Aluminum wiring

vapourousJuly 19, 2012

Hi everyone,

I have a few electrical questions for the group...

I'm looking to purchase a 1972 house that has aluminium wiring. Every house in my target area and price has it or I wouldn't even be considering this.

If I get this house, I will be taking some type of action to help reduce the possibility of a fire hazard (I'm paranoid).

I understand that rewiring to copper is the best solution. I'm not sure if that would be financially possible for a few years so I would probably go with having all the outlets and fixtures updated to Copalum which is looking to run about $40 per outlet.

Does anyone know a ballpark figure for rewiring a 1700 square foot house with an attic and basement would run? It already has a newer electrical panel so that would not need to be replaced.

And my second question is - if I have all the connections changed to Copalum, would I still have to buy light fixtures that are specifically rated for aluminum? That really limits my selections.



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What we see most often are switches and receptacles that have copper pigtailed to the aluminum so standard cheap fiztures can be used. Hopefully antioxidant filled wire nuts have been used. Now, for whatever reason, this house has surviewed for 40 years and it is a very expensive proposition to rewire and entire house. Also, the Colar receptacles and switches are available at Home Depot in the Levitin brand for around $3.00 each. IMO, the aluminum is not that big a problem if it is properly terminated.

What you should more concerned about is your main panel. These homes frequently had Federal Pacific panels which lost their UL reaing 25 or so years ago. The breakers are notorious for not tripping under overload.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Thanks for the feedback! Good info. I'll definitely check out the panel but it's been replaced more recently (in the 90's?) so I'm hoping I'm clear on that one.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 11:07PM
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I have a house that still has some small-current circuits with late-60s era aluminum wiring. (I say "small current" because most of the observed problems have been with AL wires in the 10-14 guage range.) And those remaining at my house would be quite difficult and expensive to replace with copper.

Although I wasn't required by code to replace the circuit breakers protecting these circuits (they're "grandfathered"), I chose to swap-in modern AFCI breakers. In the not-all-that-likely event that your small-guage aluminum wiring develops problems causing arcing (and, hence, a fire risk), that's precisely what AFCI breakers are designed to detect.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 2:27AM
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"In the not-all-that-likely event that your small-guage aluminum wiring develops problems causing arcing"

Likely enough it is no longer used.

The type of solid aluminum used can be part of the problem.

To make the solid aluminum wire ductile enough for wiring that must flex during installation the aluminum was not hardened.

This lack of hardness allows it to 'flow' under pressure from clamping as the temperature rises, making the connection no longer tight.

Correctly joining the solid aluminum to copper pigtails for final connections helps somewhat, but the copper to aluminum joints still remain at least somewhat vulnerable.

Replacing wires does not use the same methods as wiring in new work.

Wires can be fished into voids and connected without doing more than disconnecting the old wire and pushing it back out of the box as long as both ends are disconnected making hte cable dead. There is no reason to actually remove the old wiring form the wall.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 10:34AM
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FOR ONCE, I've got to agree with Brick.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2012 at 2:17PM
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> If I get this house, I will be taking some type of action to
> help reduce the possibility of a fire hazard (I'm paranoid).

Proper workmanship in any house means lights do not dim even when a laser printer or window air conditioner powers. Many ignore dimming because only copper wire was used - very forgiving. Aluminum wire is not forgiving. Dimming (due to many workmanship defects or the cold creep) indicates a poor connection.

The same poor connections in copper are, unfortunately, a fire hazard when using aluminum.

The house has existed for 40 years without problems. If extra care is always exercised, then you should not have problems. Care includes actively finding and eliminating any poor workmanship indicated by dimming incandescent bulbs.

In the famous Beverly Hills Supper Club fire that killed over 100, they routinely ignored dimming lights. Most just say that is normal because a house did not burn down. Even a window air conditioner. toaster, or laser printer do not cause dimming when wires are properly bonded.

For aluminum, that means more than an anti-oxidizer inside wire nuts. It means aluminum wires twisted together so as to stay together BEFORE a wire nut is screwed on. An example of minimally acceptable workmanship for aluminum wires that many should and fail to do for copper.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2012 at 5:39PM
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