Between 1965 and 1973 it was common for aluminum wiring to be used as a substitute for copper branch-circuit wiring. However, it was discovered that the properties of aluminum were inherently different from copper. Aluminum wiring can increasingly become defective at a higher rate than copper; it is therefore crucial to update your wiring and check connections. Aluminum wiring, if not properly maintained, may become overheated and lead to electrical house fires.

Why copper is superior to aluminum wiring

Although inexpensive, it was later proved that the inherent properties of aluminum is inferior to that of copper. One of our Porch Pros, Always Best Choice Electrical, explains the following differences between the two types of metal:

  • Aluminum does not conduct electricity as well as copper
  • Aluminum is more likely to corrode and is more brittle
  • Aluminum wiring will oxidize when exposed to moisture. The oxidation process makes the wiring thinner and more susceptible to overheating
  • Aluminum expands and contracts more than copper, making connection points less stable over time

How to check your home’s wiring

Some home inspectors do not cover wire inspection for the home or may only inspect a portion of the home’s electrical system. It’s important to note that even if a home inspector detects aluminum wiring in the home, only a licensed electrician should make recommendations regarding replacement. Only a licensed electrician can fully inspect, verify, test and replace aluminum wiring or make recommendations regarding your home’s electrical system – this is not a DIY project.  If your inspector finds that your wiring is being neglected or unsafe, he or she may suggest you speak to your insurance agent to make sure you are covered based on the policies you agreed to, in case of an emergency or dangerous activity. Some states do not have insurance for aluminum wired houses, or the rates may be higher, so make sure you do your homework.

Professionals and permits

When consulting a professional to correct or evaluate your wiring, recognize that not all licensed electricians are qualified to do so. When looking for an electrician on Porch, make sure you ask about their experience with aluminum wiring and ask them for an on-site inspection and estimation. It’s also important to understand that a permit may need to be filed before beginning your electrical rewiring. Your professional or hired electrician can help you file for permits as they will have knowledge of the current codes and regulations. Make sure you recognize how to file an electrical permit before you move forward with your renovations.

Warning signs

As your home’s electrical system is “hidden” behind walls, outlets and electric panels, it can be difficult to notice signs that your wiring may be failing or in need of a repair. Digging into your electrical system, and attempting to do your own repairs or upgrades, is not recommended. You could accidentally make things worse.  If you are unsure on the type of wiring you have, or whether your home is in danger of failing wiring, hire an electrician. You can also be on the look out for these warning signs:

  • Flickering lights
  • Hot to-the-touch switches
  • Heated face plates on receptacles
  • Dead circuits
  • Smell of burning plastic

Methods of repair

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are three methods that you should abide by when repairing your wiring for a permanent fix. Each method must be completed by a qualified electrician due to the complexity and precision that must occur for the repair to be successful and safe.

1. Copper cable – A complete replacement with copper cable can be an easy fix for an electrician, but it can be expensive depending on the type of wiring currently in your home.

2. Copalum – This method attaches a smaller section of copper wire to the aluminum wire connection points, but in order for this to be permanent a professional should do the work for you.

3. AlumiConn – An alternative repair method uses a different AlumiConn connector instead of the Copalum crimp connector to repair the wiring.

Aluminum wire is known to provide a better conductivity to weight ratio than copper wiring. Older wiring devices such as switches and outlets were not properly designed for the use of aluminum wiring, which can present some fire hazards. Make sure your home is up to date with the required manufacturing standards that is required for aluminum wiring. Older homes that have not been updated to these standards have higher risk of overheating and chances of fire. Make sure your wiring is properly installed by hiring a professional. An electrician will have the knowledge to install wire safely and accurately for your specific home. This will ensure your home is protected in case a malfunction were to occur.