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Large coil of Aluminum wireThe electrical systems in many homes built between the mid-1960s and the late 1970s have aluminum wiring. Unbeknownst to builders at the time, aluminum wiring can cause unsafe conditions. Over time, arcing and/or a high resistance connection could develop somewhere in the electrical system, resulting in a connection that gets very hot, increasing the risk of fire.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, homes with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach fire hazard conditions than homes wired with copper. While these problems are now well understood, aluminum wiring is still present in many homes. Homebuyers adding high load appliances, computer equipment, etc. to an aluminum wired home can unwittingly exacerbate the problem.

Homeowners should consult with a qualified electrician who has specific experience with aluminum wiring to determine how the problem can be remediated. Possible solutions include rewiring, COPALUM crimping, and retrofitting. Each home should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the best course of action.

Rewiring: A home undergoing renovation or that has a configuration such that stringing new wiring is relatively easy can be a good candidate for rewiring. In most cases, however, rewiring is an expensive and disruptive undertaking.

COPALUM repair: This method uses a specialized connector to provide a permanent, low-resistance electrical repair to aluminum wire. A copper wire is crimped to the existing aluminum wire using a COPALUM connector, and the copper wire is then connected to fixtures, outlets, switches, etc. This method effectively “converts” the aluminum wiring to copper. While less expensive than rewiring, COPALUM requires an electrician certified in this system. If COPALUM repair is not available locally, the CPSC considers the AlumiConn connector the next best alternative. As with COPALUM, AlumiConn repairs must be made by an electrician with experience in this type of system to ensure a safe and permanent solution.

Retrofitting: Standard electrical outlets and switches are not compatible with aluminum wiring. Fortunately, tested and approved replacement devices and connectors are available. Some devices, such as ceiling-mounted light fixtures not rated for aluminum wire, still require an electrician who knows how to complete one of the recommend repair methods.

Homeowners should never consider using other methods such as hand-crimped connectors or so-called “pigtailing” with twist-on connectors, as these techniques can actually cause more safety problems. Some believe that a poorly-executed pigtail is worse than doing nothing. In some geographical areas, pigtailing is not considered an acceptable solution for aluminum wiring.

The good news is that aluminum wiring can be made safe, but homeowners should always seek the advice of a licensed electrician who understands and has experience with repairing aluminum wiring systems.

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