seen thieves steal units that were bolted down and chained up.

Police said those hidden in corners and behind bushes are more likely to be stolen because thieves can work undetected.


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  • SailbadTheSinner Jun 19, 2008

    Most oil-filled transformers have aluminum windings and are not as much at risk of theft; they’re also massive, so that is some protection, too. The primary conductors are also generally aluminum, perhaps with a steel core.

    The problem is the substation grounding conductors. These are generally copper (so that they won’t corrode in or near the earth) and are located so that they are close to the ground, or just below the surface, when used to bond equipment.

    They are physically located well below the energized conductors. There is no voltage on the grounding conductors (they’re grounded) and so there is no risk in cutting them.


    You happen to cut the last bond between a system segment and ground. Then, there’s H to pay.

    I’ve seen a picture of a substation where this happened. There are body parts spread over a fair distance, along with some wire cuttings, and a burned side cutter.

    Some of these systems CAN take care of themselves. Very poetic.


  • Travised Jun 19, 2008

    STS, there is a new trend for line Transformers starting this summer. They now are starting to install "Green" transformers that use a soy based oil if I recall the news clip. Safe for the environment, and they can take a slightly heavier load. If on some rare instance they bust open, they pose no danger to the environment.

    The article left out (thankfully) the other reason why they steal the AC units. I'm shocked (humor intended) when I hear attempted thefts of LIVE transformers. I think who could be that uneducated to try and get shocked for a few bucks when the product has markings all over it who it belongs to as well as serial numbers in places you can't see.

    Get a job, flip burgers you thieves.

  • beachboater Jun 19, 2008

    Yep. A $5,000 cost on a dose of crack.......... I guess that's inflation.

  • SailbadTheSinner Jun 19, 2008

    Even if these folks are caught “in flagrante delicto” (while the crime is blazing, that is, ‘red-handed’) the punishment is probably going to be minor, certainly not enough to be a serious deterrent.

    Perhaps, once the local law enforcement guys are through with them, they should be turned over to EPA. They take deliberate release of CFCs quite seriously.

    Or maybe we should start using ammonia in A/C and refrigeration systems again. Like high voltage electrical systems, ammonia can take care of itself....


  • Redd Jun 19, 2008

    My husband and I have rental houses in downtown Raleigh and in Rocky Mount. DRUGS ARE THE PROBLEM!!!! We have seen it first hand!

  • Starks a.k.a. Iron Man Jun 19, 2008

    A friend of mine had her 2ton unit stole rom behind her office 2 weeks ago. Do we really think drug attics are going to those extremes for 15 or 20 dollars worth of copper? I don't.

  • Travised Jun 19, 2008

    You can still obtain Freon for compressors. It's costly, but fully legal. We had to have an old unit recharged after the ban. No laws were broken. Freon is still used in some types of refrigeration still today.

    If you have window units a lot of people have mounted "cages" around them. You can do similar with household units on slabs. anchor the cages to the slab with posts. May not look the best, but if you are that worried or in a high crime area it's worth it.

    Some cities HAVE passed laws that recycling plants MUST be shown a valid picture government issued ID and record it for every transaction. Those that don't produce one are turned away. The companies that don't comply are shut down if caught (spot check) until they pay a fine and start complying.

  • streetfightinman Jun 19, 2008

    How about make them work in copper mines for about 10 years
    send them to judge judy

  • doodad Jun 19, 2008

    How about we just send the drug users to Iraq instead. That sounds more logical.

  • Redd Jun 19, 2008

    I wish America would invest in it citizens and pay for drug treatment and counseling. Drugs have done so much damage to families and also many communities across America. Lets put that billion or trillion it cost for Irag into our citizens.