How to Safely Work With Aluminum Wiring at Home


Aluminum wiring became popular in American homes during the 1960s and 70s as copper prices were rising. However, aluminum has some important differences from copper that make it more difficult to work with safely. Improper connections and faulty terminations can lead to dangerous overheating and fires.

As a homeowner, it's important to understand the risks of aluminum wiring and how to mitigate them. With proper precautions, aluminum wiring can be used safely in your home. In this guide, I'll cover everything you need to know, including:

Follow these safety guidelines when working with aluminum wiring and you can help protect your home and family.

The Risks of Aluminum Wiring

Before the 1970s, most residential wiring in the US used copper. Copper is highly conductive, flexible and has stable contact properties. However, copper prices increased dramatically in the 60s, leading builders to switch to cheaper aluminum wiring.

Aluminum has some important limitations compared to copper:

These factors can lead to dangerous overheating and arcing faults if the wiring is not maintained properly.

Warning Signs of Unsafe Aluminum Wiring

As an aluminum wired home ages, problems can develop if the wiring was not properly installed initially or has deteriorated over time. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

Any of these warning signs indicate you should have an electrician inspect the aluminum wiring for safety. Left unchecked, failing connections can overheat and start fires.

Best Practices for Safe Connections

Proper installation and maintenance is crucial for safely using aluminum wiring in your home. Here are the key best practices to follow:

Use CO/ALR Rated Switches, Outlets and Connectors

Use Anti-Oxidant Paste on Connections

Ensure Tight Connections with Proper Torque

Avoid Back-Stab Connections

By following these best practices whenever working with your home's aluminum wiring, you can mitigate the risks and have added peace of mind.

When to Call an Electrician

While DIY-inclined homeowners can safely perform basic aluminum wiring jobs with proper precautions, more complex tasks should be left to licensed electricians. Call a professional for:

Though it may cost more upfront, having electrical experts handle tricky aluminum wiring jobs is worth the added peace of mind and safety.

Re-Wiring and Remediation Options

If your home's existing aluminum wiring is found to be unsafe by an inspector, there are a few options to fix the issues:

Consult with qualified electricians to determine which remedy is right for your situation.

Working Safely with Outlets, Switches and Fixtures

With vigilance and proper technique, DIY-ers can safely perform basic aluminum wiring jobs like installing or replacing outlets, switches and light fixtures:

Gather Compatible Materials

Prep the Wires

Make New Connections

Other Precautions

By using the proper materials and techniques, you can safely DIY simple aluminum wiring jobs. But know when to call a pro too!

In Conclusion

While aluminum wiring can seem like a hazard, it can be used safely in homes with proper installation and maintenance. The risks come primarily from improper connections that overheat. By using CO/ALR rated devices, anti-oxidant paste, proper torque levels, and avoiding back-stabs, you can mitigate these risks. Pay attention to warning signs of issues like flickering lights. More complex projects should be left to qualified electricians. With vigilance and care, aluminum wiring can provide safe and reliable electrical power to your home.