How to Protect Your Air Conditioning Unit from Theft

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As copper prices increase and high unemployment remains the norm, residential and commercial air conditioners are easy targets for desperate criminals. Air conditioning condensing units can be removed in less than five minutes by an experienced thief with

As copper prices increase and high unemployment remains the norm, residential and commercial air conditioners are easy targets for desperate criminals. Air conditioning condensing units can be removed in less than five minutes by an experienced thief with nothing more than a pair of bolt cutters. In the past, thieves would break open the unit and cost the refrigerant lines to remove the coil, now they simply cut the refrigerant lines and the electrical feed and remove the entire unit. Some even dress like service repairmen to eliminate suspicion. The cost of replacing a condensing unit can be between $1000 and $2000 depending on the size. Investing a few hundred dollars to protect your AC equipment is a prudent move if you live in an area where copper thieves have struck.

There are a few options you can use to protect your condenser; some are decoys like alarm monitoring stickers, fake security cameras, motion sensing lights and audible alarms to actual refrigerant alarms and steel cages that secure your unit to the concrete pad or the structure of your home. You must consider the cost of each method and employ one or two to decrease the chances that your unit will be stolen.

Security Strategies

It is important to understand that you should never remove, bypass, or relocate your electrical disconnect to the condensing unit. The electrical disconnect is installed within arm’s reach so that it can be quickly shutoff in an emergency. Never allow anyone to remove or relocate your service disconnect more than 4 feet from the unit. The requirements vary by locale, so check with your building inspector to determine the requirements.


Determine if a locked cage or steel bars around your air conditioning unit can be installed securely. Several manufacturers make cages designed specifically for this purpose that are difficult to cut through. Most thieves will move on to an easier target. A simple web search will produce several companies to choose from. In most cases you can install the cage yourself. Verify the dimensions of your outdoor unit and review the installation instructions. Depending on how your unit was installed you may need to install a concrete AC pad so that you can mount the cage to it. Some designs allow you to install the cage to the side of the house.

Steel wire cages or bars offer the most secure method of protecting your AC equipment from damage and theft. The drawbacks to these are their looks and installation. Cages that are constructed of steel may require painting to prevent rust damage. A padlock is also needed.


Install an exterior light with a motion detector to keep the side of your home well lit. This may not be the best strategy as many AC thieves will steal the units during the day when people are at work.

Alarm Notices

You can install an alarm sticker on your air conditioner stating that an alarm will activate in the event of tampering. You may also want to install a notice on your front door or window stating that your home is monitored. Thieves are smart so they may be able to determine that the sticker is a fake, or they may not care since they work quickly. Some commercial buildings have placed decals on their units that say “THESE UNITS CONTAIN NO COPPER” which is not true. You may also place a sticker on the unit stating that an alarm will sound if the unit is tampered with.

Security Cameras

You can install a security camera in the area where your unit is located to discourage would be thieves. Install the camera high enough so that they cannot be reached from the ground. Post signs stating that cameras are recording. Some people have installed fake security cameras that actually move and have a red LED on the side. Cameras will not keep your unit from being stolen, but real ones may allow you to identify the thief.

Fake Security Camera

Refrigerant Leak Alarms

To remove the condenser unit, the thieves need to cut the refrigerant lines causing the refrigerant to discharge from the system. A refrigerant alarm can be installed that will sound an audible alarm.В  The unit will need to be repaired, but at a substantially reduced amount, maybe a few hundred dollars. Some systems offer notification through a dialer or connected to your existing home alarm system. The drawbacks to a refrigerant alarm are that they require professional installation, they can be expensive, and they do not prevent physical theft or damage.

Refrigerant Alarm that detects power shutoff and refrigerant leaks (CopperWatcher)

Whichever security device, or devices, you employ, it is important to remember that no single method is fool-proof, but multiple methods can significantly reduce the likelihood that your functioning air conditioning unit is stolen and sold for scrap metal.


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