Copper has been a chosen material to use in homes for a very long time because it is a great material and affordable. However, in the late 1960s to early 1970s, the price of copper increased and electricians and homeowners began to use aluminum wiring. Many people thought this was okay, but over the years, it was found that it can cause an electrical fire.
How to identify aluminum wiring? Check your electrical panel and look at the cables that run into the attic and basement, and see if they have an AL, ALUM or ALUMINUM, on the cable jacket. This is the safest way.
Let’s take a look at why you need to know how to identify aluminum wiring, what makes it dangerous, when you find the wiring in the home, options for the home, insurance issues, purchasing a home with aluminum wiring, finding a licensed electrician, other areas to check, and when to call a professional.
Why You Need to Know How to Identify Aluminum Wiring
You need to know how to identify aluminum wiring because if you are looking at a home that has this for the wiring, it will be expensive to replace. Also, the wire can corrode and overheat. Homes built in the late 1960s-early 1970s can have this wiring.
Having an electrician take a look at the wiring is a good idea so a decision can be made if there Is a need for rewiring or if there are ways to fix it.
What Makes the Aluminum Wiring Dangerous
This type of wiring is dangerous because it is usually connected to copper as well. Aluminum vibrates faster than copper when heated, in addition, aluminum expands and contracts more. Therefore, when aluminum is used, it heats and can cause loose connections which increase arcing potential. The warning signs are the lights flicker and there are signs of overheating. The aluminum wiring oxidizes and causes overheating where it connects to outlets, light fixtures, or where it splices.
The homes where this wiring is found are considered older homes and that can also lead to issues. However, there are things that can be done as safety measures and those might be in place already.
Finding Aluminum Wiring in the Home
If you find there is aluminum wiring in the home, contact an electrician to check it out. The electrician can tell you if there is a high risk of an electrical fire. In addition, a home inspector can use a thermal imaging camera on the electrical panel to see if there are any circuits that are overloaded. Some other signs are:
- Breaker doesn’t remain in the “reset” mode
- There is a burning smell from the electrical panel box
- Electrical panel is hot to touch
- There is physical damage
- It trips frequently
- It is just plain old
These may signal that there are issues and you need to have them checked out. If the electrician looks at the wires and heavily-used circuits and determines that they are not a safety issue, you can get recommendations to delay any repairs that are needed. However, you will want to follow up on these recommendations each year and may need to make repairs in the future.
Options for the home
One option is to rewire the home with copper wire. This is expensive and will cost about $2000 per 500 square feet. Another option is to replace the connectors with ones suitable for this type of wiring. Check with a professional for an estimate and try to get a few estimates as well.
Copalum crimps are another option and cost about $50 per outlet, light fixture, or switch in the home. It fuses together the aluminum and copper wires but is not cheap. You can find out more about them here.
There are insurance issues when it comes to insuring a home with aluminum wiring. Some companies won’t insure the home without a Certificate of Inspection from the electrician. Also, others won’t insure at all unless the wires are replaced or there is rewiring in the home. Sometimes, homeowners will find that after renewal for insurance that they are dropped because of the aluminum wiring.
Here is a great video about buying a home with aluminum wiring. Check it out!
Purchasing a Home With Aluminum Wiring
Buying a home is a big expense and you don’t want additional expenses added in. However, this is where having a home inspection is important. The home inspector will let you know what is found in the home and if it turns up that there is aluminum wiring, then you can negotiate with the seller to have the rewiring done. If not, you can choose to buy it how it is and know you will need to get it fixed, or walk away from the deal.
Finding a Licensed Electrician
It is important to find a licensed electrician who has experience with aluminum wires and knows what to look for. An average person off the street won’t know what to do and is a liability for you and them. Electricity is nothing to play with so be smart in your decisions.
Not sure where to look? Do a google search, ask on social media platforms, builders, contractors, or even friends you know. Then, check the names to make sure the person has a license. Feel free to also call our office for local referrals.
Other Areas to Check
Old homes can also have plumbing problems such as materials for pipes that are not up to code such as lead, galvanized, and polybutylene. There are also other areas such as pipe bellies and issues with sewer lines. Keeping an eye on these is important and an inspection is encouraged.
GFCI’s are used on outlets near water sources. In 1998 and 2004, there was a recall on the 15 and 20-ampere type HAGF single-pole ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) circuit breakers. If the home was built after 1998, there is a chance that it may have these circuit breakers.
These panels were installed in homes between the 1950s-1980s. Unfortunately, many of these panels will malfunction and stay on and jam which can start a fire. Also, there have been electrocutions from FPE panels as some will send electricity to the breakers, even when they are off! Many homeowners don’t even know that they have these in their homes so it is a good idea to take a look.
When to Call a Professional
Call a professional if you need help identifying the wiring in your home or if you suspect it is this wiring. Also, a licensed professional is always recommended to make sure you get good advice and work is done correctly. Electricity is not something to play with so having a professional help you is essential.
Many homeowners don’t understand how important it is to take a look at the wiring in the home. Whether you are selling or buying, it is important to know so there are no surprises with insurance. Additionally, safety is important and the homeowner should be aware of potential hazards in the home. Avalon Home Inspections will take a look at the type of wiring in your home during a home inspection in McDonough, GA. and Greenville, SC.