Lead Theft - How To Take Care

Once lead was a key building component, nowadays though it is mostly used in vehicle batteries and power supplies. Approximately 50% of lead comes from primary production, the other half from re-cycling, but demand far exceeds supply.

As Nigel Clarke of MYI Ltd Chartered Loss Adjusters explains, the demand surplus comes from developing economies, such as India and China. This has caused a huge increase in lead prices from around U$1000 a tonne in April 2005, through a high in September 2007 of some U$4000, to a current price of about U$2800. Consequently, scrap prices have risen dramatically as well.

This increase in value, and the ease with which lead can be torn and folded, has created a wave of lead thefts from buildings, with churches and historic buildings being systematically stripped of lead sheet, flashings and rainwater goods. It doesn’t end there though, lead flashings from domestic and commercial properties are being targeted as well.

Replacing lead roofs and flashings is expensive, for not only is the lead costly, so is the specialist labour and access equipment needed. Often these thefts are not discovered until it rains heavily, so there is frequently extensive internal water damage to contend with as well.

Whilst no building can be made totally secure, here are some simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of you being the victim of such an incident.

  • Increase vigilance and report suspicious activity to the Police
  • Restrict access when the building is unoccupied, keep gates/fences secure
  • Remove, or secure away from the building, anything that can be climbed on
  • Increase security lighting in dark areas
  • Train CCTV cameras on roof access points If you have scaffold around the building ensure it is alarmed
  • Never let ‘cold-call’ contractors work on your property
  • Consider applying ‘Anti-climb’ paint to railings and lower sections of pipes attached to the building, combine this with warning signs
  • Inspect your roof regularly

Beyond these relatively simple precautions, impressive claims are made for the use of Smartwater/ DNA Grease (with clear warning signs) as a deterrent. These products are invisible to the naked eye, but leave a DNA stain on the lead and perhaps more importantly on people handling it, linking criminals back to the specific buildings from where the lead was taken.

Undoubtedly, as with the theft of computers for their ‘chips’ in the 1990’s, the trend will reduce as supply catches up with demand and prices fall. Meanwhile a little preventative action will reduce the chance of you finding a torrent of rainwater through your property next time it rains.

(01 April 2008)


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