Is It Okay To Buy A House With Aluminum Wiring?

Is It Okay to Buy a House With Aluminum Wiring

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.

No, it is not okay to buy a house with aluminum wiring, in fact, you should avoid this if at all possible. Aluminum wiring has a tendency to get hot at its connection points, which can start a fire. It doesn’t matter how long the house has had aluminum wiring, it can still burn easily. 

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

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How to Find Out If a Home 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. 

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.

The 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 70’s, 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 70’s 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 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.

Aluminum Wiring Harm Reduction

If you already live in a home that has aluminum wiring, there are ways to make it safer. The safest thing to do is completely replace it but this is not always possible right away. In the meantime, harm reduction is key.

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 the House

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.

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

At what age should a house be rewired?

Your house should be completely rewired once every 25 years or so. Moisture, rodents, and more contribute to the decomposition of your home’s wiring. To avoid any issues, do a complete rewire every 25 years.

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

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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