Matthew Lesti, left, and Nick Gangelder install a furnace and air-conditioning unit that replaces the one stolen from a Dold Homes site.
Bailey Stanbery has made a comfortable living for more than 20 years building houses in northwest Ohio, but of late, he said, "it's not so much fun anymore."
His problems are neither architectural nor mechanical. They're basic: job-site theft.
Stealing of building materials such as lumber, copper pipes, furnaces, and windows has long hurt the home building industry, costing millions of dollars annually nationwide, driving up insurance rates and home prices, and delaying construction schedules, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Among measures to thwart the crime is more last-minute deliveries, rather than having fixtures and materials sit at a construction site.
Still, Mr. Stanbery, of Stanbery Homes Inc., said thefts are increasing.
In the last 12 months, he said, materials or items were stolen from five unfinished houses in Toledo and a sixth was vandalized.
"It's worse this year," he said. "I've experienced more theft in new construction this year than in all my previous years."
Bill Dold, of Dold Homes Inc., builds about 100 homes a year and said he is victimized by thieves at least a dozen times annually.
"We just went through a patch of it. I had copper stolen from homes a number of times. It was an inside job, I believe."
Commercial builders also have been stung. At St. Joseph's Parish on Main Street in Sylvania, thieves in December made off with rolls of copper wire, scrap copper, and copper pipes worth $2,630 from the site of more elementary classrooms and other space.
"Just recently with copper prices and aluminium prices soaring, that's caused a rash of theft," said George Moore, director of risk management for Mosser Construction Inc., of Toledo, project manager at the St. Joseph's job.
"Aluminum prices are so high, we've had large sheets of aluminum stolen right off the site."
However, thieves target commercial builders for their tools but home builders for the construction materials, which can be easily used in other houses.
Barb Metusalem, vice president of Brooks Insurance Agency in Toledo, said most of the theft claims from builders are for furnaces, water heaters, tools, kitchen cabinets, windows, and drywall.
Such thefts, however, amount to only about 5 percent of claims by home builders, she said. Most builders, she said, absorb the loss unless its big.
Items or materials that are not installed or properly secured in a locked home generally are the responsibility of a builder. Once a house is secured with locked doors and windows, theft becomes the responsibility of the buyer. Insurance can be purchased for that.
Mike Yunker, a detective with the Sylvania Police Department, said the Toledo area gets at least 100 incidents of home job-site theft annually, with thieves moving to the hottest areas for new houses.
"It just goes from one jurisdiction to another, depending on where the most construction is going on," he said.
Five years ago, the situation was so bad that Sylvania, Toledo, Lucas County, and other jurisdictions created a task force to stop the thefts. Later, the thefts were traced to one man who dressed in painter's clothing and showed up near the end of the day, the detective said.
Last week, Mr. Stanbery said, three houses under construction in East Toledo were hit by thieves. At two houses, furnaces and water heaters were stolen, and the third lost an air-conditioning unit. Aluminum gutters and downspouts were taken from another.
At another house this year, copper water lines buried four feet deep to the curb were dug up and taken, he said. An Old West house has been broken into twice but contained nothing to steal, he said.
"I'm trying to out-think them, but I don't know how to do it," he said.
To prevent theft of wood and materials, Mr. Stanbery builds walls and ceiling frames in a private warehouse, then ships them to the work site as needed.
Furnaces, water heaters, and other valuables aren't put into a house until doors and locks are installed.
Mr. Dold, who last year was the victim of a rash of furnace thefts, said, "We no longer put appliances in a home until the week the clients take possession. They're something anyone can go after and take them out if we put them in earlier."
Todd Berman, of Berman Building Co., like many home builders, has adopted a just-in-time delivery policy.
Windows and other high-price items aren't delivered until the day they will be installed, and never on a Friday, he said.
"So much of theft has to do where you are located," he explained. "If you're in a subdivision, it's not so much of a problem. But if it's in isolated area it's a big problem."
He has a warehouse where stores valuable components until they can be installed. Once, he hid an uninstalled expensive door in an attic, but his practice now is to leave nothing of value until locked doors and windows are installed.
Generally, home builders don't hire private security or put up security fences, lighting, cameras, or alarm systems.
"The cost to catch a thief or set up security is far greater than the losses," Mr. Dold said.
Even a commercial company like Mosser Construction doesn't often hire private security, although it uses fencing, lighting, and alarms.
"We've had them come in with torches and cut right through our [project] trailers," said Mr. Moore, of Mosser. "They're mainly after small power tools, but they'll pretty much take anything they feel they can sell on the street."
Contact Jon Chavez at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6128.
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