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  1. #1
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    Default If you were the electrician ....

    If you were the electrician .... how would you tackle this repair?
    Don't tell me you would rewire the whole house. These clients want a safe repair, but they will not be paying for a renovation, so you would not get the job.

    It's a 1972 townhouse with Al branch wiring. There are 5 bedrooms, including 2 in the basement, which all have baseboard electric heat. There is an infloor electric fan heater in the little kitchen which has given up the ghost. The sellers have parked a little freezer on top of it, so that I would have to search all over H for it, only to find that it doesn't work.
    There's a gas Fireplace insert added to the living room, and one of the baseboard heaters there does not work. At the other end of the living room is a 1500 W infloor fan heater, and a baseboard heater in the dining room works. That's one circuit, looks to be 2500 watts on a 15 amp breaker, but only because one heater is dead.

    Here's the challenge. There are 4 15 amp heat circuits in all, wired with #12 Aluminum. One breaker has been double-tapped with copper wires, all nicely coated with anti-ox but still wrong. A heater must have been added, probably for a bedroom in the basement. There is only room in the panel for one more single pole breaker, so a new 240 volt double breaker is not an option. Would you just crimp on some pigtails? Or would you pull copper cable to a couple of the other bedroom heaters so that one whole circuit would be copper?

    I'm not designing the repair. When the client's realtor asked me how much, I said it all depends on what the electrician finds and what he comes up with for a fix.

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  2. #2
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    One option is to install AFCI breakers for all the 115 volt circuits with aluminum wiring. That way if the AL wired acted up like AL wiring can when it gets loose at connections and arcs, the breaker will kick out.


  3. #3
    Lou Romano's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Quote Originally Posted by James Duffin View Post
    One option is to install AFCI breakers for all the 115 volt circuits with aluminum wiring. That way if the AL wired acted up like AL wiring can when it gets loose at connections and arcs, the breaker will kick out.
    You can't necessarily just install AFCI breakers on existing circuits! They may share neutrals with other circuits and that would not work.

    You could find small Polaris splice blocks that are rated CU/AL for 3 wires and you might be able to pigtail the circuits that way. I would not use the purple wire-nuts that claim to be rated for CU to AL.

    Depending on the panel you may be able to install wafer or twin breakers to gain the room to separate the circuits so pig-tailing is not needed.

    If there is room next to the panel you could install another small panel fed from this panel and relocate some of the circuits to this panel. You would also have to relocate 2 additional circuits to gain the space required for the breaker to feed the new panel.

    Ultimately you would rewire and get rid of the AL wiring but the above options are more feasible cost wise. You may have no choice but to rewire the heaters though!

    I would want to check the job thoroughly before I bid any of the above options!


  4. #4
    Roger Frazee's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Aluminum presents a multitude of problems .... most specifically the liability associated with connecting baseboard heat to al wiring that predates the 'good' aluminum . IMO the only repair to return the branch circuits operating baseboard heat into safe installations would be to rewire those circuits placing only the baseboard heat on copper wiring. Hard to say how difficult that would be. Otherwise I'd walk away from that job. Also you may find that #12 al will not be acceptable in the manufacturers wiring instructions. I'm pretty sure though not positive, that Qmark has restrictions in that regard. You would want to check before bidding anything.


  5. #5
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Quote Originally Posted by Lou Romano View Post
    You can't necessarily just install AFCI breakers on existing circuits! They may share neutrals with other circuits and that would not work.
    They may not share a neutral...who knows. That's why my idea was a guess based on limited information. If I had wired the house originally there would be no shared neutrals.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    It's an old 70's CEB panel with bolted GE-type breakers. I don't think you'll find a wafer or tandem breaker, and certainly no AFCI's.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
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  7. #7
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....


  8. #8
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    I don't think it matters what they do. They could put a new panel and install all new copper wire throughout the home. But if the neighbors who they share walls with don't correct their wiring your new homeowner is still at risk.

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  9. #9
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    We need 15 of those and there are enough slots available for only 8. Also, they need to be 15 amp.

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
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  10. #10
    James Duffin's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Here is the 15 amp version. It looks like it will fit in the same space as a non-AFCI single pole breaker.

    Circuit Breaker Service : Home > Search


  11. #11

    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    At the bare minimum, I would recommend a service panel upgrade based on the idea that you only have capacity for one more single pole breaker and you stated that a 15a breaker is carrying 2500w. Once you upgrade the panel you can address the al wire situation by installing a trough for cop/al conversion. That will prevent you from having to rewire the whole house, assuming the municiple inspector doesn't insist on it.

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  12. #12
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Rowe View Post
    I don't think it matters what they do. They could put a new panel and install all new copper wire throughout the home. But if the neighbors who they share walls with don't correct their wiring your new homeowner is still at risk.
    Yes, I bring that point up when I discuss Al wiring with my clients in a condo or townhouse. A total rewire of this unit won't prevent a fire somewhere else in the building.
    There is no incentive to rewire these old townhouses, and no push from the authorities at this point to have electrical inspections done.
    Quote Originally Posted by George Hallaron View Post
    At the bare minimum, I would recommend a service panel upgrade based on the idea that you only have capacity for one more single pole breaker and you stated that a 15a breaker is carrying 2500w. Once you upgrade the panel you can address the al wire situation by installing a trough for cop/al conversion. That will prevent you from having to rewire the whole house, assuming the municipal inspector doesn't insist on it.
    Yes, the panel is maxed out and the breakers are nearly 40 yrs old. A new breaker panel would be a good way to go.
    The heat circuits are 15 amp 240 volt because the wiring is #12 Al. Our new CEC rules allow a 20 amp breaker on #14 ga Copper for heating circuits, but best to leave these at 15 amp, I think.

    There is a separate fused disconnect here, so the new panel could go in place of the old one without too much trouble. Would you not just run the Al branch circuits straight into the new panel to the new breakers?

    James, do you have paperwork for those breakers? Are they listed for a CEB panel? How much $$$ are they?

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
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  13. #13

    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    [quote=John Kogel;171887]

    Would you not just run the Al branch circuits straight into the new panel to the new breakers?


    That is certainly an option, however if your going to upgrade the panel you may want to leave room for future upgrades with space to convert from cop/al. imo. Its just a personal choice.

    George Hallaron: Owner primary inspector
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  14. #14
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    J.K.

    "remanufactured" GE breakers, no way.

    See Eaton-Canada:

    Electrical - Eaton Canada | Loadcentres and Circuit Breakers

    Seems to me CEB panels of that vintage were and are known to have safety issues. I recall this thread at TIJ: CEB ELECTRICAL PANEL AND BREAKERS - The Inspector's Journal Forums

    Might want to check status with your local safety authority; there *may* be an incentive programme to replace the panel - insurance, financial assistance/rebate, or otherwise. See, amongst others (Grand Falls, Windsor, ON Fire Dept.: Grand Falls-Windsor Fire Department | Home , so it seems it would be worthwhile for you to do some research. Not equip. for this market.

    Safety status of the questionably guarded floor heaters = ???.

    Last edited by H.G. Watson, Sr.; 06-29-2011 at 11:01 AM.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Thanks for that, HG

    Those floor heaters are no longer being installed in my area, but there are a few out there that are still operating. When the fan motor seizes up, a small breaker on the unit trips to shut the thing down. I could look for a pic of one of those things choked with dust and dog hair, but that's another subject.

    The CEB panel there is a Fire Department warning about appears to have a main breaker issue. The vintage is the same, certainly.
    That panel which can have fire issues is
    CEB Electrical Panel Model - MB40-10 & MB40-10A

    Happily, this TH is equipped with good old cartridge fuses.


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  16. #16
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    Post Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Simple answer to the initial question: I wouldn't. Not without replacing the main panel and all branch circuits. Let's just say I have seen one too many house fires resulting from "adequate" corrections of safety issues. If it isn't worth doing right, it isn't worth doing.

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  17. #17
    John Steinke's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    "Don't tell me ..."

    OK, I won't. I have no reply.


  18. #18
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    .... I would first drive my Lexus to my condo on the beach at Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Next, I would have my "pencils" (paper work folks) start running the paper work. Yuk, yuk!

    Actually, the only way to do this is to first determine if the service to the residence can carry the additional load needed for the new circuits.

    If the service has to be increased, then the panel needs to be replaced anyway.

    While AL. wire is a "PIA", it is not a reason to panic. What I would do is inspect every accessible outlet for proper connections. If I find loose connections or evidence of heat damage, then I have a new conversation with the owner.

    However, if the current service to the residence is adequate, then I would strongly recommend the use of a secondary panelboard and off load some of the main service panelboard's general load to the secondary panelboard along with any new circuits.

    Yes, on the new circuits I would pull copper. On old damaged Al. wire, I would abandon the AL. and pull new copper to the outlet.

    Yep, that's what I would do.


  19. #19
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald Farrell View Post
    .... I would first drive my Lexus to my condo on the beach at Fort Lauderdale, Fl. Next, I would have my "pencils" (paper work folks) start running the paper work. Yuk, yuk!

    Actually, the only way to do this is to first determine if the service to the residence can carry the additional load needed for the new circuits.

    If the service has to be increased, then the panel needs to be replaced anyway.

    While AL. wire is a "PIA", it is not a reason to panic. What I would do is inspect every accessible outlet for proper connections. If I find loose connections or evidence of heat damage, then I have a new conversation with the owner.

    However, if the current service to the residence is adequate, then I would strongly recommend the use of a secondary panelboard and off load some of the main service panelboard's general load to the secondary panelboard along with any new circuits.

    Yes, on the new circuits I would pull copper. On old damaged Al. wire, I would abandon the AL. and pull new copper to the outlet.

    Yep, that's what I would do.
    Thanks for that. I'm hoping they get a competent electrician in there to do just that, not just another patch and a prayer.

    The anti-oxidant on the double-tap makes me think a knowledgeable sparky did that install, knowing full well it was wrong. To the others who said they would simply rewire the place, thanks but no thanks. Rewiring is not required as long as all connections are checked and made safe. Opinions will vary, I'm sure.

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  20. #20
    David Valley's Avatar
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    Default Re: If you were the electrician ....


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