Is Aluminum Wiring Safe In An Alberta Home?

If your home was wired with aluminum rather than copper, beware! Aluminum electrical wiring, installed in many Alberta homes a half-century ago, is hazardous. It puts you and your family at risk of a house fire… and the danger does not disappear as the years go by.

Find out why aluminum wiring is not safe in your house, and what you can do about it.

Why Is Aluminum Wiring Dangerous?

It is the aluminum wiring connections, rather than the wire itself, which are the real danger. They can overheat rapidly and set your house on fire. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warns that electrical connections in a house wired with pre-1972 aluminum wire is “55 times more likely … to reach Fire Hazard Conditions” than with copper.

The reason behind this hazard is that aluminum wiring is inferior to copper wiring in many vital ways:

  1. Thermal sensitivity. Aluminum is more sensitive to changes in temperature, which cause it to expand or contract.
  2. Vibration sensitivity. Vibrations due to electricity traveling through aluminum wiring degrade connections.
  3. Higher electrical resistance. This means that a larger diameter aluminum wire is required.
  4. Lower ductility. Aluminum is more prone to metal fatigue (and eventual breakdown) when bent.
  5. Higher malleability. The aluminum wire is easily deformed by compression, and “creeps” away from pressure.
  6. Deterioration. Aluminum deteriorates readily due to oxidation (resulting from oxygen exposure) and galvanic corrosion (contact with moisture + certain metals).

When Was Aluminum Wiring Used In Alberta?

A sudden drastic increase in the price of copper resulted in the installation of aluminum wiring in many Alberta homes. The houses affected were all constructed or renovated between 1965 and the late 1970s. (After 1972, wiring using aluminum alloys, in place of 100 percent aluminum, was introduced. Alloy wiring is slightly better than its predecessor, but still problematic.)

Although aluminum wiring has not been used for several decades, it was never recalled or made illegal in our province. Therefore, homes from the 60s and 70s may still contain this dangerous electrical installation, unless they have been rewired.

How To Tell If I Have Aluminum Wiring

If you are not the original owner, start by finding out when your house was built. For help, you can look up the historical land title.

Be aware that even if your home dates back to this time period, it might not have been wired with aluminum. However, any of these signs may be a clue:

  • Frequent breaker trips
  • Lightbulbs that flicker and burn out quickly
  • Electric outlets and switches which feel warm
  • Appliances that don’t last as long as they should
  • Abnormal static on your computer, TV, or radio
  • Sizzling noises — or a melted or burnt smell — from your breaker panel or any electrical   component, which could indicate an electrical fire

Before you call a professional, you might wish to check the wiring visually. CAUTION: Turn off the power at your electrical panel first and do NOT touch the wires. Aluminum wiring is silver-coloured (as opposed to copper, which has a distinctive reddish hue). The plastic jackets covering the wires are usually marked or embossed with the letters AL or ALUM, or with the manufacturer’s name.

For a safe, accurate, in-depth inspection of your home wiring, consult our team of qualified electricians. We will determine whether aluminum wiring was installed (possibly in combination with copper) and if so, how safe your electrical system is. If you do have aluminum, annual follow-up inspections will be essential.

Should I Have Sun Electrical Replace My Aluminum Wiring?

In addition to the danger of an electrical fire, here are a few other problems that aluminum wiring in your home may cause:

Complex repair. Issues with aluminum wiring are complex to fix and require components which are compatible with aluminum. Only a certified, experienced electrician should do the job. Never, ever attempt DIY electrical repair on aluminum wiring.

Home insurance hassles. You might have difficulty getting home insurance, or you could be charged a higher premium.

Buyer turn-off. When you want to sell your property, the presence of aluminum wiring will discourage potential buyers and negatively impact your home value. Home inspectors and mortgage lenders are not too fond of it, either.

Rewiring your home — replacement of the aluminum wiring with copper circuitry — is a major project, but it is the surest way to both keep your home safe and maintain its value.

Sun Electrical is expert at residential rewiring homes in the Calgary area. Count on us for top-quality safe and efficient work.

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