How safe is your home?
The answer to that question comes down to several different factors, including whether you have any safety solutions installed, what kind of fire hazards are located around your property, and even the kind of materials that were used to wire your electrical components.
While homes featuring aluminum wiring are significantly less common today than they once were, they still contribute to a lot of controversy in the architectural and home improvement world. Over the decades, aluminum wires have been connected to a range of electrical fires and damage - some issues have even led to homeowner fatalities.
Yet, despite this, in some circumstances, aluminum still has a great deal of value. For instance, the material is present in most high-voltage power lines and airplanes. In these circumstances, aluminum has proved itself to be safe, and more effective than standard copper wire.
The question is, what makes residential aluminum wiring so dangerous in the average home?
The Problem with Residential Aluminum Wiring in Homes
According to information recorded by the consumer product safety commission, around two million homes throughout America today have been restored, renovated, or built using electrical circuits that feature aluminum wiring. According to specialists in the field, unless every possible safety precaution was taken, each light-switch, outlet, and junction box in these aluminum wire homes could represent a fire waiting to happen.
So, if aluminum is so dangerous, why did contractors use the material in the first place? The simple answer is that most companies simply had no idea of just how problematic aluminum could be until the reports of fires and electrical faults began rolling in around the 60s and 70s. The use of aluminum wiring emerged to save money, and many brands believed that the material was very effective at distributing and transmitting electricity.
It makes sense that experts would want to use aluminum instead of copper. Not only is the material less expensive, but it's also lighter and stronger, which meant that cables were less likely to sag. Aluminum is also far more environmentally friendly, as it can easily be recycled, and doesn't have the same toxicity problems as smoking copper wire.
Unfortunately, aluminum quickly began to show its problems in both commercial and residential buildings. This form of wire easily separates from the screws in electrical outlets, lights, and switches, leading to poor connections. When the connection isn't strong, the wire begins to eat up, causing the aluminum to oxidize and create even more heat, which eventually leads to fire.
Poor repairs to residential aluminum wiring can make the problem even worse - such as when technicians attempt to connect copper and aluminum wire with twist-on connectors. Even the connectors designed to work with copper and aluminum wiring can be dangerous in this case.
Copper vs. Aluminum - The Test Results are in!
While aluminum may be stronger and lighter than copper, it simply can't compare when it comes to peace of mind and property safety. Soon after aluminum wiring had started to become more popular in the building world, problems started to appear. These issues ranged all the way from flickering lights, to warm switches, and burned insulation on wiring. Eventually, experts had to recognize the presence of an over-heating issue.
Once technicians began to evaluate the differences between aluminum and copper wiring, they found three distinct factors that could be prompting the hazards of aluminum wiring:
The problems with aluminum wiring have pushed government officials to make changes to building codes around the world so that copper is more frequently used in modern properties. However, if your home is old enough, then there's a good chance that there's still aluminum wiring present within it.
Does Your Home Have Aluminum Wiring?
Once you know the hazards of aluminum wiring, there's a good chance you'll want to know whether it's present in your home. According to most records, if your property was built between the years of 1965, and 1973, you're likely to have at least some residential aluminum wiring in your home.
To find out for sure, you can either speak to your realtor or developer if you know how to get in touch with them. Most of these experts will have files and documents relating to the type of electrical installation you have on your property. If you're curious, or you're feeling panicked about the hazards of aluminum, you can also check yourself by looking at the wiring between open floor joists in the basement or in the attic. It's also possible to check your wiring at your service panel.
If your wiring is aluminum based, the covering on the outer cable will be marked once every twelve inches or so with the word "ALUM" or "AL" if it was installed before 1977. On the other hand, if your wiring was installed after May 1977, you might notice markings like Aluminum ACM, Alum ACM, or AL ACM.
How to Deal with the Hazards of Aluminum
How Can You Keep Your Home Safe?
Ultimately, problems with aluminum wire happen mainly around the connections in a property, when the fittings become loose and result in carbon build-up, overheating, and eventual fires. The gradual smoldering of the wire insulation might mean that your wiring is fine for several years before it finally ignites. Because of this, it's important that you don't simply assume your wires are fine because you've had no problems up to now. A full and detailed evaluation by a contractor is crucial to make sure your system is safe.
A full evaluation will include an inspection of all the connections at each outlet throughout your home, and in all of the breaker panels. This can be a time-consuming process, but it's worth it to reduce your risk of fire to a minimum.
A common misconception when it comes to aluminum wiring is that the only way to keep yourself and your family safe is to replace every sign of aluminum in your home. This can be something of an overaction in some cases, as you may simply need to modify the connections where aluminum has been used. With the help of a licensed electrician, your options will include:
If you haven't noticed any problems yet, then you may not feel the need to start repairs straight away. However, it's important to schedule examinations from a qualified electrician either way, as you need to ensure that your wiring is as safe as possible. If you live in a home that might feature residential aluminum wiring, regular inspections are key to keeping your investment, and your loved ones safe.
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Talco Electrical Construction, Inc
Founded in 1986, Talco Electrical Construction, Inc has always strived to be the most dependable master electricians in Western Montana. The company has grown on a foundation of trust, integrity, and dependability.
Talco Electrical Construction, Inc.
6250 Kestrel Ct, Suite 4
Missoula, MT 59808-8565
Tel. (406) 721-5242
Fax. (406) 721-5240