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ALUMINUM WIRE RISK: The Aluminum Electrical Wiring Risks & Hazards Explained

Photograph of overheating aluminum-wired electrical outlet Photograph of overheating aluminum-wired electrical outlet

Aluminum wiring, used in some homes from the mid 1960′s to the early 1970′s, is a potential fire hazard. How safe is aluminum wiring?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, fires and even deaths have been reported to have been caused by this hazard. Problems due to aluminum wiring expansion, or much more likely micro-fretting and arcing at the aluminum wiring connectors, can cause overheating at connections between the wire and devices (switches and outlets) or at aluminum wire splices. The connections can become hot enough to start a fire without ever tripping a circuit breaker!

The photos shown above are not the most dramatic catastrophes linked to fires caused by aluminum wiring. But these are conditions that are found in many homes with aluminum wiring, confirming that this is a real, common, and widespread hazard.

CPSC research shows that “homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than are homes wired with copper. “Post 1972″ aluminum wire is also a concern. Introduction of the aluminum wire “alloys” in 1972 time frame did not solve most of the connection failure problems.

Aluminum wiring is still permitted and used for certain applications, including residential service entrance wiring and single-purpose higher amperage circuits such as 240V air conditioning or electric range circuits. The fire risk from single purpose circuits is much less than for branch circuits.

But it’s not necessarily because of a “new alloy” as some folks assert. It’s because there are enormously fewer connections (four or six rather than 30 or 40 per circuit) and thus statistically a smaller chance of a connection failure. These connections do still burn up, as indicated by field reports.

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Key Information Articles: Aluminum Wiring Hazards & Repair Methods

The AMP TYCO COPALUM Connector for Aluminum Wiring Pigtailing Repairs

Photo of the AMP COPALUM aluminum wiring connector recommended by the US CPSC
AMP TYCO COPALUM Copper-to-Aluminum Pigtailing
Use the special AMP (now TYCO) COPALUM high pressure crimp connector and special tool to connect short copper wires to every aluminum wire end in the building, reconnecting the copper to the various devices (outlets, switches, lights) and splices.

The AMP (originally TYCO) COPALUM connector method is described is described in detail at PIGTAILING USING AMP “COPALUM” CONNECTORS.

COPALUM Aluminum Wire Connector Availability discusses how to get these aluminum wire connectors

The AlumiConn Aluminum Wiring Connector for Pigtailing and Reapirs

Photo of the AlumiConn aluminum wire lug connector sold by King Innovations
AlumiConn TM
Purple #95103 aluminum to copper lug connectors [New in 2006, U.L. Listed, 2007 completed independent testing] available from King Innovation. Results of independent testing indicate that this product “… is predicted to have a high probability of failure-free long-term safe performance,PROVIDED THAT THE SETSCREWS ARE CAREFULLY TIGHTENED TO THE MANUFACTURER’S RECOMMENDATION.

AlumiConn is a website with information on obtaining the AlumiConn aluminum wiring connector.

Obsolete Aluminum Wiring Repair Method – No Longer Recommended

Photo of the 3M Scotchlok wiring connector which can be used for aluminum wiring repairs, has tested successfully but has not been recommended by the US CPSC

Scotchlok 3M Special Method [- superceded by new alternate repair as of June 2007 -]: this “”Scotchlok 3M Special Method was previously recommended as independent tests showed that it performed acceptably.

While this repair method has been superceded by new alternate repair as of June 2007, we have kept this description available to aid home buyers, electricians and home inspectors who may discover or need to be able to recognize this aluminum wire repair method if it was previously used in the building.

A summary of this method is at “Scotchlok 3M connector” and details of this method are at Aluminum Wire alternative repair: Special Aluminum Wire Repair Method

Other Aluminum Wiring Repair Methods that Are Not Recommended

Photo of the Ideal 65 purple twister aluminum wire connector which is NOT RECOMMENDED Other methods – not recommended: Warnings regarding other “repair” methods which are not recommended are discussed at OTHER REPAIR PRODUCTS, such as the Ideal 65 purple “Twister” connector shown in the photo at left (12 connectors cost $49. to $79.), Marrette B-Cap ACS™ #63 AL/CU Twist-On Connectos, and electrical receptacles and outlets marked “COALR” (even if these worked, which has not been demonstrated, what about all of the other electrical connections and splices in the building?) and others.
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