Q. When we purchased our house five years ago, the home inspector informed us of aluminum wiring and advised us to have an electrician determine if it needed to be rewired. The house was built in 1968. The electrician (a well known company in the commu nity) assured us that all the outlets had been modified and were safe, although not by the one method which has been approved.
As the house was otherwise perfect to meet our needs, we purchased it and have had no problems. At the same time, I contacted various people including a career firefighter who told me that there had been "No" fires attributed to aluminum wiring during h is 30+ years on the job and that he thought the problems were exaggerated.
Recently I've read three more articles discussing the potential dangers and difficulty selling houses with this wiring. Although we don't plan to sell in the near future, I'm wondering if the house is safe or if we need to take further action. Your opi nion would be appreciated.
A. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with the firefighter you consulted as would the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. However, he may have been referring to the modification method, which is UL listed but not CPSC approved, that had been done a nd not the wiring itself and about that he is also mistaken. Some years back I had to invoke the Freedom Of Information Act to get documentation I needed to prove a point on this subject. Let me share with you what I have learned.
Single strand aluminum wiring was used in the mid 1960s as an alternative to either more expensive and/or difficult to get copper wiring due to the Vietnam war. House fires began occurring in these houses attributed to overheated connections using alumin um wiring. If the connection loosens the wire’s co-efficient of expansion would force the connection looser and soon the heat of resistance would cause the insulator to combust and would catch anything close on fire.
In 1972 the aluminum metal used in wire was reformulated and it wasn’t so bad. Aluminum wiring by then had gotten such a bad name no one wanted it anymore. The worst fire I was ever sent to investigate was a new home with aluminum wiring that was impro perly installed. It didn’t take long.
What you had done in your home was something called pigtailing where an electrician would attach a short strip of copper wire at the end of the aluminum wire and then attach the copper pigtail to a switch or outlet. The type that you have is a twist conn ector that is specially designed to attach copper and aluminum and has an anti-oxidant for the aluminum in it as well. They may only be used once and you’re not supposed to take it apart and put back together on another wire. The connectors have had some problems but my research has convinced me that any problems with them have been the result of poor workmanship. CPSC only approves a crimp connector that cold welds the wires together with a special tool. That’s called COPALUM. Learn more about it at ht tp://www.alwirerepair.com/copalum_crimp_method.htm.
No one is a hundred percent safe but you are a whole lot safer with that wiring now than if it had never been pigtailed. Many electricians and home inspectors carry circuit testers that when attached to an outlet will tell them if there is elevated resis tance when a 15 or 20 amp load is imposed. In the old days we used to try to locate the last outlet in a circuit and plug a 1500 watt heater into it turned all the way up. We’d wait a few minutes then go around feeling the other outlets (and the one it was plugged into) to see if any were getting hot. Crude but it worked. You might either yourself or have an electrician pull a few select outlets and switches out and examine them-- if they have ever overheated you’d be able to tell by looking at them.
I have also become a believer in monitored security systems with fire alarms. If anything happens and you are not home, the proper people will be called. Talk about cheap insurance.