During the late 1960s and early 1970s, copper was becoming increasingly difficult to come by. With the population booming, demand for homes was at an all-time high. Combined with a rapid increase in electronic technology and innovation, copper materials for wiring were becoming a hot commodity, and diminishing supplies of the most common electrical wire made prices skyrocket. This is when engineers came up with a solution: move on to the next best thing: aluminum. Aluminum was affordable, plentiful, and a reliable electrical conductor that could easily be extruded into wiring used to create electrical systems in homes. Thus, the era of aluminum wiring was born.
However, it didn’t last long. Less than a decade after aluminum wiring saw widespread adoption, it was quickly squashed when people began to discover that aluminum wiring had a lot of problems. In fact, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reported that homes with aluminum wiring were 55 times more likely to experience “hazard fire conditions” than homes with traditional copper wiring. Today, many home insurance companies won’t even cover properties that still use aluminum wiring because the risk is so much higher.
The problem isn’t so much with the wiring itself, but rather the connections between wires and their various contacts. Aluminum oxidizes at a much faster rate than copper, and that means frayed or inconsistent connections, extremely high amounts of resistance, building heat, and potentially electrical fires.
However, many people may not even realize that their home still has aluminum wiring running through their walls. If your home was built between 1965 and 1973, and you are either unsure or you have not had your electrical system inspected recently, then here are three potential signs that you might have aluminum wiring in your walls. If you do, you should call for help immediately.
Wiring In Your Electrical Panel is Aluminum
The easiest way to see if you have aluminum wiring is to look for exposed wiring. The easiest place to find it is in your electrical panel. Take a look at the main wire outputs leading off of each breaker or fuse and you should find an exposed length of wire. Copper is a distinct reddish-brown color, but aluminum is a characteristic shiny silver that looks a lot like steel. This should be a dead giveaway if your home is running on aluminum wire or not.
Wire Casing Is Labeled as Aluminum
A lot of aluminum wiring was sold and installed as Romex cable—a brand of composite wire that featured a hot, neutral, and ground all shielded within the same piece of plastic for ease of installation and wire management. Shielded wire needs to be labeled in order for electricians and servicemen to know exactly what a wire is used for and what its performance parameters are, and all of this information is printed on the plastic shielding. With Romex cable, the type of wire is typically labeled as “aluminum” or “AL” to indicate the material composition of the wire. Find a piece of Romex wire, typically in your attic. So long as you have a few feet you can observe, you should be able to find a printed label with this information. Should you find the aluminum label, the wire inside is aluminum.
Face Plates, Receptacles, or Switches Are Hot to the Touch
Finally, a tell-tale sign that something is wrong with your electrical system is unexplained heat on a particular component. The majority of problems with aluminum wiring happen at connection points, and the most common connection points are where these wires connect to your outlets, switches, sockets, and receptacles. If a light switch feels warm or even hot to the touch, an outlet seems to be emitting a high-pitched ringing noise, or a faceplate is starting to show signs of discoloration due to excessive heat, then you probably have an issue pertaining to aluminum wiring.Does your home still rely on aluminum wiring? Have your electrical system inspected by the pros at Lightning Bug Electric! Dial (404) 471-3847 today to book an appointment.