Aluminum wired homes were considered the electrical wiring standard for electricians up until the mid-1970s. Pittsburgh was known as the steel city and recognized as the industrial epicenter for coal mining and steel fabrication for more than a century. Steel Mills along the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers worked at capacity supplying the nation. Pittsburgh was booming, and the real estate market was on fire. Contractors were building homes at a record pace.
Patches and small towns of one- and two-story bungalow homes, often owned by Steel Mills or Mining Corporations, were built on the hills above the plants for their workers. Company homes were templet build with readily available materials to lower construction costs. Copper wire was in short supply, and the aluminum alternative was less expensive.
Today, families still live in aluminum wired homes that once stood beside these industrial giants. While the industrialized economy was burning up, local building officials began to raise concerns about the dangers of aluminum-wired homes.
Aluminum Wired Code Violation
The use of single-strand aluminum wiring is strictly prohibited for all residential housing due to alarming statistics, numerous home fire implications, and safety concerns voiced by the National Real Estate Protection Association and Advocates For Safe Housing Construction.
Southwestern Pennsylvania building codes restrict single-strand aluminum wired circuits that supply electricity throughout the home. However, multi-strand and heavy-gauge aluminum, and copper wiring is consistent with building codes and considered safe when installed by a certified electrician and inspected by the local building inspector.
Single Strand Aluminum Wiring is 55 times more likely to reach fire hazard levels
Single strand aluminum wired homes prior to 1972 are 55 times more likely to have connections reach fire hazard conditions according to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission research.
Aluminum Wiring Is Prone To Failure
Aluminum wired terminals, receptacles, and switches can overheat, loosen screws and wire staples that secure the power line. The slightest separation at a splice or connection point will force electricity to arc inside the wall. Electric sparks behind the wall will unknowingly ignite the dry internal wall cavity and go up like a tinderbox.
As power travels through the aluminum wire circuit, the electricity creates heat and expands the soft aluminum wire. Then, the malleable aluminum line contracts as it cools off. The constantly fluctuating cycles of electricity across aluminum circuits cause conductors to heat up and expand more rapidly than the electrical fastenings. This phantom is commonly known as cold flow or cold creep.
In reverse, the conductors cool off, contract, tighten, and provide an unimpeded pathway for the oxidized aluminum to bleed into the connection. Every rotation intensifies the heat and spreads the oxidized aluminum and increases corrosion.
Corroded aluminum residue deepens resistance and causes scorching. Therefore, the electric flow increases, and the aluminum wires and connectors generate even more heat to carry the equivalent amount of electricity through the line. This dynamic will eventually cause aluminum wired circuits to overheat, melt wires, and burnout connection points, splices, switches, receptacles, and anything plugged into the line. The likelihood of fire danger alarms Professional Home Inspectors and frightens homeowners.
Is Aluminum Wire Ever Safe
A heavy-gauge aluminum wire that runs from the main power supply directly to a residential circuit panel or single-source high amperage circuits, including 240-volt AC units and electric range heavy-gauge aluminum circuits and safe. A heavy-gauge aluminum wire can eliminate the dangers created by a smaller single-strand aluminum branch wiring for heavy-duty direct connect applications.
Signs of Trouble In Aluminum Wired Homes
When single-strand aluminum is substituted for copper wiring, serious fire hazards can occur. If you’re dealing with a residential home that was built between 1960 and the mid-70’s it is very likely to contain aluminum wiring.
If there are no visible signs of aluminum wiring, but you are still unsure, and comfortable working with electricity, disconnect the power supply to the receptacle by turning off the appropriate breaker inside the service panel. Once the power is off, remove the faceplate on the outlet. Use a bright flashlight to visually examine the plug, terminals, wires, and receptacle box.
Initially, look for copper or aluminum wires. Then, continue looking for evidence of scorching, burning, melting, corrosion, or tarnishing on the plastic receptacle unit, wire casings, terminals, contact screw, and housing box. If any abnormal signs are evident, contact a certified electrician.
It’s also good to know that this type of DIY inspection can only see signs of what has occurred, not what might happen in the future. We strongly recommend contacting Foundation Property Inspection for a complete home inspection.
An aluminum line or wire connection may appear in good shape with no signs of overheating in the past because no significant current was ever pulled through its circuit. Single strand aluminum wired circuits and connections can overheat to fire hazard levels when heavy-load home and kitchen appliances, curling irons, space heaters, and portable air conditioners are plugged in and powered up.
Before adding an addition to a house, rewiring, or installing high-pull home appliances consult with a professional electrician. In many instances, a certified electrician can modify aluminum wire tailings and connections to minimize issues associated with cold flow. Aluminum wired homes can be safe as long as all modifications are performed correctly and load-tested by a certified electrician.
American Society of Home Inspectors has extensive Aluminum wiring information. For specific local information regarding the safety aspects of an electrical Home Inspection, click here to connect with Jarrod Lape or Jake Schneider.
Aluminum Wire Must-Know Signs Of Imminent Danger To Protect Your Family
Although not all deteriorating aluminum wire contact points show marks of their inevitable demise, oftentimes there are alarming signals and signs of imminent fire danger.
- Plastic Melting Or Electrical Burning Oder
- Warm-To-The-Touch Switches, Face Plates, & Outlets
- Blinking Or Flickering Lights
- Interrupted Appliance Power Supply
- Non-Functioning Circuits
- Intermittent Breaker Trip
- Frequent Light Bulb Burn Out
If you notice any of these failure signals seek emergency assistance and/or professional advice immediately.
Aluminum Wiring Is A Substantial Fire Hazard
Aluminum wire safety violations are routinely reported by Foundation Property Inspection’s Home Inspectors and warrant careful attention whenever identified.
Aluminum Wired Circuits Deteriorate Gradually
Aluminum wire and connector failures only get worse with time. Each time a connector fails the problem gets progressively worse. Aluminum wire connections deteriorate gradually. Failures are unpredictable. Aluminum wired circuits can remain operational even in a fragile and brittle state due to enduring severe heat and oxidation damage.
A Common Aluminum Wiring Misconception
A collective misconception is believing that older homes with aluminum wiring that have never experienced any electrical problems are not likely to have any issues as long as the wiring is not modified.
Aluminum Wiring Is Good Reason For Concerned
Aluminum wiring is not illegal, but it is considered a fire hazard. Aluminum wiring is no longer up to code. This article is not all-inclusive, but hopefully, this information provides some insight into some of the inherent dangers related to aluminum wiring. If you are interested in buying or selling an aluminum wired home, hire Foundation Property Inspection to check it over for threatening conditions.
Foundation Property Inspection can provide a complete examination of the property and inspect the electrical system, confirming the type of visible electrical wire, breaker panel, outlets, switches, light fixtures, and ceiling fans meet legal safety standards and are up to code. Our Home Inspection report will contain electrical issues detected, and you can share the professional inspection report with a licensed electrician to resolve small issues before they become big problems. Schedule your Home Inspection today!