Aluminum wires are better in electrical distribution and transmission. However, typical household wiring devices (GFCI, receptacle outlets, light switches, etc.) are not rated for aluminum wire. As a result, an aluminum wired house is more at risk to reach hazardous fire conditions at the outlet wiring connections rather than homes that are wired with copper wires.The choice of conductor material is a compromise among electrical properties, mechanical properties, and price. From the start, copper has been the material of choice for household branch circuits. Aluminum is softer than copper and weaker, and a poorer electrical conductor, so is not widely used in small sizes for home wiring.In the mid-1960’s when the price of copper climbed to the sky, aluminum became more economically attractive. An aluminum version of type NM non-metallic sheathed cable (the common house wiring cable) became available, and was widely used through the 1960’s and until around 1972. It was gradually recognized that certain properties of aluminum were causing problems with connections, and occasional electrical fires resulted from overheating of those connections.
Unfortunately, electrical aluminum wires rarely show signs of deterioration. However, If you detect any of the following signs:
- Hot to the touch electrical outlet or light switches
- Electrical circuit that does not work
- Flickering lights
- The smell of burning plastic at electrical receptacles
You potentially have an aluminum wire problem and you should contact a licensed electrician to address it. Do not try to do it yourself. You could get electrocuted or cause an electrical fire.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) only recommends the following three methods to fix aluminum wire problems permanently
- Completely replace your home with copper wire
- Pigtail the aluminum wire ends with special crimp connectors called COPALUM
- Connect the aluminum wire ends with aluminum to copper
The definitive answer to aluminum wiring worries is to eliminate the primary cause: get rid of the aluminum wire itself. Depending upon the architectural style of your home and the number and locations of unfinished spaces it may be relatively easy to rewire your home. The cost and disruption of doing the job depends greatly upon the construction of the house. A good crawl space or basement and a good attic make the job much easier. If remodeling is contemplated, either complete or in part, by all means replace any aluminum wiring in the area. Consider upgrading or replacing the service entrance at the same time, since it is probably thirty to forty years old and a bit small by today’s standards
Since it is often impractical to rewire some types of aluminum wired homes, or since rewiring may be prohibitively expensive for some homes (e.g. split or multi-levels with no unfinished areas).The US Consumer Product Safety Board concluded a permanent repair must permit the repair of every connection to, or splice between, aluminum wire in the home.The repaired connections must be permanently repaired and must result in a system that can be maintained without the need for special switches, wall outlets or other connectors.
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