Is It Okay To Buy A House With Aluminum Wiring?

Michael Oconnor
by Michael Oconnor

When purchasing a home, one of the most important things to have inspected is the electrical system. The electrical system is a fairly delicate part of the house. Because of this, you want to know what kind of wiring you’re dealing with, especially if you buy a house with aluminum wiring.

It is not illegal to buy a house with aluminum wiring, but you should avoid doing unless you plan to redo the electrical. Aluminum wiring gets hot at its connection points, which can start a fire, no matter the age of the house. Plus, although aluminum wiring is not illegal, it is no longer up to code–newer homes feature copper wiring.

If you already own a home with aluminum wiring, there are ways to mitigate some of the risks. However, it is best to replace any aluminum wiring. In this article, we will cover every aspect of detecting, replacing, and dealing with aluminum wiring.

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Potential Problems With Aluminum Wiring

Aluminum wiring itself is not necessarily dangerous. It is more at the connection points that the current tends to travel too fast and heat up. This heat is what can cause house fires and other electrical issues.

Also, as aluminum wiring heats up it expands, then contracts when it cools off. Over time, this constant expansion and contracting make the wires loosen. The loose wires can create a spark that could potentially start a fire.

Furthermore, another reason that aluminum wiring is so dangerous is that it is not very conductive. This means that it works for moving electricity around but has the potential to overload any connections. This is exactly what happens when aluminum wiring causes a fire.

Copper wire, which is used in most houses today, is very conductive and moves the current much faster. This allows it to pass through connections without heating up too much. Because of this, any home you buy should have copper wiring unless you intend to replace it.

When Did Aluminum Wiring Fall Out Of Fashion?

Aluminum wiring originally started being used in houses due to a shortage of copper. Between the mid-’60s and early ’70s, copper was almost prohibitively expensive. So even though aluminum was not as conductive, it was believed to be a safe, cheap alternative.

The price of copper in the 60s and 70s was heavily influenced by the automobile industry. A strike against GM in the 70s produced the high prices that led to the prevalence of aluminum wiring. By the time the shortage was over, many homes had already been built with it.

If you are considering buying a house built before 1975, you should check it for aluminum wiring. Even though many homes were built with copper, aluminum was common enough to warrant making sure. Before it was widely known that it was dangerous, it was used a lot.

How To Find Out If A House Has Aluminum Wiring

There are a number of ways to find out if a home is wired with aluminum branch wiring instead of the safer, more modern copper wiring. Aluminum wiring is one of the things many insurance companies will deny coverage for. This means that it should be on record.

You can also walk around a house and visually detect if it is there. Obviously, you can’t see through the walls, but there are points where the wiring is visible. Check inside any outlets. There should be enough visible wire to see what kind it is.

Aluminum wiring is silver in color. You should be able to see it fairly easily without having to touch the outlet. Copper wiring, which is safer and is the standard now, is more of a yellow hue and stands out no problem. This is what you should be looking for.

How Many Homes Have Aluminum Wiring?

Back in 2006, the Consumer Product Safety Commission did a study of aluminum wiring in houses. They found that in the United States there were over two million homes that still had aluminum wiring. This was either from original construction or renovations.

While this is a small number of homes, it is not negligible. It is still pertinent to check a home you plan on buying for aluminum wiring. Odds are the wiring is copper but you should check just to make sure.

In Canada, aluminum wiring was incredibly common before the 70s. It was the go-to material for most home electrical systems. Because of this, if you are buying a home in Canada, you should most definitely check the wiring for aluminum.

Before Buying A House With Aluminum Wiring

If you’ve got your heart set on your future dream home and the only downside is aluminum wiring, don’t walk away just yet. But, it is wise to take a few precautions before signing on the dotted line. After all, your home is likely the biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

Have An Inspection

To ensure your safety, have an inspector and electrician assess the wiring system in its current state to check for any potential problems. An inspector will look for several things when it comes to aluminum wiring, including any steps taken to mitigate risk.

For example, these remedies can be crimping aluminum wires to copper wires with copalum crimps at outlets and switches. Another possible risk reduction method is pigtailing, which also merges aluminum and copper wires, but is not as preferred as crimps.

The inspector will also ensure the home uses CO/ALR outlets and switches, which work better with aluminum wiring than other types. If the inspector fids any issues or that no risk reduction steps have been performed, they will let you know.

Also, get an estimate on how much it would be to change out everything to copper. You never know what can happen in real estate negotiations, and you might be able to factor the cost into the deal.

You can also ask for alternative options to fix any issues (if the inspector finds anything). Whatever estimates you get, make sure to weigh the cost carefully against the overall price of the home. Also, consider how long you plan to stay in the home.

Check For Potential Overloads

Aluminum wiring gets especially hot if one wire is powering carrying too much load. Before buying a house with aluminum wiring, check the wires coming from the panel. If only one white is powering too much of the house, you’re in for a dangerous scenario.

Check With Your Homeowner’s Insurance And Financing Before Buying A House With Aluminum Wiring

If you are doing an FHA loan, make sure the home is FHA-approved as-is. You might not qualify for the loan if the house has aluminum wiring. Also, contact your homeowner’s insurance company and ask if they will carry insurance on the property if it has aluminum wiring.

Some companies will deny coverage completely, while others will raise their premium significantly. In fact, it would likely go so high as to make it relatively unaffordable. All of these are factors to consider before you buy a house with aluminum wiring.

Reducing Risk In A House With Aluminum Wiring

If you already live in a home that has aluminum wiring, but you’re on a budget, don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have to go redo all of your electrical and switch to copper wiring. (Although that should be your ultimate goal, especially if you plan to sell your home down the road).

But, in the meantime, there are ways to make it safer. So, focus on harm reduction by following these tips.

Fix Push-In Connections

Push-ins, or stab-ins, are a shortcut connection for the wiring in your home. They rely on the wire being pushed into the outlet instead of wrapped and screwed down. These can be especially dangerous for houses with aluminum wiring since they get so hot and must be fixed.

Use Special Outlets

There are special types of outlets that are safer for aluminum wiring. These will not be the usual, standard outlets that you can buy at any hardware store, though. They must be specially purchased and are well worth the trouble.

Rewiring A House With Aluminum Wiring

Of course, as previously mentioned, the most sure-fire thing you can do to mitigate the risk of aluminum wiring is to replace it. This is the best option for making the wiring in your home as safe as possible. It can be expensive, but you can rest easier knowing a fire is less likely.

The cost to rewire a house depends on the size. A small home could cost under $1,500 to rewire. However, if your home is bigger it could get up to $20,000 or perhaps even more. This will have to be something you consider when buying a house with aluminum wiring.

You could also talk to the electrician if it is possible to rewire just a portion of the house. For example, rewiring the part of the home that carries the most load, like your kitchen and laundry room.

Regardless, the rule of thumb is to consider completely rewiring your home once every 25 years or so. Moisture, rodents, and more contribute to the decomposition of your home’s wiring. Therefore, to avoid any issues, do a complete rewire every 25 years.

House Wiring Types

  • Cleat — Perhaps the most obsolete wiring type, cleat wiring is a series of wires held up with wooden or porcelain cleats. This is usually used as a temporary measure and is not recommended for domestic purposes. It is rarely used anymore at all.
  • Batten — This type is also fairly obsolete and rarely seen anymore at all. Batten wiring is when a series of wires is laid on a wooden batten and fastened with a staple. It is not nearly as safe as other methods and will not usually come up.
  • Lead Sheathed — Lead sheathed wiring more closely resembles the modern wiring of most houses. It is sheathed in a protective layer of lead and runs along the inside wall of the house. However, it is usually used in older houses and is an example of some of the earliest wiring.
  • Conduit — Most modern homes use conduit wiring today. This type of wiring uses conduits capable of taking heavy loads and reducing stress on connections. It is the most common type and most likely what you have in your home.

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Related Questions

Will I have trouble selling my home with aluminum wiring? 

Look at it this way; if you hesitate to buy a home with aluminum wiring, it stands to reason others will do the same. Although not a total deal-breaker, aluminum wiring will make your house less desirable.To help the process, consider getting a pre-listing inspection to alert you to any potential issues so you can fix them before a buyer has an inspection. You can also get an estimate on rewiring or putting in risk reduction techniques, like pigtailing, to give yourself a ballpark idea of budget.

Can you rewire a house without removing walls?

For the most part, it is not completely necessary to remove walls to rewire a house. Modern technology allows electricians to wire a home through a small conduit hole. Depending on your home, this may be an option for you.

Can you smell an electrical fire?

Electrical fires usually emit an acrid smell. Before you smell the actual fire, you will smell this electrical odor. It is incredibly distinct and any instance of it should be immediately investigated.

Michael Oconnor
Michael Oconnor

I am a writer and editor from The Bay Area, CA. When I'm not typing, I enjoy hiking, woodworking and gardening. I love sharing tips and discovering new trends in home improvement.

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