AN INTRODUCTION TO ALUMINUM WIRING: 7 points you need to consider.

Should you feel comfortable about your aluminum wiring or be afraid?  Bring up the subject of residential aluminum wiring and you will receive a diverse range of responses.  Some believe aluminum wiring is dangerous and will be afraid of it.  Others will say the dangers…

Should you feel comfortable about your aluminum wiring or be afraid?  Bring up the subject of residential aluminum wiring and you will receive a diverse range of responses.  Some believe aluminum wiring is dangerous and will be afraid of it.  Others will say the dangers are overblown, and feel  it is safe.  Depending on a particular installation, they are both right.  The only way to know is to have it inspected properly. Repairs will then be required if the wiring is found to be faulty.

Aluminum wire has been around for a long time.  The National Electrical Code has permitted the use of aluminum wire since 1901 and Underwriter’s Laboratories evaluated and listed aluminum wiring for interior wiring applications in 1946. In wasn’t until the mid 1960’s when copper shortages and high prices made aluminum an attractive alternative to copper.  Between 1965 and 1972 it is estimated that over 450,000 homes in Canada were wired with aluminum wiring. Homes continued to be wired with aluminum until the late 1970’s.

Note: when talking about residential aluminum branch wiring this report refers to the solid core conductors used for general circuits.

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                                                                                                                      An improper aluminum to copper bond wire connection

This connector was found in a hall receptacle which would not be expected to be used with large loads. There were no indications of problems with the electrical system in this home before it was inspected.

POINT #1     Aluminum wiring is not an automatic show stopper.

Aluminum branch wiring can be dangerous, but it may not be. While there is also a chance of potential flaws in copper wiring, aluminum is more likely to present problems. Aluminum wiring done properly using current materials and knowledge can approximate the performance of  copper. If you really like the home you are looking at and the aluminum wiring is your only concern, then I would not consider it an automatic show stopper. Read on and learn what you need to know to make an informed decision. 

POINT #2    Safety: the main concern about aluminum electrical wiring.

Aluminum wiring can be more dangerous than copper. Failures in aluminum wiring systems were found at connection points.  A survey conducted for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission showed that homes built before 1972, and wired with aluminum, are 55 times more likely to have one or more electrical connections at outlets reach “Fire Hazard Conditions.” The good news is the electrical code requires connection points to be in boxes and accessible. There are generally a lot of them and it will take time to check them all and then make required repairs.  If the entire system is properly inspected and repairs are made, it would be reasonable to consider the wiring system safe.

POINT #3    Understand the problems.

Understanding the problems associated with aluminum wiring will help you make decisions that will take it from the system it is today to what you want it to be.

The method of installation, workmanship, and material incompatibility contributed to failures in aluminum wiring systems. These failures were at the connection points, which over time loosened and then  overheated enough to reach a fire hazard condition.

POINT #4   Get a thorough inspection done.

The only way to know for sure if the aluminum branch wiring system you are looking at is safe is to carefully inspect the entire system. Don’t even consider not having the system inspected if you buy a home with aluminum wiring. Insurance companies will require an inspection, so just have it done. To get a good inspection I recommend finding a licensed electrician who has experience working with aluminum wiring and is knowledgeable about the newest  connection techniques.

POINT #5   Repairing the system and making it safe.

A proper inspection of the entire system will show you what needs to be repaired. Repairing the aluminum wiring in a home can result in a significant expense, with the more permanent repairs being the most expensive. Choices about which kind of corrective action to take will have to be decided. Your electrician would be a good source of information on how to proceed. You can also learn more about the options in my full Special Report on “ALUMINUM WIRING: 7 points to consider.”

POINT #6    Insurance; it is not always simple.

If you are purchasing a home with aluminum wiring, check with your insurance broker before you close. Some insurance companies will not write policies on homes with aluminum wiring. Other companies may write short term policies so you have time for an inspection and get the required repairs done. If you do the inspection after you purchase the property, you will have to complete any recommended repairs or risk losing your policy. You may find yourself stuck with a larger expense than was anticipated.

POINT #7    Does aluminum wiring affect the current and future market value of the home?

There is not a definitive answer for this. I presented this question to electricians, realtors, and homeowners; some said yes and others said no. I suggest discussing this with your realtor and then making a choice on the best information available to you.

To purchase or live in a home with aluminum wiring and do nothing about it is a gambler’s choice. This is a choice I do not recommend. At stake is your home, your financial future, and most importantly you and your family’s safety. If anyone advises you not to be concerned, remember it is you who will live in the house, not them.

If you have any questions about aluminum wiring, about any other aspect of home inspections, or would like to book an inspection, please email me at [email protected]  or phone me at 250-212-5490.  I will get back to you as soon as possible.

For more information about InspectionPro and the services we offer visit www.theinspectionpro.com

Bob Hamm is a member in good standing with CAPHI(BC), is fully insured, and is licensed by Consumer Protection BC (license #57225).