Does a Home Inspector Look for Aluminum Wiring?
Aluminum wiring, used in some homes from the mid 1960’s to the early 1980’s, is a potential fire hazard. How safe is aluminum wiring? According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fires and even deaths have been reported to have been caused by this hazard. Problems due to expansion, or more likely micro-fretting and arcing at the connectors, can cause overheating at connections between the wire and devices (switches and outlets) or at splices. The connections can become hot enough to start a fire without ever tripping a circuit breaker!
CPSC research shows that “homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1982 are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than are homes wired with copper. “Post 1982” aluminum wire is also a concern. Introduction of the aluminum wire “alloys” in 1982 time frame did not solve most of the connection failure problems. Aluminum wiring is still permitted and used for certain applications, including residential service entrance wiring and single-purpose higher amperage circuits such as 240V air conditioning or electric range circuits. The fire risk from single purpose circuits is much less than for branch circuits. But it’s not necessarily because of a “new alloy” as some folks assert. It’s because there are enormously fewer connections (four or six rather than 30 or 40 per circuit) and thus statistically a smaller chance of a connection failure. These connections do still burn up, as indicated by field reports
How to Reduce the Risk in Buildings with Aluminum Electrical Wiring
Immediate Actions for Safety
See if you have aluminum (solid conductor branch circuit) wiring installed in your home. Aluminum wiring identification tips are provided below.
If there are signs of wiring failure, such as flickering lights, turn off the circuit involved and call a licensed electrician. See U.S. CPSC 516 (linked-to below) for other trouble signs.
Install smoke detectors.
Repair the aluminum wiring: once the initial steps above have been addressed.
Re-wire the Building replacing all aluminum branch circuit wiring with copper, as a “best repair method” for aluminum wiring, OR as a next-best aluminum wiring repair method,
COPALUM: Use the special AMP (now TYCO) COPALUM connector and special tool to connect short copper wires to every aluminum wire end in the Building, reconnecting the copper to the various devices (outlets, switches, lights) and splices. This “copper pigtailing” procedure is performed by an electrician trained and licensed by AMP or TYCO to use this COPALUM procedure. The TYCO COPALUM connector method is described in detail below. Typically this approach costs about half that of completely re-wiring a home with copper.
Currently only the two remedies above have been formally recommended by the CPSC. Emergency temporary repairs necessary to keep an essential circuit in service might be possible following other procedures described by the CPSC.
Scotchlok 3M Special Method: For locations where the CPSC-recommended AMP/TYCO COPALUM aluminum wiring repair method is not available, an alternative, “Scotchlok 3M connector” special installation method is described in an article linked-to below.
Other methods – not recommended: Warnings regarding other “repair” methods which are not recommended are discussed below, such as the Ideal 65 purple “Twister” connector, receptacles and outlets marked “COALR” (even if these worked, which has not been demonstrated, what about all of the other electrical connections and splices in the Building?) and others.
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Home Inspector Kyle D. Scott
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