ADVERTISER DISCLOSURE

Buying a House With Aluminum Wiring

Buying a House With Aluminum Wiring

Aluminum wiring was utilized in households more than fifty years ago (2) as it was much cheaper than copper wire (1) so buying a house with aluminum wiring was preferred by prospective homeowners (3). However, this approach has resulted in house fires (4) (17) due to failures at the connection of electrical devices associated with aluminum branch circuit wiring (5) smaller than the standard no. 8 AWG (6) (7) and the higher coefficient of thermal expansion in aluminum (15) in comparison to copper (13) (14).

As a consequence thereof, insurance agents and underwriters dismissed the issue of policies regarding residential real estate objects in these cases (8) because they are dangerous (11). Prospective policyholders are required either to replace the aluminum wiring installation (9) or perform a remediation process known as pigtailing (10) (12), through AlumConn type connectors and bring the aforementioned installation compliant with building codes (16) and therefore eligible to be insured.

Should I Buy A House With Aluminum Wiring

Buying a house with aluminum wiring is not up to code for residential buildings. Thus, for a residential real estate object to become eligible for homeowner insurance, the prospective policyholders should perform, when buying a house with aluminum wiring, remediation through an ESA licensed electrician who will follow CPSC protocols (pigtailing) or a complete copper rewiring to be brought up to code accordingly.

Buying a house with aluminum wiring is, nevertheless, not illegal and currently utilized in service drops and feeders from the utility connection to the residential building.

When choosing remediation through pigtailing in compliance with underwriting requirements, and building codes there are two compliant and safe approaches known as COPALUM and Alumiconn.

My recommendation when buying a house with aluminum wiring is to utilize the Alumiconn approach because it is the same as the alternative but quite cheaper.

The reason for the lower price of the Alumiconn approach is not a lower quality but the fact that COPALUM installation can only be executed by COPALUM authorized professionals and requires the usage of power tools.

It is not that aluminum wiring is illegal, it is just that building codes do not allow them for new buildings. Therefore, existing real estate objects have to be brought up to code through a complete rewiring or a cheaper process that we describe here, called pigtailing, which is a remediation process and this is what we discuss in this article for those who are thinking about buying a house with aluminum wiring.

Insurance companies and underwriters will accept pigtailing remediation only if it is performed according to the CPSC protocols and through a licensed electrician, as we will study in this article.

However, in other areas of construction, such as industrial facilities and utilities, different from homes, aluminum wiring is still widely used.

Aluminum building wiring for modern construction is manufactured with AA-8000 series aluminum alloy (sometimes referred to as “new technology” aluminum wiring) as specified by the industry standards such as the National Electrical Code (NEC). The use of larger gauge (diameter) stranded aluminum wire (larger than #8 American Wire Gauge) is fairly common in much of the US for modern residential construction.

Aluminum wire is used in residential applications for lower voltage service feeders from the utility to the building. These are service drops. The service drop is an overhead electrical line running from a utility pole to a customer’s building or other premises. It is the point where electric utilities provide power to their customers.

This is installed with materials and methods as specified by the local electrical utility companies. Also, larger aluminum stranded building wire made with AA-8000 series alloy of aluminum is used for electrical services (e.g. service entrance conductors from the utility connection to the service breaker panel) and for larger branch circuits such as for sub-panels, ranges, clothes dryers, and air-conditioning units.

How To Identify Aluminum Wiring In A House And Next Steps

How to identify aluminum wiring in a house, and what to do about it step by step:

  1. Find some exposed wiring in the house.

    This exposed wiring can usually be found somewhere in the basement, attic and electrical panels.

  2. Look at the outer casing of the wiring as it has to be stamped with ALUMINUM, or ALUM, AL, ALUM ACM, or ALACM

  3. A licensed electrician should check the aluminum wiring discovered.

    To become compliant, you have the option of a complete rewiring to copper wire or a remediation process known as a pigtail when buying a house with aluminum wiring.

  4. More than one electrician should provide estimations of the work to do and the price it will cost.

    You will take these quotes and study them.

  5. Perform remediation through pigtailing.

    This process is better than a complete rewire: much faster, cheaper, and equally safe when it is performed by a licensed professional. The remediation process can be done with connectors from COPALUM or AlumiConn. Both are acceptable for insurers and underwriters and compliant. However, AlumiConn connection approach is cheaper and simpler as it does not require power tools.

First, you’ll have to find some exposed wiring. This can usually be found somewhere in the basement or, if it’s a finished basement, look in the attic. Another place you can check are the electrical panels. 

Once you locate the wiring, take a look at the outer casing. If the wiring is aluminum, the casing will be stamped with markings. 

If the wiring found is aluminum, the casing will display one of the following: 

  • ALUMINUM
  • ALUM
  • AL 
  • ALUMINUM 
  • ACM
  • ALUM ACM
  • ALACM

Once you locate the wiring and determine it is, in fact, aluminum, you should have it inspected by a professional to determine whether or not it’s properly installed. Again, insurers may not provide home insurance unless it’s inspected by a certified professional.

So always when buying a house with aluminum wiring you should have a thorough home inspection and another inspection performed by a licensed electrician.

We always indicate that in addition to the home inspection, you need to hire other specialists, such as a roofer, in the cases of real estate objects with old roofs.

Many terminations of aluminum wire installed in the 1960s and 1970s that were properly installed continue to operate with no problems. However, problems can develop in the future, particularly if connections were not properly installed initially.

Aluminum Wiring Insurance: Home Insurance With Aluminum Wiring

Home insurance with aluminum wiring will not be accepted by insurers and underwriters because aluminum is not compliant with electrical installation protocols. Therefore, prospective policyholders should bring up to code their aluminum wiring through a remediation process known as pigtailing or a complete replacement thereof. When pigtailing is performed by a licensed electrician, it will be accepted by insurers who may issue a policy to the beneficiary afterward.

Insurers will accept a pigtail remediation process performed with COPALUM or AlumiConn connectors (ALU -> CU) according to protocols of the CSPC, ESA, and NEC.

The home inspection is not enough here. You should hire a licensed electrician and inform this technician that you require a scrutiny on the electrical installation.

The electrician will be able to find many defects and issues related to improper installation, or poor workmanship, including not abrading the wires, not applying a corrosion inhibitor, not wrapping wires around terminal screws, wrapping wires around terminal screws the wrong way, and inadequate torque on the connection screws. There can also be problems with connections made with too much torque on the connection screw as it causes damage to the wire, particularly with the softer aluminum wire.

The licensed electrician will also check that each wire does not transport too much stream: one single wire cannot feed the laundry area and the kitchen. This is a check that the electrician will do.

DIY Pigtailing When Buying a House With Aluminum Wiring

This is not something that you could DIY. There are compliance reasons to explain that.

Technically, you can do the pigtail yourself, as the AlumiConn approach does not require the utilization of power tools. However, insurance companies will not accept it.

They would accept only remediations or modifications performed by a licensed electrician. Furthermore, if you have a fire at home caused by the wiring system, the insurer or underwriter may deny paying you the compensation for the damages, even when the loss is a covered event in the insurance policy.

Aluminum Wiring Repair Cost – Cost To Replace Aluminum Wiring In A House

The national average materials cost to repair aluminum wiring is $38.24 per wiring, with a range between $35.78 to $40.70. The total price for labor and materials per wiring is $292.22, coming in between $265.41 to $319.04. Your actual price will depend on your location, job size, conditions and finish options you choose.

Cost To Repair Aluminum Wiring
National Avg. Materials Cost per wiring outlet$38.24
National Avg. Cost (labor and materials) per wiring outlet$292.22
National Cost Range (labor and materials) per wiring outlet$265.41 – $419.04

Repair Or Replace Aluminum Wiring

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), replacing aluminum wire completely is the most permanent solution before buying a house with aluminum wiring because it removes the primary cause of the fire hazard: the aluminum wire itself.

Replacing aluminum wiring is an extremely expensive project, which prevents most homeowners from choosing this option.

However, there are certain repair methods that are much cheaper and are considered to be just as safe and permanent as a complete replacement.

You see, aluminum wiring has only been found to overheat at electrical “connections”, i.e. outlets, dimmers, switches, fixtures, appliances, junction boxes, etc.

So, while completely replacing aluminum wires obviously prevents fire hazards because obviously aluminum wires cannot overheat if they are not there, “repairing” just the electrical connections, means, addressing only the actual problem spots is an equally safe, permanent, and cost-effective alternative to replacement when buying a house with aluminum wiring.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to replace aluminum wire vs just repair it…

Replacing Aluminum Wiring When Buying a House With Aluminum Wiring

“Replacing” aluminum wiring requires completely removing aluminum wiring throughout the house and replacing it with copper cable.

Because almost all electrical wiring runs between walls, this method is time-consuming and requires cutting holes in the walls, leading to costly repairs.

Repairing aluminum wiring

“Repairing” aluminum wiring means an electrician simply attaches a short section of copper cable to the end of the aluminum wire at every connection point in your home. This remediation process is called “pigtailing”.

Pigtailing is the process I recommend you to approach when buying a house with aluminum wiring.

With this process, copper cable, instead of aluminum, connects to electrical devices. Since copper is sturdier and far less likely to overheat and breakdown, this prevents overheating. And, since the electrician doesn’t have to remove any existing aluminum wires, this method is cheaper, cleaner and faster.

It would be very expensive to have to pull all the wiring in a house out and replace it, and so the solution when buying a house with aluminum wiring that is most commonly used is pigtailing. This involves inserting a copper wire — the ”pigtail”– between the aluminum wire and the device connection screw. It’s not that expensive.

Insurance companies and underwriters would be worried about the fact that there is aluminum wiring in the home at all and would not issue a policy because of this. Therefore, my conclusion here is that the pigtail has to be done when buying a house with aluminum wiring instead of replacing the entire wiring.

Protocols To Make Pigtailing Compliant When Buying a House With Aluminum Wiring

Insurance agents and underwriters will be fine with this pigtailing process performed when buying a house with aluminum wiring with the condition that it is executed through the CPSC protocols by a licensed electrician because this process can avoid an important hazard. It is not just changing a light fixture.

The CPSC considers the use of pigtails with wire nuts (called also twist-on wire connectors) a temporary repair, and even as a temporary repair recommends special installation procedures, and informs that there can still be hazards with attempting the repairs.

If the home owner or listing agent tells you or your agent the property has been pigtailed, have your realtor ask the seller to provide ESA certification that it’s been done: your insurance company will require proof that the repair has been done properly. ESA means Electrical Safety Authority: only one of their approved electricians should be contracted for this kind of work. You’re not changing a light fixture, you’re trying to prevent a fire.This is not a DYI exercise, it should be left to the professionals.

If the home owner or listing agent tells you or your agent the property has been pigtailed, have your realtor ask the seller to provide ESA certification that it’s been done: your insurance company will require proof that the repair has been done properly.

The more extensively tested method uses special crimp-on connectors called COPALUM connectors, and the CPSC has also recognized miniature plug-type connectors called AlumiConn connectors.

buying a house with aluminum wiring
ALUMICONN APPROACH IS MY RECOMMENDED PROCESS FOR PIGTAILING WHEN BUYING A HOUSE WITH ALUMINUM WIRING: IT IS EASY TO DO BUT IT HAS TO BE PERFORMED BY A LICENSED ELECTRICIAN SO THAT INSURANCE AGENTS AND UNDERWRITERS APPROVE IT.

AlumiConn vs COPALUM: Which Connector Is Better?

COPALUM and AlumiConn are types of connectors, thus, devices that attach the aluminum wiring to copper wiring safely and without losing conductivity or efficiency in the transmission.

In the discussion AlumiConn vs COPALUM, AlumiConn connectors should be preferred by homeowners as it is slightly cheaper, does not require the utilization of power tools and finally, because there are more AlumiConn professionals available in the market.

Nevertheless, when buying a house with aluminum wiring, any termination or remediation process performed with any of these connectors is widely accepted in general by insurers and underwriters with the condition that it is executed by an ESA licensed electrician.

The Alumiconn Retermination Program is faster to install and less costly than rewiring (and also cheaper than COPALUM approach) and we recommend this approach when when buying a house with aluminum wiring.

In many cases, walls and ceilings do not have to be cut or segmented at all. Every 15 and 20-ampere branch circuit is re-terminated using a special tool. A short section of copper wire is attached to the ends of the aluminum wire at connection points (the technique commonly known as “pigtailing”).

Pigtailing with a specialized Alumiconn connector mitigates the risk factors and is considered to be a safe and permanent repair of the existing aluminum wiring. The repair will include every connection or splice involving aluminum wire in the home. 

This includes outlets, switches, fixtures, appliances, and junction boxes. The repaired system now allows for the use of standard wiring devices, including receptacles and switches.

COPALUM connectors basically weld the aluminum wire to the copper wire using a special “crimping” tool. Because the process includes power tools, this connection method usually takes longer and requires a technician that has been trained and certified by COPALUM.

COPALUM connectors use a special crimping system that creates a cold weld between the copper and aluminum wire, and is considered a permanent, maintenance-free repair. However, there may not be sufficient length of wires in enclosures to permit a special crimping tool to be used, and the resulting connections are sometimes too large to install in existing enclosures due to limited space (or “box fill”).

Installing an enclosure extender for unfinished surfaces, replacing the enclosure with a larger one, or installing an additional adjacent enclosure can be done to increase the available space. Also, COPALUM connectors are costly to install, require special tools that cannot simply be purchased, and electricians certified to use them by the manufacturer, and it can sometimes be very difficult to find local electricians certified to install these connectors in small cities.

AlumiConn connectors keep the aluminum and copper wires separate but connected via a tin-plated aluminum block. Keeping the wires separated prevents the possibility of electrical fires because copper and aluminum, when connected, expand/contract at different rates, leading to loose connections and overheating. For added security, AlumiConn connectors also come prefilled with a special solution that prevents the old aluminum wiring from corroding.

The AlumiConn miniature lug connector can also be used for permanent repair. The only special tool required for an electrician installing them is a special torque screwdriver that should be readily available to qualified electrical contractors.

Proper torque on the connectors set screws is critical to having an acceptable repair. However, the use of the Alumiconn connectors is a relatively newer repair option for older aluminum wiring compared to other methods, and the use of these connectors can have some of the same or similar problems with limited enclosure space as the COPALUM connectors.

Our suggestion on which method to choose when when buying a house with aluminum wiring? AlumiConn.

AlumiConn is just as effective, safe and permanent as COPALUM but it’s also cheaper. That’s because COPALUM connectors can only be installed by a “COPALUM-certified” technician and these techs may not be available in your area. They are trained only by the company itself.

COPALUM is not more expensive because it is a better solution. It is more expensive due to the lack of techs who can install these connections and the requirement of power tools to perform it.

Special twist-on connectors, or wire nuts as many people call them are available for joining aluminum to copper wire, which is pre-filled with an antioxidant compound made of zinc dust in a polybutene base with silicon dioxide added to the compound to abrade the wires.

Processes That Influence In The Cost To Replace The Aluminum Wiring

Several upgrades or repairs are available for homes with older pre-1970s aluminum branch circuit wiring:

  • Completely rewiring the house with copper wires (usually cost prohibitive)
  • “Pig-tailing” involves splicing a short length of copper wire (pigtail) to the original aluminum wire, and then attaching the copper wire to the existing electrical device. The splice of the copper pigtail to the existing aluminum wire can be accomplished with special crimp connectors, special miniature lug-type connectors, or approved twist-on connectors (with special installation procedures). Pigtailing generally saves time and money and is possible as long as the wiring itself isn’t damaged.

However, the CPSC currently recommends only two alternatives for a “permanent repair” using the pig-tailing method: those are the ones we have already studied above.

Aluminum Wire vs Copper Wire

In the discussion aluminum wire vs copper wire, it is determined that while aluminum wiring is less expensive than copper wire, the latter is prescribed by building codes because of its superior material stability and electrical conductivity.

Aluminum has been used as an electrical conductor material for a considerable amount of time.

Whereas aluminum wire requires a larger wire gauge or wire diameter than copper wire to carry the same current with the same electrical resistance, it is still less expensive than copper wire per the same unit of length

When buying a house with aluminum wiring you have to consider to replace all the aluminum wiring or just pigtailing it with the intervention of an electrician.

The issue with aluminum wiring is that it isn’t as stable as copper. It is more susceptible to temperature changes, which makes the aluminum expand and contract.

Like copper, aluminum is conductive, so it’s become a common material used in the construction of electrical wiring. Unfortunately, aluminum wiring isn’t as strong as copper wiring, and it also has a higher thermal expansion coefficient. With that said, there are still advantages to using aluminum wiring.

Aluminum wiring almost always costs less than copper wiring. It’s not uncommon for aluminum wiring to cost just half the price of copper wiring. For a residential home, using aluminum wiring instead of copper wiring can save builders several hundred dollars. For a commercial building, the cost-savings benefits of aluminum wiring can be thousands of dollars.

When the aluminum gets hot, it expands and when it gets cold it contracts. This change in size can cause the outer casing to become loose. When outer casings become loose, the issue is not only increased movement in the case but oxygen as well. If there is a spark, there is a chance that it could then ignite due to the oxygen excess.

Likewise, one of the more significant issues for aluminum wiring in homes comes from the fact that the electrical panel carries too much load. This can cause aluminum wires to get too hot and begin to cause problems. Be sure to ask your electrician to review the electrical panel as well before buying a house with aluminum wiring

Because of that risk, you’ll have a harder time getting home insurance with aluminum wiring. In fact, all mortgage lenders may require you to update the electrical as a condition of your mortgage approval. 

And it’s important to note that while aluminum wiring might be more prone to fire hazards, it’s considered safe if installed properly. 

Copper Wiring

Copper wiring is preferred, in fact, over aluminum wiring because of its high tensile strength. The tensile strength of copper is roughly 40% higher than that of aluminum. With a higher tensile strength, copper wiring is less likely to break than aluminum wiring.

This is important considering that electrical wiring is often installed by pulling it through ports and feeders. If the wiring is weak or fragile, it may break during installation. Copper wiring has a high tensile strength to protect against breakage as well as other forms of physical damage.

Copper wiring also has a lower thermal expansion coefficient than its aluminum counterpart. In other words, it doesn’t expand as much as aluminum wiring when exposed to heat. The temperature of electrical wiring increases as electricity flows through it. Aluminum wiring has a higher thermal expansion than copper wiring, resulting in greater expansion. If the wiring expands too much, it may cause areas in which the wiring is spliced or joined to break.

Aluminum Branch Wiring Was Used As A Substitute For Expensive Copper Wire Approximately When?

 Aluminum wire was used for wiring entire houses for a short time from the 1960s to the mid-1970s during a period of high copper prices and as a substitute for expensive copper wiring.

Conclusions

Electrical devices (outlets, switches, lighting, fans, etc.) at the time were not designed with the particular properties of the aluminum wire being used in mind, and there were some issues related to the properties of the wire itself, such as its thermal expansion, making the installations with the aluminum wiring much more susceptible to problems.

It was soon discovered, however, that not only is aluminum less durable than copper, it can also be a fire hazard if not installed properly.

There are several possible reasons why these connections failed. The two main reasons were improper installations (poor workmanship) and the differences in the coefficient of expansion between aluminum wire used in the 1960s to mid-1970s and the terminations, particularly when the termination was a steel screw on an electrical device. The reported hazards are associated with older solid aluminum branch circuit wiring (smaller than no. 8 AWG which is the standard unit of measure used, American Wire Gauge)

Aluminum is a very good electrical conductor. The problem is that it can oxidize. It is incompatible with devices intended for copper wiring. It’s very malleable and can come loose at the terminal screws. It can overheat. And so it’s considered a fire hazard. Some warning signs to look out for include sparks from light switches when you turn them on or off; warping of cover plates, weird smells around cover plates, flickering lights.

Revised manufacturing standards for both the wire and the devices were developed to reduce the problems.

Existing homes with this older aluminum wiring used in branch circuits present a potential fire hazard.

Leave a Comment