Your home is your castle, and likely represents the most major investment in your life. Though you might be surprised to hear that a lot of homes built in the ’60s and early ’70s had aluminum interior wiring systems installed. While it might have been the standard at that time, the unfortunate reality is that as they age, these aluminum wiring systems can develop a high potential for starting electrical fires in the home.
Why Was Aluminum Wiring Installed In Homes?
For the most part, copper wiring has been the standard for residential properties going all the way back to 1965. Unfortunately, the ongoing Vietnam war at that time created a chronic copper shortage. This lead to above-average copper prices which drove home builders to look for lower-cost alternatives.
At that same time, aluminum wiring appeared to be safe and seemingly equally as effective at carrying current as copper wiring, and for a time it became standard. At that time, little was known about the long-term effects of using aluminum wiring and building codes were far more relaxed than they are today.
What Is The Problem With Aluminum Wiring?
On the whole, aluminum wiring is more prone to short circuits and heating issues. It can also make a poorer connection with fixtures, circuit panels, and junction boxes compared to copper wiring. Though this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems posed by aluminum wiring in homes and older office buildings. As time has gone on other problems have occurred with aluminum wiring such as:
As electrical current flows through an aluminum wire, it causes the wire to heat up which in turn causes the aluminum to expand. Then when the electricity is turned off the wire cools down and contracts again.
As time goes on, this constant expansion and contraction can loosen connections with fixtures, junction boxes, and circuit panels. Eventually, this process of “Creeping can cause electrical arcing where electrical current flows through the air between two conductors. This can easily cause electrical fires, short circuits, and electrical shocks for people nearby.
Over time, aluminum oxidizes which causes it to become less conductive as it restricts the flow of electricity. This can also can cause overheating, which increases the risk of short circuits and electrical fires.
Higher Risk Of Damage
As a metal, aluminum is also softer than copper, and when it is pinched, crimped, or nicked, it can cause hotspots which can cause fires and short circuits.
What To Do If Your Home Has Aluminum Wiring?
If you recently bought a home with aluminum wiring you won’t really know if the home has it unless the home seller discloses it, or your home inspector discovers it during the property inspection. Should that home turn up as having a significant amount of aluminum wiring in use, there are a few options to consider.
Leave The Wiring System As Is
This is not the recommended course of action, as there is a strong chance of a problem in the future. Many realtors and home sellers will try to talk down the concerns about aluminum wiring, though this ultimately leaves the problems on your hands rather than theirs. Doing nothing about the aluminum wiring can also pose a problem when it comes to insurance premium costs and insurance coverage for electrical fires.
Rewire The Property
Ideally, this is the best solution for dealing with the problem of aluminum wiring. This is something that needs to be done by a professional and it involves running new copper wiring from the electrical service panel to all switches, fixtures, and outlets. The cost of this can range greatly depending on the complexity of the property. Not to mention the cost of drywall repair that comes with it.
Pit tailing is one of the more common repair methods for dealing with aluminum wiring in homes and offices. The process involves adding short copper wires to the end of the existing aluminum wires and the connections are recreated.
Though modern building codes vary from one location to the next as to whether pig tailing should involve commercial-grade wire nuts or other types of connectors. This is the sort of thing that needs to be performed by a licensed electrician. Attempting to pigtail your existing connections and fixtures on your own could be a building code violation. It could also void your homeowner’s insurance coverage regarding electrical fires.
How Does Aluminum Wiring Affect Homeowners Insurance?
Most mortgage lenders will require that you purchase some type of “Homeowners” or “Hazard Insurance” to protect your home, which is also their investment. A lot of insurance companies won’t insure homes that have aluminum wiring, or they will assign a very high premium rate to reflect the salient fire risk.
Ultimately, if you are considering purchasing a home that is known to have aluminum wiring, be prepared to shop around to find a willing lender as well as the best possible rates. This might be a factor to roll into your offer to the seller or include a contingency cost based on inspection results.
Does Aluminum Wiring Affect The Process Of Selling A Home?
On the other end of the spectrum, let’s say that you are selling an older home that you know has aluminum wiring. In a scenario such as this, it is in your best interest to be proactive and have any potential repairs made prior to putting the home on the market.
This also sends a clear message to any potential buyers who will know the repairs have been made. If you supply them with a certification from a licensed electrician, you will make the process of obtaining home insurance easier for them. If you give in to the temptation to wait until after the home inspection to deal with aluminum wiring can delay closing.
It is also worth considering that some potential buyers might terminate the contract at the inspection phase of the transaction because they either don’t want to deal with the issue or don’t understand that there are solutions. Being proactive about the problem before you put the home on the market eliminates many of the potential problems.