You might think the aluminum wiring in your house is safe because there hasn’t been a problem for 30 to 40 years. You would be wrong. Failing aluminum wiring seldom provides easily detectible warning signs. Fortunately, there are remedies that will keep your home and family safe.
How dangerous is aluminum wiring?
In the 1960’s and 70’s aluminum was used as a substitute for coper in wring homes. Coper was in short supply and more expensive. Home with aluminum wiring built before 1972 are 55 times more likely to have wire connections at outlets reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than copper-wired homes, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Their investigation determined that these fire hazards happen at connections such as receptacles, switches and junction boxes. Hazards also occur with major appliances, including dishwashers, furnaces, or, as in the case in our video, cooktops or ovens.
Time and use only increase the risk
The damage to aluminum wiring is cumulative in effect. As the wire deteriorates, so do connections which causes increased resistance to electrical current which, in turn, causes the wired to heat and expand. Over time, the CPSC investigation found Aluminum-wired connections and splices would fail and overheat without any prior indications or problems.
Aluminum wiring warning signs
If your home has aluminum wiring, be on the lookout for hot-to-the touch face plates on receptacles or switches; flickering lights; circuits that don’t work; or the smell of burning plastic at outlets or switches.
In the event you notice any of these warning signs, contact a licensed electrician such as Right Touch Electrical. Do not try to repair aluminum wiring yourself. You could be electrocuted or make the problem worse.
How do you know if you have aluminum wiring
Aluminum wiring was typically installed as plastic-sheathed cable known as “Romex” that looks confusingly similar to copper cabling. To determine if your wiring is aluminum, look for printed or embossed “AL” or “Aluminum” markings on the casing.
Solutions to keep your home safe
Given the number of homes with this issue, manufacturers developed special CO/ALR receptacles and switches. The terminal screws on these CO/ALR devices are made of special materials and designed to grip aluminum wire very tightly even as it expands and contract.
Copalum is another solution. A specially trained electrician replaces every connection in every outlet, switch and junction box with a copper pigtail using a Copalum connection. This allows the ultimate wiring connection to be made with copper. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to find electricians to do Copalum since they must be trained by and rent the tool from the manufacturer.
The best remedy is also the most expensive: replacement of the aluminum with copper wiring. That’s why it’s not uncommon for this kind of rewiring to be done in stages. The homeowner in our video chose to have the kitchen and laundry room rewired first.
Potential insurance and resale issues
As aluminum wiring continues to degrade, there’s another problem. Right Touch Electrical’s Will Burns tells us, “it’s likely insurance companies will begin either increasing the cost of coverage or deny it outright.”
Even if that doesn’t happen, the awareness of aluminum wiring problems will ultimately be an issue when time comes to sell your home.
Aluminum wiring is an issue that won’t go away. In fact, it will only become more dangerous in time. If it hasn’t been a problem yet, don’t wait for your luck to run out.