Can Aluminum wiring be fixed?

A few days ago in Aluminum Wiring—there is still lots of it around I started a conversation about aluminum wiring in homes.  One of the approaches to “repairs” of the wiring in these homes is to have what is called “Copalum Connectors” installed at all splices in the wiring.  It is one of the few methods of repairs accepted by the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission).  This is a very expensive approach to addressing the problem—-but so is rewiring the whole house.

One of my biggest concerns with this approach is verifying that ALL locations have been found.  This type of aluminum wiring was installed in homes between 1965 and 1975, which makes these houses at least 43 years old.  Lots can happen to houses in 43 years—-including remodeling where junction boxes end up being covered over with drywall.  It is not “supposed” to happen, because all wiring junctions are “supposed” to remain accessible—-but it most certainly does happen.

Related to a recent house where I found aluminum wiring, the seller agreed to have this home repaired with Copalum Connectors.  My buyer asked me to go back and take a look at the work after repairs had been made.  I would never pretend to verify that the work was done “properly;” and, there would be no way I could verify that every splice had been found—-the work was done by a Licensed and Bonded Electrical Contractor—-that certainly “trumps” any of my qualifications.  As an educator of home inspectors however, I want to know what these connectors look like and what better educational opportunity can one get than to see an actual installation.

I took the covers off the boxes I had checked when I did the original inspection and found that repairs had indeed been made.  Here is a picture of one junction box.  The previously overheated wires and the new black Copalum connectors are visible.

Copalum connectors

Copalum connectors in a junction box

During the original inspection I had noted where there was one semi-hidden junction box behind some shelving and I wondered if they had found that one.  Sure enough—-they had not.

Junction box behind shelf that was missed

Junction box behind shelf that was missed during copalum repair

The standard red wire nuts, that are not rated for installation on aluminum wiring, were present and some overheating of the wires was noted.

I see missed junction boxes with this approach to repairs being a HUGE problem.  This box was merely “hidden,” not “buried” in a wall or ceiling somewhere.

After finding this location I did find one ceiling fixture that had also been missed.

The big question one has to ask is—-how many more are there?  How many times could I go back and still find ones that had not been repaired and how many others are buried that will only be found when they are poking around in the ashes looking for the cause of the fire.

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Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector

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Comments

  1. Daniel Rogers says

    Good post. I’m with you on this.
    Copalum Connectors are only required on copper to aluminum connections. If the original wiring and devices have not been disturbed or adulterated then those circuits should be fine. That is not to say that the presence of aluminum wiring should not be disclosed. One of the things I hawk for is undersized wire gauge (aluminum requires larger gauges). I also look for any evidence of room additions, remodeling, changes, or modifications in a house which usually always reveals problems. I do a random check and if I see just one adulterated connection I recommend the entire house be checked by not just an electrician, but one who is qualified in aluminum wiring issues. I resist re-inspections because the liability is too great and should remain with the so-called expert electricians.

    • Charles Buell says

      Daniel, I just never find them fine. I don’t know of any wire nuts that work for even aluminum to aluminum connections—even the purple ones that are “approved” for such connections. I have seen melting on them all. I think the Copalum connectors on aluminum to aluminum connections are the normal repair around here. I agree too—those additions can catch you if you are not careful—always a good idea to figure out when additions were done and do random checking. I don’t like much doing the re-inspects either but I am real careful to let everybody know that it is no kind of warranty.

  2. I didn’t realize that, red wire nuts are not rated for installation on aluminum wiring. It is odd that you would find so many of them. It does make you wonder what the wiring is like in the rest of the house. I will have too look more into this myself. Thanks for sharing.

  3. You make a great point about how so many connections can be missed. We have aluminum wiring in our home and have been researching about whether we should have all of the wiring replaced or go with the copalum connectors. My wallet is telling me to go one way while my gut is telling me to go the other. Thanks for the great information!

    • Charles Buell says

      In my opinion you should not consider anything installed pre-1972 or 1973 (and of course verifying the actual age of the wire as to which series it is) to be worthy of anything but replacement.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Individual repairs with AlumiConn connectors is a possibility, but those connectors are ridiculously expensive.  Amazon currently sells them for $3.26 each, plus shipping & handling.  That’s $3.26 for a single wire nut.  Yikes.  Besides the fact that this repair method would be very expensive, there’s a chance that the repairs would be incomplete.  Would every single junction box be found?  Maybe, maybe not.  Seattle home inspector Charles Buell shared a story about a year ago where he was called back to verify repairs were made at a home that he had previously inspected, and he found at least one junction box that had been missed.  You can read about about it here – incomplete aluminum wiring repairs. […]

  2. […] Besides the fact that this repair method would be very expensive, there’s a chance that the repairs would be incomplete.  Would every single junction box be found?  Maybe, maybe not.  Seattle home inspector Charles Buell shared a story about a year ago where he was called back to verify repairs were made at a home that he had previously inspected, and he found at least one junction box that had been missed.  You can read about about it here – incomplete aluminum wiring repairs. […]

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