Are you losing insurance and real estate deals because of aluminum wiring?
There is no question today, that selling or insuring older homes is much more challenging, because of the historical performance data now available within the insurance industry. More often we are hearing of homeowners replacing roofs, electrical panels, plumbing systems prematurely, due to insurance requirements. In real estate sales, preparing for these predictive scenarios goes a long way in preventing contracts from falling through, and for insurance agents processing normal insurance renewals or new policies. Being able to better prepare your policyholders certainly enhances the quality of service provided. The following information relates to aluminum wiring only, and how to better prepare your clients to sell their homes and/or maintain the best possible insurance coverage.
What is it and what is wrong with it?
Aluminum wiring was used extensively in the 60s and 70s for 120‐Volt and 240 Volt electrical circuits. Less expensive, and at the time was thought to work as well as its counterpart copper. However, this was not the case. Aluminum requires a larger wire size to carry the same electrical current than copper, which was not fully considered during the early years of use.
Aluminum not being as durable as copper, resulted in unwarranted nicks / damage during installation, causing localized hot spots particularly at the connections.
As a result, aluminum wiring is subject to overheating and subsequent expansion and contraction. This condition causes loose connections, arching, and sometimes fire. The safety of the homeowners and the home is therefore at higher risk with homes exposed to aluminum wiring.
What changes have occurred since its introduction?
Once failures started to transpire, and the industry recognized the weaknesses concerned with aluminum conductors, changes were made to the design and installation practices of this electrical system.
Circuit breakers, switches, light fixtures, etc. were re‐designed to be compatible with aluminum, and today carry the CU/AL stamp to verify its compatibility.
A greater understanding of the current carrying capacity of the conductors also led to changes in the size of conductors being used for certain circuits. The minimum wire size for aluminum for example, changed to a larger wire gauge (#12), in lieu of the prior 14 gauge that was in use.
How can I tell if my clients have aluminum wiring?
Unfortunately, one rule does not fit all, and while easy to identify by professionals, no assumptions should be made by agents or their clients.
If the home was built in the 60’s – 70’s then the probability of its existence is higher. Some neighborhoods and regions of the country however will have a greater incidence of use, based on the volume of new construction during the time periods concerned.
Because of the invasive nature of identifying the product, homeowners are not advised to remove electrical panel covers, switch plates or conduct any form of dismantling, placing themselves are risk.
The question therefore remains, 'how can it be determined if a home has aluminum wiring?' The answer is simple, hire a qualified inspector. If the home is located in a part of the country requiring 4 point inspections, the presence of aluminum wiring will be identified at this time.
If you are trying to sell your home, have a pre listing inspection carried out or a more affordable 4 point inspection to determine the condition of the 4 major components. This way, you can help prepare your client and reduce the likelihood of contracts falling through.
What is the inspection process if aluminum wiring is present?
The inspection process will depend on the objective in question. If the inspection is carried out in connection with a real estate inspection, the following is a review of how some inspectors approach the inspection, but keep in mind this review exceeds present day licensing standards. Furthermore, the goal of this inspection process is to not only identify the existence of aluminum wiring, but to also see if there are any current visible issues and hazards. The process is as follows:
- Observe the electrical panel and circuit breakers to confirm compatibility with aluminum conductors. Check for any evidence of overheating, arcing, loose connections, etc.
- Conduct a temperature test on all accessible light switches and receptacles and inspect for any evidence of elevated temperatures or scorch marks.
- Remove a sampling of cover plates from light switches and receptacles to check the condition of the fixture, rating, and if there is any evidence of overheating or scorching.
- Make sure all visible breakers, light switches and outlets are all rated for CU/AL and signs of failure or elevated temperatures are present.
- Conduct an infrared scan of various internal areas around electrical panels, receptacles to identify any evidence of elevated temperatures along wiring runs.
What are my repair options?
Basically there are two choices when it comes to repairing or removing the aluminum wiring.
The first option is complete removal. Complete rewiring of all electrical circuits, and total replacement with its counterpart, copper. This is the most expensive option, but removes the issue completely including the need for disclosures required in a real estate transaction.
The second option is to use a crimp method, such as Alumicon crimping or COPALUM connectors. The aluminum is not replaced but rather changed at the circuit connections and an update of all connections with an anti‐oxidant. Circuits are pigtailed with a special crimping tool/product using a section of copper wire at the fixture connection. However, this is not a wire nut connection product!
Use of normal wire nut connections will not correct this problem and will further increase the overheating hazards associated with the same. This crimping method is a less expensive repair, but for real estate purposes will still require disclosures as the aluminum wiring is still being used. If properly completed, permitted and warranted by a professional electrical contractor, prior to a real estate contract ‐ inspection, this becomes less of a road block with buyers today.
Who do I get to fix it?
No matter what the remediation repair selected, this repair must be completed by a licensed electrician and must be properly permitted and warranted. The cost will vary depending on the size of home, extent of wiring and number of circuits and more importantly the type of remediation requested, complete rewire or crimp method.
This information is provided in succinct fashion for guidance only to real estate and insurance agents to help better serve their clients when working with homes with aluminum wiring. While the information is deemed accurate, this is not intended to advocate homeowner or anyone untrained with the identification, inspection or testing of any electrical system. At all times the services of a professional electrical contractor or inspector are required to inspect, dismantle or work on electrical systems. The author and/or provider of this report disclaim any responsibility or liability of any sort related to the application of the information.
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About the Author
Michael Rowan is the CEO of Inspection Depot, Inc., an inspection administrator, providing inspection services to the real estate and insurance industries. He is the originator and author of the Home Guide, an Inspection Report System that is used by inspectors across the United States in addition to many other training programs, IT applications and mobile tools. Michael has extensive commercial and residential building experience, is a licensed general contractor, home inspector, mold assessor, adjuster, technical expert and master building inspector with more than 10,000 inspections to his credit. If you would like any further information about this article or Inspection Depot please email email@example.com