From lumber to heavy machinery, building materials and equipment often disappear from jobsites. Whether from a tradesman who thought a tool was theirs or thieves loading trucks with materials, the loss adds up quickly for builders and developers.
Unfortunately, that loss multiplies as new materials must be waited for and tradespeople must be rescheduled. Insurance premiums rise with each claim. Future homeowners, in turn, feel the effects as they await completion and that delayed certificate of occupancy.
Headlines throughout the United States read loss after loss of jobsite thefts, some surpassing millions. To fight back, builders are deciding to tighten their jobsite security and adapt to new ways of surveillance to protect their companies and the future homeowners they serve.
Builders like DSLD, No. 28 on the 2022 Builder 100, have seen heightened thefts amid the pandemic. When appliances were out of stock and delayed last year, construction superintendent Steve Jennings says that DSLD’s Simpson Farms development in Covington, Louisiana, had seven full appliance packs stolen. Recently, three houses worth of shingles and roofing materials were taken from one of the developments Jennings oversees.
“There are catastrophic amounts of theft right now throughout all of our subdivisions simply because everything is three times what it used to cost,” says Jennings. “Theft isn’t anything new to construction, but it’s kind of like someone has hit the hornet’s nest recently because prices are so high.”
Materials left out and accessible are an easy target for weekend or evening thefts. Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, beginning the Thursday prior to the Wednesday after, the National Equipment Register—now Verisk—reported startling numbers for heavy equipment theft. Totaling over $7 million in value, the top states for theft reports were Texas, Florida, and California, with the top targeted location being worksites.
Texas has seen varying degrees of jobsite theft for some time. From AC units to mahogany doors, DSLD jobsites have been constant targets for thieves year after year. On the weekends, crews now aim to ensure that all homes are locked and that materials are secure.
Also in Texas, a project manager with Perry Homes, No. 26 on the 2022 Builder 100, in Houston, who requested to stay anonymous, says that it’s an ongoing issue for their jobsites. “People will steal anything and everything—even attic staircases,” he says.
Like the National Equipment Register, options like PowerTool Safe are available to protect and organize equipment. Programs such as these allow subscribers as well as law enforcement to share information on stolen tools and equipment. Builders should also keep record of their own inventory to track when equipment and tools are brought on and off a jobsite. An inventory list is also helpful when accounting for what may have been stolen in the event of a theft.
Law enforcement also recommends marking tools, equipment, and machinery with your company name, location, and an identification number. A guide released by the City of Kennewick, Washington, and its police department’s Crime Prevention Unit, advises to place a tax ID number or if personal, a driver’s license number, on movable property. It also reads: “Put numbers in two spots: hidden and obvious.” For larger equipment, painting all machinery a distinctive color with a company logo is helpful in identification, but also deterrence. With multiple forms of identification on tools and equipment, there’s a greater chance of recovery.
For materials, tracking can get tricky because of the inability to mark an entire load of windows or a brand-new, shiny appliance. Yet, with invoices and detailed lists of what has been delivered to the jobsite, builders can keep record of what should be there, and what has possibly gone missing. Canton Police Department in Michigan’s Crime Prevention Unit shares: “One person should be assigned the responsibility of maintaining tight inventory control of all materials and tools delivered, and only sign for each delivery after carefully checking the invoice for shortages.”
Jennings says, “Ninety percent of it is watching your schedules and watching your deliveries. Every builder has scheduled deliveries. If you know you’re going to have a trim pack delivered on a Friday and you talked to your trim carpenter and he’s not going to be there until Tuesday, deliver it on Monday.”Truly, less excess materials at a jobsite means fewer opportunities for theft, but sometimes builders can’t help but to take deliveries prior to the weekend. This is when other measures can be beneficial.
Securing the Jobsite
Security fences and locks are physical barriers that make your jobsite a bit less appealing to intruders. Leaving extra materials on an upper floor of a building under construction or placing a heavy object like the forks of a forklift on top of the materials makes it harder for thieves to access.
Video surveillance is a growing form of protection for builders. Being able to monitor jobsites remotely is beneficial for builders to not only be notified of a possible threat, but also verification of when crews come and go and when materials are delivered. Some web-based surveillance allows for motion sensors and two-way audio. They can also include nighttime vision to capture license plates and clearer forms of identification.
Cameras at DSLD’s Fairhope development in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, helped them catch a criminal in the act. “Andy Northcutt caught a guy who had been hammering us. He popped up on Andy’s cellphone at 1 o’clock in the morning. Andy was able to drive out there and catch him on-site.”
Because of cameras at the entrances of the developments, Jennings and Northcutt also know that the same man was linked to the disappearance of some of those shingle packages. “Within a couple hours of when I had shingles missing, we had him [on camera] coming in two of the three times,” Jennings adds.
The team at DSLD has also been able to identify others because of surveillance; and recover materials whenever possible. Perry Homes has also installed jobsite cameras to keep watch of their materials and projects but haven’t had as much luck in catching the offenders like DSLD. “I do think the cameras help in the long run to draw thieves away,” he says.
“It’s worth every penny. They cost a lot, but that $1,000 camera pays for itself in one night if they’re taking over $5,000 in shingles and we catch them,” Jennings adds. The fear of being caught on camera is a highly effective deterrent. Additional measures can include jobsite lighting and blatant warning signs to create hesitation.
For jobsites in large developments, it’s helpful to get the neighbors involved. Builders and home builder associations may find it beneficial to partner with Neighborhood Watch programs or Crime Stoppers to add an additional layer of security.
After tumultuous bouts of theft in the Pikes Peak region last year, the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs began collaborating with Crime Stoppers for a Construction Theft Tip Line. It’s used for anonymous reporting of theft on active construction sites. The HBA manages an account to pay out a $1,000 reward per tip that results in the arrest of a person or people who removed materials from a site.
With price spikes and material delays, it’s important to help guard your jobsite and materials as much as possible. As Jennings puts it, “Currently, certain windows have a 20-week lead time. If they’re stolen, it might be 20 weeks before you can get them again. At that point in time, the house is finished, and you’re supposed to be closing it already.”