Aluminum Wiring Fix

Inspected an FPE panel where all of the branch wires are aluminum. Explained the problems with the electrical system and recommended inspection/upgrades/repairs as deemed appropriate by a licensed electrician.

Knowing from expereince that one must educate the client and provide them with any written documents if possible before the “expert” shows up to contradict everything I say, I informed them about the problems with FPE panels and backed up my explanation with Doug Hansens great information.

I then provided the client with an article about aluminum wiring and talked about likely repair options the electrician will recommend. They asked me about the costs of such so I called my trusty master electrician for a ballpark price. Learned something new! He informed me that an easier fix (and less costly since the FPE has to go) to crimping copper to the aluminum at the end-user points is to leave the aluminum wiring as is and install arc-fault breakers in the panel. If and when an aluminum circuit/outlet/switch decides to act up, the AFB will trip and then the client will know they have a problematic circuit that needs attention. The AFBs will provide the protection they need until which time attention is needed.

I like this recommendation as well when responding to the comment, “the FPE and aluminum wiring have been working for 30 years so why is it all the sudden a problem?”

Anyway, the electrician’s suggestion sounds like a good solution to me. Any thoughts?

There are documented nuisance trip issues yet addressed by the manufactures of some AFCI breakers when they are stacked on top of one another, usually 4 or more, is what I’ve seen.
This happened in homes I’ve inspected and the Sparks have separated and staggered them between regular breakers.

I use an IR thermometer before trying to test them by the pushbutton.;f=11;t=001240

I see 4-8 AFCI’s stacked all the time and no trip issues. In fact, I speak with Eaton Reps quite often and they are doing field tests on the issue but no issues are showing their head on the problem.

As in the posts in that ICCSAFE link you have an issue also where I could be bad connections involved as well as I just dont know.

The advice of the electrician is solid in regards to the AFCI’s, but again really depends on the AFCI’s being used BUT any protection is better than NO protection.

As for the change from AL to CU…if they are using a Cutler Hammer Retrofit or Remodel Panel then it is an easy task…otherwise they will need to ensure the connections are approved within the enclosure for the method they are suggesting.

I think the increased heat could be an issue( directly associated with the breakers )…but many of these things have been looked at by the CM4 Board but again in the 2008 NEC they will be mandated on all 125V 15 & 20 amp circuits so if they have not solved the issue by now…they better hurry up…:slight_smile:

I 100% agree with the use of the Thermal on these…just to be sure as a HIGHLY elevated reading will be noticed and a wise move if their is some concern.

What was your original suggestion?

Would also be good to advice from the electrician to go around the tighten and ensure proper connection of all joints, terminal screws and so on with in the dwelling as part of that option.

NFPA blew off my comment about stacked AFCIs as a non-issue in the 2008 ROC.

As for AFCI being a panacea, they DON’T detect a series arc and that is the way aluminum fails. Using AFCI breakers for “the aluminum problem” is simply wasting your money. That was bad advice.

Greg, I believe Paul A. indicated that some AFCIs do provide series arc protection. I’m sure he will chime in on this.


I didn’t give any suggestions pertaining to repairs/upgrades. I let the client know that the electrical issues warranted further evaluation and repairs/upgrades as deemed appropriate by a licensed electrician. However, I then went into what an electrician would likely do based on past and similar jobs to address aluminum wiring.

To date, the only known fix I’ve been aware of, other than rewiring the house with copper, has been using the approved crimping devices to attach copper to the aluminum at the end user points. The idea of using Arc Fault Breakers was new to me when I talked to the electrician I normally call for advice.

Greg…I disagree…the GFI built into all AFCI’s now aid in this problem and cutler hammer for example DOES protect against series arcs in the level 2 of the protection…and before the end of the year it will be in combination as well.

GFI does offer an element of protection that is part of all AFCI’s that are produced right now and it is only going to be more advanced by the 2008 deadline.

Cutler Hammer has also introduced the Ul Classified versions of many other brands that are compatible right now and they do offer GFI protection within them…others will follow AND just because you have Series issues is it NOT possible that branch parrallel issues could not also be an issue…then AFCI’s are an added level of protection as well.

Do you for a second believe if the client is going to spend the money to upgrade the panel beyond FPE that they are going to spend the extra 6-10,000 dollars in whole house rewiring…if we are working on a level of some protection is better than none…AFCI’s do offer a level of protection as well as a fully functional OCPD and so on…and even many now have AFCI and GFCI built in with the 5 MA status…

I know for a fact by the end of the year the AFCI for Cutler Hammer ( and the UL Classified ) models will be compliant and meet combination standards…but AFCI’s right now do work on series arcs at the branch level…

Hi to all,

Paul, are the modern AFCI breakers rated for both AL and CU conductors, it has been a while since I looked at modern breakers and wondered if they were still duel rated?



That is great info. I continue to learn more and more from this BB. Thanks to all!

If you are looking for GF protection why buy AFCIs and pretend you are getting your money’s worth? The problem with aluminum is burned up terminations, it is not likely this will result in a ground fault until after the fire is started and a bolted ground fault will trip the OCPD anyway.
These are series fault problems and AFCIs do not find that yet. I know Siemens is bragging that they have the series device somewhere in white lab coat land but we haven’t seen them in the wild yet.

I always recommend evaluation by a licensed electrical contractor. I suggest replacement of all switches and receptacles with those rated for copper and aluminum. I inform them about Arc Fault interrupters.

Many home owners produce the invoice paid way back when, showing a licensed electrician pigtailed all switches and receptacles using an approved methodology. I still call out for further evaluation.

Someone’s life can depend on it. They ain’t gonna hang their hats on my word alone.


it is very well known that for example Fire-Guard has Series and Parallel protection at the panel stage, The series arcs that take place at the device itself was a bit more tricky but that will be solved by Jan 1, 2008.

In fact I know for a FACT they are testing them i the select field right now as I am changing all my breakers in my home panel as well to AFCI as part of the test in the next few weeks.

I think OPINION has to weigh in here… happen to believe in AFCI’s and the added protection they provide with parallel arcs and series arcs at the level (2) location…and it will be expanding.

Check out and more information is available

I happen to believe that while the GFI is going to easily trip a ground fault between the series issue…I happen to believe that at melt down and FAULT will take place before a full fire is in place…based on documetation and studies.

The largest concern in homes is Parallel Arcs…so it needs to be guarded against as well and not discounted simply because of a weaker protection against Series Arcs as parallel can still be present, In light of the fact FPE is in place it is a solid recommendation to replace the panel and protect with AFCI’s and it will only get better. The point is are the people going to rewire the entire house? it in their budget.?..chances are NOT right now so how do they raise the level of safety…

1.) Replace the panel
2.) Put AFCI’s on the AL Wiring
3.) Have the electrician check all connections available

A.) It is better than NOTHING
B.) Still add’s the added level of protection…

C.) Since when do I as an electrician care if it costs the consumer a little more for safety…I have family to feed also and safety costs money so i simply pass the cost onto the consumer and I have no problem sleeping at night over it…:slight_smile:

Yes Gerry, they are AL/CU rated now

When doing a large upgrade like replacing a panel are not we required to bring everything to present day code??

And how big is a “large upgrade”?

I would think that if a panel is replaced one would have to install AFCI’s


Nope…upgrading a panel does not mean you have to " upgrade " the entire electrical system…

if that is what you are asking…in regards to the AFCI’s you are correct in that depending on the NEC cycle you would most certainly have to install the AFCI’s atleast on the bedroom circuits…however I believe the concept is replacing all 120V 15 & 20A branch circuits ( ala like the 2008 is wanting ) to aid in added safety for the AL wiring…which I have no problem with in THAt case…however I am not ready to jump on board with the concepts of the 2008 NEC just yet…we will see how it goes…

Paul, not a swipe at you, but just in case, I would put in your post to verify with local codes. The NEC is silent as you said, but up here, Allentown Pa, I know if you replace/upgrade a panel/service they give you a ‘local’ ordinance check off. This includes stuff like all exposed K&T needs to be removed from the basement, grounding needs to upgraded to meet today’s requirements, etc.

So upgrade the entire electrical system, no, but upgrade the SE cables, grounding, and wiring methods in the basement, maybe. :wink:

Good stuff though,



If I spent every part of my time making sure my NEC posts met all possible local things…and every state I would simply go mad.

I only deal in the NEC…if other areas pertain they need to contact their local AHJ for more details.

Mad As A Hatter?

Too late.