Ask any electric contractor about aluminum wiring and chances are they will shudder and start shaking their head; they know just how dangerous it is. In fact, according to the Consumer Product and Safety Commission, electrical wiring that uses aluminum is 55 times more likely to create a fire hazard than wiring that uses copper. Those most at risk are homes, especially mobile homes, built between the 1960s and the 1970s. So why is aluminum wiring so dangerous?
Thermal Expansion and Contraction
First, aluminum wiring expands and contracts at a different rate than other electrical wiring. An electrical current creates a change in temperature, and the heavier the load or the smaller the wire, the greater the change will be. If the aluminum heats up too much, it will expand to the point of pushing the contact away and creating a gap when it cools. As a result, the electricity is forced to jump, or arc, to continue the path. These arcs can reach 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a serious fire hazard.
Oxidization Makes a Poor Conductor
An electric contractor will also be concerned about oxidation, a chemical process by which the aluminum combines with oxygen to form a substance that coats the wire. This is similar to rust on iron when exposed to the elements. Unfortunately, aluminum oxidizes much faster than other wiring materials like copper. This is a problem because the oxidized layer is very resistant to the electrical current, and this resistance causes the wiring to heat even more.
To make matters worse, an electric contractor also know that aluminum wiring is much more fragile than other electrical wiring. It is easily broken if nicked or bent, which can cause a gap in the circuit. As with the thermal expansion, this can result in an arc, which produces a serious fire threat. Many connections are created by looping the wire around a screw. However, this loop can become very brittle, causing breakage.wire splice connector
So what are the warning signs? Well, to begin with, those with homes built between the 1960s and the 1970s should be extra vigilant. The only sure way to know is to have the home inspected by an electric contractor. Homeowners should watch out for these signs: flickering lights or lights that brighten or fade, the smell of burning plastic, warm-to-the-touch outlets or switches, or appliances that randomly do not seem to function properly. However, be aware – sometimes there are no warnings.
Solutions for Aluminum Wiring
So what are the solutions to aluminum wiring? The safest thing to do is to have an electric contractor completely rewire the house with copper wiring. Unfortunately, this can get expensive, not to mention messy because it requires cutting into walls. Another cheaper solution is reconnecting all of the splices with a copper to aluminum connector, which will significantly decrease the risk at the most dangerous point of the circuit.
Of course, many people love the older homes and enjoy spending time remodeling them. Just be aware of the dangers presented with the use of aluminum wiring. Its properties of thermal expansion, increased oxidation, and tendency to break make it a risk that can lead to a disaster. If you own such a home, contact an electric contractor today to get an inspection done. You will not only protect your property, but your family as well.