There’s a good chance that if your home has aluminum wiring, an inspector has brought it to your attention. Unfortunately, failing aluminum-wired connections seldom provide easily detected warning signs. Aluminum-wired connections and splices have been reported to fail and overheat without any prior indications or problems. Like many of the quirks and features of your home, you may wonder if you can get by without fixing it. In this article, we’ll do a deep dive on why aluminum wiring was used and if it’s safe to have in your home.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, half of all home fires stem from issues with home electrical wiring. Between 1965 and 1973, aluminum wiring was substituted because of the skyrocketing price of copper during this time. If you see the letters “AL” on the panel jacket in your home, consult with a qualified electrician to determine if your house needs rewiring.
After a decade of use by homeowners and electricians, the flaws of aluminum wiring came out into the spotlight:
- Aluminum becomes defective faster than copper.
- Neglected connections in switches, outlets, and light fixtures containing aluminum wiring become a hazard over time. These poor connections cause the wiring to overheat which creates a potential fire hazard.
- The presence of aluminum wiring may void a home’s insurance policies.
- According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), “Homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 [‘old technology’ aluminum wire] are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than is a home wired with copper.”
What’s Wrong with Aluminum Wiring?
- Since Aluminum is a softer metal than copper, it is prone to becoming crimped, nicked, and pinched. This type of damage can create hot spots which can result in overheating.
- Oxidation: As aluminum oxidizes, it becomes less conductive. This creates problematic connections to switches, outlets, light fixtures, etc. The oxidation of copper does not produce this effect, as copper oxidizes, it remains electrically conductive.
- Creeping: As electricity flows through an aluminum wire, the wire heats up causing the aluminum to expand. When the electricity is turned off the wire cools down and contracts. The constant expansion and contraction can cause loose connections. When the wiring is too far away from its contact point, this can cause arcing to occur. Long story short, arcing can cause fires.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are approximately two million homes and mobile homes constructed using aluminum wiring since 1965. If you are shopping for resale homes, and they were built between 1965 and 1972, there is a good chance that you will end up looking at homes that have aluminum wiring.
Temporary Repair for Aluminum Wiring
- Pig Tailing: This is a very common repair method for aluminum wiring. If an electrician adds a short copper wire to the end of an existing aluminum wire, it can help mitigate the effects of an aluminum connection to fixtures. Talk to your electrician about options for pig tailing.
What to Do if Your Home Has Aluminum Wiring
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends the following two methods for addressing copper wiring.
- Rewire your home with copper wire. Although the most expensive option, it will eliminate all failure points that connect to fixtures,
- COPALUM method of repair. It’s another form of pigtail repair. COPALUM connectors are special connectors installed by a qualified licensed electrician, this is considered by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) to be the preferred method for permanently repairing aluminum wiring in a home short of rewiring the entire home with copper. This connector is applied using a special crimping tool that makes the connection with extreme pressure.
Call Randy’s Electric
The very existence of aluminum wiring in your home doesn’t mean that you need to have it removed and replaced. However, it’s very smart—and often required—that your home passes inspection if you want to keep it around. Luckily, if you are looking for an “electrician near me,” or “Minneapolis/St. Paul electricians,” Randy’s is here to help. We have extensive knowledge of home rewiring. Give us a call at 612.260.1964.