BUSINESSES are increasingly hot under the collar following a new spate of metal thefts that target air-conditioning units.
Externally-mounted units have been removed from the walls and rooftops of a number of business premises in Dublin in recent weeks, the Irish Independent has learned.
Air-conditioning units contain copper and aluminium which is being targeted by thieves because of the high scrap prices currently being paid.
Units that would be considered large enough to yield profits are usually attached to businesses such as pubs, shops, restaurants and specialised warehousing.
"These units are full of copper and aluminium," Colin Huggett of the Institute of Refrigeration of Ireland said.
"There's a condense with a copper tube, an evaporator with a series of copper zig zags, the pipes running between split units are copper.
"The sort of larger units which might be used at a big technology or pharma building could contain 40 or 50 pounds of copper. It's a simple matter of disconnecting the electrics and the piping and then it would take a few guys to lift it."
However, while the air- conditioning units might cost thousands for a business to replace, the yield to thieves is minimal.
Even with copper and aluminium priced as high as they are, the scrap value from one large unit might be as little as €30.
The theft of the units has become a major issue in the US but metal thieves in Ireland have only recently started targeting them.
They have previously concentrated on public statues and sculptures, gates, copper-roof flashing, metal manhole covers and even the lead roof off a Victorian bandstand.
But not all businesses are fuming at their disappearing units.
Kieran McCourt of the Dublin-based Meagher's pharmacy chain said that thieves who stole their Baggot Street branch's air conditioning recently had done them a favour.
"We were in the process of having the system replaced and so they took away the old units and saved us the problem of disposing of them," he said.
"However, the newsagents next door to us were also hit and their units were in perfect working order."
The units can take as little as 30 minutes to steal once metal thieves know what they are doing.
The units are also being stolen even before they can be installed.
A spokesman for Refrigeration Supplies Ltd, a wholesaler of air- conditioning units, said it delivered a series of cooling evaporators to a client in a rural area which weighed more than one tonne each. The following day they had disappeared.
"There are security cages available for a few hundred euros each to install around roof-mounted air- conditioning units but these are really designed to protect people from damage from the units rather than the other way around," he said.
"The way things are at the moment, if the thieves want to get in they will -- and they might even take the cages as well seeing as they're made of metal also."