Why Replace Aluminum Wiring?
Aluminum wiring was commonly installed in homes built between 1965 and 1973. Compared to copper wiring, aluminum is less expensive and conducts electricity efficiently. However, aluminum wiring is prone to overheating and corrosion, which can lead to fire hazards if not properly maintained. Replacing aluminum wiring with copper wiring eliminates the risks and improves electrical safety.
Dangers of Aluminum Wiring
Aluminum wiring is dangerous for several reasons:
Oxidation - Aluminum oxidizes over time, forming a resistive coating that causes wires to overheat. This leads to meltdowns and electrical fires.
Expansion and contraction - Aluminum expands and contracts more than copper. This can loosen wire connections, causing arcing faults and fires.
Incompatible materials - Aluminum wires are sometimes connected to copper wires or devices. This incompatibility accelerates corrosion and overheating risks.
Difficult to wire properly - Electricians must use special techniques to properly join aluminum wires. Improper connections compound overheating risks.
Replacing old aluminum wiring removes these fire hazards and provides peace of mind.
Planning the Replacement Project
Replacing aluminum wiring in a home is a major project that requires planning and preparation:
Hire a Licensed Electrician
- Only a licensed electrician has the expertise to safely replace aluminum wiring. Do not attempt DIY aluminum rewiring.
Check with Insurance Company
- Inform your insurance company of the rewiring project, as they may require an inspection before providing coverage.
Budget and Schedule
Rewiring a whole house is expensive, often costing $2,000 to $15,000. Get multiple quotes and plan your budget accordingly.
Schedule several days where electrical power can be shut off to the whole home. Working section-by-section allows partial use of electricity.
Notify Family Members
- Advise family members of the rewiring schedule. Make preparations if you need to stay elsewhere during the rewiring.
- Clear wires of insulation, conduits, etc. to provide access for the electrician.
Check the Electrical Panel
- Upgrading the electrical panel may be required to accommodate heavier copper wiring.
Step-by-Step Replacement Process
The general process for replacing aluminum wiring is:
1. Turn Off Electrical Power
The electrician will shut off power at the main circuit breaker. Test wires with a voltage tester to ensure they are de-energized.
2. Remove Outlet and Switch Cover Plates
The electrician will remove all cover plates to access the wires behind electrical boxes.
3. Disconnect and Remove Aluminum Wires
The old aluminum wires are disconnected from outlets, switches, and appliances. The aluminum wires are pulled out of the electrical boxes.
4. Install New Copper Wires
The electrician routes new copper wires through the electrical boxes, connecting them to devices using special CO/ALR connectors rated for copper-aluminum connections.
5. Connect Wires at the Service Panel
At the main service panel, the electrician transfers all the circuit wires from the aluminum feeds to new copper feeds.
6. Test Circuits and Devices
Each circuit is tested for proper wiring connections and grounding. Light switches and outlets are verified operational.
7. Install New Outlet and Switch Cover Plates
New electrical cover plates are installed throughout the home to complete the project.
Why Choose Copper Over Aluminum?
Electricians overwhelmingly recommend upgrading wiring to copper rather than re-using existing aluminum for several important reasons:
Safety - Copper is less prone to dangerous overheating and fire hazards. This greatly improves home electrical safety.
Reliability - Copper is more resistant to corrosion and performs better over time. This increases system reliability.
Compatibility - Copper is compatible with all electrical devices and connections. Mixing copper and aluminum requires special precautions.
Resale value - Homes wired with copper are more attractive to buyers. Replacing aluminum wiring increases resale value.
While copper wiring costs more upfront, it's a smart long-term investment in safety, performance, and value.
Maintaining Copper Wiring
To get the most from a copper rewiring project, be sure to properly maintain your new copper wires:
Use a licensed electrician for all electrical work in the home. Do not attempt DIY electrical projects.
Check for wire burn signs like discolored or warm outlets. This may indicate loose connections.
Avoid running extension cords underneath rugs or through high traffic areas.
Use surge protectors to protect electronics from power spikes.
Keep air vents clear to prevent insulation breakdown from excessive heat.
Properly maintained copper wiring will provide safe, reliable electrical power for decades to come. Replacing old aluminum wiring improves safety and reduces fire risks.