Aluminum Wiring Can Be Dangerous—Here’s What to Do About It

10 September, 2018
Aluminum Wiring Can Be Dangerous

Living in an older house can be great. Older homes have built-in character and timeless architecture, but they also carry safety risks. One of them is aluminum electrical wiring. This type of wiring exists in most houses built prior to the 1970s.

The reason aluminum wiring can be dangerous is the fire risk it presents. “Homes built before 1972, and wired with aluminum are 55 times more likely to have one or more wire connections at outlets reach ‘Fire Hazard Conditions’ than homes wired with copper.” In 2016, there were 352,000 house fires which resulted in $5.7 billion in damages. For you and your family’s safety, and to avoid losing all your worldly possessions, it’s important to make sure your home is not housing significant fire risks right within its walls.

The danger of aluminum wiring comes from the degradation of connections. When attached to a receptacle, switch, or junction box, degraded connections cause increased resistance to electrical currents. This increased resistance leads to overheating, which then results in a fire. Electrical malfunctions account for more than 50,000 fires a year, as well as hundreds of deaths. Electrical distribution systems are the third leading cause of all fires, so it’s well worth knowing what to do about at-home wiring risks.

Homes wired with copper are much safer than those wired with aluminum, but rewiring an entire home is generally not the most practical solution. Rather than replacing every single wire, contractors can add a short amount of copper wire to the end of the aluminum wire. The connecting material between wire and device will, in this case, be copper, reducing the likelihood of heat building up and creating a blaze. There are special brands of copper connectors designed exactly for this purpose.

There may have to be some repositioning of junction boxes to accommodate for the new wiring setup, but a trained electrician should be able to do this fairly easily.

A shortage of copper in the 1960s prompted developers to up their use of aluminum in wiring homes, changing the wiring systems in the process. After reported deaths in the 70s, the dangers of aluminum wiring became known. House fires occurred without any prior warning of electrical issues. People’s homes seemed to be spontaneously bursting into flames. This was perturbing, to say the least.

One of the reasons aluminum wiring is so dangerous is because by the time the problem presents itself, it’s far too late. Families are given no warning or way of realizing that their home’s wiring system is about to ignite.

DIYers take note: this is not a project to attempt yourself. You could electrocute yourself while trying to fix your wiring, or make the problem even worse.

Some ways you can clue into impending electrical problems are noticing:

  • Face plates that are warm to the touch on switches or grills.
  • Circuits that have stopped working.
  • The smell of burning plastic anywhere in the house.

A reputable electrical service will know the approved methods of adjusting or replacing aluminum wires. Ask for references from friends and family who live in your area, or consult the Electrical Contract Association of Ontario for the industry authority.

Owning an older home can be a dream come true, but it’s important to bear in mind that safety standards in building practices and materials have changed over time. With modern developments in science, engineering, and production, buildings can be built more precisely to code. Ways to make sure your retro home is safe are:

  • Check for asbestos. If you’re not sure, hire a professional asbestos company to do the inspection for you.
  • Check for lead paint. This is especially important if you have kids, as chipped lead paint could induce lead poisoning to those in the vicinity.
  • Make sure any stairs and banisters are sturdy and in good shape.
  • Make sure the fire alarm is always working and has a charged battery.

Aluminum wiring is just one of the things to check for in an older home; before buying a home with some years on it, it’s a good idea to have it professionally inspected for red flags. A small fee upfront could save you thousands of dollars down the road, and could help you negotiate on the home’s price. Whether you do or don’t wish to proceed with the sale if issues are found, it’s much better to have the knowledge up front.

If your home has aluminum wiring, have an electrical company take the necessary steps to render it safe. Attempting it yourself is inadvisable, so leave the heavy duty gloves to the pros.

Hi-Lite Electric has been helping GTA residents light up their day for more than 35 years. We serve York, Toronto, and Peel Regions. For more information about how to protect your home, call us at (416) 800-5523, or contact us here.

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