Resources & Insights

Foiling Construction Site Thefts

September 29, 2016

They are brazen, ruthless and cost the commercial and residential construction industry billions of dollars a year.

Losses from thefts at construction sites, long a problem, have skyrocketed thanks to the building boom and the soaring price of materials such as copper, lumber and cement.

CCIG’s Scott Carlson

Not just materials are disappearing. Thieves snatch doors, windows, bathtubs, appliances and air-conditioning units the day after they go in.

The National Association of Home Builders believes that the annual cost of theft to the industry has reached $5 billion.

Deductibles and higher insurance premiums for builders are just one consequence.

The indirect losses can be just as debilitating. Work delays ensue and productivity plunges. Crews hoping to avoid interruptions in their pay find assignments elsewhere.

The thieves will hit in broad daylight, ignoring the glare of surveillance cameras. They’ll hit residential developments, churches, community centers and more.

Hand tools are always popular but so are bigger-ticket items. Thieves stole a brand-new tractor from a Michigan farm equipment dealership last year. Police said the suspects drove up to the business, cut a wire that secured the vehicle to another tractor, then loaded the tractor and drove away with it.

What’s more, they can be relentless – and unsentimental. Thieves repeatedly struck a Boy Scout leadership center in West Virginia earlier this year.

“There have been three robberies at the site, including one in which someone took a Bobcat end-loader and used it to rip the door off a locked tool storage pod. That’s pretty brazen. It’s not like it’s in a secluded area,” a Scout official said.

Construction equipment, of course, is valuable, and often much easier to grab than, say, tractors. Worst yet, it’s difficult for authorities to trace once it’s gone.

To cut their losses, contactors will sometimes buy less-expensive, poorly made tools that tend to wear out quickly or break easily. That can often lead to worker injuries, creating more problems all around.

It’s a trend everywhere but often worse in states such as Colorado and other parts of the West where homebuilding has been especially strong in the economic recovery.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are steps that contactors can take to safeguard their worksites, their tools, and ultimately, the welfare of their workers.

Builders have resorted to guard services, fences, GPS and surveillance devices and even private investigators. The costs of these items can stack up quickly.

What else can they do for less money? Quite a lot, in fact. What follows is a list of just a few simple, inexpensive things that contractors can do to help prevent or at least minimize the loss of equipment to thieves or vandals:

  • Remove keys from unattended machines and lock them in security boxes when closed for business.
  • Immobilize equipment when it’s not in use by removing battery and electric starting systems.
  • Post warnings on machines advising that all vehicle identification numbers and serial numbers are recorded.
  • Use a hardened steel punch (or etching tool) to duplicate the serial number in at least two places, one obvious and one hidden.
  • Take photographs of equipment.
  • Repaint equipment with your own color scheme or design.
  • Install a hidden fuel shut-off valve.
  • Use padlocks on your trailers, equipment and tool storage boxes that do not have exposed shackles.

There’s more than can be done, of course. One of the more novel ideas we’ve run across? The use of deer cameras that snap pictures when they detect motion, whether it’s wildlife or criminals.

Scott Carlson is an Assistant Vice President at CCIG. Reach him at or 720-212-2040.

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