Aluminum wiring was commonly used from 1965 to 1973, so if your home was built during that period, you might have it in your home, hiding behind the walls. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission found that those with aluminum wiring installed in their home have a 55 times higher chance of at least a single outlet reaching a fire hazard condition, including charred substances, electrical sparks, and hot receptacles, compared to homes without it.
Before you think that an aluminum wire replacement might not be a big deal, it is. Instead, if you suspect or know for sure that the home you currently live in uses aluminum wiring, you would be better off connecting with a certified electrician at Zoom Electricians to quickly swap it out with more modern wiring.
Get more insights below:
What Makes Aluminum Wiring Dangerous and How It Causes Fires
Better known for its tendency to incite a fire, aluminum wire is more flammable than copper wire: The wire insulation can easily break under the pressure of aluminum, leading to localized overheating. Overheating is caused by the oxide that builds on aluminum, although copper’s oxide has no such effect.
Aluminum expands and contracts at a much greater rate than copper does under load, leading to loose connections or even the exposure of underlying wires. Overheating and corrosion can occur at the points of connection to outlets and lights where it is most exposed, as well as at any splices in the wiring.
Besides the problems with expansion, loosening, and oxidation, aluminum wires are less pliable than other materials. As time passes, they grow more prone to breakage, fraying edges, and fire hazards. Not all aluminum wire is always hazardous. Commercial applications, like airplanes, can safely opt for large-diameter aluminum wires, but it warrants a careful inspection with older properties.
How to Tell if You Have Aluminum Wiring
- Learn the Backstory of Your House
Your home’s age will give you your first hint about whether or not it has aluminum wiring, which is common in homes constructed between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s.
- Inspect Exposed Wires in Your Basement or Attic
Next, look for bare wires in the attic, the basement, or any other undeveloped areas in your home. Check for “aluminum” or “AL” markings written on the plastic sheath of your wiring. This a gentle reminder not to touch live wires. If in doubt, consult an electrician.
- Check for Usual Red Flags
Overheating is a common problem with aluminum wires. Keep an eye out for these things if you have aluminum wire in your home:
- Warm switches or outlet covers
- Unusual light flickering without a clear origin.
- Odd, plastic-like smoke smells near outlets and switches
- Sparking or flames
Do You Need to Use A Particular Type of Connector with Aluminum Conductors?
Yes. The letters “AL” should be clearly visible on every connector. With this identifier, connectors are broken down into numerous distinct categories. Those with marker CU are only designed for copper wires and are strictly prohibited for use in AL wires.
You could use four distinct types of connectors with aluminum wiring: Kearny split-bolt connectors, the COPALUM® system from AMP Industries, the AlumiConn® Connector from King Innovations, the Purple Ideal 65® wire nut connector.
- Kearny split-bolt connectors
Aluminum wiring is compatible with split-bolt connectors (Kearney’s). Split bolts ought to be suitable for joining aluminum to copper. This process is time-consuming and cumbersome and works best with thicker wire.
- COPALUM® connector
According to the CPSC, Copalum is a risk-free and long-term solution to typical issues with aluminum wire. The COPALUM connector is a proprietary technology that requires a specialized power tool and crimping die to install. This ensures a secure and long-lasting connection.
- AlumiConn® connector
The AlumiConn is a three-port lug connector designed to prevent the accidental commingling of wires. To prevent oxidation, it applies a thin layer of silicone sealant on the aluminum wires and utilizes set screws to split up the surface oxides and create a strong mechanical connection.
The AlumiConn connector is useful for two reasons: first, it keeps you from having to re-wire any of your home’s areas that currently use aluminum wiring. Second, several large insurance providers recognize and approve of the connector’s efficacy.
- Purple “Ideal 65®” wire nut connector
The Purple “Ideal 65®” wire nut connector is approved for use with copper-to-aluminum connections and is listed by UL®. They are as easily accessible as the AlumiConn® Connector. Ideal 65 connectors are approved for use when joining a copper conductor to either one or two aluminum conductors, not aluminum itself. This may be because copper acts as a heat sink.
Are Compression-Type Connectors Needed for Aluminum Conductors?
A popular belief states that you must only use compression or lug connectors with aluminum wiring, but this is false.
Compression connectors were once necessary because they were previously the only option when working with older, softer aluminum conductors. However, modern electrical wiring eliminates this need due to today’s widespread usage of aluminum conductors and advancements in mechanical pressure connectors.
Is It True that Aluminum Wirings Are Worse Electrical Conductors than Copper Ones Due to Lower Voltage and Current?
While it is true that aluminum is a poor conductor, this does not necessarily translate to lower voltage and current. In terms of electrical conductivity, copper is now the greatest material available, although aluminum is quite close behind.
Aluminum is not entirely phased out, but copper has surpassed it in popularity among engineers and electricians in the past years. Aluminum conductors have more resistance than copper ones, which is why they produce lower voltage and current.
Before doing any rash electrical modification to your home, it is essential to have an electrician over first for inspection and advice. This is to ensure your safety from electrical fire hazards that can bring catastrophe not just to your home but also to your entire neighborhood.
If you want to learn more about other types of wiring to consider, you are welcome to check out some of our other blog articles or contact us directly for advice.