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Is Aluminum Wiring Safe?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding single strand aluminum wiring even among home isnpectors, with good reason. Not to mention the issues that can arise on the insurance side.

Most homes with widespread single strand aluminum wiring were built between 1965 and 1972. However, aluminum is still used in a lot of areas still today. Aluminum wiring was used mainly because it is a lighter weight material and is much less expensive than it’s more durable and more conductive counterpart, copper. Copper is now much more widely used than aluminum because it is more reliable. For the sake of this specific issue and post, we will only be talking about single strand aluminum wiring. Multi-strand aluminum can have completely different properties.

Common Problems With Aluminum Wiring

#1 Rust

Typically, an oxide or rust forms on aluminum due to a chemical reaction to oxygen. A white substance can form on aluminum that restricts conduction of electricity. This process can also cause the aluminum to overheat.

Copper can also develop an oxide but it does not typically cause conduction to lessen.

#2 Soft Material

When a home is wired, the wiring is cut and stripped. Because aluminum is a soft material, sometimes it can become damaged.

#3 Expansion and contraction

When electricity flows through wire it heats up. With aluminum, its composition causes it to expand when it heats up more than other materials. Then after it cools down, it contracts. Over time, this will cause the screws and lugs near the wire to loosen. This in turn can cause arcing which is a fire hazard.

Scorched outlet with aluminum wiring

My Home Inspector Found Aluminum Wiring. Do I Need to Have It All Replaced?

Tearing up walls to replace all the wiring is an expensive task to say the least. Here are the most common options for aluminum wiring.

#1 Rewire the home

You could have the home rewired. However, this is going to be expensive.

#2 Pigtailing

This is a common repair for aluminum wiring. The main issues with aluminum wiring is at the connection. These could be at switches, outlets, junction boxes etc. . Pigtailing puts a copper wire at the connection and then connects to the aluminum. However, the connection must be a special connection with special equipment. You can’t just connect it directly. There are a few different methods of pigtailing:

  1. Twist-On Nuts
    • These should only be the copper to aluminum specialized nuts. Be careful, these are not allowed in some areas!
  2. COPALUM (Copper Aluminum Connectors)
    • These are specialized connectors that must be crimped with a special tool.
  3. AlumiConn
    • This type of connector actually uses specialized screws to connect to two materials together.
Wire Nuts
Shrunk Copalum type connectors
AlumiConn type connectors

#3 Aluminum Specific Outlets and Switches

There are a few manufacturers that make outlets and switches that are specifically designed to account for the unique characteristics of aluminum.

Aluminum Wiring and Insurance

Many home owner’s insurance companies will not write policies for homes with single strand aluminum wiring. This can be a big consideration when weighing options.

Closing

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission says that a home that has aluminum wiring is 55 times more likely to catch fire than other wire types. Remember, most issues that arise from aluminum wiring are at the connections. These connections could be at switches, outlets, junction boxes etc. If you think about the number of connections in the average home, you can see the risk.

Don’t ever try to fix electrical issues by yourself. You should always consult a licensed electrician before undergoing any electrical upgrades or repairs.

What Does “Open Ground” Mean?

Your Home Inspector or Electrician Says the Home or Outlet is “Ungrounded”: What Does That Mean?

It is not uncommon for home inspectors or electrical contractors to find ungrounded electrical systems or outlets, especially in older homes. Let’s explore what this means and why it can be an issue.

Basics of how electricity works

When electricity is used it must complete a circuit. Grounding provides a path for unwanted or improperly routed electricity to “complete its circuit” by going into the ground.

Types of outlets

There are typically two types of outlets or “receptacles”. The two-prong type and the three-prong type. The two-prong is usually in older homes and dates back to the 60s. This outlet just has two parallel vertical slots, the “hot” and the “neutral”. The three-prong type looks just like the two prong only it has a third round hole usually below and between the slots (though sometimes it is above depending on the installation). This third hole is for the ground prong.

Is grounding important?

Yes, grounding is important. Usually, electricity flows normally through the hot and neutral wires, but sometimes circumstances cause the power to need an alternate path and the ground is used. Typically if the system is ground properly this causes the breaker to trip. If electricity cannot complete a circuit through ground or other means, it can be a shock or fire hazard because the power will use whatever conductor is nearest to complete the circuit, even if that is a person or device.

What if the home is ungrounded?

If the home itself is ungrounded, this typically means that the home was wired with a “two-wire” method instead of a “three-wire” method. If this is the case, the home can be rewired, or special devices can be installed to help mitigate the issues. However, this is never as effective as having a true ground.

What if the outlet is ungrounded?

If just one or a few outlets are ungrounded, it could be that the grounding wire is loose, connected improperly or not connected at all.

Grounding can be a confusing and complicated issue. However, in most circumstances it is a safety hazard if left as is. But don’t worry, there are many different methods used today to help remedy this issue.