My parents recently built their home. While I didn’t make any of the actual decisions, I was deeply involved in the four moves that were required while we waited for the house to be finished. From this experience, I realized several things. First, moving is the absolute worst and I still haven’t recovered from doing it four times in a year. (In fact, as I type this, I am glaring at a pile of boxes that I still haven’t unpacked.) Second, I learned a lot about the construction industry, but it’s a huge industry and there’s a lot I still don’t understand. Third, construction site theft is a real problem.
Our house was close to completion. (We were also close to Christmas and the end of the contract at our rental house. In fact, fast forward a couple weeks and I was homeless and jobless all on the same day thanks to the rental contract and my internship ending at the same time. Merry Christmas to me. But that’s beside the point.) The finish carpenter had just brought over his brand-new table saw while he finished trim work throughout the house. At the end of the day, he chained and locked it in our garage, which was already finished with doors and locks. However, the next day his new saw was gone. Someone had broken into our garage, cut the chain securing the saw, and drove away with it in the back of a truck.
While my family’s run-in with construction site theft was small, it is actually a giant problem across the nation, with an estimated cost between $300 million and $1 billion per year. In fact, it is such a large problem that there is no way to know the exact cost. The National Equipment Register (NER) states that most estimates put equipment theft in the range of $400 million. That doesn’t even cover the tons of supplies that are also stolen from sites. Copper, lumber, and other raw materials are also targets for thieves.
Recently, thieves hit multiple construction sites in Hurricane, Utah. The thieves stole more than $50,000 of equipment from seven sites in a single night. Even though the equipment was in locked trailers, the thieves broke through the locks to take what they wanted.
Cost of time
The adage that time is money comes into play here as well. Delays cost contractors, subcontractors, investors, and developers thousands of dollars. Prior to watching a home get built, I never truly understood just how sequential every step was. Before the sinks can be installed, the counters have to be delivered. But before the counters can be put in, the cabinets have to be installed. And before that, the floors need to be finished. But don’t forget that the painters and, before them, the drywallers have to be done before the floors. Don’t even get me started on what needs to be done for the plumbers, electricians, and the multitude of other subcontractors to do their work. One delay for the painters could delay the plumbers, the finish carpenter, the cabinet guys, the counter installers, the brick layer, the roofers, the tile layer, and even the person who specializes in stair railings.
On average, it takes 22 subcontractors to build a single home. That means, if the tools or materials are stolen from one contractor, it has the potential to delay or impede 21 other subcontractors. Furthermore, contractors and subcontractors work on multiple projects at a time. If they can’t work at one project because a tool or material was stolen, they will move to their next project until they have an opening to come back to the first.
Luckily, not every subcontractor relies on the previous job to be completed. For example, when our finish carpenter’s saw was stolen, it didn’t delay everyone who would come after him, but it did cause a slight delay that we could ill afford since we were getting kicked out of our rental in a couple weeks.
How to prevent construction site theft
The thieves in Hurricane visited seven construction sites, taking equipment from all but one site—the only site to be equipped with surveillance cameras, more specifically with a LVT mobile surveillance trailer. The thieves were cutting a lock when they noticed the cameras. They fled the scene as soon as they saw the unit without taking anything from the site. This real-life situation illustrates one of the best ways to prevent construction site theft—video surveillance.
Here are some of the top methods to help prevent construction site theft:
- Install construction site surveillance—Traditional surveillance is hard to install at construction sites because of their remote locations, lack of reliable electricity, and missing physical infrastructure. However, mobile security units from LVT do not require hookups to power or internet. Instead, they run off of solar power and cellular connectivity so they can be placed even in the most remote locations.
- Add physical barriers—Fences, locks, chains, and other physical barriers make it harder for thieves to take equipment from sites. While not infallible, each fence or lock adds another layer of protection. I’ve even seen one contractor use their small crane to hoist generators and other equipment into the air where thieves can’t reach them. If you make it too hard, thieves will go elsewhere.
- Hide equipment or remove it from the site—This tip hinges on the idea of out of sight out of mind. If thieves don’t see what they could take, they will be less likely to break in. However, thieves aren’t stupid either. They know that valuable equipment and supplies are left unattended at every job site.
- Install proper lighting—Proper lighting is difficult to get at construction sites, again because of the lack of infrastructure. However, where possible, good lighting makes it hard for thieves to hide.
- Have a zero tolerance policy—Sadly, a large portion of construction site theft is committed by subcontractors and/or workers who are onsite. By having a zero tolerance policy for theft on a jobsite, you set clear expectations for subcontractors and workers. This will also help you attract the kind of workers you want to hire.
Preventing construction site theft is an ongoing battle since thieves and criminals are constantly finding new ways to accomplish their goals. Luckily, construction site security and surveillance is no different. We at LiveView Technologies are constantly improving our product offering with feedback from the industry.
Our mobile units are equipped with instant alerts and customizable responses to intrusions. Furthermore, our cutting-edge analytics and cameras can identify different types of threats and alert you when something on your property requires your attention. If you want to read more about how we help the construction industry, check out our construction use case doc or one of our case studies with Aspect Homes or Wohali Partners.