Splicing aluminum wiring in your home can be dangerous if not done properly. Improper connections can lead to overheating and fires. However, with the right materials and proper technique, you can safely splice aluminum wires. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to splice aluminum wiring safely.
Why Aluminum Wiring is a Concern
Aluminum wiring was used in many homes built between 1965 and 1973. Aluminum is cheaper than copper but it has some drawbacks:
- Aluminum is less conductive than copper, which means more heat is generated in aluminum wiring.
- Aluminum wiring is prone to loosening and oxidation over time, leading to overheating at connections.
- Fires have been linked to improperly installed aluminum wiring.
For these reasons, aluminum wiring requires special treatment to splice safely.
Use the Right Materials
To splice aluminum wiring properly, you need:
- CO/ALR rated wire nuts - These are specially designed for joining copper and aluminum. Regular wire nuts are more likely to corrode and overheat.
- Anti-oxidant paste - This paste helps prevent oxidation and improves conductivity at splices.
- Copper pigtails - Short lengths of copper wire used to connect the aluminum wires to devices.
Do not use regular electrical tape, non-CO/ALR wire nuts, or non-oxygen-free copper. These can cause splice failure.
Step-by-Step Splicing Procedure
Follow these steps carefully when splicing aluminum wiring:
1. Turn Off Power
Turn off power to the circuit at the breaker box. Verify it is off by testing with a voltage tester.
2. Prepare the Wires
Strip back the insulation on each wire by about 1 inch using wire strippers. Aluminum wire is soft so be gentle. Thoroughly clean wires with a wire brush to remove any oxidation.
3. Apply Anti-Oxidant Paste
Apply a thin coat of anti-oxidant paste to each stripped aluminum wire end. This helps prevent future oxidation.
4. Attach Copper Pigtails
Twist a short copper pigtail tightly onto each aluminum wire end. Secure pigtails with a properly sized CO/ALR rated wire nut. Tug gently to ensure a tight connection.
5. Connect Wires
Twist the copper pigtails together with the ends of the other wires in the splice. Secure with a wire nut and ensure a tight connection.
6. Cap with Electrical Tape
As an extra precaution, wrap each wire nut connection with high-quality electrical tape. This helps prevent vibration and loosening over time.
7. Restore Power and Test
Restore power to the circuit at the breaker box. Use a voltage tester and receptacle tester to verify proper function. Check splice area for signs of overheating.
Preventing Future Issues
To avoid problems down the road:
- Label all aluminum wiring circuits at the breaker box. This prevents improper connections in the future.
- Have wiring inspected periodically by an electrician. They can check for loose splices and other safety issues.
- Consider rewiring with copper wire. Though expensive, this permanently solves aluminum wiring issues.
By using the right materials and proper technique, you can safely splice aluminum wiring in your home. However, if you are uncomfortable working with aluminum wiring, contact a qualified electrician. Improper splicing can lead to fires. It's better to be safe than sorry when dealing with aluminum wire.