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Oklahoma City welder invents cage to protect AC units from copper thieves

Clamshell Cages for heat and air conditioning systems open completely for maintenance, but lock to prevent theft.
BY CELIA AMPEL campel@opubco.com Modified: July 6, 2012 at 10:16 pm •  Published: July 7, 2012
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When a 79-year-old Texas woman died of heat exhaustion after her air conditioner was stolen, Oklahoma City welder Nathan White couldn't sleep.

“He kept saying, ‘Something needs to be done,'” his wife said.

He decided to invent a cage for air conditioning units that would prevent theft but make maintenance easy.

The cage opens completely for service, so it doesn't have to be cut and rewelded, White said. The rest of the time, the cage is padlocked to keep copper thieves at bay.

Since that night last summer, White has sold more than 300 of his patented Clamshell Cages.

The cages cost $495 each, compared to the $3,000 or more it takes to replace an air conditioner, he said.

White, who runs Ace's Fabrication and Design in the Paseo Arts District, has made educating people about copper theft something of a pet project.

He tells customers about the national rise of copper theft, how quickly it can happen and how harmful it is to the environment when looters cut open AC units, releasing refrigerant into the air.

A common threat

Police Inspector Marty Stupka, who investigates copper theft, said five to 10 air conditioning units are stolen every week in Oklahoma City.

It happens all over the city, Stupka said. Houses, businesses and churches are all susceptible, particularly vacant ones.

“A lot of times, vacant houses get hit in broad daylight,” he said.

Stupka said in one case, a man outfitted his truck with the name of a fake heating and air company and a fake phone number. The man pulled up to a house, put on a hard hat and went to loot copper from the house's air conditioners.

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