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Aluminum Wiring Repair | Be Aware of the Hazards

Between 1965 and 1973 the Vietnam War had taken a toll on the home building industry, because it had caused the price of copper and other building materials to sky rocket. Up until this point most of the electrical wiring in new homes was constructed using copper. Unfortunately, copper wiring became more and more cost prohibitive so the hunt for a new and cheaper alternative began. The discovery of aluminum wire as a substitute for copper wire became a much more cost effective solution, but it also led to several future complications that would ultimately give aluminum wiring such a bad rap that it would become nearly unmarketable.

We should begin by reviewing the differences between these two materials and how those differences can interfere with how well each one is able to serve its purpose. First the softness of copper and aluminum vary drastically; aluminum being much softer than copper. When home builders are in a situation that involves working around aluminum wiring, (ex. putting insulation into the walls), they must be extremely aware of any contact they may have with the wires. Because aluminum is so fragile any contact can possibly crush, rip, or cut the wire. If this were to ever happen it would result in local hot spots that could cause overheating. Second is their ability to conduct electricity. Copper is a better conductor of electricity than aluminum. Because of this manufacturers and authorities were forced to quickly devise a suitable solution to ensure aluminum wiring’s cost effective substitution. They made up for the difference in conductivity by using a slightly larger aluminum wire that would allow for the same performance as copper wire. A 12 gauge aluminum wire is the equivalent to a 14 gauge copper wire. Third difference is rusting. When a metal rusts a different color oxide for each type of metal will form on the surface. The green copper oxide is electrically conductive and will not interfere with the wires ability to perform its job. However, the white aluminum oxide is not as good a conductor therefore, will interfere with the electricity flow through the wire, causing it to overheat. Last and most crucial difference is their rate of expansion and contraction. When electricity flows through a wire the wire heats up. Aluminum, when heated, expands more than copper. This is the fundamental difference between the two materials that will become one of the most significant and direct causes of aluminum wiring’s problematic future.

Many of us have heard plenty about house fires that were directly caused by aluminum wiring. But, what we haven’t heard is that the problem with aluminum wiring is not because of the aluminum itself. The root of these problems lies within the connections. By connections I mean receptacles such as light switches, wall outlets, and light fixtures where the wiring is attached. Back during the 60’s and 70’s when aluminum wiring was first used, home builders attempted to cut even more cost by attaching the aluminum wiring to the same receptacles used and manufactured for copper wiring. They obviously did not account for the different oxidation, expansion, and contraction rates of the two materials. When heated, aluminum expands more than copper. So, anytime electricity flowed through the aluminum wires they would expand more, thus causing the connection to the receptacles to loosen. The looser the connection became, the more the wire would arc. Once the connection is sufficiently loose and the wire significantly arced, the wire will then begin to vibrate. At this point, if the wire is conducting an intense amount of electricity it can become extremely hot! Often times if one was to remove the face plate of a receptacle containing aluminum wiring that has become arced from a severely loosened receptacle connection, it is not uncommon to discover a blackened electrical box containing aluminum wire with the shielding and insulation burnt right off!

Although many house fires have become the result of aluminum wiring, aluminum is still permitted to be used for wiring homes with the appropriate installation methods and materials. Old homes with the original aluminum wiring should also not be checked off of your list when searching for a home. “A national survey conducted by Franklin Research Institute for CPSC showed 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” [Repairing Aluminum Wiring, than homes wired with copper.” [ Consumer Product Safety Commission Publication 516 ]  Do not jump to the assumption that the entire house must be completely re-wired either! There are different and much less costly solutions to this problem. The most popular cost effective fix is called “Pig Tailing”. Pig tailing and other methods are acceptable to several insurance companies as well. However, when fixing anything electrical one should never attempt to do anything without a licensed electrician present.

In conclusion, if your home was built between 1965 and 1973 with aluminum wiring it will be in your best interest to contact Wire Wiz Electrician Services to replace the aluminum wiring in your home. A safe home is what is most important for your family.

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