The Dangers of Aluminum Home Wiring
At Save Home Heat Company, we do our best to look out for the safety of our customers, whether it’s in your home’s heating and cooling, plumbing, or electrical realm. The focus of this blog is on an electrical issue that has been around for a while, yet may still be present in a number of older homes: aluminum wiring. For some homeowners, this may be a quick refresher. For others, especially those new to the home-buying market, this is important information that you should be aware of.
Some Background On Aluminum Wire Concerns
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (the CPSC) has been monitoring homes that were built between approximately the mid-1960s and the late-1970s, when copper was very expensive and the use of aluminum wire, fine for a number of applications, was used for all the branch circuit wiring throughout new homes. Branch circuits are the wiring that connects individual breakers in your main panel to devices such as wall outlets, light switches and fixtures, junction boxes, heating and cooling equipment, and more. The practice of using aluminum wire in that last part of the electrical circuit created the potential for an unsafe, overheating condition, and a risk of fire. There were deaths linked to the use of aluminum branch circuit wiring, and this practice was discontinued. Not longer after, standards for aluminum wire and a range of electrical devices were also revised.
Identifying Aluminum Wiring in Your Home
Our electrical team is always on the lookout for older homes that have problematic, potentially unsafe aluminum wiring. They are still plenty of them out there, and many homeowners may not be aware.
A close look at the writing embossed on exposed wiring might answer the question of whether your home electrical devices receive their power thru copper (Cu) or aluminum (Al) wire – google CPSC Publication 516, if you like – but this is not a guessing game! Of course, homes built during the 1960s thru the early ’80s are the ones that are most suspect. Regardless of the age of your home, it’s always best to consult a licensed electrician to be 100% certain of what kind of wire is run in your home, and equally important, to be sure that both your 120 volt and 220 volt wiring was originally specked correctly and installed professionally, and is standing the test of time.
It’s important to understand that symptoms of problems caused by aging aluminum wire may be nearly identical to those of deteriorating electrical devices, or wire connections that are not as secure as they once were, for example. Just because your home has lots of copper wire, that doesn’t mean your electrical system is immune to the effects of age. Again, this points to the importance of having an experienced, skilled electrician inspect your home, from time to time.
Signs of electrical system problems that may need professional help include:
- Cover plates on outlets or switches are hot to the touch
- Burning smells near outlets, switches, light fixtures, or other appliances
- Flickering or dimming lights
- Tripping GFI outlets
- Tripping circuit breakers
- Partial or intermittent power
- Dead circuits (no power)
- Exposed wire ends, jumbled wiring, or unsupported electrical wire or conduit
Resolving Aluminum Wiring Issues
If your home or a home you are considering purchasing has aluminum branch circuit wiring, the most foolproof way to address related concerns would be to replace all the existing aluminum wire with new copper wiring, abandoning the original wire and simply leaving it in place. However, in many cases this approach could prove to be a very costly proposition, or in some cases, simply not possible. Fortunately, there are other acceptable, approved alternatives to resolving this situation, if necessary or desirable.
Simply put, the greatest fire risk issues associated with aluminum wiring are at the points where the wire connects to the many devices mentioned above. But there are always exceptions to any rule of thumb! Depending on the findings of a professional assessment of the home, lengthy runs of existing aluminum wire may be acceptable to use, while instead making updates at all the connection points with an approved method of transitioning to new copper wire – and then making the actual connection with the new wire. Approved methods for this type of repair focus on employing special copper wire ‘pig-tails,’ or an approved electrical connector to make a safe, effective, permanent transition to copper wire. When considering this type of repair, it is crucial to make certain that the method being used is a proven, established procedure, with a strong track record and industry approvals.
Regardless of whether you’re replacing old aluminum wiring with new copper wire all around a home, or employing approved aluminum-to-copper connectors – or a combination of both approaches – you can anticipate this being a relatively costly, but very important, remediation job. In the Denver-Boulder area, you should turn to our experienced, expert electrical team at Save Home Heat Company for a professional assessment and trusted advice on the best way to proceed in your unique situation.
Save Home Heat Maintenance Agreements Include Electrical Assessments
In addition to other valuable benefits, our annual heating and cooling maintenance agreements provide a whole-home electrical assessment by one of our electrical specialists. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the wiring in your home, along with a wealth of other valuable information about your home’s electrical system and components. For information about this service, please speak with one of our friendly, helpful service team members to learn more about what’s included in our annual maintenance Pro Plan.
Above all else, we urge you to please place the safety of you and your family first. If you aren’t sure if you have problematic aluminum wiring in your home, or if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, play it safe and reach out to our trusted electrical team today.
In the Denver-Boulder metro area, you can depend on Save Home Heat Company to provide expert assistance with all of your home electrical needs, as well as anything heating, cooling, and plumbing.