Aluminum Wiring

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Aluminum to copper wirenuts

Aluminum Wiring

We get more questions about aluminum wiring here on Long Island than anything else related to electricity in homes.  There are many websites out there with good yet often impractical information on aluminum wiring. We’ve been doing this for 38 years and to date have never had a problem with how we remedy aluminum wiring!  Hopefully after reading this we will have shed some professional light on this topic.

Quick History lesson
Aluminum wiring was used in homes from the early 1960’s through the mid 1970’s because the price of copper skyrocketed.  There is no set definite year of when Aluminum wire was implemented.  Before and during the beginning of the Vietnam War, the private (American) copper-mining industry lost a large portion of its equity and influence on copper and copper prices due to various international affairs1.  Contractors and builders in the business of building houses needed an alternative and in the early 1960’s, aluminum wire was approved to be used in residential home wiring and went in to production.

Is aluminum wiring bad?!
It sure wasn’t for the pocket of the person building/wiring the house in the 60’s and 70’s! It was widely used from roughly 1965-1975 because the price of copper became extremely high. Although there certainly have been many an electrical fire from Aluminum wiring, these conditions are very often caused by preventable instances; overloading the circuits, poor workmanship, and dissimilar metals (specifically in pre-1972 Aluminum wiring) are among the top contenders for the failure of aluminum wiring. If you suspect your home was built with aluminum wiring manufactured from before 1972 (built between 1965-1972), it is most definitely worth having it looked at. A study conducted by The Franklin Research Institute on behalf of the Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC revealed that homes “built before 1972, and wired with aluminum, are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than homes wired with copper2”  At the very least, make it a long term plan to rewire the house.

Aluminum wire remedies
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve already read through some of the other articles on what to do for aluminum wiring, most websites exclusively recommend the following:
1. Rewire the house/aluminum circuits
2. COPALUM crimps
Lets talk about why these are nice to read about but not practical.

1. Rewiring the house: If you purchased a home built in these time periods, you likely (not definitely) purchased a house for less than $500k (as of 2017). That said, you probably do not want spend another $200k to gut your home simply because you found out there is aluminum wiring in the house. (Please note, home inspectors are not electricians by any stretch of the imagination. Some certainly have great knowledge, but some really should not even attempt to make electrical remarks)
It can, however, be worthwhile to do this if you have a heavy use circuit (ie. you use it for a vacuum, tv, or something frequently) and there is clear attic access above or clear accessible basement access below.

2.  COPALUM crimps: If you can find someone who still does this and also want to pay the same price to have a fancy crimp on aluminum wires as you would to have a whole new circuit pulled, go for it.  The chances of both of these are slim to none.  COPALUM is a system created by Tyco Electronics in which one needs to take a class on how to do their “cold weld” and then rent a special machine that only they make.  It costs roughly $2000.00/month (not including the cost of attending the “training) for an electrician to do COPALUM crimping plus the cost of the actual crimps.   You usually can’t even get the crimping machine in to the work space you need to make the repair making it that much more impractical.  Many folks call us and are disheartened when I tell them we do not do this. In 38 years, we have not met another electrician on Long Island who does this residentially, lets agree that COPALUM is officially debunked.

What to do, what not to do:

Do call a licensed electrician

Do determine if it is more cost effective to run a new circuit or to remedy what you have

Do ask the electrician to check other receptacles in the house, particularly the neutrals

Do plan to eventually rewire the aluminum circuits

Do NOT attempt to pigtail yourself, I’m all about DIY but you don’t have much play with aluminum wiring, it breaks very easily and if you break it too far back you’re going to have to cut the wall and/or run a new line to that outlet box/light fixture/switch, leave the responsibility with a licensed electrician

Do NOT be reactive, if you are aware of aluminum wiring in the house, it is far more worth it to spend a little bit of money and have it remedied, even for peace of mind alone. Don’t wait for it to be a problem.

 

Best Overall Remedy:

Copper-aluminum wire nuts: Decent 3M or Ideal Copper-Aluminum wire nuts are not cheap when compared to regular copper to copper wire nuts but when used correctly they are great.  Proponents of COPALUM and other CPSC “approved” methods tend to ignore the fact that copper-aluminum wire nuts exist.  Not only do they exist, but when used in accordance with the instructions included with the product provides a safe, effective, legal, and permanent solution to the problem of connecting copper conductors to existing aluminum branch circuit wiring.”3

“The IDEAL Model #65 TWISTER® AL/CU Connector complies with the N.E.C. Section 110-14b for aluminum to copper connections, and Federal Specification W-S- 610E, is UL 486C Listed, UL 467 Listed, UL 94V-2 flame rated, CSA C22.2 #188 Certified, and rated 105C (221F) for use in all branch circuit and fixture splicing applications.”3

Feel free to leave us a comment or question.  If you’re on Long Island and need aluminum wire remedied/replaced give us a call at 631-242-2970 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. Thanks for reading!

References:

  1. https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/copper/240798.pdf
  2. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/516.pdf
  3. http://www.idealindustries.ca/media/pdfs/products/twister_al-cu_compliance.pdf
  4. ibid

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