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Thinking About Buying an Air Conditioner Cage?

Updated on September 3, 2016
Air conditioner cage
Air conditioner cage | Source

There are two main types of installations. The first is to install an air conditioner cage on an existing unit and the second is to decide what to do after the theft of your condensing unit.

Here are a few key thoughts on what to do before you purchase protective items to secure an existing unit.

Plastic air conditioner pad
Plastic air conditioner pad

What Is the Composition of the Condensing Unit Base?

It is important to pay close attention to the pad on which the condensing unit is resting. Most units installed after 2006 are mounted on a 2-½- to 3-inch grey plastic pad. These pads are inadequate for securing an air conditioner cage because they provide little in the way of structural support for the cage. If you have one of these bases under your condensing unit, you simply need to measure the pad and add 4 inches to the measurement to make clearance room. Mount the security cage on legs that will be set into concrete in the ground. If your condensing unit is mounted on a concrete pad 3-½ inches thick or more and there is at least 6 inches of concrete protruding from under each side of the unit including front and back then you can have a surface-mounted cage installed. The concrete needs to be thick enough and wide enough to handle a hammer drill and lags or drive in anchors. If mounts are placed too close to the edge of the concrete, it will crack the concrete and create more problems.

Turbo Air Outdoor Condensing Unit
Turbo Air Outdoor Condensing Unit

Determine the Size of the Condensing Unit?

If you are looking to protect an existing unit be sure to measure the width, depth and the height. Add an additional 4 inches to the measurements of the sides and top of the unit. This will give you the approximate size of the cage that you will have to purchase or have custom made. The 4-inches of clearance you have added will provide a good working environment for the condensing unit and will allow you to clean the unit properly and efficiently. For example a Turbo Air outdoor condensing unit with measurements of 25”H x 30”W x 30”D shown above, would need a minimum of a 29”H x 38”W x 38”D size cage. Keep in mind, not all condensing units are the same. "Measure twice cut once" they always say.

Where Is the Condensing Unit Installed?

Often times the type of air conditioner cage you need to purchase will depend on what kind of working clearances you have around the unit. For example, if the unit is tucked into a right or left angle of your home, the cage will need to be a minimum of 16 inches away from the side wall of the house so the locking mechanism (If a locking system is inside the back lower edges of the cage) can be operated. This is for the tilt back-style cage only. If the working clearance is less than 16 inches, you might consider a removable panel type application or just have the tilt back-style cage hinged on another side. This will give you all the room for maintenance you should need.

Extreme line set installation. The line set is in black insulation and is 10 feet long.
Extreme line set installation. The line set is in black insulation and is 10 feet long.

How Are the Line Sets Run to the House?

Lately with copper theft becoming more and more of a problem, condensing unit line sets are being run straight to a house using the shortest route possible and staying just about six inches above grade, exposing as little copper as possible, and then entering the house. Older units will have the line sets running out of the back of the condensing unit and making a turn up of about a foot or two before entering the home. Pay close attention to the width of the line sets and how high they are run because some air conditioner cages allow little or no room for these. The cage should never touch or rub up against the copper lines since this will eventually wear a hole in the lines causing the condensing unit to lose its charge. If it is an older unit such as R-22, it is getting more and more expensive to charge because of the latest phasing out plan from the government.

AC, 220 Volt disconnect
AC, 220 Volt disconnect

Where is the Electrical Disconnect Mounted?

Most municipalities and the NEC (National Electric Code) will not let you put an air conditioner cage in front of an electrical disconnect because they need to be accessible for service and emergencies. This is really not a big issue since most disconnecting means for condensing units are mounted to the side of the units just for that purpose. Make sure the disconnecting means is not positioned directly behind the unit or obstructed from operation by the air conditioner cage you purchase.

Hvac security cage
Hvac security cage

What Kind of Air Conditioner Cage Should I Buy?

With so many air conditioner cages on the market, the choice can be mind boggling. Too many times inexpensive cages are purchased by the unsuspecting homeowner or business owner who really does not know what they are up against. The purpose of a cage is to extend the amount of time it takes to tear down and remove the copper from a condensing unit and eliminate the possibility of a passerby getting the idea that he can easily take yours. It takes roughly 3 to 5 minutes to remove the copper from an unprotected air conditioner unit. Be sure to purchase an air conditioner cage that is solid steel and avoid those made of hollow, thin wall metal tubing. The solid steel cage will make the thieves face something they will have to take time to cut through and work to get at. In addition, ensure the cage is solidly made, meaning there are no openings to reach through. This can be accomplished by installing ¾-inch expanded metal all around the unit. The locking system is important also; make sure the locks cannot be compromised easily with bolt cutters or saws. These few tips should help you with your cage selection.

Now that we have learned how to select a cover for an existing condensing unit, we can begin to consider what to look for when replacing a unit because it has been vandalized or stolen. There are some similarities and some differences between an existing unit and a new one. Collect all of the information and facts you need before making a decision.

What Is the Size of the Condensing Unit?

If you are replacing a unit due to theft, you don’t really want to put a brand new air conditioning unit in place as the old one without proper protection. Get your contractor to list the make and model number of the unit you want and when getting quotes from an air conditioner cage company you will have the information they need to give you a quote for a properly-sized cage. Give both the air conditioner cage company and your HVAC contractor each other’s phone number so they can communicate with each other on timelines, pouring and curing of concrete and how the products will be installed. Usually the air conditioner cage company will come in right behind the HVAC company—on the same day—so the unit will not be left unprotected. One size cage does not fit all; do not pay for a 40” x 40” x 40” when you need a 36” x 36” x 36”. Steel is very expensive and most air conditioner cage companies charge by the inch.

Quikrete concrete mix comes in 40, 60 and 80 LB bags. Visit their website for your own calculations
Quikrete concrete mix comes in 40, 60 and 80 LB bags. Visit their website for your own calculations | Source

Get Rid of the Old Grey Pad on Which the Unit Was Sitting.

A prime opportunity to put a solid concrete pad in place is when there is no condensing unit outside. Concrete is more durable than the grey or blue plastic pads but when it is installed be sure it is 6 inches larger than the condensing unit you have purchased. The extra clearance is necessary so the air conditioner cage can be structurally supported. Most cages will fit on a 48” x 48” inch pad with ease. You can even pour the pad yourself if you want. You can easily decide how much concrete to buy because most concrete bags include the coverage amounts on the bag. You will just need to add a couple of inches to your calculation to account for uneven ground so your pad can be leveled. Having a concrete pad poured will save you a few dollars on the labor side of the installation as pouring concrete is cheaper than digging holes and then pouring concrete. The air conditioner cage company will be able to take care of this project for you if you do not want to tackle this task. They would rather mount their cages on solid concrete.

Pouring your own concrete base

Is pouring a concrete base for your air conditioner something you would do yourself?

See results

Where Do You Want to Place the Condensing Unit?

Well it’s not there anymore, right? If the condensing unit was not in a very good place to begin with now is your chance to move it to a more securable location. Most often if you have an older unit that is stolen, it will have to be replaced with one that uses a newer type of coolant. This means the line sets and the a-coil of the old unit will have to be replaced too so now is the time to move the air conditioner if need be. Most furnaces, I said most, are generally located in the center of the house for duct distribution and proper air-flow so moving the condensing unit should not add much if any to the cost of the installation. Check with your installer first if you think it should be moved.

Night light form
Night light form | Source

Are You Going To Add More Security?

Think about what other types of security you will be adding. Physical protection with a solid steel, fully enclosed air conditioner cage is a must. It is also a good idea to call your security monitoring company, if you have one, and ask them to add a pressure sensor onto the line sets that can be monitored by them. The idea behind a pressure sensor is that if the lines are cut, the pressure in the line set is released and causes a switch to close or open (depending on the switch), sending a signal to the alarm company. If you do not have a security company, it is easy to install a standalone system with an audible alert; any alarm company can do this for you. Also there might be a location with an existing light fixture where you can exchange a bulb for a motion sensor. There are many good quality motion sensors on the market, some even talk and are very easy to install by the do-it-yourselfer. Locate the nearest telephone pole to the unit and see if a night light is an option. Your local power company can and will install this on the pole for a small monthly fee. Locate them on the web and search for the required forms. Most power companies have a night light application for consumers to fill out and submit like the one shown above. It is usually one to two pages in length and easy to fill out.

Night Light

Do you think the night light is a viable option?

See results
Solid steel air conditioner cage on a 4"concrete pad
Solid steel air conditioner cage on a 4"concrete pad

What Kind of Air Conditioner Cage Should I Buy?

Buy a solid steel, enclosed air conditioner cage. A condensing unit that is protected by a well designed air conditioner cage is many times less likely to be vandalized by thieves. Just the site of a unit that has been physical protected will deter a thief from approaching your ac unit. They will most likely move on to the next unsecured unit they can find.

With air conditioner theft becoming more common every minute of every day, more and more homeowners and businesses are being forced to secure their units to prevent copper theft. Hopefully, this guide has made things a little more understandable and given you some good ideas to start with while you are going through the air conditioner protection process.

Ac Cage
Ac Cage
Air conditioner cage
Air conditioner cage

Your views and opinions are welcome

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    • greenmind profile image

      GreenMind Guides 

      21 months ago from USA

      Great hub full of detail and expert knowledge. You really show how much you know about AC and cages and etc here!!!


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