Is Aluminum Wiring Dangerous?

visual image of stripped aluminum wires

Is it Dangerous to have Aluminum Wiring in Your Home? While the wiring of your home may not be the most electrifying topic (pun intended), it’s most definitely an important one. Houses that have been built using solid-conductor aluminum wiring rather than the standard copper could be a cause for concern. While aluminum wiring is mostly safe if installed correctly, it does require further safety measures to be put in place. As aluminum wiring was predominantly used to wire houses before the risks were known, the proper safety measures were not utilized at the time.  This could mean that your aluminum wiring is at risk of being a fire hazard.

Why was Aluminum Wiring Used?

As copper wiring is known to be a safer and more popular option nowadays, you may be wondering why there are so many houses that are wired with aluminum. The bottom-line is money. In the mid-1960’s and 1970’s, there was a spike in the cost of copper, making aluminum wiring the predominant choice for builders. To save some money, builders opted for the more cost-effective option: aluminum wiring.

Why is it Dangerous?

Incorrect Installation

Aluminum wiring can run safely when correctly installed, however, when incorrect receptacles or conductors are used, the threat of the wiring grows considerably. A continuous run of aluminum wiring is safer than wiring that connects to outlets, light switches, and wiring within the junction box, as these connections deteriorate over time and become a fire hazard. As the electrical resistance builds up inside the wire, it becomes increasingly hot which can ignite the material around the wire.

Material Properties

The main issue with aluminum wiring is the properties of the material. In comparison to copper, aluminum wiring expands when it gets hot and then shrinks down as it cools off. This constant cycle of expansion and contraction can cause the wires to loosen from the screws holding them in place, creating a spark or an arc, which could cause a fire.

Aluminum Wiring in Your Home?

Many homeowners who have aluminum wiring throughout their homes should take the proper safety measures to minimize the risks.  While it can be safely installed, experts advise to either switch out the aluminum wiring for copper or install special connectors to the ends of the aluminum wires.

Identifying Aluminum Wiring

If your home was built in the 1960’s or 70’s, it was probably built using aluminum wiring. It’s quite easy to identify most aluminum wiring in a home. For starters, it’s the colour of aluminum (silver/ grey) while copper wiring is the colour of copper (bronze/ orange). Furthermore, you can confirm the material by looking at the markings on the plastic-sheath of the electric cables. If you have exposed wiring in the unfinished areas of your home, such as the basement or garage, you should be able to see the manufacturers markings of “Al” or “aluminum” on one side of the sheath, every couple of feet. Do not touch the wiring while you’re looking for these markings. The plastic sheaths should protect you from shock, however, accidents happen, so please proceed with caution.

The safest, most efficient way to know if you have aluminum wiring throughout your home is to have a licensed electric contractor examine the entire system. Not only will this prevent you from harm, but it will result in a thorough examination of the wiring to determine any cause for concern.

How to Make Your Home Safe

In the case that you have aluminum wiring throughout your house, what steps can you take to make sure you’re living safely? There are two typical solutions licensed electricians offer:

Rewire the Home with Copper Wiring

While this is the most effective method, it can be costly and extensive. It involves replacing all of the aluminum wiring in your house with copper wiring, usually found behind the walls and ceilings. Additionally, you may need to replace your electrical panel as well. Since most homes built with aluminum wiring were done so over 50 years ago, it may be time to consider an upgrade to the powerhouse of your home.

Use COPALUM Crimps

This method involves your electrician attaching pieces of copper wires to the ends of the aluminum wires using a special metal sleeve and powered crimping tool. These connectors need to be installed at the ends of each outlet connection. Unlike the original aluminum, COPALUM connectors won’t loosen or degrade over time, and are effective in preventing electrical fires.

While this method does make the connections safe, it does not address the problems aluminum wiring intrinsically have. Over time, these wires could still break down and be a fire hazard. The only way to full eradicate the issue is by rewiring the home with copper wires.

Next Steps

Any work that is done to the wiring in your home should not be attempted by anyone other than a licensed electrician. It’s a significant job and can be dangerous if handled incorrectly. The electrical wiring contractors at BPM Electric are the most trusted and experienced team in the Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley areas. They can assess and adjust your wiring to run safely and efficiently, to optimize the electricity of your home. Give them a call today for any electrical questions you may have and to obtain a free quote.