The use of aluminum wiring dates back to the mid-1960s when it was first introduced to North America as a cost-effective alternative of copper. This is the reason why older homes built between the 1960s and 1972 have aluminum wiring on their electrical systems. Although the wiring itself isn’t a problem as it conducts electricity safely, the connections are still considered fire hazards.
I performed a home inspection in Omaha, NE of a house that was built around 1964. As I pulled the panel of this 55-year old home, it did prove true that aluminum wiring is present. Aluminum wiring is known to expand and contract because of the heat going through it. If you have aluminum wiring in your house, it is definitely recommended to have a qualified electrician come and evaluate the whole electrical system. Having a thorough electrical inspection is imperative to ensure that all connections are tight and are in good working order for the purchase of the home.
With aluminum wiring’s controversial history, many clients ask if it’s safe or needs to be replaced. The answer is yes, it is safe but with special considerations. Because the connections are the main concerns here, aluminum wiring can still put your home at risk of fire. In fact, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), homes with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to have fire hazard situations than homes using copper.
Aluminum Wiring Myth and Fact
Myth: Aluminum wiring is recalled for being a fire hazard.
Fact: Aluminum wiring itself is safe as long as proper connections are made, that there are no damages, and the devices used are approved for working with aluminum wire.
Aluminum vs Copper
Another thing with aluminum is although they are proven to safely conduct electricity, it’s still not as good as copper. Soon as aluminum wiring become popular, more problems also started to appear as opposed to copper wiring. Among these issues included flickering lights, warm plates on switches and even burned insulation on wiring. In short, there was an overheating. Overheating calls for immediate attention because on worst cases, it means fire.
International Association of Certified Home Inspectors(InternACHI) has some pretty good information about aluminum wiring. Looking into it, these are the differences between copper and aluminum:
1. Aluminum is softer than copper. Electricians found how aluminum can be easily cut or crushed when removing insulations or making connections. Working with aluminum needs a gentler approach as any damage can crate local hotspots and result in overheating.
2. Aluminum wire expands more when heat up compared to copper. This constant expansion and contraction of wire can cause the wire to creep out under the terminal screws. This results in loose connections, overheating, or worse, fire.
3. Rusting occurs when oxide forms on the surface of a metal. Rust on copper is green while aluminum is white. Rusting on copper is not a problem since the oxide that forms conduct electricity. This means it doesn’t interfere with the wire’s performance. With aluminum, however, the white oxide does not conduct electricity as good as copper, interferes with the flow of electricity and ultimately causing overheating.
4. Aluminum has a higher resistance to electrical current flow which means aluminum conductors need to be larger in diameter.
5. If there is moisture present, aluminum will experience galvanic corrosion. Galvanic corrosion is an electrochemical process where one metal corrodes when in contact with dissimilar metals.
6. The electrical current flow causes vibrations. With aluminum though, the vibration is greater compared to copper which can overtime loosen the connection.
What To Do
Over the years, aluminum and copper wiring have been combined. While in some cases they are successfully connected, this can pose extreme fire hazards unless there is a proper aluminum-to-copper connection. The risk of having part with aluminum and part with copper is the potential to cause chemical reactions when these two different materials meet at any point.
Call for professional help right away if you notice the following:
– warm outlets or faceplates
– strange odors, smokes or sparks
– flickering of lights
– unexplained static
Rewiring your whole electrical system to copper may be the most effective method. However, it can also be expensive and impractical in most cases. What you can do best is to hire an electrician who will evaluate your current electrical system. The electrician can also use copalum crimps which consist of attaching a piece of copper to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit. It is also recommended that your electrical systems be inspected on a regular basis.
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