I am wondering what some of the other contractors policies regarding aluminum wiring are? I went for a bid today that started out as a service upgrade. The place is in escrow and the home inspector noted some stuff like the old rusted out Wadsworth 60A panel, some exposed romex in the utility room,a 3 wire dryer circuit and oh, THE WHOLE HOUSE IS WIRED IN AL. I said to the realtor, what does he recommend, rewiring the whole house? The realtor replied " Oh no, just the BRANCH CIRCUITS!"
Anyway I told them there is nothing I can do to make the AL safe short of rewiring. The only other fix is the Copalum method I said, which I am not licensed to do. CPSC does not endorse any other method, including the purple wirenuts or the AlCu devices.
I have decided that my policy on aluminum wiring will be to RUN. OK so I will rewire if they want, but I feel anything short of replacing it creates a big liability.
Bryan, That's a rather interesting statement you make there. There was a Moderator in the Chat room lately that was required to give a report on a house that had AL wiring in it and the buyer wanted to know what the situation with the wiring was. In my own personal opinion, all AL wiring should be ripped out and copper installed. I use enough of AL stuff with power lines and it is nothing short of a PITA to joint and work with.
I said to the realtor, what does he recommend, rewiring the whole house? The realtor replied " Oh no, just the BRANCH CIRCUITS!"
The day when real estate agents have any real say in Electrical Safety, I'm hanging my tool-belt up. Mind you I have leverage working for the PoCo here and I have been rung by Electricians here about houses that they've seen, I send an Electrical Inspector over there. There aren't too many Real Estate agents here that would argue with a PoCo Inspector.
Big B, I think your right , Big Liability. The problem as I see it, is the liability falls on the electrical contractor and not the Realtor or home inspector. In my area they shoulder no responsibility for safety. 4 out 5 contractors called will walk away but number 5 will do just what is called for. If there was a way to educate the public, then no one would buy this house, some insurance companies wont touch it. There should be some sort of disclosure law about known hazards. But as usual safety takes a back seat to profit.
I think "aluminum problems" fall into 2 categories. Either there was a bad install in the first place or harry homeowner was in there "improving" things. The fact that there are millions of aluminum wired homes that didn't burst into flames tends to say a properly installed system that nobody screwed with is probably OK. The owner of an aluminum home should have an extra layer of vigilence and they should leave repairs to pros but we say that anyway. ;-)
Even a pristine aluminum-wired system will need attention sooner or later. The problem is that the soft aluminum wire expands from normal warming and the hook flattens under the screw head.
As the connection cools, the flattened wire is slightly looser than before, and with normal load cycling, the process slowly snowballs until enough heat is created to cause damage.
If caught in time, however, a good re-tightening of the screws may even provide a better connection than the original installation because of the increased contact area with the ovalled wire.
If the wires were stabbed, they must be re-terminated. I've seen completely bare and clean aluminum conductors two feet (!) inside the wall above a receptacle box because someone tied a complete addition onto an existing receptacle.
Aluminum wiring , if it was installed properly, is fine as long as it is maintained. Meaning going through the entire electrical system and replace devices if they need be , re-tighten connections , generally check it out. The one big problem with AL. wiring is the heat. It can't handle any overheating. Most people now days do not want to hear this and say all the electricians want is to scare us and get money from us. I now just try and talk therm into replacing it.
Aluminum wiring, presents many problems, give the customer the facts, let them understand the risks involved, many of these homes are reaching 30 plus years, and over this time period, in most homes, there has been changes made, receptacles replaced, and usually with the wrong ones, circuit extensions added, not welded, instead, spliced with improper connectors, wires pulled from boxes, and pushed back in more, then a few times, causing wire fatigue, homeowners replacing light switches, with dimmers and switches not rated for AL wiring, some of these homes where changes have been made, are sure to have problems, it's not if they will, it's when. No one wants to hear, that their biggest investement of their life, is full of potential hazards, so even if you inform them, of any faults in the wiring system, they will usually be in denial. If a machanic informs me, that my breaks are bad, he is not trying to scare me, he is letting me know the condition of my vehicle.
Please indulge this old fart, while he reminices about the "Great aluminum wiring debate" in the late '60's and early '70's.
"Proper installation" was the rallying cry of the aluminum wire producers. IAEI (the electrical inspectors' group) led the charge against it. Every month the IAEI documented case after case of aluminum wiring being the cause of property loss and injuries. And, every time it was shown that 'proper methods' were used, the manufacturers came up with some other excuse, some additional requirement. It finally got to the point where the instructions were so convoluted that it was essentially impossible to comply with them, even in a laboratory setting. This, of course, meant that the wire makers could ALWAYS assert that the installation was at fault, not the material. Despite their howls, eventually we got away from aluminum wire- to the benefit of all!
A similar thing happened in the '80's with poly-butaline plumbing tubing...only that one actually made it into court, where the industry failed to produce anyone who could make "correct" connections.
The standards for compatable materials changed so much, devices had to be re-tested and re-marked; thus the change form CU/AL to CO/ALR.
Let's face it...there were enough problems that we have to consider the experiment with aluminum wiring a failure.
Now all this puts Harry Homeowner in a bind. The stuff is found where- in older, lower-end housing, used by the very folks who can least afford a complete re-wire. And, if we don't deal with it somehow, Joe Handyman will. With predictable results.
I have not had to deal with the issue- yet. I'm not sure what I'd do if I did run across aluminum wire. If I were doing a service change, I might consider seeing if AFCI's are any good. If I were adding a receptacle, I'd make a home run to the panel. If I was asked to replace a device...well, a re-wire of that circuit is probably the best bet.
Education is probably the best bet. Folks have to plan on a re-wire when they re-model or add on- and with the age of these buildings, it's only a matter of time before something gets updated.
I wish someone would evaluate the euro-style "choc-block" connector for these applications. The "choc-block" is essentially an insulated terminal strip, with a separate screw holding each wire in place. I suspact they would work out far better than even the purple wire nuts!
(for a pic of a "choc-block," see "Bathroom Electric," 11-02-04, Photos submitted for discussion forum.)
"Aluminum wiring , if it was installed properly, is fine"
In most homes, there has been changes made to these fine wiring jobs, and there in is the problem.
Most if not all of these installations, were done by tract contractors, at this same time custom homes, were still being wired with copper wire, the actual cost savings were just a few dollars, however on tract homes this cost savings for material could add up to a considerable amount, from the begining days of installation, there were warnings that alum wiring in homes would become a problem.
[This message has been edited by LK (edited 06-19-2005).]