Buying a House With Aluminum Wiring in Florida

 

In the 1960s and early 1970s, nearly 2 million homes were wired with aluminum. From 1965 to 1973, aluminum wiring was sometimes substituted for copper branch-circuit wiring in residential electrical systems. *We have found aluminum wiring in homes after 1973 but they are not common. There was a shortage of copper at that time making the material hard to get and causing copper prices to soar unexpectedly. So Electrical Contractors and homeowners started to install aluminum wiring as a cheaper alternative. Aluminum wiring isn’t inherently problematic, but the ways it was installed at the time caused, and continues to cause, dangerous and fatal house fires. *Since homes with aluminum wiring represent an increased fire hazard homeowners Insurance companies may charge more in order for them to offset the greater financial risk. It was close to ten years of installing aluminum wiring before it was determined that aluminum wiring was not safe. There are tens of thousands of electrical fires every year in the United States that are caused by Aluminum wiring. 

    • On April 28, 1974, two people were killed in a house fire in Hampton Bays, New York. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by a faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet.
    • According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), “Homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 [‘old technology’ aluminum wire] are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than is a home wired with copper.
A house typically has hundreds of connections. Aluminum wire is more likely to become defective well before copper due to certain qualities inherent in the metal itself. Aluminum wires are more brittle than copper, which can lead to more hot spots and overheating connections. Neglected connections in outlets, switches, and light fixtures containing aluminum wiring become increasingly dangerous over time. As the aluminum wears, its continued expansion and contraction can weaken the ends of the wires where they connect to screws and cause a fire if it gets too hot. Poor connections cause the wiring to overheat, creating a potential fire hazard and electrical shock. It’s also possible for aluminum wires to rust, which can cause major issues. There are 3 primary differences between aluminum and copper.
    1. Softness – aluminum is a much softer metal. Electricians had to be more careful during installation to ensure they didn’t damage the wire and create hot spots that result in overheating
    2. Creeping – aluminum wiring expands more when electricity flowed through it. Over time, this expansion and contraction would loosen the wiring and creep out of the circuit breakers causing a loose connection and overheating.
    3. Rusting – when aluminum wiring rusts, the white oxide is not a good conductor and it does interfere with the flow of electricity and again, can cause overheating.


Problems with aluminum wiring:

When current is going through aluminum wiring the wire heats up and expands.  When there is no current, it contracts.  After so many of these cycles, the connections at the devices and in the electrical panels will loosen over time, which can cause the failure of the wire resulting in fire.

Aluminum also oxides or corrodes over time. For example, if it’s connected to another type of metal, like copper, it could possibly cause a fire. The National Electric Code requires that aluminum wires be connected together using a special UL listed device, with an anti-oxidant compound. Aluminum wiring has not been recalled but many fixtures are not rated to be used with aluminum and the big risk is mixing aluminum wiring with common copper rated fixtures. Fixtures and devices must all be listed by UL listing authorities stating that they can be hooked up to Aluminum wiring.

Shortly after aluminum was introduced they discovered these issues:

    • Flickering lights
    • Warm cover plates on switches and receptacles
    • Burned insulation on wiring
    • Overheating issue

Identifying Aluminum Wiring
(It is not safe to handle electrical wiring, fixtures, or outlets. Electricians, contractors, and/or inspectors use the following to help them identify Aluminum wiring. Please speak with a professional if you have concerns.)

    • Aluminum wires are the color of aluminum and are easily discernible from copper and other metals.
    • Since the early 1970s, wiring-device binding terminals for use with aluminum wire have been marked CO/ALR, which stands for “copper/aluminum revised.”
    • Look for the word “aluminum” or the initials “AL” on the plastic wire jacket. Where wiring is visible, such as in the attic or electrical panel, inspectors can look for printed or embossed letters on the plastic wire jacket. Aluminum wire may have the word “aluminum,” or a specific brand name, such as “Kaiser Aluminum,” marked on the wire jacket. Where labels are hard to read, a light can be shined along the length of the wire.
    • When was the house built? Homes built or expanded between 1965 and 1973 are more likely to have aluminum wiring than houses built before or after those years.

It’s Time to Switch Your Homeowners Insurance,
Can You Get Homeowners Insurance With Aluminum Wiring?

Aluminum wiring is problematic for the safety of your home, which means it’s problematic for insurance companies. Since homes with aluminum wiring represent an increased fire hazard an insurer will charge more to cover it, in order for them to offset the greater financial risk. Let’s take a look at how your aluminum wiring affects your homeowner’s insurance in Florida and what you can do to remedy it. In the early 2000s, most companies were outright denying homes with aluminum wiring in Florida. Citizens Insurance was one of the first companies in the state to allow policyholders to keep their aluminum wiring as long as they properly remediated them. 

The wiring is not necessarily a bad thing, but the connections have been known to cause fires. In fact, many insurance companies will not provide you with coverage until this issue has been repaired. You’ll likely have to remediate the aluminum wires in the home.

A complete rewiring of your home will take care of this issue, but it is very expensive and a massive project. Instead of spending thousands of dollars, you can have a specialist make the connections safe by adding special COPALUM connectors or AlumiConn connectors to the end of your aluminum wiring. A trained electrician should always be installing these connectors. Please note that they may need to replace existing junction boxes to make room for these connectors. Once updated, you can send a photograph and your receipt to the insurance company. Additionally, you can rest assured that your family is a little bit safer in your home.

You may pay a higher insurance rate than normal. Homeowner’s insurance typically covers electrical fires due to unexpected faulty equipment, but providers don’t usually cover issues that are a result of policyholder negligence.

So, if you have a policy and have aluminum wiring, be sure to check to see if an incident caused by these wires is covered. Your provider may determine your failure to update them as carelessness on your part and not reimburse you if a fire does break out.

So though the aluminum wiring is not unsafe just because it is installed, it is considered a hazard because the aluminum wire is more likely to cause a fire than copper wire for many reasons: Aluminum is softer than copper, which makes it more likely to cause breaks in the wire, creating hot spots. The oxide that forms on aluminum causes overheating, while the oxide that forms on copper does not.

 

Aluminum Wiring Remediation
How to correct aluminum wiring.

 

Is aluminum wiring a deal-breaker?

Aluminum wiring isn’t a deal-breaker. The problem was at the connections for receptacles, light fixtures, appliances, and at the panel.

Wire remediation means repairing or replacing the wires at the connections in your home to make them safer. If you’ve got aluminum wires, it’s highly recommended that you hire an electrician to fix the problem.

Unsurprisingly, the best way to remedy your aluminum wiring situation would be to have the house rewired completely with copper wire.

Considering the inspection, labor costs, potential a new electrical panel, and hundreds of feet of copper wire, this process easily costs thousands of dollars, which makes it an unrealistic option for many.

A more cost-effective solution could be to repair just the ends of the aluminum wires at connection points. Two generally accepted ways of accomplishing this are with COPALUM or AlumiConn connectors. 

The COPALUM method involves “pig tailing” copper wires to the end of your aluminum wires with a COPALUM connector. The AlumiConn process is similar, although AlumiConn isn’t the first choice of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a government agency that develops product safety standards. 

Insurance companies could deem either one sufficient, but COPALUM is generally more expensive and official since it must be done by a contractor. AlumiConn connectors are cheaper and they’re available online or at stores, but it’s still recommended that an electrician installs them. Both processes make aluminum wiring safer.

While these methods still may cost hundreds or thousands of dollars since every connection in your home must be remediated, they are still cheaper than completely rewiring.

If you’ve done some sort of haphazard home repair to your connections, like wrapping copper and aluminum together in a twist-on nut, you could be making your home more unsafe and uninsurable. It’s always recommended to get the help of an electrician.

A qualified electrician who is experienced in evaluating aluminum wiring should be contacted to further inspect the home’s electrical wiring. The CPSC recommends the following for correction:

Rewire the home with copper wiring. In Florida, this is the most likely option to ensure the home can be insured but also expensive to complete.

Use copalum crimps. The crimp connector repair consists of attaching a piece of copper wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially designed metal sleeve and powered crimping tool. This special connector can be properly installed only with the matching AMP tool. An insulating sleeve is placed around the crimp connector to complete the repair. Although effective, they are expensive

I hope this information has helped explain the truths behind aluminum wiring in your home. Contact us if you have questions or need to schedule an inspection.

Further tips for your home in Florida follow these links:

What is a 4-Point Home Inspection?

Annual Roof Inspections

Yearly Home Maintenance Checklist

How to Prevent Plumbing Leaks in the Home

Hurricane Preparation List and Tips