What’s Wrong with Aluminum Wiring?

When you bought your home, what was on your shopping list? Three bedrooms, two baths, large kitchen, and a nice neighborhood? It’s not likely that the type of wiring was important to you as long as the lights worked. However, if you’re considering buying a home with aluminum wiring, you might think again.

Aluminum wiring has been around for over a hundred years, but it wasn’t until recently that it because a cause for concern. So, what’s the big deal with aluminum wiring? Let’s take a look.

What is aluminum wiring?

Although copper has always been the wiring material of choice, aluminum has traditionally been considered a safe and effective alternative. In the 1960s and 70s especially, the price of copper became so high that it simply wasn’t an option for many new homes and offices built during that time. Instead, aluminum wiring was used.

What’s wrong with aluminum wiring?

Aluminum wiring works in the same way copper wiring does, with one major (and problematic!) difference. When electricity passes through the connections in aluminum wiring, the connections expand almost three times as that of copper connections. In other words, it has a much higher rate of thermal expansion. When the electricity is turned off, the wires cool down and contract back to their original size.

Now, this may not seem like a big deal. After all, pretty much everything undergoes expansion and contraction, right? Well, not exactly. Over time, all of this expanding and contracting will eventually open up a gap (kind of like a crack in the sidewalk) and expose the wire to air. The air causes the aluminum to oxidize, which makes the connections even hotter. This leads to dangerous loose connections and fire hazards.

Aluminum Wiring Warning Signs to Look Out For

If you live in a home with aluminum wiring, should you be worried? The short answer is that you don’t need to worry, but you do need to watch out for a few warning signs. Aluminum wiring warning signs to look out for:

• Unexplained static on the TV or radio
• Flickering lights
• Noticeable plastic odor from your outlets when you plug something in to them
• Sparking outlet
• Buzzing sound from an outlet
• Unusually warm outlets or faceplates
• Frequently tripped breakers

If you live in a home with aluminum wiring, knowing what to watch for can make a big difference. Electrical problems are not on the list of home maintenance issues to ignore. If you notice any of the warning signs above, call an electrician immediately. These could indicate a fire hazard and that’s just not a chance you want to take.

Even if you aren’t seeing any of these warning signs, it is worth mentioning that a home with aluminum wiring might have different insurance needs than a home with copper wiring. If you are considering buying a home with aluminum wiring, you might want to check with your insurance company to see if there are any specific requirements in regard to wiring type. Some insurance companies are unable to insure your home unless the whole home is required, while others will just want to verify that proper connections have been used and the home has been inspected by a licensed electrician. Other companies may agree to insure the home, but with a higher premium.

What should I do if I have a problem with aluminum wiring in my home?

The first step in diagnosing problems with aluminum wiring is to call a licensed electrician for an inspection. In many cases, aluminum wiring can be safe as long as the proper connections have been made. An electrician will be able to tell if you just need to retrofit a few suspicious wires with a copper-aluminum connection, or if the problem requires rewiring.

As with most things, regular inspections and maintenance will help keep your wiring operating safely. The licensed electricians at Grounded Solutions will be able to diagnose, fix, and maintain your home’s electrical system for your peace of mind. If you notice any of the warning signs mentioned above, or just want verification that your home’s electrical system is in good health, give us a call today.

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