From lumber to heavy machinery, construction materials and equipment often disappear from job sites. Whether it’s a tradesman who thought a tool was theirs or thieves loading trucks with materials, the loss mounts quickly for builders and developers.
Unfortunately, this loss multiplies as new materials have to be waited for and tradespeople have to be reprogrammed. Insurance premiums increase with each claim. Future owners, in turn, are feeling the pinch as they await completion and this delayed certificate of occupancy.
Headlines across the United States read loss after loss of job site thefts, with some exceeding millions. To retaliate, builders decide to reinforce the security of their site and adapt to new means of surveillance to protect their businesses and the future owners they serve.
Builders like DSLD, No. 28 on the 2022 Builder 100, have seen an increase in thefts amid the pandemic. When the devices ran out of stock and were delayed last year, construction superintendent Steve Jennings said DSLD’s Simpson Farms development in Covington, Louisiana had seven complete device packs stolen. . Recently, three homes worth shingles and roofing material were taken from one of the developments overseen by Jennings.
“There are catastrophic amounts of theft right now in all of our subdivisions simply because everything is costing three times what it used to cost,” says Jennings. “Theft isn’t something new in construction, but it’s kind of like someone recently hit the wasp’s nest because the prices are so high.”
Materials left out and accessible are an easy target for weekend or evening theft. Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, beginning the Thursday before the following Wednesday, the National Equipment Registry, now Verisk, reported startling numbers of heavy equipment thefts. With a total value of over $7 million, the top states for theft reports were Texas, Florida and California, with the top locations targeted being construction sites.
Texas has been experiencing varying degrees of job site theft for some time. From air conditioners to mahogany doors, DSLD yards have been constant targets for thieves year after year. On weekends, teams now aim to ensure all homes are locked and materials are secure.
Also in Texas, a project manager at Perry Homes, No. 26 on the 2022 Builder 100, in Houston, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was an ongoing problem for their yards. “People steal anything and everything, even the attic stairs,” he says.
Like the National Equipment Register, options such as PowerTool Safe are available to protect and organize equipment. Such programs allow subscribers as well as law enforcement to share information about stolen tools and equipment. Builders should also keep a record of their own inventory to track when equipment and tools are brought on and off a jobsite. An inventory list is also useful for keeping track of what could have been stolen if stolen.
Law enforcement also recommends marking tools, equipment, and machines with your business name, location, and an identification number. A guide published by the city of Kennewick, Washington, and its police department’s Crime Prevention Unit, advises placing a tax identification number or, if personal, a driver’s license number, on movable property. It also reads: “Put the numbers in two places: hidden and obvious.” For large equipment, painting all machines a distinctive color with the company logo is helpful for identification, but also for deterrence. With multiple forms of identification on tools and equipment, the chances of recovery are greater.
For materials, tracking can get tricky due to the inability to score an entire load of windows or a shiny new device. Yet with invoices and itemized lists of what was delivered to the job site, builders can keep track of what should be there and what may have gone missing. The Canton Police Department of Michigan’s Crime Prevention Unit shares, “One person should be assigned to maintain strict inventory control of all materials and tools delivered, and not sign for each delivery until after have carefully checked the invoice for shortages.”
Jennings says, “Ninety percent is watching your schedules and watching your deliveries. Each manufacturer has scheduled deliveries. If you know you’re going to have a trim pack delivered on a Friday and you’ve spoken to your carpenter and he won’t be there until Tuesday, deliver it Monday. for theft, but sometimes builders can’t resist taking deliveries before the weekend. This is when other measures can be beneficial.
Securing the site
Security fencing and locks are physical barriers that make your yard a little less attractive to intruders. Leaving extra materials on the top floor of a building under construction or placing a heavy object like the forks of a forklift on top of the materials makes it more difficult for thieves to gain access.
CCTV is a growing form of protection for builders. The ability to monitor construction sites remotely is beneficial for builders not only to be aware of a possible threat, but also to check when crews come and go and when materials are delivered. Some web-based monitors allow motion sensors and two-way audio. They can also include night vision to capture license plates and clearer forms of identification.
Cameras at DSLD’s Fairhope development in Ponchatoula, Louisiana helped them catch a criminal red-handed. “Andy Northcutt caught a guy pounding us. It showed up on Andy’s cell at 1:00 a.m. Andy was able to drive over there and catch him on the spot.
Because of the cameras at the entrances to the developments, Jennings and Northcutt also know that the same man was linked to some of those bundles of shingles going missing. “Within a few hours of the shingles clearing up, we had it [on camera] come two out of three times,” adds Jennings.
The DSLD team was also able to identify others through surveillance; and salvage materials where possible. Perry Homes also installed jobsite cameras to monitor their materials and projects, but didn’t have as much luck catching violators as DSLD. “I think cameras help keep thieves away in the long run,” he says.
“It’s worth every penny. They’re expensive, but that $1,000 camera pays for itself overnight if they take over $5,000 in shingles and we catch them,” Jennings adds. The fear of being photographed is a very effective deterrent. Additional measures may include site lighting and glaring warning signs to induce hesitation.
For major development sites, it is useful to involve the neighbours. Builders and home builder associations may find it beneficial to partner with neighborhood watch programs or Crime Stoppers to add an extra layer of security.
After bouts of tumultuous theft in the Pikes Peak area last year, the Colorado Springs Housing & Building Association began working with Crime Stoppers on a construction anti-theft line. It is used for anonymous reporting of thefts on active construction sites. The HBA operates an account to pay a $1,000 tipping reward that results in the arrest of a person or persons who have removed material from a site.
With price spikes and material delays, it’s important to protect your jobsite and materials as much as possible. As Jennings says, “Currently, some windows have a 20-week delay. If they are stolen, it may take 20 weeks before you can get them back. At that time the house is finished and you are supposed to close it already.