Aluminum Wiring and Home Owner’s Insurance, Is Aluminum Wiring Safe?
Aluminum wiring is acceptable if properly installed and used in the correct application. Aluminum is a good conductor of electricity, it is light weight, strong and was cheaper than copper. The power supply lines providing power to your home today, may infact be stranded aluminum cable. Aluminum wire itself is considered reliable when used in the right application and if it is carefully and properly installed and maintained.
It is estimated that there are approximately 450,000 homes in Canada that are wired entirely with aluminum wiring. Most of these homes were built in the 1960’s to late 1970’s. Issues began to surface where aluminum was used in branch circuit wiring. These are the smaller wires that bring electricity from the electrical panel to the plugs, switches and lighting fixtures. Testing revealed that aluminum wiring has some problematic characteristics that are not found with copper.
Aluminum tends to oxidize when exposed to air, resulting in overheating, and eventually failure at the termination points. Aluminum is not as resilient as copper and also has a higher rate of expansion, which can cause loose terminations and connections, resulting in possible arcing, melting and even fire. Breakage, due to improper stripping of the wires or over-tightening of the splices during the installation stage, has created further problems.
HOW DO I KNOW IF MY HOME HAS ALUMINUM WIRING?
You may be able to check the wire yourself, see if any of the electrical wiring visible in the attic, basement, crawl space or at the service panel is marked with the word “ALUMINUM” or any of the following abbreviations, ALUM, AL, ALUM ACM, AL ACM. A qualified “ESA” Electrical Safety Authority Inspector can confirm the presence of aluminum wiring
Some symptoms that may indicate aluminum wiring problems are:
- Flickering lights that cannot be traced to a failing bulb or other external cause
- Plugs that do not work even with the circuit energized
- Unusual static on the radio, TV or computer
- Switch plates and receptacles covers that are warped, discolored or warm
- Circuit breakers or fuses that trip for no apparent reason
- Strange odor similar to that of burning plastic around switches and receptacles
- Smoke or sparking around electrical devices
If you notice any of these problems, it is important to have a certified “ESA” electrical contractor check the electrical system as soon as possible.
The Insurance Question
The Home Owner’s Insurance world became aware of the issues surrounding aluminum wiring, and some have refused to insure homes with aluminum, most Insurance Companies require a certificate from a Licensed Electrician or the Electrical Safety Authority(ESA).
Be prepared to pay a little more in your Insurance Premium than a home that is completely wired with copper.
Home inspectors who identify aluminum wiring in homes should look for evidence of problems including flickering lights, warm cover plates, discolouration, and melted insulation. Inspectors should recommend an electrical audit of all the connections in the home performed by specialists. The authority in our area does not require that devices be replaced with aluminum-approved devices if no problems are identified.
Is a Retrofit or Replacement Required?
There were a lot of homes built with aluminum wiring, and a lot of older homes that were updated with aluminum during the 1960s and 70s. What about all these homes that still have aluminum wiring? The electrical authority in Ontario says, “Aluminum wiring itself is safe and if proper connections and terminations are made without damaging the wire and using approved materials installed in accordance with the Ontario Electrical Safety Code and the manufacturer’s instructions, there should be no problems with the aluminum wiring installation.”
Homeowners who have aluminum wiring should have an “ESA” (Electrical Safety Authority) audit performed to ensure their home is safe.