SOME COMMON ELECTRICAL QUESTIONS... 

Please call Delta Electrical Services LLC for all of you electrical repairs and service. Delta Electrical Services does not recommend that anyone other than licensed qualified competent persons attempt electrical repairs or service. This document is in no way shape or form to be interpreted as a "how to" document.

 

1. Why do I need to change my light box to a fan-rated box when installing a ceiling fan?

 The main difference between a light box and a fan-rated box is the size of the screws that are used to mount the fixture.  Because a ceiling fan moves and vibrates while operating, you must use a fan-rated box with larger screws than a standard light box.  The boxes may look the same, but if you are going to install a ceiling fan in a room, the box must be labeled as rated to hold a ceiling fan.  While this may seem like an unnecessary extra step, this will protect you and your family because you do not want a ceiling fan vibrating out of a light box and potentially falling on someone or something.  Also, it’s important to remember that this is required by the National Electrical Code.

 2. What does a GFCI plug and/or breaker do?

 GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter.  An electrical circuit must have the same amount of power coming back as what goes out.  A GFCI detects when there is a very small variance in the amount of power coming back within 6 milliamps.  Once this difference is detected, it will shut down the circuit to protect you, the person, not the equipment.

 3. How many GFCI plugs do I need to have in my house?

 You must have GFCI protected plugs in the garage (with some exceptions), in the bathroom, on the kitchen countertop, within 6 feet of a sink and for any outdoor plugs.

 4. What is an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breaker and why do I need to have one?

 An AFCI breaker looks like a GFCI breaker, but its function is different.  GFCIs were designed to protect persons and AFCIs are to protect the structure/building.  An AFCI will trip due to arcing on an electrical circuit.  Arcing can occur when something has pierced a wire or when there is a loose connection anywhere along a circuit.  This is the main cause of electrical fires and the AFCI breakers were designed to better protect homes from fire.  If arcing is detected, the breaker will trip and shut down the entire circuit.  At this point, we would recommend having a licensed electrician inspect your home and that particular circuit because the issue can be anywhere along a circuit.

 5. How many arc fault breakers do I need to have in my electrical panel?

 Per current code, except in certain circumstances, you must install AFCI breakers for all living areas in a home.

 6. Why should I replace my Federal Pacific or Zinsco electrical panel?

 Federal Pacific panels have lost their UL listings and are no longer considered safe electrical panels to have in homes.  The main problem is that if the breaker needs to trip, it will keep running and likely cause a fire.  You may have a Federal Pacific or Zinsco panel and it has been working fine for years, but you can never be too cautious when dealing with your home and family – it is best to replace your Federal Pacific or Zinsco panel with a safe, reliable and updated electrical panel as soon as possible.

 For more information, you can visit: http://www.ismypanelsafe.com/fpe.aspx

 7. What are tamper-resistant plugs?

 Tamper-resistant plugs were introduced in the 2008 National Electrical Code changes.  Any plug that is changed in a home must be replaced with a tamper-resistant plug.  Tamper-resistant plugs look just like regular plugs except they have plastic guards in the straight openings that prevent you from being able to stick something in one or the other.  You must be plugging something into both openings at the same time, or you will not be able to get anything in the plug.  Of course, this was done to help prevent children from sticking bobby pins or other small metal objects into the “hot” openings of your plugs.

 8. What is the benefit of whole house surge suppression, if any?

 Whole house surge suppression will protect everything in your home instead of just one piece of equipment that is plugged into a surge suppressor.  The cost can be anywhere between $100 and $175 depending on the manufacturer of the electrical panel.

 9. How many smoke detectors do I need in my house?

 Per the National Electrical Code, you must have 1 smoke detector on every floor, 1 inside each bedroom and 1 outside each bedroom.

 10. How many carbon monoxide detectors do I need in my house?

 You only need to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home if you use natural gas.  If you do, you need to have one on every floor and within 15 feet of the bedroom doors.

 11. What is the most energy-efficient lighting for my house?

 By far the most energy efficient lighting available right now is LED.  Unfortunately, the cost of LED lights is still fairly high, although the pricing has been steadily decreasing as the years have gone by. Many people look to fluorescent lighting as the cheapest energy efficient solution, but most people I talk to do not like the lighting output of fluorescent lights. All fluorescent lights contain a small amount of mercury and require special handling for disposal and clean up in the event one breaks.  The standard incandescent bulb is not as energy efficient as LED or fluorescent, but you can reduce the energy used by installing dimmer switches on lights in common areas and bedrooms.  This allows you to change the feeling of the room simply by dimming down or lightening up a room with the switch.  There are many times you do not need to have the lights in your rooms turned up to fill capacity, so dim them down and you will have a nicer ambiance and will not be using as much energy at the same time!

 12. How do I properly dispose of fluorescent lights?

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a section on their website explaining how to recycle and dispose of fluorescent lights.  It is best to call your local garbage/recycling company and find out what facilities are available for disposing of fluorescent lights in your area.  http://www2.epa.gov/cfl/recycling-and-disposal-after-cfl-burns-out#whererecycle

 13. What do I do if I break a compact fluorescent light (CFL) or other fluorescent light?

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set out some clear and easy to follow instructions if you break a CFL.  Click here to read the instructions or to download a .pdf version.  http://www2.epa.gov/cfl/cleaning-broken-cfl

 14. How do I know if the electrician I hire is knowledgeable about the work he is doing?

 Unfortunately, it can sometimes be hard to tell if the electrician giving you an estimate is truly knowledgeable about the work he is doing.  Be sure to pay attention to how he answers your questions and the details he may or may not be giving you.  If he just wanders around your house, asks few questions and gives you an estimate on the spot, there is a good chance he missed something and then you will have to discuss more costs with him later as he runs into issues during the work on your project.

 Also, the electrical industry is quite vast and there are big differences between working in an industrial setting, on a commercial project or in a person’s home.  You want to make sure the electrician you hire to work on your home is a specialist in residential work and knows how to troubleshoot in order to make your remodel project flow as seamlessly as possible.  No one is perfect, but with a little research into the company you hire, you can save yourself a lot of headaches!

 15. Why do some people run their ceiling fan in the winter?

 If you look closely at your ceiling fan fixture, you will see a switch on the fixture that changes the direction the fan rotates.  When the fan rotates in one direction, it forces the air down to keep you cool in the warmer months.  When the fan rotates in the other direction, it forces the air up which pushes the warm air at the ceiling down into the room to better distribute the warmth during cooler months.

 16. Why do electricians have such a high hourly rate?

 We understand that it seems like electricians charge a high hourly rate and there is a reasonable explanation for this.  Electricians in the State of Arkansas are required to complete a four-year electrical apprenticeship and pass an exam to become journeyman electricians.  The National Electrical Code is updated every three years therefore every journeyman electrician must complete many hours of continuing education and stay up-to-date with the local and national code changes.  Electricians carry a large amount of responsibility with the service they provide and it comes at a higher expense to have someone working in your home who is properly trained and educated to complete electrical work in your home.  Someone who is not properly licensed as an electrician does not have the same training and education and there is a good chance they will do work in your home that does not meet local and national codes.  Also, you want to make sure that the person who does your electrical work pulls an electrical permit because you could have issues in the future when you want to sell your home if work has been done without the proper permits.  The bottom line is that despite the seemingly high price for a licensed electrician, you will be better off in the end by having the work done by a professional.

 17. What is the difference between low voltage fixtures and standard fixtures?

 Low voltage fixtures include a transformer that transforms the voltage from 120 volts to 12 volts.  A lot of lighting manufacturers are offering low voltage options because the fixtures (i.e., pendant lights and under cabinet lights) have smaller cords.  The main downside to installing low voltage fixtures is that the transformers typically get warm while in use, they wear out, and are expensive to replace.  Also, low voltage fixtures cost twice as much to purchase than a standard fixture. 

 The main misconception of standard versus low voltage fixtures is that a low voltage fixture is more energy efficient.  This is false.  Voltage and watts are different measurements and wattage is what is used to calculate your electrical bill.  Standard and low voltage fixtures use the same amount of watts and will not change your electrical bill.

 18. What type of exhaust fan should I install in my bathroom?

 Current code requires that the exhaust fan you install be no less than 80 CFM and you must install a timer switch rather than a standard switch.

 19. To save on costs, should I buy the parts and hire an electrician to install them?

 While it may be tempting to go to your local hardware or home improvement store and buy all the parts you need instead of having the electrician purchase them, you are going to be missing a key element.  The electrician will not warranty the parts you buy yourself.  This means that if you buy the parts and have the electrician install them, then something goes wrong with the part within the first year, it will be your responsibility to buy a new part and hire the electrician to install the new part.  If you let the electrician purchase the parts from the outset of your project, they will warranty the parts so if something goes wrong in the first year they will come out and replace the part free of charge.

Why do my lights flicker when my AC, heat pump, refrigerator compressor, well pump, ect ect ect kicks on?

This problem is more than likely caused by either a loose neutral  (grounded conductor) connection somewhere in your system or by voltage drop occurring because of efficiency motors with high inrush currents.

 

What size generator do I need?

The correct generator needed to supply power to your home or business is dependent upon two things; the total number of watts of appliances that are to run simultaneously and the peak running watts of those appliances. The sum of the peak running watts (generally motors or compressors at startup) and the operating wattage of other equipment that will be used at the same  time plus 30% will give you the size generator in watts that you will likely need.  The 30% addition to the total wattage is needed so that your generator is not operated at its maximum rated wattage load. Operating a generator at its maximum rated load will reduce the generators life.

The average home will require an 8 to 10 thousand watt generator in order to provide power to essential appliances.

 Here is a chart with some common household appliance wattage ratings to help give you an estimate. 

 

Do I need any special Equipment to connect my generator?

The next part of buying a generator that needs to be considered is a means of transferring from your utility power over to standby power. A Lot of people simply use a cord and plug connection and backfeed an outlet or panelboard, while this is an easy means of providing power to your home it is also very dangerous for the employees of the utility company that are probably working to restore your utilities. When power is fed through a panel board or outlet without the main breaker being opened it can expose utility workers to high voltage. This is because the electricity that normally flows from high voltage utility lines through a transformer to low voltage that you use in your house can also travel the opposite direction, going from a lower voltage coming from your generator through the same transformer becoming a higher voltage. There is also another problem with this method, if you connect your generator blindly to a panel it can be very difficult to tell which appliances are being powered and which are not. If the generator is not sized to accommodate the wattage of let's say your ac unit and your Ac unit is powered on by mistake  or better yet let's say that all of the appliances in your home are powered at the same time when the generator is only sized to operate the bare essentials, under these circumstances you could definitely end up with some major mechanical issues concerning the generator as well as problems with the connected equipment or appliances.

A solution to these problems is to install a transfer switch and even better yet an automatic transfer switch. A transfer switch for your generator will effectively open your main circuit breaker and eliminate the backfeed of electricity through your utility transformer. Transfer switches will also allow you to pick and chose essential appliances to be utilized and will help avoiding overloading your new investment.

Do circuit breakers in your home trip often or do fuses keep blowing?

A home electrical system has these built-in safeguards to prevent electrical overload. Too much current causes the breakers to open automatically or the fuses to melt. When a circuit shuts down repeatedly, it’s a warning that should not be ignored.

Are GFCI outlets installed where required?

The National Electrical Code now requires extra protection for outlets in specific areas of the home, such as kitchens, baths, utility rooms, garages and outdoors. Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI’s) – which are identifiable by their TEST and RESET buttons—are generally required in proximity to wet locations. If your wiring has not been upgraded with GFCI’s you’re not protected.

Are extension cords needed to reach the outlets in any room?

Electrical outlets, especially in older homes, are often spaced too far apart for modern living. This not only creates too much demand on too few outlets, it also poses a hazard when the extension cords are run under rugs and furniture.

Is there rust on the main electrical service panel?

Even permanent fixtures wear out or suffer the ravages of time. When rust appears on the metal service panel it often indicates a moisture problem or that deterioration has reached an advanced stage.

Do the lights dim when appliances turn on?

High-demand appliances such as air conditioners, clothes dryers, refrigerators and furnaces need extra power when they start up. This temporary current draw can be more than just a nuisance; it can damage sensitive equipment.

Do electrical switches or outlets feel warm or tingly?

Loose or deteriorating electrical connections, such as the wiring junctions in switches and outlets, impede current flow and create resistance. This may create a dangerous condition that can result in shock or fire.

Do your electrical outlets need accessory plug-strips?

Too many things plugged in at one location can create more current demand than a single outlet or electrical line can safely handle. Adding multiple plug-in strips won’t solve the problem. What you need are additional outlets, and possibly new wiring runs to service them.

Do your outlets not accept three-prong plugs

The third, or grounding, prong on a typical appliance plug provides an extra measure of safety against electrical shock. Older two-prong receptacle outlets, installed in homes before this innovation, may not be adequately grounded and should be upgraded.

Is the wiring in your outlet boxes old and crumbling?

If you look at the wiring to your home’s light switches or outlets, do you find wires wrapped in cloth sheathing or bits of black rubber in the electrical box? Very old homes often have antiquated wiring that should be upgraded to ensure your safety.

Do i need to upgrade your electrical service?

If your home is over 25 years old, you could have an inadequate and possibly hazardous electrical system—and not even know it. To be safe, call Delta Electrical Services for a thorough inspection, and if necessary bring your home up to today’s electrical code standards.

If you need to consult a professional electrician or electrical contractor, ask the following questions to learn whether the individuals you’re considering are fully qualified and likely to do reliable work at a reasonable price.

Will my electrical panel need replacement?

The current National Electrical Code recommends a minimum 100-amp incoming electrical service. If your service panel provides less, it should be upgraded to this level or better to meet today’s home requirements.

Most new homes are wired with 200-amp service.

Will I have to apply for a permit?

If a permit is required, the electrician often will make the application for the homeowner.

Is my home’s electrical system adequately grounded?

Ground-wiring protects a home and its occupants in case of an electrical fault, such as a short circuit. But grounding also protects expensive electronic equipment like computers and many appliances. An electrician can quickly check and add grounding capacity if needed.

Are there any hidden costs for the work?

The electrician should do a thorough preliminary inspection and provide you with a firm, accurate estimate of the work involved, along with the cost of fixtures or wiring that will be installed. If additional work is necessary, it can be negotiated and billed separately.

Will you use all-copper wiring for any new branch circuit installation?

Solid copper wiring is the material of choice for new homes or renovations. Although 14-gage wire is allowed for many circuits, it’s smart to install heavier 12-gage wiring, which costs a little more but can handle more electrical current, making it safer and more energy-efficient.

If my service needs upgrading, will the entire house have to be rewired?

Unless you live in a very old home with antiquated wiring, you probably won’t have to replace your existing electrical lines. However, if you require more electrical capacity in certain rooms, new wiring runs and additional outlets are likely to be needed.

 

Preface

This information is intended to help the homeowner make decisions concerning the hazards of aluminum wiring and repair options.This is not a do-it-yourself guide. No homeowners should attempt to repair themselves.

So Why is Aluminum Wiring Hazardous?

The Basics

Certain properties of aluminum can cause deterioration of connections, possibly presenting a fire hazard after years of service. A fundamental principal of electrical safety for wiring is that high temperatures are hazardous.  The hazard lies in the overheating of connections, typically after carrying a heavy electrical load, such as a hair dryer or portable heater, for a sustained period of time. The problem is most prevalent in homes built during the mid- to late-1960’s. Aluminum wiring for branch circuits became rare once again after about 1972, but many homes built with aluminum wiring remain, and these electrical systems are showing their age. Aluminum is generally thought to have a useful life of approximately 30 years. There may or may not be an imminent fire hazard in a home with aluminum wiring. The owner of a home built between 1965 and 1972 should determine if the home has aluminum wiring, and if so, whether any hazards exist. Larger sizes of aluminum wire are commonly used for feeders and service drops and are usually not a problem.

Aluminum Wiring Facts

The choice of conductor material is a compromise among electrical properties, mechanical properties, and price. From the start, copper has been the material of choice for household branch circuits. Aluminum is softer than copper and weaker, and a poorer electrical conductor, so is not widely used in small sizes for home wiring.In the mid-1960’s when the price of copper climbed to the sky, aluminum became moreeconomically attractive. An aluminum version of type NM non-metallic sheathed cable (the common house wiring cable) became available, and was widely used through the 1960’s and until around 1972. It was gradually recognized that certain properties of aluminum were causing problems with connections, and occasional electrical fires resulted from overheating of those connections.

Observation and testing revealed the causes gradually. The layer of “tarnish”, or copper oxide, on the surface of a copper wire is a fairly good conductor, though not as good as the copper itself. It is also fairly soft, so tightening a brass terminal screw on a tarnished copper wire displaces the copper oxide layer, allowing a metal-to-metal contact between the wire and the terminal. However, the layer of aluminum oxide which forms within minutes on any exposed aluminum surface is a very poor conductor. The electrical resistance of aluminum oxide (or alumina) is so high that in some high temperature testing environments, alumina is actually used as an electrical insulator! Moreover, it adheres tightly to the underlying metal, so it is not displaced by tightening the connection, but remains between the wire and the terminal. Additionally, when copper and aluminum are pressed together, the joint is susceptible to accelerated corrosion, especially when subjected to heat and electric current.

Aluminum is relatively soft, and as temperature increases, expands more than the metals from which connectors are made. When current flows through a connection, the connection becomes warmer. The expansion of the aluminum, confined under a screw terminal, generates tremendous pressure, so that the metal “flows” into the empty spaces in the connector. When the electrical load is removed, the aluminum cools and contracts, and a gap forms between the wire and the connector. The slightly loose-fitting connection now has a higher resistance, and more corrosion forms in the gap, further increasing the resistance. The next time a heavy load is applied, the connection becomes even hotter, and so on, until one day the connection may burn out, or surrounding material may ignite.

Techniques and materials were gradually found to help alleviate the problem. Tightly-adhering corrosion inhibitors were invented to exclude oxygen (anti-oxidants) from the wire surface, preventing corrosion. Better alloys for both the wire and the connectors reduced the corrosion and the mechanical stress. It was recognized that aluminum wire must be scraped or sanded (often referred to as abraded) to remove the oxide layer immediately before making a connection. Immediately after abrading a non-flammable anti-oxidant should be applied to prevent further oxidation.

Meanwhile, large numbers of homes were built with aluminum wiring. These homes are now thirty to forty years old, and the presence of aluminum wiring, if it has not been upgraded, could be cause for concern.

How Do I Know If I Have Aluminum Wiring?

When Was The House Built?

Homes built between 1965 and 1973 stand the greatest chance of having been built with aluminum wiring.  However since contractors were allowed to use existing shelved stockhouses built as late as 1977 can contain aluminum wiring, though they are rare. Aluminum wiring was seldom used for branch circuits before or after this period.

The Cable Jacket May Be Labeled “Aluminum”

It is usually possible to gain access to at least part of the home wiring in the attic, basement, crawl space, or unfinished garage. Aluminum cable will be identified with “AL” or the word “aluminum” printed or embossed on the cable jacket. Copper wire cable will not necessarily be identified as such. Remember, you are investigating branch circuits, and not the feeder bringing main power into the house. Finding the aluminum identification on the cable jacket is confirmation that aluminum wiring exists, but if you fail to find it, don’t assume there is no aluminum wiring. Keep in mind, also, that modifications or additions may have been made, and additional wiring is likely to be copper, not aluminum.

What Does Aluminum Wiring Look Like?

We believe that most homeowners should refer this to an electrician, and we will not attempt to provide do-it-yourself instructions. There is a risk of property damage, injury, and death associated with working on the electrical system of a home.  Shock, electrocution and fire hazards are present. If you really can do this yourself, you don’t need our instructions, anyhow. If you have any doubts, leave it alone and call an electrician. You can create problems, or make existing conditions worse by disturbing aluminum wiring.The easiest place to find bare wire ends is the circuit breaker panel. Aluminum wire, exposed to air and left undisturbed, will gradually change from shiny white to varying shades of gray, to almost black.

It is possible to be mislead by plating on the wire. Copper conductors were once commonly tin-plated, giving the conductors an appearance very similar to that of aluminum. Additionally, aluminum wire was occasionally copper-plated, and looks just like copper wire. Inspect the cut end of the wire to determine what is beneath a plating.

I Have It! Is it a Problem?

If there are no obvious electrical problems, one may be able to avoid upgrading for awhile. Because the problems associated with aluminum wiring continue to develop indefinitely, the question is, in our opinion, not whether to upgrade, but how urgently the upgrade is needed. Here are some methods you can use to help you make the decision.

Aluminum Wiring Warning Signs

The trouble with aluminum wiring is caused by bad connections, and the symptoms are the same as for bad connections in copper wiring. Observing any of these symptoms may indicate that the wiring needs attention, but will not, by itself, identify aluminum wiring. On the other hand, if you do have aluminum wiring, these signs will tell you that it is time for prompt action.

Incandescent lights may momentarily dim when a motor starts.

Incandescent lights may momentarily brighten when a motor starts.

Recurring flickering of incandescent lights often indicates a bad connection or lights that burn out very quickly.

Things suddenly stop working, and no circuit breakers have tripped.

Smell of burning plastic

Sparks, flame, smoke

Signs of overheating

More often, the burn-out happens unobserved. Look for signs of soot or scorching around or behind the face plate. Soot deposited at the connection slots of a receptacle is usually caused by a worn-out receptacle rather than by bad connections.

An overheated connection, especially at receptacle or switch terminals can cause the metal face plate screws to become very hot — even too hot to touch. The face plate itself will also be warm. A slight warming of the receptacle and plug is normal with a heavy load like a hair dryer or portable heater. No parts should ever become too hot to touch.

Have It Inspected

The surest way to determine whether or not there is a problem is to have DELTA ELECTRICAL SERVICES LLC thoroughly check out your wiring. Our electricians will check the markings of outlets and switches to see if they are marked CO/ALR, the tightness of connections at the breaker panel or fuse box, the condition of splices, signs of overheating, and so on. The homeowner can do these things, also, but we will bring experience and may spot things an amateur might not.

What does the Code (NEC) say?

The CPSC research, as well as various other studies, led to code changes concerning the use of aluminum conductors.

One would think that with so many concerns associated with aluminum wiring, there would be stringent limits for its applications. In fact, aluminum wiring is addressed in only a few sections of the NEC. One of these sections simply identifies what types of aluminum alloys are allowed.

Prior to 1972, aluminum conductors (“old technology”) were made of many different types of alloys. The aluminum typically being used at that time had very large coefficients of thermal expansion. This meant that devices made from this substance would expand and contract a great deal over small temperature increments. The aluminum also had a high frequency of bending and creep failures.

The aluminum industry found that alloys using specific additives helped alleviate some of these mechanical problems. Alloys were identified that were stronger, more ductile and capable of numerous bending cycles without experiencing failure. The National Electric Code (NEC) was eventually amended to require that “Solid aluminum conductors No. 8, 10, and 12 shall be made of an AA-8000 series electrical grade aluminum alloy conductor material. Stranded aluminum conductors No. 8 through 1000 kc mil … shall be made of an AA-8000 series electrical grade aluminum alloy conductor material.”

Another section of the code states that, “Conductors of dissimilar metals shall not be intermixed in a terminal or splicing connector … unless the device is identified for the purpose and conditions of use.” How is a device identified for a specific purpose or use? The manufacturers of the products do this themselves.

If a company wants to make an aluminum-to-copper connector, it identifies it as such. Before most electrical inspectors will allow such a device to be used in an installation, they will make sure that it is listed with the Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL). The UL is an independent, not-for-profit organization, recognized as the foremost product safety certifying organization in the world. The UL conducts thorough testing and evaluations of a product before giving it a UL listing.

However, with twist-on aluminum wire connectors, independent tests by the CPSC and independent electrical consultants have indicated that these devices are prone to failures. One independent consultant, Dr. Jesse Aronstein, states that the UL testing standards do not adequately mirror conditions experienced in the field. He claims that when these products are tested under different conditions they have a high rate of failure. Subsequent field failures may help to substantiate these claims.

How Can Aluminum Wiring be repaired?

The Choices Summarized

Method Description Results Cost

TOTAL REWIRE Replace the home’s aluminum wire with copper wire.The most sure and permanent solution. Highest (usually prohibitive)

COPALUM CRIMP A type of pigtail connection whereby copper is “crimped” with the existing aluminum.  This method is recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, UL and the US Consumer Products Safety Commission.If every connection is corrected this way, it is considered a complete and permanent repair. High

REPLACE If the outlets and switches are aging, or not marked CO/ALR, replace them with CO/ALR approved devices.Greatly reduces the most frequent failures. Less permanent than rewiring or COPALUM crimp. Moderate

TIGHTEN All connections should be abraded to remove the existing oxidation, immediately covered with an non-flammable anti-oxidant and then tightly reconnected.This is not a permanent correction. Re-tightening must re-occur every year or two. Low NOT RECOMMENDED

LEAVE IT ALONE If no signs of trouble exist, repairs can be postponed. Periodic examination by a qualified electrician is recommended.Consider this choice as buying (or borrowing) time. Lowest NOT RECOMMENDED

Rewire The House

The definitive answer to aluminum wiring worries is to eliminate the primary cause: get rid of the aluminum wire itself. Depending upon the architectural style of your home and the number and locations of unfinished spaces it may be relatively easy to rewire your home. The cost and disruption of doing the job depends greatly upon the construction of the house. A good crawl space or basement and a good attic make the job much easier. If remodeling is contemplated, either complete or in part, by all means replace any aluminum wiring in the area. Consider upgrading or replacing the service entrance at the same time, since it is probably thirty to forty years old and a bit small by today’s standards.

COPALUM Crimping

Since it is often impractical to rewire some types of aluminum wired homes, or since rewiring may be prohibitively expensive for some homes (e.g. split or multi-levels with no unfinished areas).

The US Consumer Product Safety Board concluded a permanent repair must permit the repair of every connection to, or splice between, aluminum wire in the home.

The repaired connections must be permanently repaired and must result in a system that can be maintained without the need for special switches, wall outlets or other connectors.

The repair technique must be practical for use in an occupied and furnished home.

 

Replace The Outlets And Switches

One repair recommended by the industry uses switches and outlets labeled “CO/ALR”. Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) lists these devices especially for use with aluminum wire, although they can be used with copper or copper-clad wire. CO/ALR devices perform better with aluminum wire when installed carefully and according to best electrical practices than do the types of switches and outlets usually used in the original installations of old technology aluminum branch circuit wiring. However, CO/ALR connectors are not available for all parts of the wiring system (for example, for permanently-wired appliances and ceiling mounted light fixtures, GFCI outlets, etc).  CO/ALR devices must be considered to be, at best, an incomplete repair. Further, CO/ALR wiring devices have failed in laboratory tests when connected to
aluminum wire typical of that installed in existing homes. The test conditions simulated actual use conditions; no “overstress” type of testing was used.

NOTE: If you have an aluminum wire termination in your home which exhibits symptoms of failure, twist-on connector pigtails or CO/ALR devices may be used as an emergency temporary repair for a failed aluminum termination. Should such a repair be performed, it is recommended that you arrange to have your home rewired or the crimp connector repair performed as soon as possible.

Many homes still have the original wiring devices, and these stand a good chance of being the CU-AL type or the unmarked type. They are also getting pretty old, so that receptacles may be having trouble gripping plugs, and switches may be failing. Bending and handling of the wire should be kept to a minimum. The wire at each connection should be cleaned of oxidation, and non-flammable, anti-corrosion paste should be applied. This is not a do-it-yourself project when aluminum wire is involved.

Tighten and Check All Connections

Although not considered a permanent repair, tightening all the aluminum connections could buy you some time while reducing the hazard. As was noted earlier, aluminum contracts and expands at a much greater rate than copper wire causing hazardous spacing between the wire and connection.  Arcing can occur and if combustible material (accumulated dust, dirt debris) is present a fire may occur.

This procedure entails stripping the insulation off of the wire or abrading the exposed wire (if the amount of wire present in the box is limited) the wire is completely coated with a non-flammable oxide inhibitor to prevent any further oxidation. Then a new connection is made that ensures a tight connection. All visible dust and dirt should be removed and at that point this connection should be safe for a year or two.

Regardless of the method chosen for dealing with outlets and switches, the connections in the circuit breaker panel and at all junction boxes should be checked. At the circuit breaker panel, verify that each aluminum wire is coated with corrosion inhibitor. Apply the specified torque to each screw terminal to make sure it has not loosened. When re-making a connection remember to abrade the wire to remove the aluminum oxide layer and immediately apply corrosion inhibitor before re-connecting