I never imagined copper wire thefts would become so common or air conditioning units would be stolen for copper.    I did a back of the napkin estimate of profits based on various news reports.

First of all, I am guessing based on news reports that on average someone would pull in about $200 for the copper they steal.  There is a mileage deduction (unless they steal the gas and car also).   Let’s just assume 10 miles to pick up a partner, 10 miles to drive to theft site and canvas, 10 miles to sell copper, and 10 miles back home.   I assume the average crook is driving a pickup with an average of 15 mpg.   This comes to $12 worth of gas.

The copper prices paid are probably about 50% of market rate at best — so the $200 worth of copper equates to $100 of cost.

The meals to sustain the energy to steal the copper are a back end cost–let’s say two big macs assuming the crooks eat at McDonald’s.   That set’s them back $10 more.

There is wear and tear on the car which should also be factored in as 0.33 x miles which equals another $15.

I assume 4 hours total of drive time for casing out the place, removal, and transaction times.

Doing all the math, the crooks made about $7.50 per hour for the theft and this line of work has no benefits such as health insurance and retirement.   Therefore, the crooks would do better economically working at McDonald’s which is always hiring.

So why do people steal copper from air conditioning systems and electrical systems?   I can only conclude they are from my point of view not bright.

From the perspective of the home or business, the copper theft would typically leave 2 to 5 thousand dollars worth of damage.

For the AC repair business, it means work but not the type we like to do.   There is one company that developed a specialized security system for AC systems.  These security systems for AC units may be a growing industry in Las Vegas–Yahoo News.

In any case, the AC season is here.  And it will be interesting if there is any uptick in theft-related AC repairs.   I need to learn a little bit about new security systems to lock down AC units.  I saw there is a new section on security Air Conditioning parts.


Las vegas being unbearably hot for many during the day leads to a good business for the summer–repair of air conditioning systems.   This business is somewhat cyclical with unlimited demand on peak hot days and virtually no work on other days.  While the air conditioning business could rely on the weather as a predictor of work–those days may be over.

The financial crisis and subsequent high number of foreclosed homes in las vegas has destroyed any ability to predict work.  The market forces are being skewed by banks and government policy to maximize the money banks will receive.  Everybody knows that the banks are essentially underwater at today’s home prices and so they cannot afford to sell foreclosed homes.  This leaves many paying really high rents and many unwilling to invest.   As always the rich speculators and not ordinary people looking for a place to live will benefit from the misery.

In the wake of the home building collapse, the biggest company in las vegas air conditioning–Interstate–went into bankruptcy.  This left the market wide open, but the problem is no one knows what the market is anymore.   Government policies heavily influence whether people will buy or upgrade air conditioning through direct energy efficiency subsidies and indirectly by affecting the health of the market.

Many of the smaller air conditioning companies are on the verge of bankruptcy or will be filling for bankruptcy.

I for one look forward to retirement this summer and hope it will be a good year.  But all the signs are that the work will be sporadic and light.  There are hopeful signs too.

I see two two new companies rising from the ashes.   Las Vegas Air Conditioning Repair is looking to help the homeowner with affordable air conditioning repair services.    They only started late last year and were cobbled together by people laid off from AC companies that could not survive.

Another newer air conditioning company-Air Conditioning Las Vegas– is gambling on small business needs.   They focus on the air conditioning needs of small and mid-size businesses.   They also were cobbled together from down-sized air conditioning companies.

But on the whole, there are fewer air conditioning companies and the ones that exist are smaller.  The flip side of all this negativity is that the remaining air conditioning companies probably provide higher quality services and a faster turn around.   Although there is little any small air conditioning company can do about the rising cost of equipment, parts, and gasoline.

Sustainable design for homes and businesses has become the right thing to do.   Twenty years ago, I don’t recall anyone getting graduate degrees in sustainable design.   In the 1980’s it was still common to throw aluminum in the garbage and rebates for energy efficiency upgrades were non-existent.   Now there are tax incentives and rebates for installing wind and solar energy generators.  One of the most common side businesses for HVAC repairmen is to simply plug air leaks and provide better insulation on ducting—energy upgrades reduces electricity bills for the homeowner, reduces toxic pollutants to our atmosphere, and lets us as a society more efficiently use resources for other essential needs.

I am amazed by the constant improvements in every aspect air conditioning design, construction, and installation. 

Compressors have become efficient and quieter.   These new compressors are often used on heat pumps and are advertised as scroll compressors.   I attached a link on youtube for how a scroll compressor works.  I think they are mind-boggling in design.  

Heat exchangers leverage the environment for greater efficiency.   In the old days, AC systems would try to put heat into a hot environment and the heat exchangers were often in direct sunlight.   I’ve seen systems that pump heat to groundwater or the subsurface for cooling homes, or vice versa for heating homes.    I’ve seen systems that pump excess heat from homes into a swimming pool.   All of this just seems to make sense. 

I suppose all this makes sense now because of the environmental/green movement.   I thought about this and think we have Al Gore, the USEPA, and China for all this.   Most people can figure out Al Gore (climate change noble prize winner) and the USEPA (mission).  But China?  

China because of their incredible growth has taken us very close to the edge of resource limited output.   In 2010, we demand for energy (for example oil) approached theoretical production capacity.   Basic materials such as fertilizers, concrete, iron, and copper have all grown faster than supply and we may not be able to produce enough with our current lifestyle expectations.

Somehow as a society we have begun mindset change in lifestyle.  Green is chic and sustainable growth may avert possible wars over oil and minerals.  

This environmental movement has impacted everyone’s world.  For my world, I need to learn about insulation, energy rebates, city and federal tax incentives, and sourcing the most energy efficient AC models.   But I think our evolution in lifestyle expectations will still undergo much change.

Air conditioning is a necessity in Las Vegas on some days.  But there are other times when it is a luxury.   Already residents shift their activity to cooler times of the day.  Perhaps this is why night life in Vegas is so great.   We also learn to turn up the thermostat and let our bodies adjust.  We can adjust our activities to include sitting in shady spots.  We can use shades to reflect the sun.   We could paint all of our roofs white as DOE suggested but this goes back to design and public perception—white reflective roofs for homes are not chic yet—but is a low-hanging fruit for saving energy and the environment.  Maybe if Arnold Schwarzenegger gets a white reflective roof, it will become the trendy thing to do.

I’ve been thinking about solar powered air conditioning but believe painting your roof white has better cost/benefit.   Solar panel construction and installation have an enormous environmental cost built in—but it’s just hidden.   Our rulers (life cycle analysis) are not sophisticated enough to show the consumer the best investment when it comes to being green.   Currently, wind power is the only green energy that is truly green by any measure and the cost/benefit to society is good.   As an air conditioning guy, I do not recommend solar powered AC systems yet.   I know some customers have huge tax incentives and in these cases there are quality solar powered AC systems if you have enough roof space.  

There are other aspects to AC that have changed.  Freon has become bad as most people know.   Freon is reclaimed by EPA certified reclaimers.    Manufacturers have gone to use chemicals that are similar to Freon but cause less environment damage.  Ultimately, the industry will go back to the original chemical—ammonia.   Currently, HCFCs are acceptable but in reality, they cause the same damage as the Freon they replaced.  Ammonia is everywhere and used for fertilizer, unfortunately, pure ammonia is dangerous.   But if safety engineering improves, ammonia technology may become universal for home air conditioners.

The EPA has created the “GreenChill” program which gets to greener forms of air conditioning.  This webpage is replete with event and webinars for green air conditioning.  You should check it out—being from Nevada, I don’t often recommend EPA for anything but I think they are doing something right here.