Aluminum Wiring – The Unseen Hazards

Posted on Jan 30, 2015


  1. How do I know if I have aluminum wiring in my home?
  2. What are the dangers with aluminum wiring?
  3. What solutions do I have to make this aluminum wiring or my home safer?

 

How do I know if I have aluminum wiring in my home? First, most homes built in the United States since the late nineteen sixties have some aluminum wiring in them. The problem lies with the 120 volt multi branch circuits that commonly make up the general lighting and receptacle circuits. These circuits were wired with aluminum wiring between the late nineteen sixties and early seventies, roughly 1968 to 1973 dependent upon which part of the country you live in.

I want to address my first statement regarding that most homes since the late nineteen sixties have some wiring in them. It is common practice and perfectly acceptable by the NFPA National Electric Code and Local Inspection Agencies to allow the installation of aluminum wiring for 240 volt branch circuits. These circuits must originate at the electric panel and terminate at the device limiting it to two connection points. Typically these branch circuits are installed for electric ranges, Ovens, Dryers, Furnaces and Air Conditioners. Aluminum is a softer metal conductor and therefore aluminum wire expands and contracts more easily than copper, in time decreasing the stability of its connection. It is very important that these termination points at the circuit breaker (over current protection) and the device or appliance junction box have a dioxide inhibitor gel installed to help prevent loose connections. If your aluminum wiring is installed correctly with the correct type of connector or device then your home should be safe based upon UL laboratory, he Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and independent testing.

What are the dangers with aluminum wiring? Homes built or renovated during the mid-1960s and early 1970s often had the 120 volt branch circuits wired with aluminum due to soaring copper prices. The NFPA National Electric Code permitted to use aluminum wiring on all 120 volt branch circuits including general receptacles and lighting circuits. Over the period of a few short years problems started arising due to this practice and by 1973 the use of aluminum wiring for these 120 volt branch circuits was removed from the NEC. All circuits for 120 volt now had to be copper or copper clad type wiring only.

The CPSC’s research indicates homes wired with aluminum prior to 1973 pose a 55 times greater risk for starting a fire. The hazard is not in the aluminum wire itself, but in the connections where the splices are made. The aluminum wire expands and contracts, in time decreasing the stability of its connection with the copper rated device or connection. When the connection becomes less secure overheating, carbon build-up, gradual melting of the connection, arcing and smoldering of the wire insulation may occur. The issues can remain undetected for a period of years before a fire actually ignites.

Nationwide electrical fires are a leading cause of fire-related fatalities, along with arson, candles and smoking. Experts are particularly concerned about electrical fires because they can go undetected longer than other types of fires occurring in the open.

Buyers need to beware! While it is rare, it is possible that a partial or complete wiring system in aluminum wiring could be overlooked at the time of purchase. When aluminum wiring is found, the consequences are steep for homeowners; aluminum wiring can translate into a 25 to 50 percent increase in insurance premiums due to the risks. In fact, due to tighter restrictions in recent years, preferred carriers often do not cover homes with aluminum wiring, in part, because of the prevalence of electronic devices and increased demand on potentially unstable circuits. Due to this, a detailed evaluation by a licensed electrical contractor is necessary to ensure that the entire electrical system is safer.

What solutions do I have to make this aluminum wiring or my home safer? While the danger is well documented, many homeowners live with the risk, thinking this will not happen to me. Holzmacher Electric recommends the use of AlumiConn lug style wire connectors as an economical solution to your existing aluminum wiring. The AlumiConn connector has been used to make thousands of homes across the United States safer from the hazards described above by aluminum wiring. Due to its Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) approval, UL Listing and insurance company recognition it is a safer and more economical way to address your homes aluminum wiring. These connectors provide lower resistance, therefore lower temperature – providing longer-term reliability. Keep in mind that if you do have aluminum wiring throughout your home all outlet connections including appliances, light fixtures ceiling and exhaust fans all have to be corrected.

A far more expensive alternative is the total elimination of aluminum wiring. Rewiring is a relatively smart solution if renovations are planned in a home. However, rewiring when no renovations are slated is costly because replacement requires removing drywall to get to the wiring.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that your home is safe with repair solutions like COLAR rated wire nuts (usually purple in color) or the older practice of copper pig-tailing. The COLAR purple wirenuts are only temporary and need to be inspected for tightness on an annual basis. The older method of simply pig-tailing the aluminum wire to copper pigtails has proven to fail time and time again, because this practice needed to be maintained annually.

The best bet for homeowners is to be educated on the potential hazards and work with a credible electrician to assess options. If a homeowners suspects aluminum wiring and there are non-functioning outlets and switches in their home, they should immediately consult an electrician about aluminum wiring repair because it could be sign of a very serious problem.

Holzmacher Electric has proudly served the needs of the Greater Cincinnati Area since 1982. If you suspect you have Aluminum Wiring in your home, and would like a professional opinion, we’re here to help! Call 513-339-9870 or visit http.//www.holzmacherelectric.com for more information or to schedule a detailed home wiring evaluation.