Monday, August 5, 2013

Aluminum wiring


Utility companies have used Aluminum in their transmission lines since early 1900. It is still the preferred transmission and distribution wiring material for distributing companies because Aluminum offers cost and weight advantages over copper.

This blog is focussed on Aluminum wiring from Home Inspection point of view thus we will talk about its use in houses only.

In North America Aluminum wiring was used in houses between 1960 and late 1970. The cost of copper was much higher compared to aluminum. Therefore, to save money Aluminum was used as an alternative to copper. It is estimated that there are around 450,000 houses in Canada which are wired with Aluminum wiring. Insurance companies are becoming more and more wary of the houses with aluminum wiring due to associated fire hazard and require inspection and a certificate of safety from the licensed electrician before issuing or renewing insurance policy for the houses with Aluminum wiring. As per US product safety commission Homes with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach Fire Hazard Condition than a home wired with copper.

Problems with Aluminum wiring

1. Aluminum wire in itself is not a fire hazard its only when the termination were not properly done it becomes loose, overheat which can cause arching which can start the fire.

2. Aluminum oxidises more than copper which forms a layer of aluminum oxide on top of wire. The layer although very thin is non-conductor of electricity. The current carrying capacity of the wire is then reduced which overheats the wire.

3. Aluminum expands and contracts more than copper so if the connections are not made properly overtime the connections become loose and arching can occur.

4. The problem in aluminum wiring is mostly for the single strand wiring circuits used for 15amp and 20 amp branch circuits, although all the circuits need to be inspected by licensed electrician.

5. Aluminum has a higher resistance to current flow which means to carry same amount of current aluminum wire has to be thicker than that of copper.

6. Aluminum is more malleable thus it is more sensitive to compression. If the screw has been over-tightened on Aluminum wiring, the wire will continue to deform after tightening has stopped. This deformation creates a loose connection and reduces the current carrying capacity of the wire.

How to locate aluminum wiring

The best place to check whether your house has Aluminum wiring is to look for visible wiring in attic, basement and crawl space or at the service panel. The wiring should be marked with the word Aluminum, ALUM, AL, ALUM ACM, AL ACM. During home inspection the inspector will open the main distribution panel (if accessible and safe). Aluminum wires can be spotted at splices near the breakers or fuses.

Furthermore, following symptoms that indicates aluminum wiring!

1. Flickering lights.

2. Static on the radio, computer or TV

3. Circuit breakers or fuses that trip for no apparent reason.

4. Odor similar to that of burning plastic around switches and receptacles.

5. Discolored or warm switch plates and receptacles covers.

6. Plugs that do not work even with the circuit energized.

How to fix Aluminum wiring problems

To fix aluminum wiring problems hire Licensed Electrical contractor to inspect your house and to get advise about what needs to be done to ensure the safety. Every house is different and the solution to the aluminum wiring varies. 

Following is few fixes that a licensed electrical contractor can propose!

1. The best and permanent solution is to replace Aluminum wiring with the copper wiring.

2. Cut back the damaged aluminum conductors and join these to a copper tail using a connector approved for use with aluminum. Such connectors are colored brown or purple (depending on the manufacturer). The copper tail is then terminated at the terminal screws of an ordinary devise (which includes approved receptacles, etc.)

3. Cut back damaged aluminum conductors and re-terminate a new device bearing the marking CO/ALR (copper aluminum revised).

At RK Home Inspection we advise our clients to hire a licensed electrical contractor to inspect and advise on the adequacy of Aluminum wiring.

At RK Home Inspections we are available 7 days a week and we serve entire GTA Home Inspection Toronto, Home Inspection Mississauga, Home Inspection Brampton, Home Inspection Vaughan, Home Inspection GTA, Home Inspection Markham

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