Any electrician will tell you that copper wiring should always be used for the electricity in your home. But copper is expensive and that can be a hindrance, in some instances more than others. In the mid 1960s to the early 70s copper was far too expensive to be used in homes and was replaced by aluminum as the preferred material.
Aluminum wiring that was installed during this time period is called “old technology” wiring. Such wiring has properties that make it a potential fire hazard. When subject to stress over a period of time, aluminum wiring will deform more rapidly than copper. Likewise, prolonged exposure to heat will make aluminum expand far more quickly than copper. Aluminum wire is extremely brittle and is subject to corrosion from oxidation. This corrosion interferes with its ability to properly conduct electricity.
If you suspect your home has aluminum wiring, there are certain waning signs to look for that indicate you may have the potential for a fire:
· Face plates on outlets or switches are warm to the touch
· Lights that continually flicker when they are on
· Circuits that don’t work properly
· Smelling burning plastic when you are near outlets or switches
Unfortunately, not all failing aluminum wired connections issue warning signals. Some aluminum wired connections have been known to fail without any prior indication of trouble.
What methods of remediation are available to homeowners that will prevent a tragedy from happening? One way is to eliminate the aluminum wire itself. Depending upon the style in which your house was built and the number of basements and attics you have, it may be possible to rewire your home. An electrician would install a copper wire branch circuit system, which would essentially eliminate the function of the existing aluminum wire inside the walls. This is expensive, but it is the most effective solution to the problem.
A less expensive alternative is the crimp connector repair. This involves attaching a piece of copper wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially designed metal sleeve. The metal sleeve is called a COPALUM parallel splice connector. This special connector can only be installed with the AMP tool that was developed for this purpose. The AMP makes a permanent connection. The repair is completed with the addition of an insulating sleeve around the crimp connector.
There are two other repair methods that are significantly less expensive than COPALUM crimp connectors, however, neither of these repairs is considered as safe. The first of these, called “pig tailing”, involves attaching a short piece of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a twist-on connector. The copper wire is connected to the switch or wall outlet. These connectors have proven to overheat over time.
The second repair uses switches and outlets labeled “CO/ALR”. These devices perform better with aluminum wire when properly installed than the types of switches and outlets usually used in the old technology aluminum branch circuit wiring. However, CO/ALR connectors are not available for all parts of the wiring system. These wiring devices are also not fail proof.