Aluminum Wires

Should I buy a home with aluminum wiring?

Loucas LoucaidesElectrical Leave a Comment

A lot of the time, our clients that are buying a property with aluminum wiring ask for our professional opinions on if the wiring should be replaced. The common misconception about aluminum wiring is that the product itself is not safe, and insurance and mortgage companies typically treat it as a high-risk installation. Aluminum wiring is in fact a safe type of wiring (if installed safely and according to ESA requirements) and it is still used to this day in specific electrical applications.

When was aluminum installed in residential homes?

Aluminum wiring was used throughout the 1970s due to the increasingly high costs of copper. However, after a decade of use in residential properties, some concerns began to rise due to house fires. It was at that time that steps were implemented to ensure that installations were completed safely.

What were the problems with aluminum?

  1. Aluminum wiring was not as conductive as copper and would have to be installed as a larger gauge of wiring. Wires would expand and contract when heated up and had the potential to come loose from the terminals.  In some cases, the wiring would overheat and start fires, therefore, causing damage to homes.
  2. Older aluminum wiring would become brittle and break making it difficult for electricians to work with.
  3. Oxidation became an issue; wiring that was exposed to moisture would take on a white color and lose its conductivity.
  4. Connections at outlets and in the panels would become increasingly dangerous over time.  This was often from poor electrical work or incorrectly rated equipment. 
  5. Aluminum and copper cannot be connected together without using special connectors.
Scorched Outlet
Aftermath of a “copper only” outlet connected to aluminum wiring. It nearly set the house on fire

Aluminum & insurance

Insurance Policies were changed over time to reflect aluminum wiring in homes as a potential fire hazard.  In Ontario, a qualified and approved Electrical Contractor should always review the home’s electrical system and provide the homeowner with a Certificate of Acceptance.  We strongly advise keeping a copy of this certificate by your panel for future inspections, along with a copy for your records. Many insurance companies require an updated Certificate for renewal purposes.

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How do you know if you have aluminum wiring in your home?

One of the easiest ways to verify what type of wiring is present is to look at the sheathing or wiring casing. It will have either “aluminum” or “al” written on it. If nothing is visible then you have to find a connection in a junction box or in the panel. Additionally, aluminum wiring has a distinct sliver/grey colour, but be sure not to confuse this with older tinned copper. That is why it is important to determine the age of the home. If it was built in the late 1960s or 1970s then chances are it will be aluminum.

Aluminum wire

What is the solution?

The most expensive and impractical correction is to rewire the home with copper wiring. This is not a requirement for safety but sometimes is the case for alarmed home buyers. The more common solution is to perform a procedure called “pig tailing,” which involves using AL-CU-rated marrets at respective receptacles and light fixtures. This type of repair can cost $100 per outlet for repairs. The wiring should also have an anti-oxidation paste to prevent corrosion of the wires. By utilizing these safe practices, you can ensure your wiring is safe. Do not attempt to do this procedure on your own, instead, always talk to a licensed electrical contractor about aluminum wiring installations.

Aluminum wiring

Is it safe to buy a home with aluminum?

The answer to this is simple: if your home has been inspected by a qualified electrical contractor and all the safety protocols have been followed, then your home is safe. The electrical authority in Ontario, Canada says, “Aluminum wiring itself is safe and if proper connections and terminations are made without damaging the wire and using approved materials installed in accordance with the Ontario electrical safety code and the manufacturer’s instructions, there should be no problems with the aluminum wiring installation.”

FAQs

Is there an insurance company that does not require an inspection of the aluminum electrical system in the house?

To our knowledge, no.

Should I have the aluminum wiring checked only to satisfy the insurance company?

No, this is also important for your own safety.

Can I have any electrician do the work and certify it?

No, only an authorized electrical contractor can provide the Certificate of Acceptance. 

How much does it usually cost to have the aluminum electrical installation inspected and corrected?

It depends on what needs to be done to correct the issues. Most times, the electrical contractor will require other updates to make the system safe.

Why does the current seller’s insurance company not have any concerns with the aluminum wiring system?

The insurance policy is probably older and does not take into consideration the risk factor. Insurance companies update their policies constantly.

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