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  1. #1
    Greg Frazier's Avatar
    Greg Frazier Guest

    Default Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Inspected a condo yesterday with mostly aluminum 110v branch wiring. The panel appeared to be an upgrade. All aluminum 220v wires had antiox paste. The 110 wires did not. I pulled two receptacle covers and saw that all 3 conductors were directly attached to terminal screws. There were no pigtails. The receptacles appeared newer but I did not verify that they were CO/ALR. I have seen the COPALUM connections in other units nearby in both receptacles and panels but none here. I saw red colored wire nuts in the receptacles used to join wires. I wrote it up as needing evaluation by a licensed, qualified electrician familiar with aluminum wiring. The realtor called me later last night saying the seller had already spent $1000 on upgrading the electrical. I know not to tell the buyers how to fix something, but I would like to know more. I hope some electricians will weigh in here. Here are my questions after reviewing what the CPSC, Dr Aronstein and others have said;

    Should the connections on the receptacle terminals have antiox? Or should they have been pigtailed with copper? (Not sure if COPALUM is still available around here.)

    Should all of the panel wires have had antiox applied?

    If all receptacles had been replaced with CO/ALR is that enough? The articles seem to say no.
    Thanks

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  2. #2
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    The issue with aluminum wiring is not so much the actual conductors as it is the connection points and the overloading of the wiring.

    The BIGGEST item to keep in mind is everything used on the aluminum wires MUST be rated for Aluminum. The receptacles , switches, wire connectors (wire nuts),even the anti -oxidant compounds used must be aluminum rated. I would even go so far as to say that the circuit breaker terminals ,the panel ground bar,and the panels neutral bar must be aluminum rated.

    DE-OX (antiox) ? Not required to apply it on the panel connections,but I can't see what it would hurt as long as it is applied properly,rated for use on aluminum and remember the terminals must be aluminum rated as well

    NEVER NEVER NEVER did I mention NEVER allow a quick connect connection on aluminum( back stabbed receptacles/switches)
    When attaching aluminum conductors to an electrical device always use the screw terminals and here's the kicker - Torque is important -everything comes with torque values use a torque screwdriver when doing the connections. Some will argue this one ,but I stand firm on it.

    Direct connection to an approved device is permitted. Pig-tailing is permitted,provide it is done with an approved copper to aluminum connector.
    Squirting de-ox into a red wire nut is not an approved method. The wire connector(wire nut) must be designed for the connection.
    NEC article 110.14 talks about it some. The 2008 UL Whit book section ZMOW also talks about it


  3. #3
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Also, as I recall, there have been posts about some insurance companies not wanting to insure homes with aluminum wiring. I could be wrong (I have been before and will be again, no doubt about that), but that is what I recall some posts here stating.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  4. #4
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Quote Originally Posted by fritzkelly View Post
    I would tell the client to ask for a written statement from the electrician that the system is safe.
    You might also want to mention that probably all units in the complex have aluminum wiring. Mitigation in only one unit will not help your client much.

    When ever I find any aluminum wiring, bad grounding or no finding of grounding along with many other finds I always write in the report to have an electrician to give statement of safety for the system. That covers things pretty well. If anything else in the entire system is unsafe or faulty it is taken off you altogether. You are not going to find everything as a home inspector.


  5. #5
    daniel nantell's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Where I live the City prohibits any Aluminum wiring , it has to be rewired.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    There have a been a couple different methods of dealing with aluminum wiring over the years that have been 'blessed' by the Consumer Product Safety Commission at different times.

    There were some purple (I think) connectors that were the approved method for awhile. Then, that was out and there was a specific crimp fitting that they approved. I called the CPSC once and talked to the guy who was basically in charge of the aluminum wiring situation. He gave me a lot of info (basically, what I mentioned above) but that was nearly 10 years ago so it's a bit foggy in the old brain. And, it's likely changed since then.

    From our standpoint as a home inspector I think our job is to alert them to it's presence and let them take it from there. I'd never get so far into it that I'm analyzing what connectors are in place or what's been done to a system. I always refer people to the CPSC and/or an electrician.


  7. #7
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    From the CPSC May Is National Electrical Safety Month: Good News for Homeowners - Aluminum Wiring Fix Still Available

    Dated 2003 but it is still up on the site.

    The COPALUM crimp connector, which has been available for more than 20 years, is the only system recognized by CPSC that provides a complete and permanent repair and reduces the fire hazard in aluminum wire circuits. The COPALUM connector system attaches a copper wire to the old aluminum wires and is then crimped together with a power tool, achieving a "cold weld" between the conductors. The "cold weld" creates a permanent bond that eliminates electrical arcing or glowing connections and creates a safer electrical connection at outlets, switches, lights, circuit breakers, and panelboard terminals. The COPALUM connector repair materials and power crimping tools are only available to electricians who receive training from the manufacturer, to ensure that repairs are properly made.

    CPSC believes that "twist-on" connectors, receptacles and switches and other devices that connect directly to aluminum wires, are an inadequate solution. The COPALUM crimp connector system provides a safe, permanent fix.


    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Plano, Texas

  8. #8
    Greg Frazier's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Thanks for all the replies. They track with my thoughts. I had provided her the CPSC info, now she says she wants to ensure it was made code compliant. Of course I have to remind her I didn't do a code inspection. I told her to get the seller's electrician to to detail what was done and certify it as safe.


  9. #9
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Frazier View Post
    I told her to get the seller's electrician to to detail what was done and certify it as safe.

    That's like asking the fox to guard the hen house. That's way to cozy of a relationship between the seller and the electrician.

    You should recommend she have a different electrician address it and write the certification letter.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    The CPSC are the same folks that don't seem to have any issues with FPE breakers and panels. And, they are not a recognized electrical testing lab.

    I've seen a lot of spew on aluminum wire over the years, including the CSPC blurb about Copalum being the only acceptable method for the problem. UL, the people who test the stuff, don't think so. And, UL is the same lab who approves the stuff you see every day attached to copper and is one of several that need to bless most items used in the trade.

    The CPSC hasn't tested the Alumiconn, which is the same type of connection as the buss bar in resi electrical panels, of which all current production are rated for aluminum (as are breakers).

    Whether an anti-oxidant is required or not is totally dependent on the requirements of the device manufacturer and the wire manufacturer in newer (this will be service and feeder wiring) installations.

    At one time certain 3M brand wire nuts were listed for use on aluminum wire. Others may have been as well. This listing continued for about ten years after the use of #12 and #10 aluminum branch circuit wiring pretty much went away. This means you can certainly find some of the red wire nuts, with and without antioxidant as a properly installed connector. Whether "approved" or not would depend on when it was done. This product was not "unlisted" for specific use issues but wasn't submitted for certification under new testing practices by the manufacturer. My guess is they did this to avoid legal issues from untrained and careless people using them on aluminum - the reason 15 cent wire nuts cost $4.00 for aluminum wire.

    As has been pointed out, the attention to detail like torqueing screws on devices and connectors is critical. The purple wire nuts don't come with instructions that tell how many times to twist and so leave people, especially amatures, to guess what is tight enough. They become suspect because of this, and maybe other reasons. The AlumiConn was briefly available at the big box stores in some areas but now seems to be a supply house item only - as it probably needs to be.


  11. #11
    Fred Warner's Avatar
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Kind of interesting to find a home mostly wired in aluminum. When one looks at 110.5 (NEC) which says "Conductors normally used to carry current shall be of copper unless otherwise provided in this code" and then you turn to Table 310.16 and look under the Aluminum side of the Table and note that 14 AWG aluminum is not permitted and 12 AWG aluminum (as per 240.4(D)(4)) is only good for 15 amp OCPD...I hope the electrician used #10 aluminum for the bath and kitchen receptacle circuits.


  12. #12
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    I believe it was in the late 60's and early 70's that the aluminum craze hit.
    The other wiring to watch out for is Copper Clad aluminum. Same rules and techniques as aluminum just a little tricky to spot. A quick glance it looks just like copper. You need to either read the cable sheathing or look at the ends of the conductor to see the aluminum.


  13. #13
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    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Quote Originally Posted by ken horak View Post
    I believe it was in the late 60's and early 70's that the aluminum craze hit.
    The other wiring to watch out for is Copper Clad aluminum. Same rules and techniques as aluminum just a little tricky to spot. A quick glance it looks just like copper. You need to either read the cable sheathing or look at the ends of the conductor to see the aluminum.

    Ken,

    That's AN EXCELLENT point.

    Here is another one to look for when you think you see aluminum wiring ... make sure it is not tinned copper, which follows all the rules of copper.

    Note that tinned copper was used inside rubber insulation, and that if you see rubber insulation and/or tinned copper, the rubber insulation is mostly like dried, cracked, cracking, and brittle and the entire house which has not already been rewired needs to be rewired.

    I believe thermoplastic insulation came in around the late 1940s to early 1950s. It is unlikely you will find rubber insulated tinned copper in a mid to late 1950s or newer home.

    Whether you find tinned copper, copper clad aluminum, or aluminum wiring in the home, the best recommendation is to rewire the house.

    If an electrician comes in for the seller and says there is no reason to rewire the house, you have already told your client the reasons, and it is now up to your client to decide if they want to risk having to rewire it during their ownership or afterward when they become a seller.

    All the home inspector can do is write it up and educate their client, it is up to the client to make the best use of that advice.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  14. #14
    Ted Menelly's Avatar
    Ted Menelly Guest

    Default Re: Aluminum Branch Wiring

    Heavy copper use in Vnam. A lot of aluminum was used back then.


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