Inspectors routinely recommend evaluation/repairs by licensed electrical contractors for all sorts of electrical issues. After all, we are “generalists” and they are the “experts.” It is not difficult to be intimidated by this distinction. That said, I have had licensed electrical contractors tell me that there is nothing wrong with solid strand aluminum wiring that isn’t related to “poor installation” practices.
I guess the problem I have with this assertion is that proper wiring methods for aluminum wiring are vastly different from copper wiring methods and NOBODY knew this at the time of installation—-or if they did they didn’t pay any attention to the differences.
For example the devices used to make connections—-and the devices that the wires were connected to—-had to be specifically rated for use with aluminum. Too often, devices and connectors that were rated for only copper were used. So while what the electricians tell me may be “accurate,” it is far from the whole story, and tends to understate the real dangers that might be present in the “average” home with aluminum wiring.
Every house, without exception, that I have inspected with aluminum wiring has had some sort of arcing/overheating condition present.
These are pretty high percentages—-way above the number of arcing/overheating conditions found in homes with copper wiring.
On a recent home, built in 1969—-right in the middle of the problem years—-I noted two aluminum circuits coming into the panel. Part of the home had been remodeled—-including a new service panel—-so how come there were only two circuits coming into the panel? Somewhere the other original circuits had been transitioned to copper before they got to the new panel. This is a huge red flag for me and makes me start pulling cover plates.
I gave my buyer my usual spiel about the problems associated with this type of wiring, and together we start to explore what is going on behind cover plates. In particular I want to find where the copper and aluminum splices have been made and look for any signs of arcing/overheating. The first box showed that copper pigtails had been added to the aluminum wires with improper wire nuts. Now while this is a nice try, the “approved” method of doing this type of repair is quite different from this. Someone spent a lot of time and money doing this repair throughout the whole house only to make the dangers worse. Removing a couple of more covers revealed “actual” melting of wire-nuts and overheating of wires.
If you look very closely inside this box, at the upper right corner, you can see where the covering of the wire nut is melted and falling away from the “spring-like” inner metal part of the connector.
Two more connections like this were found—-along with this box that had been repaired with “approved” type wire nuts. It would appear that repairs were made—-after the fire was put out. Note that the cover plate screw locations where so melted out of place that an oversized cover plate was used that could be attached to the wall.
If this is the condition I found at 4 of 6 locations, how many more similar or worse conditions will be found? I had no choice but to call for replacement of all of the aluminum wiring—-regardless of what the licensed electrical contractor says. The contractor can still do whatever he can “sell”—-but I will sleep better knowing that I have recommended replacement.
Additional information this problem can be found at this other post about Aluminum Wiring.
Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector
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