Tag Archives: copper

Copper Theft Solution Reduces Claims For Construction Sites

Copper theft presents a significant challenge for loss control.

Unlike other property crimes where “recovery” goes a long way toward mitigating the loss, such as the recovery of a stolen car in an auto theft, the recovery of the stolen copper seldom impacts the size of the claim.

Copper theft is different because the damage done to a building stealing a few hundred dollars' worth of copper can cost insurers tens of thousands of dollars to repair. The typical copper theft claim involves the damage done ripping wires and plumbing out of walls or the coils from a rooftop HVAC system. In vacant buildings, thieves target water lines and sprinkler systems as well as the electrical wiring. Once a vacant property has been hit, thousands of dollars must be spent to bring it back up to code before it can be occupied. It is this “collateral damage” that makes copper theft claims so expensive to an insurance company.

The key to reducing copper theft claims is prompt police response. The faster law enforcement arrives, the less time thieves have to damage the property. Faster police response is what wireless video alarms deliver and why they are a valuable tool for loss control against copper theft.

Copper theft has impacted insurance companies across North America, becoming a mainstream problem covered by television news. The following reports from television news underscore much of what this article is attempting to communicate — a new paradigm to mitigate risk and reduce claims impacting the real world from Virginia to Arizona.

Construction crime is a close cousin to copper theft and has been a black hole for risk management with few affordable solutions. The nature of construction risk is temporary and this means that wired surveillance cameras and alarm systems are simply too expensive and cumbersome to install to make them cost-effective.

The technology challenges are significant: in addition to limited budgets there is often no power, no phone lines, and no easy access to internet. Policy holders do not want to spend large amounts of money for temporary infrastructure that has no value after the job is done. For construction, human guarding is the most obvious approach, but it is beyond the budgets of many job sites. With guarding cost prohibitive, from a loss control perspective there have been very few affordable options for mainstream policy holders to protect their projects. Construction remains a problem child for many insurers who are forced to raise deductibles and implement exclusions to make construction profitable.

The following newscast from Buffalo, New York describes the challenges of securing a construction site and successes found with wireless video alarm systems.

While human guards have become too expensive and unreliable for many sites, technology is improving and loss control has a new tool to secure construction sites. Portable wireless video alarms give loss control professionals an affordable tool to deliver police response to a job site before the damage occurs. These new wireless camera/detectors (called MotionViewers) sense an intruder and send a short video clip of the incident over the cell network to a central monitoring station for immediate review and police dispatch and priority police response.

The immediate review/response with a monitored video alarm has proven more effective than human guards as the sensor/cameras are installed in multiple points across the job site to detect and report any activity. The crucial factor in reducing claims for copper theft is immediate police response, and video verified alarms make all the difference — the monitoring central station operator is a virtual eyewitness to the crime.

Police treat a video verified alarm as a crime-in-progress — they respond faster and they make arrests. Case studies on video verified alarms have arrest rates of over 50%. One construction site in Arizona had 40 arrests over four months on a single site. Arrests make a difference because one arrest prevents an additional 30 crimes — copper theft is typically done by habitual thieves who target construction sites or vacant property.

To be affordable and effective, the camera/sensors must be easy to install, without the cost of trenching cables and running wires. Power is a challenge as many construction sites have only temporary power provided by generators during working hours. Many vacant building have no power at all.

The wireless Videofied alarm systems need no infrastructure to secure a site. They operate for months or even years on batteries, communicating over the cell network to the central station. These portable MotionViewers are more effective than fixed cameras because they can be moved to protect the assets on a job site as the project evolves. Portability is important because construction theft is often an inside job by a subcontractor familiar with the delivery and location of expensive materials or assets — and they know the locations of fixed cameras and how to avoid them. In contrast, magnetic mounts on the wireless MotionViewers enable the job supervisor to move the cameras, placing them on steel studs and tool cribs at the end of the day to protect what is most at risk.

Wireless video verified alarms for outdoor applications mean that loss control professionals have an effective tool to fight copper theft that is affordable enough for implementation by their policy holders. For more information visit www.videofied.com.

Addressing Condominium Water Failures Before They Happen

In the heyday of the real estate bubble, developers flipped tens of thousands of apartment structures into condominiums — with little regard for the condition of the potable water system. Many of these galvanized steel or early copper systems are rapidly approaching the end of their service life. Unseen, a small leak can cause thousands of dollars of damage and a ruptured main riser can amount to millions of dollars in claims and severe hardship for the community of homeowners.

While it may be tempting to react to failure statistics, not all water systems are equal. Water chemistry varies substantially across the country, as do workmanship and materials quality — these variables may have a greater influence on mode and consequences of the failure than the age of the system itself. The least appropriate action may be for the insurer to put the community in an emergency situation. Poor or rushed Homeowners Association (HOA) decisions can end up costing everyone far more than a properly replaced system that is well planned.

Insurers must first help the community to resolve to replace their potable water system. Then, they must encourage the community to have a comprehensive piping condition assessment overseen by a qualified engineering representative. It is essential to determine the stability of the existing system without the threat of policy cancellation. Small leaks may be tolerable as long as the possibility of a large rupture is fairly remote — they are not necessarily related conditions. Once these probabilities are known, then good decisions regarding a replacement system can be made.

Unfortunately, the Homeowners Association board is often left with a daunting task of selecting the right technology that both heals the pain and fits the budget. All pipe renewal solutions have different risks and vulnerabilities and many Homeowners Associations can fall for a slick contractor peddling inferior products. Potable water is a matter than requires rational analysis.

Piping Materials:
The three main classifications of piping renewal materials on the market include epoxy liner, copper re-pipe, or a variety of plastic products. All have vulnerabilities and limitations so it is important for the insurer to take a deep hard look at the risks while the Homeowners Association can focus on the costs.

Epoxy Pipe Liner
Epoxy pipe liner is a continuous paint-like coating that is blown through an existing pipe system that has been cleaned by an abrasive sandblasting. Epoxy has the advantage of being relatively fast and minimally invasive. The problem with epoxy is there is no certain way to know the pipe is clean on the inside and no certain way to know if the cleaning process compromises the strength of the pipe. Finally, if we were to test the epoxy, and adhesion is shown to be poor — then what? There is no way to remove the epoxy and breaking the continuity of the coating breaks the protection. Our research has found that an epoxy failure can very likely happen at the exact place where the pipe is already at its weakest. This does little to mitigate the peril of the multi-million dollar rupture claim. While we are confident that epoxy may be applied correctly, we are not confident the epoxy would be risk/cost competitive over a far superior re-pipe.

New Copper Re-pipe
Copper is very familiar to most people from its use in the penny. The tarnish that forms on copper actually protects it from corrosion. Under the right conditions, a 50-year service life is a reasonable expectation if that tarnish coat is not disrupted. Copper plumbing has been extensively studied and many professional codes and standards apply to its use. Consequently, many copper failures can be traced directly back as failures to apply these standards: improper design, poor workmanship, aggressive water chemistry, or inferior materials, etc. All are known perils, which may be avoided or mitigated with the assistance of a good technical advisor representing the best interest of the owners.

Cross Linked Polyethylene (PEX)
PEX is a white or colored plastic that is fairly stiff but also quite flexible. A slightly weaker form is commonly used in plastic milk jugs. PEX has been used in the US for 20-25 years, and has demonstrated an excellent track record in millions of installations. PEX is easy to install, relatively low cost, and enjoys broad market acceptance. PEX has two main problems — both of which are avoidable. Lawsuits have been filed over failures due to “dezincification” of low cost brass fittings. It is extremely important to avoid some sources of fittings with high zinc composition in alloy. Lawsuits have also been filed over the leaching of chemical compounds from types A and C PEX — the use of Type B PEX largely eliminates this problem. Again, a good owner's representative can help navigate this landscape. Many other plastic piping materials exist, but not without similar controversies.

New Polypropylene Pipe
A newcomer to the pipe materials selection is polypropylene — polypropylene is a common recyclable material with important uses in medical and food grade applications. Polypropylene is a very simple molecule of carbon and hydrogen — nothing bad goes in so nothing bad can leach out. While new to the US, we have traced its use in Europe to at least 30 years back with a very low failure incident rate. Polypropylene has excellent thermal and acoustic properties and is widely considered the most environmentally friendly piping material available. Some disadvantages are that special fusing irons and specially trained installers are required.

Water system renewal can be a confusing process — and certainly not a hands-off affair for the insurer. A qualified owner's representative is needed to help navigate the landscape of technologies and contractors who sell them. When the project is complete, the representative can help petition the underwriter, the financial industry, and the real estate market for adjustments that reflect the value of your renewed new system. The technical representative can help eliminate engineering and construction risks without interfering with the normal dynamics of a wise and proactive homeowners association.