It’s time to address the aluminum in the room.
If you own a home with aluminum wiring you’ve probably wondered if it needs to be replaced. The short answer is no, but this wiring system does present hazards that homeowners can’t ignore.
Here’s the issue, aluminum is soft, brittle and prone to oxidation – all characteristics that cause electrical fires. According to several consumer product safety commissions, aluminum-wired homes are 55 times more likely to reach fire conditions than homes wired with copper.
Steven Flanagan is an electrician with Birnie Home- a licensed electrical contractor (LEC) in Mississauga that specializes in treating aluminum homes. Flanagan has performed thousands of electrical repairs, he explains that aluminum itself is not a problem, “the issue is that the terminations are not maintained. We know that most problems with aluminum stem from the termination points.”
A termination point is where the electrical wire meets the panel or the device. Aluminum oxidizes at termination points faster than traditional copper wiring, resulting in electrical arcing and overheating. This means every plug, switch and junction box becomes hazardous.
Why do the termination points overheat?
1. Certain outlets and switches aren’t compatible with aluminum wiring but may have been installed anyway by do-it-yourselfers or unqualified contractors.
2. If the connection wasn’t properly made at the device, or if the receptacle was back-stabbed – the wire pushed into the back of the device, this also presents an issue.
Steven explains that aluminum performs better and safer with screw-type connections – when the electrical wire is wrapped around a screw and held in place by the head of the screw rather than being pushed in through the back.
3. If your home is mixed with aluminum and copper, a common scenario says Flanagan, this combination can be very unsafe. Cooper and aluminum expand and contract at different rates. While the two can work together, “they require special connectors,” Steven explains.
How do I repair the aluminum wiring in my home?
If there’s anything you take away from this article it’s this, a licensed electrical contractor -an electrical company that is knowledgeable with working with aluminum wiring – should perform any electrical repairs.
The most common method used for treating aluminum wiring is by bridging new copper pigtail wires between the existing aluminum wire with the electrical devices. The pigtail connection is made by attaching a small piece of copper wire – pigtail- to the device and then joining the copper wire to the existing aluminum wire.
Some other options include replacing all the receptacles and switches in the home with ones that are rated for aluminum wiring, or by replacing wire connectors with ones that are rated for aluminum.
“Any reputable electrical company will know how to treat your wiring safely and efficiently,” Flanagan says.
The first step?
“Invest in an electrical inspection with Birnie Home Safe,” Flanagan says, “even if you don’t think you have any electrical problems… the goal is to fix the issue before the warning signs appear.”
And there are warning signs residents should lookout for:
- Tripping Breakers
- Flickering lights
- Discoloured or warm outlets and faceplates
- Burning plastic smell
- Sparking or buzzing from an outlet
Flanagan says that if you experience any of these warning signs residents are to contact a reputable electrical company like Birnie Home Safe right away.
The Birnie Home Safe solution:
Birnie Home Safe’s Electrical Risk Assessment (ERA) addresses these hazards with a unique electrical inspection service. A licensed electrician checks every outlet, switch and fixture, without cutting the walls, to give homeowners an accurate evaluation of the electrical. The ERA provides a greater sense of security, and advises if repairs are needed.
If all of the recommended repairs are performed, Home Safe will provide the homeowner with a certificate certifying the home 100% electrically safe.
Before you consider an electrical inspection, Home Safe encourages homeowners to request a free preliminary assessment; it’s the first step in protecting the home. While Home Safe operates in Mississauga, the electrical company services all of the Greater Toronto Area.
What does the insurance company say?
Some insurance companies refuse to renew or insure homes with aluminum wiring unless the aluminum wire is inspected and repaired by a licensed electrical contractor. The work performed by the certified electrician is reviewed by the ESA (Electrical Safety Authority). If the work is performed safely and to code, a copy of the certificate of inspection, from the ESA, is shared with the insurance company.
Neither the Electrical Safety Authority nor electrical specialists recommend rewiring an aluminum home; as you now know, there are other ways to treat this system. But if you’re completely gutting your home, the Mississauga electrical company recommends an update to the electrical system.
Aluminum wiring was first introduced to Canadian homes in the 1960s to the late 1970s when the price of copper sky-rocketed making aluminum a cost-effective alternative, but not a safer one.