Tool Thieves

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Reprinted from The Philadelphia Inquirer
Nailed by tool thieves
At construction sites, what isn't bolted down often disappears. The costs to contractors and consumers are substantial.
By Alan J. Heavens
Inquirer Real Estate Writer
Each year, $1 billion worth of tools and building materials are stolen from construction sites.
It would be simple to write these losses off to the cost of doing business, but residential job-site thefts add 2 percent to the price of a new house, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Someone has to pay, and though some of the burden falls on home buyers, builders and contractors bear the brunt because they have to replace materials and tools and deal with production delays until they do.
Most builders and contractors carry liability insurance. But as with most insurance policies, the more claims you make, the greater the risk of increased premiums or dropped coverage, especially if it seems you've made no serious effort to reduce thefts.
"If you are going to leave your tools on someone's front porch and they're stolen, then it is your fault in the eyes of the insurance company," said contractor Joan Stephens, a contractor in Boise, Idaho, and president of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.
Theft from construction sites has always been a problem, said Gary Schaal, vice president of sales and marketing for Orleans Homebuilders.
"When I was starting out with another builder years ago, I arrived at a job site as some guys were loading lumber on a truck," Schaal said. "The guy who seemed to be in charge told me that the superintendent had told him to do it. When I asked for the name of the superintendent, he told me that he couldn't remember it.
"I told him to unload the lumber or I'd call the police," Schaal said. "I guess it wasn't very smart of me, since I was outnumbered and far from a phone, but they did it."
Marshal Granor of Granor Price Homes in Horsham said, "Sometimes we hire guards and put up fences, sometimes we don't. It depends on the job and the location."
Once, he said, he discovered that a guard he had hired was working with a neighboring homeowner to pilfer plywood and other lumber products from a job site and store it in the neighbor's garage.
The two men had another guard convinced that it was part of an insurance scam by Granor Price. Granor didn't become aware of the thefts until he tried to fire the naive guard, who "threatened to expose the supposed scam," he said.
"The homeowner didn't think he was doing wrong," echoing the thought that the builder could get its insurance company to pay for the losses, Granor said.
Tools, lumber and appliances are the items most often pilfered from residential construction sites.
"Tools seem to have legs of their own," said Mark Clements of Ambler, editor of Tools of the Trade magazine and a former contractor.
"And the thefts are carried out so quickly," he said. "You go to buy your crew some breakfast sandwiches and the trailer has been emptied of all your tools when you return."
What ruins many smaller contractors is that insurance pays the depreciated value of the tools, not the replacement value, "so you get $20 to replace a $200 tool," he said.
That's what happened to Nik Stajka, an Arlington, Va., contractor who buys, renovates and sells houses in the suburbs near Washington.
"I renovate one house at a time, and I usually rent a 20-foot container to store tools and materials on site," he said.
"I got almost to the end of one job, so I let the container go and decided to store my tools in the basement of the house. One of my guys was working down there and it was dusty, so he opened the windows."
Stajka thinks that either one of the windows didn't close properly or the worker forgot to lock it. The next morning, every tool he owned - $6,200 worth - was gone.
"It doesn't seem like a whole lot of money to some people, but it is a whole lot," he said. "My insurance didn't cover it, and it was a struggle to replace the tools so I could get back to work."
Police, contractors and builders associations are constantly after companies to take precautions at their work sites, such as: hiring reputable security companies to patrol the area at night and on weekends; keeping accurate inventories of what is at the site; limiting access to employees; surrounding the site with chain-link fences at least eight feet high, with limited entry and surveillance cameras; and locking up all equipment in secure storage sheds.
"They need to keep equipment out of view and to make someone responsible for making sure it is," Stephens said.
You can only be so careful, though. Sometimes, employees or subcontractors are stealing the stuff.
DeWalt, the tool manufacturer, has tried in the last couple of years to determine the extent of construction-site thefts.
Using responses from 1,700 contractors and builders across the country, DeWalt found that 97 percent of those surveyed were concerned about security, and that tool theft was the No. 1 concern "because of replacement costs, lost time, and decreased personal productivity."
Since DeWalt's customers are largely building professionals, the company's research and development department began looking into a way to keep tools safe on site.
Its solution was Sitelock, a portable wireless alarm system that consists of a base unit and five sensors. The base station is kept indoors, usually in the job-site trailer, and the remote sensors are placed at strategic points - on big toolboxes and material containers on the site, up to 2,000 feet from the base.
If an intruder tries to disturb the protected equipment or remove a sensor, the alarm is activated and a wireless signal is sent to a monitoring service, said spokesman Bill Pugh.
The base retails for $1,000, and the sensors range from $99 to $199. If the builder chooses, he can use DeWalt's monitoring service for $40 a month, or be notified of a problem immediately by e-mail or cell phone for $30 a month.
Bosch, another major supplier of tools for professional use, is working with ToolWatch Corp. of Englewood, Colo., to install radio-frequency detection devices inside tools at the factory, so their whereabouts can be easily tracked by special computer software.
"It's not only theft that concerns builders and contractors, but inventory control," said Bosch spokesman Jason Feldner. "A builder knows he has 19 reciprocating saws on site, but he forgot where they are. That's what the tool-tracking system is for."
There already is a bar-code system for tracking tools, but according to ToolWatch vice president Joe Caston, the new technology is a major improvement. Tools are embedded with identifying tags that link to such information as serial numbers, purchase date, original price, maintenance schedules and authorized users, he said.
Using a handheld scanner, ToolWatch software records the embedded information. Everyone using a tool passes through a portal at the job site that works the same way as the detectors you walk through entering or leaving stores at the mall.
Embedding the information will add 1 to 2 percent to the cost of the tool, Feldner said.
The cost of job-site theft and preventing it is a line item in a builder's annual budget, Granor said. "I guess we have been lucky. We've only had our model homes broken into twice in 25 years, which is, I think, a good record."
One of those times, the burglar took a tablecloth, a couple of wineglasses, and two place settings.
"We found them nearby, under a tree next to a stream and with a few empty wine bottles," Granor said. "Someone had a picnic."
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Contact real estate writer Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or snipped-for-privacy@phillynews.com. Read his recent work http://go.philly.com/alheavens .
Thomas J. Watson - WoodDorker
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 (webpage)
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It is no wonder that a significant percentage of tool sales on eBay are from Pawn Brokers. I've always wondered about the circumstances where someone pawns a tool new in box.
Maybe contractors associations could set up local ToolWatch scanning service to track origination of tools purchased through such means and provide incentive through rewards for captured thieves. It won't stop the problem but it will make an easy sales channel much harder.
TWS
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You are correct - a substantial portion of ebay listers are pawn brokers - I have always wondered what percent of PB's material is stolen - guess now that ought to apply to ebay as well.
Sounds like it is time for some smart law enforcement types to put together a sting and put a bunch of these people in jail where they belong.
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wrote:

Our state requires us to have liability insurance but that does not cover loss off tools. All liability insurance covers (here anyway) is if someone walking through the house plants their face in you saw blade or licks on your extension cord.
I'm a finish carpenter and we have a few larger tools that we leave on the job and we leave cords and hoses and nails. We chain up the larger tools, table saws and jointers so at least they have to work a little at getting them. We take all of the hand power or air tools with us every night. We have an opportunity to buy theft coverage but at about $800.00 a year the expense is greater than our losses.
Most losses we have had were minor and we are more likely to see vandalism rather than theft. Like the time we came in one morning and all of the walls were covered with blue chalk. That stuff is a nightmare to clean up and get off of hoses and cords. I'll have to admit though...... it was probably fun throwing it around.
The largest loss we have had in the last 10 years or so was a couple of stolen nail guns. This happened while we were on the job! We were working on a new retirement center and were having lunch in another room. When we went back down the hall, after lunch, the tools were gone. We found one of them at a pawn shop later but that's a whole different story.
My recommendation for tools is to take what you can with you and try to lock everything else up. A Job Box works pretty well for smaller stuff. A good thief will be able to get into just about anything but most don't want to work that hard...... or they'd have a job.
Another thing we do is to record serial numbers from any tools that we do leave on the job. You can also engrave your own numbers in some inconspicuous place on the tool like on the underside of the top on your table saw. A thief may remove the factory numbers but probably won't find yours. In the case they do get stolen, filing a police report will also (in most states) send those numbers to the pawn dealers. While numbers can be removed and some pawn dealers may find another place to sell stolen goods, some are a little more honest and will report stolen merchandise. If you happen to find your item(s) either on another job, or in a pawn shop the police report (with serial numbers) will help you get those items back with a lot less time and far fewer problems.
Mike O.
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"Mike" wrote in message

Strangely enough just tying down a tarp over framing lumber at night has cut down on some theft.
On a stack of plywood, I'll drive a 3 1/2" drywall screw through the corner of the top half dozen or so sheets at night ... most thieve don't seem to carry Phillips screw drivers with them, or don't want to take the time to find the screw, will not even bother if they have to lift half dozen sheets at once.
In the big city, and with a lumber yard you do business often, it pays to order just what you need for the day, and schedule delivery accordingly.
Biggest problem is when appliances start coming in. I have a gas log fireplace being delivered tomorrow at a new residential construction site and will have to watch that house like a hawk from now on, even with good locks on the construction doors.
And sometimes it is "theft of services" that pushes the budget up ... emptying a 12 yard dumpster is expensive, and the idiots, from neighbors to passing yard crews, seem to delight in using your dumpster.
And vandalism ... there is something in the psyche of a few of the latinos who work in construction around here that require they piss on a wall, or shit under the insulation in the attic. It is almost guaranteed to happen at least once in the construction of a new home.
With regard to insurance, a "Builder's Risk" policy used to pay, but the deductibles are so high that it is no longer worth claiming unless it is catastrophic. In short, it is the builder, and the buyer, who pay the tab. If it cost more for me to build, the buyer is going to pay in the long run.
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Swingman wrote:

Not limited to Latinos.
I remember white and black guys doing this in the early 80's.
I was doing a new construction floor install where the toilet was sitting in the middle of the living room, waiting for installation. The plumbers, and our flooring crew, went to lunch for about 30-45 minutes. When everyone returned, someone had crapped in the toilet.
I've also seen plenty of framers, of all races, piss on studs. I've heard of people pissing in appliances or uninstalled water heaters, crapping down heating ducts, the imagination has no end.
Barry
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"B a r r y" wrote in message

It's just been in the last 15 years that it has become common in this neck of the woods.

Around here they'd tell you that's what you get for hiring Aggies on a construction crew. ;>)
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I agree that the builders take greater losses than the contractors. We have the same problems here with lumber walking off and dumpsters being filled by the neighbors. We recently had a guy unloading a pickup full of limbs in a builders dumpster when he could have driven about 4 blocks and dropped it off at county site for free.
Mike O.
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"Mike" wrote in message

Just went at 6:30 AM to unlock the doors so the sheetrockers could get in and guess what! ... the $%^&^$b dumpster is _full_ of tree trimmings! One reason why I never applied for a concealed weapons permit, a strong conviction that any thief ought to die on the spot, including those who steal services.
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You guys should investigate the concept of padlocks. Just about every dumpster I have ever seen has the ability to lock the top at night as long as someone will be there before the garbage man. The school district I work for had serious problems with unauthorized use of its dumpsters (and we have about 30 of them). We purchased a large set of Master locks all keyed the same and installed them on all of the dumpsters. The garbage company was then given a supply of keys for the drivers as they often show up before the first custodians at many buildings. First custodian in unlocks them the last going home locks them back up. Our annual costs were decreased by over $15,000 by this simple act and it stopped the "neighbors" from tossing non-recycleables into the recycle bins (you really don't want to have to interact with the custodian after he has had to dig someone else's garbage out of his recycle bin due both to the potential smell as well as a less than happy attitude).
Dave Hall
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"Dave Hall" wrote in message

A 16 yard construction "dumpster" (AKA "skid" in some areas) does not have a lid ... if it did, you probably couldn't open it without a forklift!
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Swingman wrote:

Most of the guys around my parts have gone to smaller units (maybe 8 yards?), with large, plastic, lockable lids. They need to be emptied more, but they aren't filled up with sqatter trash, so the overall cost is lower.
Barry
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"B a r r y" wrote in message

Hell, the workers (at least the ones relegated to throwing away the offcuts/refuse) on most of the crews these days, and the "squatters", are of the caliber that they are just as likely to throw the trash on top of the lid as under it, as long as they don't have to pay dump fees.
Besides, It's hard to find anything smaller than a 12 yard around here. You generally take what you can get when they're switched out, and most companies only mess with 12 and 16 yard skids.
I generally go to a zoning mandated trash enclosure made with OSB after sheetrocking (+/- 9 yards) ... but it sill costs around $150 to have the contents hauled off, whereas a 16 yard skid is $225 +/-.
Being a one man operation, I am the one getting fined. As a consequence, I am intimately familiar with the contents of the dumpster because I 'walk and chunk' every evening. I also keep two brooms, a water hose, and a shovel in the back of my truck for my other job: 'street cleaner'. I live in the same neighborhood where the latest one is going up and these are my neighbors who have to live with the results if I didn't, so putting that much effort into cleanup and trying to maintain a safe construction site, you get doubly pissed when unthinking idiots steal the fruits of your labor.
I'm partial to the idea of all thieves losing a hand for each offense ... would cut back on theft real quick. AAMOF, I would volunteer in a heartbeat to wield the axe.
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So true. I hadn't given proper consideration to that. I am used to the regular trash dumpsters. Oh well.
Dave Hall
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Dave Hall wrote:

FWIW, there was one construction site I used to drive past where there was a large crane on site. Last thing that happened every day was that a large compressor got hoisted about 40 feet and left hanging.

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The dumpsters we are talking about are 5 or 6 feet tall and about 30' long. No lids though.
Mike O.
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Swingman wrote:

Any burls? Dave in Fairfax
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LOL Nothing you couldn't handle with a pocket knife. Let's see, wax ligustrum "burl" ... hmmmm.
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on 3/1/2005 9:18 AM Dave in Fairfax said the following:

When life hands you lemons... ? LOL!
Gotta love and appreciate the warped humor here: especially the punishments to fit the crime of tool theft. I can think of a few fitting, er, ah, demonstrative punishments involving spade bits and a decent electric drill or a roofing nailer, a length of 2 by and the admonition "that'll keep your hands from where they don't belong!"
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Dave in Fairfax said the following:

Ya gotta know that turners have a thing for burls. %-) Dave in Fairfax
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