How to Use Aluminum Wiring Safely

How to Use Aluminum Wiring Safely

What is Aluminum Wiring?

Aluminum wiring refers to electrical wires made from aluminum metal rather than the more common copper metal.

Aluminum became a popular substitute for copper wiring in American homes built between 1965 and 1973 because it was cheaper and more readily available at the time. The aluminum used in home wiring is nearly pure aluminum metal formed into wire strands.

Unlike copper, aluminum has some properties that make it more prone to problems when used for electrical wiring:

Potential Hazards of Aluminum Wiring

The main safety concern with aluminum wiring is the potential for loose connections leading to overheating. Some specific hazards include:

These factors can lead to overheating and arcing faults, which can start electrical fires inside walls and ceilings. So extra care needs to be taken with aluminum wiring to prevent loose connections and corrosion issues.

Inspecting Aluminum Wiring

If your home was built between 1965-1973, the first step is to check if aluminum wiring was used. Visual signs include:

An electrician can use a multimeter to check wire material by conductivity. Aluminum conducts about 60% as well as copper.

Thoroughly inspect connections for signs of looseness, corrosion, overheating:

Also check appliances like stoves, dryers etc. and exposed wiring like in attics.

Upgrading Aluminum Wiring

Replacing all aluminum wiring with copper is the best option, but can be cost prohibitive. Some more affordable upgrades include:

Ongoing Maintenance

To use aluminum wiring safely over the long term:

The risks of aluminum wiring can be managed with proper inspections, maintenance, and upgrades. Replacement with copper wiring is the ultimate solution. But other options exist to improve safety at more reasonable cost.

Warning Signs of Unsafe Aluminum Wiring

Here are some key warning signs that indicate potential safety issues with aluminum wiring:

Any of these warning signs suggest you should have an electrician inspect the aluminum wiring right away. Leaving these issues unattended risks electrical fires or shocks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to use outlets with aluminum wiring?

Outlets wired with aluminum can be safe if proper connectors are used and connections are tight. But they require more vigilance to check for overheating problems. Avoid using high-wattage appliances in aluminum-wired outlets.

What kind of switches should be used with aluminum wiring?

Special CO/ALR rated switches, marked for use with copper and aluminum, are recommended. They are designed to reduce heat buildup. Standard switches have more potential for overheating failures.

Should aluminum wiring be replaced with copper?

Replacing all aluminum wiring with copper is the best long-term solution, but can be very expensive. Upgrades like pigtailing and Albiconn connectors can improve safety at lower cost. Routine maintenance is also essential.

How much does it cost to replace aluminum wiring?

The cost to replace all wiring varies greatly based on house size and complexity. As a rough estimate, it may cost $8,000 to $15,000 to replace all the wiring in a typical single family home. Get quotes from electricians.

Is aluminum wiring banned?

Pure aluminum wiring was banned for use in North American homes by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the 1970s. Special alloys using small amounts of copper or other metals were later allowed.