Aluminum Wire

All-American Home Inspections wants homeowners and homebuyers to avoid confusion about the existence of aluminum wiring in their home. Many people make the mistake of fearing that their house must be completely re-wired. The mere presence of aluminum circuitry does not always justify rewiring the entire home. In most cases, replacement of aluminum wire is an over-reaction to what is often a manageable problem.

Aluminum wires were installed in many homes during the late 1960's and early 70's (especially mobile homes and trailers). In some dwellings, electrical fires occurred within a few years of construction, which is why most aluminum branch wiring was discontinued. However, the actual cause of these fires was not the aluminum wire itself, but the tendency for aluminum connections to become loose at outlets, switches, fixtures, and circuit breakers.

Aluminum wiring, in some instances, is known to be hazardous, but it is still commonly used for 220-volt circuits. If installed according to manufacturers' specifications, it presents no significant fire hazard. In fact, most electric power companies use aluminum for their main service lines.

To ensure the safety of the aluminum connections in your home, alterations can be made, rendering the system safe, without the exorbitant cost of rewiring. The recognized permanent repair called Copalum crimping is an approved alternative to re-wiring the complete electrical system. In addition, some jurisdictions allow copper wire ends, known as "pigtails," can be retrofitted at all terminals. There are two primary rules governing the proper attachment of aluminum wires: The connecting terminals must be rated for aluminum wiring, and the wire ends should be treated with a special compound to prevent corrosion. Only a licensed electrician should be entrusted to perform electrical work on your home.

Depending on the age of the alloys and the initial workmanship of the installation, the type and extent of necessary repair could cover a wide range of choices. Many houses wired with aluminum in the 1970’s have shown no problems, while the problems with some houses in the 1960’s could actually be made worse by improper diagnosis and installation.

There are those houses where the only realistic solution is a complete rewiring job, and there are others where nothing needs to be done. As professional home inspector, I have an obligation to inspect the electrical system of a home, unless that portion of the home is inaccessible. In that case, lack of access would have been specifically noted in the inspection report, with a recommendation for further evaluation as soon as access can be provided.

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