Prior to 1972, it was common to use aluminum wiring. Many older houses still have aluminum wiring, but because the practice has gone out of use, you might be questioning whether it is safe and whether you should replace it. In some cases, you may not even know your home has aluminum wires until after you move in.
What Are the Safety Concerns?
There are two legitimate safety concerns with aluminum wire. These are:
- Aluminum expands more when heated and contracts more when cold. This leads to “cold creep.” After each warming and cooling cycle, the metal loses tightness, which causes connections to become loose. This can result in short circuits and arcing.
- Aluminum tends to oxidize when in contact with certain metals, including copper. This causes the aluminum to heat, creating more oxidation. This can eventually cause the wires to become hot enough to melt fixtures and possibly spark fires.
Both of these mean that aluminum wiring carries with it an elevated fire hazard, although it’s not true that it’s likely to burn at a moment’s notice. Another concern with aluminum wire is that it is easier to damage and less durable than copper, and thus more likely to have other issues that could cause a fire, damage your appliances, or raise your electricity bill.
Should I Worry About My Aluminum Wiring?
First of all, if your home is generally well maintained, it is unlikely that your aluminum wiring will cause problems. Many of the issues were caused by cheap initial installation (aluminum was used to save money in the first place). Therefore, with a caveat we will go into, you should not panic if you discover your older house was wired with aluminum.
You should, however, get an inspection to assess whether your wiring is in good condition and help you decide the next step forward. You absolutely should not be panicking or thinking your home is about to catch fire, but it’s prudent to get it checked.
Another reason to worry is insurance. Some homeowners’ insurance companies will not cover homes with aluminum wiring or may charge higher premiums. They may also insist on an inspection before agreeing to cover and may require that you make some repairs. Needless to say, aluminum wiring will also lower the resale value of your home and you may even have issues finding a buyer.
Damaged aluminum wiring can also have higher resistance, increasing your utility bill.
How to Fix the Aluminum Wiring Problem
The absolute best way to fix your problem with aluminum wiring is to completely rewire your home with copper. This is, needless to say, expensive and disruptive, and may require a full renovation. However, if your wiring is in overall poor condition, it may be your only option. You could also consider partial rewiring, but if you do so it is vital to use proper connectors designed to splice copper and aluminum wire, or you will add to your oxidization problems.
If your wiring is in better condition, you can simply replace any connection points where the wire is exposed to air or other types of metals, or where it could become loose.
You should have a full inspection by a qualified electrician who can tell you what needs to be done. This may also involve replacing electrical boxes and switches, as sometimes homes may have devices designed for use with copper wiring attached to aluminum wiring. (This can also be a hazard).
If you have an older home and have or suspect you may have aluminum wiring, especially if you are noticing issues such as flickering lights or hot switch plates, contact Penny Electric today. We can do a proper inspection of your home and establish the condition of your wiring, then present options for fixing the problem.