Aluminum Wiring Remediation

Aluminum Wiring Remediation

When we debated about the convenience of buying a house with aluminum wiring, we considered that if we plan an aluminum wiring remediation process, we would not have any problem buying the house, even with an FHA loan, or selling it. The reason is that after this aluminum wiring remediation we will be passing the electrical chapter of any conventional appraisal or FHA inspection. Therefore, we are going to deal with this process without delay.

Every connection of aluminum-to-aluminum or aluminum-to-copper wire in your building should be repaired in order to obtain the maximum benefit of the repair work. Appliances connected directly to 12 and #10 AWG aluminum branch circuit wiring (i.e. dishwashers, cooking equipment, heaters, air conditioners, and light fixtures) must be repaired in addition to wall outlets, switches, junction boxes,
and panel boxes.

Aluminum wiring is still permitted and used for certain applications, including
residential service entrance wiring and single-purpose higher amperage circuits such as 240V air
conditioning or electric range circuits.

All electrical modifications and additions must be in accordance with local regulations and inspected by
municipal authorities.

There is one method that is the rewiring of the connections: from aluminum wiring to copper.

Aluminum wiring was used extensively in homes built between 1969 – 1976. Aluminum was chosen over copper because of price. Copper prices were at an all-time high. The construction industry was looking for cheaper materials and aluminum wire was the next best conductor available.

Aluminum wiring on its own is not dangerous. The problem lies with the connection or junction points. It just requires special connectors, but those connectors can oxidize or rust.

When these connection points oxidize, the connection becomes weak causing electrical hazards and possibly fire. If you have aluminum wiring, you can deal with it without replacing your wiring. Rewiring your home can cost thousands of dollars, but by using a process called pig-tailing, the concerns of aluminum wiring can be resolved. Pig Tailing refers to a process whereby you attach a 6 inch copper wire to the end of the existing aluminum wire and attach it to the wire using a special marrette (connector).

The common connector you can buy at your local home improvement store is not rated for this. Using these standard connectors is wrong and you will fail your house inspection. What you need is a special type of marrette (connector) that is for use with mixed materials (aluminum and copper).

It is recommended to use a licensed electrician to do aluminum to copper pig tailing. Hiring a licensed electrician can ensure that any other electrical issues can be spotted and rectified quickly. This can save you the extra labor costs of a separate service call later.

Contact your insurance provider to check their policies, most insurance companies are refusing to insure homes with aluminum wiring. Hiring a licensed electrician to perform the remediation and inspection ensures it meets all current electrical codes in your area. This satisfies most insurance providers and the home can then be insured.

If you do the work yourself, you can’t get certification required by insurance companies.

The First Step Is To Identify Aluminum Wiring In A property

Identifying the aluminum-wiring hazard is the first step towards fixing the problem. The following simple
steps can be taken to assist you in determining if aluminum wiring is present: (It is recommended that a
licensed electrician make the determination)

  1. Determine when was the building or house built or re-wired, or when new circuits added?
    Buildings built, rooms added, circuits rewired or added between 1965-1973 may contain
    aluminum wiring.
  2. Don’t assume that there’s no aluminum wire if your building was not built during these years.
    Circuits may have been added, extended, or modified using aluminum wiring. Or an installer
    may have had leftover aluminum wire and used it after these dates.
  3. Don’t assume there’s no aluminum wire just because you find none in the panel. Aluminum
    may have been used for part of circuits or for some but not other circuits in the building.
  4. At outlets and switches, look at stripped wire ends. Oftentimes, simply removing the cover
    plate will give sufficient view. Be especially cautious if you see back-wired receptacles. It may
    be difficult to see if the wire is aluminum, but if it is, the smaller wire contact surface when this
    method was used may increase the risk of overheating or other failures.
  5. Look at wire at circuit breakers in the electric panel for aluminum wire. The electrician will notice bare silver-colored wire visible at the circuit breaker. The aluminum wire could simply be present in a single circuit installed between two copper wires located on adjacent breakers.
  6. Look for the word “Aluminum.” Look for printed or embossed letters on the plastic wire jacket where wiring is visible or at the electric panel. Some aluminum wire has the word “Aluminum” or a specific brand name such as “Aluar”, “Kaiser Aluminum” plainly marked on the plastic wire jacket. Some white colored plastic wire jackets are inked in red; others have embossed letters without ink and are hard to read. Try shining a light along the wire.
  7. In an area where the wire is visible, such as an attic, look at the wire gauge or “size.” Look for #12-gauge wires in the attic or other places where wiring is readily available. If you see only #12 and no #14, look further. Aluminum wire must be one wire gauge size larger for a given circuit than if copper was used. So while #14 copper wire is permitted on a 15-amp electrical circuit, if aluminum wire was used for the same circuit it would have to be #12. Similarly, a 20- amp circuit uses #12 copper wire or #10 aluminum wire. Common residential lighting and electrical-receptacle circuits are 15-amp or possibly 20-amp (e.g., in a kitchen). So if you see only #12 or larger wires in the attic of your house look further to see if it’s aluminum. The wire gauge size is printed or embossed on the wire jacket. #12 does not guarantee it’s aluminum, it’s just more data to point in that direction.
  8. Look at bare wire exposed at the neutral bus. An easy place to look for aluminum wiring
    (other than at the circuit breakers) might be at the neutral bus where both white neutral wires
    and ground wires are connected in a row. At the neutral bus it’s easier to see exposed portions
    of the wire itself.

Accepted Aluminum Wiring Remediation Processes

Aluminum wiring can be replaced or
repaired to effectively and permanently reduce the possibility of fire and injury due to
failing (overheating) wire connections and
splices. It is highly recommended that you
hire a qualified electrician to perform this
remediation.
Other than complete replacement of aluminum wire with copper wire, there may
be numerous potential solutions for the
permanent repair of hazardous aluminum
wire connections and splices. However,
CPSC can recommend repair methods or
products only where there is satisfactory,
documented evidence that the methods or
products meet the following criteria:
• Safe. The method or product must be
safe and not increase the risk of fire or
other hazards.
• Effective. The method or product must
be effective and successfully eliminate or
substantially mitigate the fire hazard.
• Permanent. The method or product
must affect a permanent repair. Methods
or products designed to address temporary or emergency repair situations, but
which may fail over time, are not considered permanent.
Based on these standards, as of the date
of this publication, CPSC approves of only
three methods for a permanent repair.
1) Complete Replacement of Copper
Cable
2) COPALUM Method of Repair
3) Acceptable Alternative Repair
Method/AlumiConn Connector

Complete Replacement with Copper
Cable

Replacement of the aluminum branch circuit conductors with copper wire eliminates
the primary cause of the potential hazards,
the aluminum wire itself. Depending on
the architectural style of your home and
the number and locations of unfinished
spaces (e.g., basements and attics), it may
be relatively easy for a qualified electrician
to rewire your home. A new copper wire
branch circuit system would be installed,
and the existing aluminum wire could be
abandoned inside the walls. This is the best
method available; but for many homes,
rewiring with copper is impractical and/or
prohibitively expensive.

COPALUM Crimp Method of Aluminum Wiring Remediation


As an alternate to rewiring with copper,
CPSC recommends attaching a short
section of copper wire to the ends of the
aluminum wire at connection points (a
technique commonly referred to as “pigtailing”), using a special connector named
COPALUM to join the wires. CPSC staff
considers pigtailing with a COPALUM connector to be a safe and permanent repair of
the existing aluminum wiring. The repair
should include every connection or splice
involving aluminum wire in the home, including outlets, dimmers, switches, fixtures,
appliances, and junction boxes. The repaired system, with short copper wire extensions at every termination throughout the
home, permits the use of standard wiring
devices, including receptacles and switches.
The COPALUM repair method is recommended by CPSC on the basis of CPSC sponsored research, laboratory tests, and
demonstration projects. This repair method
has been thoroughly proven by more than
a quarter of a century of field experience to
provide a permanent, low-resistance electrical connection to aluminum wire. The
COPALUM repair method eliminates the
aluminum connection failure problems and
still uses the existing, installed aluminum
wire. The COPALUM repair method has
been shown to be practical for installation
in an occupied and furnished home.

Every connection of aluminum-to-aluminum or aluminum-to-copper wire should be
repaired in order to obtain the maximum
benefit from such repair work. All appliances connected directly to No.12 or No.10
AWG aluminum branch circuit wiring (e.g.,
dishwashers, cooling equipment, heaters,
air conditioners, and light fixtures) must be
repaired in addition to wall outlets, switches, junction boxes, and panel boxes.
The COPALUM connector is a specially
designed system that includes a metal sleeve
intended to be installed only with a dedicated power tool and crimping die to make
a permanent connection, that is, in effect,
a cold weld (the precision dies in the COPALUM tool compress the connector and
wires using upwards of 10,000 pounds of
force, as required to make the permanent
aluminum wire connection).

An insulating sleeve is placed around the
crimp connector to complete the repair.
The copper wire pigtail is then connected
to the switch, receptacle, or other termination device. An example of a repaired receptacle outlet is also illustrated below.

COPALUM Crimp Connector and its Specialized Installation Tooling
Recommended COPALUM Connector Repair

Acceptable Alternative Repair Method: AlumiConn


CPSC staff recognizes that copper replacement may be cost prohibitive and that the
COPALUM repair may be unavailable in
a locality. Based upon an evaluation that
was, in part, CPSC supported,5
consumers
are advised that, if the COPALUM repair
is not available, the AlumiConn connector
may be considered the next best alternative
for a permanent repair. This repair method
involves pigtailing using a setscrew type
connector instead of the COPALUM crimp
connector in the repaired connections.
The AlumiConn connector has performed
well in initial tests, but is too new to have
developed a significant long-term safe
performance history as the COPALUM
repair. The repair should be conducted by a
qualified electrician because careful, professional workmanship and thoroughness are
required to make the AlumiConn connector repair safe and permanent.

Do Not Use Common Hand-Crimped
Connectors with Aluminum Wire

Remediation Methodologies That Are Not Recommended

Two other repair methods described
below are often recommended by some
electricians because they are substantially
less expensive than COPALUM crimp
connectors. CPSC staff does not consider either of these repairs an acceptable
permanent repair.

The use of electrical receptacles and switches marked COALR, CO/ALR, AL-CU or CU-AL have not
been recommended at this time by the US CPSC for aluminum wiring repairs

Twist-on Connectors


The first temporary repair involves
pigtailing with a twist-on connector. The
effectiveness of “pigtailing” using twist-on
connectors has been evaluated by CPSC
staff. In CPSC-sponsored laboratory testing
and life tests, substantial numbers of these
connectors overheated severely.
Surveys of and statements made by electricians and electrical inspectors confirm the
highly variable and often poor performance of twist-on connectors with aluminum
wire. It is possible that some pigtailing
“repairs” made with twist-on connectors may be prone to even more failures
than the original aluminum wire connectors. Accordingly, CPSC staff believes
that this method of repair does not solve
the problem of overheating present in
aluminum-wired branch circuits.

“Pigtailing” with Twist-on Connectors
Is Not a Recommended Repair

“CO/ALR” Switches and Receptacles


The other repair recommended by the
industry is to use switches and receptacles
labeled “CO/ALR.” These devices are
intended for direct connection to aluminum wire, although they can be used with
copper or copper-clad wire. CO/ALR
devices perform better with aluminum
wire than non-CO/ALR devices when

installed carefully and according to best
electrical practices. However, CO/ALR
wiring devices have failed in laboratory tests
when connected to aluminum wire typical
of that installed in existing homes. The test
conditions simulated actual use conditions;
no “overstress” type of testing was used.
Further, CO/ALR connectors are not
available for all parts of the wiring system
(e.g., for the permanently wired appliances
and ceiling mounted light fixtures). In the
opinion of CPSC staff, CO/ALR devices
must be considered, at best, an incomplete
repair.

Recommendations on Temporary Repairs


AL/CU twist-on connector pigtails or
CO/ALR devices may be used as an emergency, temporary repair for a failed aluminum termination

Concerns Arounds Original Aluminum Wiring Installations

concerns related to the original installation (1965-
1972) of single-strand aluminum/solid aluminum wiring connected to the lower
branch circuits (receptacles, switches, lights and small appliances). Homes with
aluminum main service wires and heavier 240 volt circuits that feed major
appliances (e.g., dryers, ranges, air conditioners) are however different and require a different treatment.

Trouble Signs

Unfortunately, failing aluminum-wired connections seldom provide easily detected warning signs. Aluminum-wired connections and splices have been reported to fail and overheat without any prior indications or problems.

If you notice any signs of a problem, have a qualified electrician determine the cause. DO NOT TRY TO DO IT YOURSELF. You could be electrocuted, or you could make the problem worse.

Signs of electrical system problems include hot-to-the touch face plates on receptacles or switches; flickering lights; circuits that don’t work; or the smell of burning plastic at outlets or switches.

When Was Aluminum Wiring Used?

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff and other government officials have investigated numerous hazardous incidents and fires throughout the nation involving aluminum branch circuit wiring. A national survey conducted by Franklin Research Institute for CPSC showed that homes built before 1972, and wired with aluminum, are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than homes wired with copper.

The survey conducted by the Franklin Research Institute defined “Fire Hazard Conditions” to occur when receptacle cover plate mounting screws reached 149°C (300°F), or sparks were emitted from the receptacle, or materials around the receptacle were charred.

That survey encompassed only the wire connections at outlets. It did not address other types of aluminum wire connections and splices in homes that are also prone to fail. No information was developed for aluminum-wired homes built after 1972.

The fire hazard investigated by CPSC occurs at connections with aluminum wire, including receptacles or switches and junction boxes; or the hazards occur with major appliances, including dishwashers or furnaces, for example. There are several deterioration processes in aluminum wire connections that cause increased resistance to the flow of electric current, resulting in damage that is cumulative in effect.

That increased resistance causes overheating, sometimes at hazardous levels, when current is flowing in the circuit. A shortage of copper in the mid 1960s caused builders to increase the use of aluminum wire in residential electrical distribution systems from the few large-power circuits (i.e., for electric clothes dryers and ranges), to general purpose 15- and 20-ampere-rated circuits.

Homes built before 1965 are unlikely to have aluminum branch circuit wiring. Electrical cables installed between 1965 and the mid 1970s in new homes, in additions, and as part of rewired/new circuits may contain aluminum wiring. On April 28, 1974, two people died in a home in Hampton Bays, N.Y. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by an overheating aluminum wire connection at a wall receptacle.

Electrical inspection Required After The Completion Of The Aluminum Wiring Remediation Process

In all cases of aluminum branch wiring, insurers require that all aluminum
branch circuit wire connections to the service panel must have been inspected and
repaired as necessary to ensure neither corrosion nor oxidation is present and all
connections are tight, before the home can be insured.

An application for a home that has all aluminum branch wiring circuit connections
remediated using one of the methods accepted by CPSC, such as the complete rewiring, COPALUM crimp method, or AlumiConn connector, may be submitted to insurers for their underwriting.


To establish eligibility for coverage, documentation from a state-licensed electrician confirming that all aluminum-to-copper connections have been completely rewired, or more commonly, repaired via the COPALUM crimp method or the AlumiConn connector method must be submitted.

In addition, the property must meet all other eligibility requirements of course, such as for example, a foundation inspection, wherein the checklist the crawlspace is under scrutiny for the appearance of puddles of water, if there are joists that would require reinforcement or sistering, sagging or sinking floors, and a long list outside the electrical domain.

Symptoms That Indicate That Aluminum Wiring Remediation Is Required

Aluminum wires are better in electrical distribution and transmission. However, typical household wiring devices (GFCI, receptacle outlets, light switches, etc.) are not rated for aluminum wire. As a result, an aluminum wired house is more at risk to reach hazardous fire conditions at the outlet wiring connections rather than homes that are wired with copper wires.Unfortunately, electrical aluminum wires rarely show signs of deterioration. However, If you detect any of the following signs:

  • Hot to the touch electrical outlet or light switches
  • Electrical circuit that does not work
  • Flickering lights
  • The smell of burning plastic at electrical receptacles

You potentially have an aluminum wire problem and you should contact a licensed electrician to address it. Do not try to do it yourself. You could get electrocuted or cause an electrical fire.The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) only recommends the following three methods to fix aluminum wire problems permanently

  1. Completely replace your home with copper wire
  2. Pigtail the aluminum wire ends with special crimp connectors called COPALUM
  3. Connect the aluminum wire ends with aluminum to copper AlumiConn wire lug connector

Rewiring your entire home with copper wire can be quite costly and impractical. As an alternative, the COPALUM and the AlumiConn methods are the most cost effective ways to address your aluminum wires.

The COPALUM and the AlumiConn methods consist of connecting copper wire to the end of the aluminum wire using a special COPALUM crimp connector or an AlumiConn wire lug connector. This process is often referred to as pigtailing. The repair must include all direct connections or splices involving aluminum wire in the home such as but not limited to electrical outlets, light switches, GFCIs, appliances, light fixtures and junction boxes. As a result, standard copper wiring devices (receptacles and dimmers) can now be safely connected to the home aluminum wires.The COPALUM method can only be administrated by a certified COPALUM electrician who has been trained by the special dedicated tool and crimping die manufacturer. Please visit tooling.tycoelectronics.com/copalum/copalum_home.asp to find a certified COPALUM electrician near your area. The tool will not be available to you unless you have been trained by the manufacturer.

The AlumiConn method is the most accessible and cost effective solution to addressing Aluminum electrical wiring issues. Unlike the COPALUM method, any certified electrician can repair your Aluminum wires with the AlumiConn wire lug connectors. The process consists of pigtailing using a setscrew type wire lug instead of a COPALUM crimp connector. This process must be applied to all direct aluminum wire connections to copper wiring devices, electrical equipment and light fixtures.

CPSC also highly recommends that you DO NOT address your home aluminum wire problems with the following methods as a permanent solution:

  • DO NOT USE common
    hand crimped connectors.
  • DO NOT PIGTAIL with any hand twist-on wire nut connectors.

  These two methods are often recommended by some electricians, as they tend to be significantly cheaper alternatives. However, most crimped and wire nut connectors are not designed to address the overheating problems presented by Aluminum wires at the electrical device’s connections.For additional information on how to effectively and permanently repair your Aluminum wire problem..

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Author D Laidler

I am David, economist, originally from Britain, and studied in Germany and Canada. I am now living in the United States. I have a house in Ontario, but I actually never go.  I wrote some books about sovereign debt, and mortgage loans. I am currently retired and dedicate most of my time to fishing. There were many topics in personal finances that have currently changed and other that I have never published before. So now in Business Finance, I found the opportunity to do so. Please let me know in the comments section which are your thoughts. Thank you and have a happy reading.

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