How To Look At A House
McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of
site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes
Should I buy a house with aluminum wiring?
Thursday, May 19, 2022
Homes built before 1972 with solid aluminum wiring are "55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach Fire Hazard Conditions than homes wired with copper," according the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission).
The problem is due largely to aluminum’s high coefficient of expansion compared to copper, although oxidation is also a problem. When aluminum heats up and expands, it begins to loosen the wire connections at receptacles, switches, and junction boxes. The loose connection increases electrical resistance at that point, which makes the connection hotter and looser, and the cycle repeats itself until it becomes hot enough to ignite nearby flammable building materials and start a house fire.
Plus, insurance companies will not issue homeowners insurance for homes with aluminum wiring from the mid-1960s and early ‘70s unless COPALUM or ALUMICONN pigtail connections have been installed at all receptacles and electrical boxes to mitigate the problem, or the aluminum has been replaced with copper. If the mitigation option is selected, it is also required that documentation of it by a licensed electrician is submitted.
We don’t see too many homes anymore with solid aluminum wiring that has not been mitigated or totally replaced with copper. But they are still out there, and we mostly find the problem in older pre-HUD mobile homes. So you should factor in the cost of mitigation or replacement of the wiring in evaluating your home purchase—because you can’t get insurance without it.
How does insurance company find out that the home has aluminum wiring? All older homes are now required to provide a four-point inspection report by a licensed inspector to apply for insurance. And the four-point form specifically requests information on any single-strand aluminum wiring in the home.
It’s important to remember that only the old SOLID aluminum wiring is a fire hazard. Newer MULTI-STRAND aluminum wiring is code-compliant and often used for service cables and major appliance circuits.
To learn about the CPSC’s recommended options for mitigating aluminum wiring, download their report Repairing Aluminum Wiring.
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