Is Aluminum Wiring Dangerous?

The aluminum wiring installed in homes during the 1960s and 1970s is considered a serious fire hazard. Problems with installation, outlet connections, and the metal itself resulted in wiring that degrades and loosens over time. If your home has aluminum wiring, you should repair or replace it right away.

Here’s everything you need to know about aluminum wiring, including why it’s dangerous, how you can tell if you have it, and how to make sure it can’t hurt your home or your family:

What is aluminum wiring?

Solid-conductor aluminum wiring is electrical wiring made with aluminum instead of the standard copper. In the mid-1960s and 70s, builders frequently wired new homes with this type of wiring to avoid paying rising copper prices. Many of the homes built in the 60s and 70s still use their original wiring. Unfortunately, there were several problems with the residential aluminum wiring installed during this period of time.

What’s wrong with it?

Aluminum expands when heated much more than copper does. Excess heat expansion can force the wire out from under terminal screws, loosening its connection to the attached device.  When aluminum wire connections loosen, the metal is exposed to the air. Exposed wiring is prone to oxidation and corrosion, which can further impede electrical flow to outlets. Finally, aluminum wiring is simply less flexible and more fragile than copper. It’s prone to breaking or fraying over time, especially if it was improperly installed.

Loose connections, metal oxidation, corrosion, and warping all increase the electrical resistance inside the wire. The more electrical resistance exists inside the wire, the hotter the wire gets. The hotter the wire gets, the more it expands. The more the wire expands, the looser the wiring connections become. In other words, the problems with aluminum wiring–and the potential damage those problems can cause–get worse over time.

Is it dangerous?

It can be, yes. As the connections between aluminum wires and their connections to outlets and switches deteriorate, they become a fire hazard. As electrical resistance builds up inside the wire, the wire gets hotter and hotter at points of resistance. The point of connection can eventually become so dangerously hot that it can ignite the material around it. In some cases, electricity in the wire may even arc as it attempts to contact the connected device.

When you consider how many electrical connections homes have, it’s easy to see the potential danger of this wiring. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, homes containing with aluminum wiring installed before 1972 are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach dangerous “fire hazard conditions” than homes wired with copper. Aluminum wiring installed before 1972 should be considered a serious fire hazard and repaired or replaced.

How can I tell if I have it?

If your home was built in the mid 60s to early 70s, then you probably have aluminum wiring. You can tell for sure by looking for the markings on the plastic-sheath of the electric cables. Look for exposed wiring in unfinished parts of your home such as your basement or garage. Check the plastic sheath closely to find the markings. Manufacturers label Sheaths containing aluminum wiring “Al” or “aluminum” on one side of the jacket every couple of feet.

Do not touch the wiring while you’re looking for these markings. The plastic sheath insulates the wiring and should protect you from shock, but you should exercise caution anyway. The markings may be difficult to see, so consider using a flashlight to find them. If you can’t identify your wiring this way, give us a call. Our experts can identify aluminum wiring and walk you through your best options for repairing or replacing it.

What should I do about it?

You have a few options. The quickest option is to have a licensed electrician replace the ends of your aluminum wires with copper “COPALUM” connectors at each outlet connection. These connectors ensure a stable, non-resistant connection between your outlets and your wiring. Unlike the original aluminum, COPLAUM connectors won’t loosen or degrade over time, preventing the major fire hazard risk. COPLAUM connectors only replace connections, however, which means they don’t solve all the problems associated with aluminum wiring.

The COPLAUM repair procedure helps make your electrical connections safe, but it doesn’t address problems in the wire itself. Over time, aluminum wiring tends to break down and degrade. Broken segments of wire are also a significant fire hazard. The only way to deal with the degradation of the wiring itself is to replace it entirely. Replacing aluminum wiring with copper wiring is the best way to prevent future wiring problems.

How can I replace it?

Replacing your home’s electrical wiring is a significant project that you should not attempt on your own. Instead, let Early Bird Electric help! Our licensed technicians have the training, experience, and tools required to complete whole-home rewiring services quickly and effectively.

The best way to prevent aluminum wiring fire hazards is to replace your wiring. The best way to replace your wiring is to hire Early Bird’s experts. We can install safe wiring that will stay safe for years and years to come. Whether you’re looking for an inspection, COPLAUM repairs, whole-home rewiring, or you just have electrical questions, Early Bird is the place to contact, anytime.