ATLANTA -- In the past three years, Herman Lorenz has shelled out hundreds of dollars for air conditioner repairs.
But there's nothing wrong with his unit; the problem is what's being stolen. And it's not copper.
Lorenz happened to be home Monday afternoon when he heard noises on his back porch. He looked outside and saw four teens gathered around his air conditioning unit.
"One was laying down this way, one was over the top of the air conditioner," he said, pointing to the unit. "I don't know whether they're just breathing it in or if they're actually trying to get directly into the valve."
It turns out the teens were inhaling freon, the chemical inside the unit, to get high. Lorenz said the teens didn't seem fazed by his presence, even when he pulled his camera out to snap their pictures.
"These kids were obviously on something really heavy duty," he said. "It was like they were just zombies."
Lorenz believes the kids target his backyard because it's well hidden. Over the past three years it has become a rather expensive pattern, he said -- one that costs nearly $400 to fix each time it happens.
Martin Hoover, owner of Empire Heating and Air in Decatur, said his company does not get many calls like this, but said Freon theft does seem to be a growing trend.
Most of the calls begin with people thinking they have a leak.
"After you do a leak search, you don't find a leak, you charge it up and then next week you get another call, you can start making that assumption," Hoover said.
Companies are now making special caps to go over air conditioner valves, removable only with a key. The locking cap was designed to prevent this type of theft from occurring.