EXTREMELY Concerned about Al wiring in new apt!

Originally Posted By: Joey D’Adamo
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I was directed to this board by somebody on some other forums, and after reading a plethora of posts on here (interesting stuff!) I’m thinking y’all can be of some help…

So I just recently signed a least (6 months) on an apartment. I knew it had aluminum wiring from when I first took a look at the unit and the switchplates were off for painting. I only took a cursory look at the time, and I had no reason to think that it was improperly installed from what I saw then.

Later after i got the key, I began popping plates off to take a closer look at the wiring. After all, I've never actually seen aluminum wiring in action before and so I was curious.

Sadly I noticed some things that really disturbed me...

There are a plethora of lightswitches that are not CO/ALR, or even AL-CU rated. This doesn't concern me too much as there doesn't appear to be any signs of overheating.. the insulation looks normal and nothing is warped or scorched. So, ok, they could probably be replaced sometime... but no rush.

Then I started looking at the outlets... five of them are copper-only devices, fairly new ones that appear to have been replaced recently. One is attached with copper pigtails. A closer look in the box with a flashlight reveals that ordinary Cu-to-Cu wirenuts were used to make the pigtail connections. They do not appear discolored or deformed from heat in any way that I could tell. However, this is still a no no.

The other four copper-only outlets have Al attached directly to them, and the wire isn't even wrapped all the way around the screws! it is wrapped around maybe 1/4 of the way at best... and there are knicks on the wire near the insulation from somebody who wasn't careful enough with a wire stripper. This is extremely alarming to me because I'm pretty sure this will not hold up for very long... There are, however, no obvious signs of heat damage on any of these either. Nothign is scorched, discolored, no insulation appears melted, the wire color looks reasonably pure (surprising for aluminum that I am sure hasn't had any anti-oxident paste applied to it).

I will try and take some pictures and post them up here for all to see.

In the meantime.. what should I do? I think I will contact building management. I'm pretty worried about this. Other units in the building probably have similar problems.

Should I file a complaint with the Inspector's office?


I will try to take pictures for tomorrow...

Originally Posted By: Blaine Wiley
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What was that line from the Amityville Horror…oh yeah, GET OUT.

Seriously, inform the building management of the issue as a first step. If they do nothing, contact an electrician or the county building dept. Explain the conditions to the county. If they are unwilling to act, hire an electrician for your safety.

Good luck and keep us informed.

Originally Posted By: jpope
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The owner/manager has an obligation to supply safe housing to renters. Bring it to their attention and give them a chance to act on it. It may be that they are not aware of the potential hazards.

If they do not act, most states allow for tenants to bill the owner/management for "necessary" repairs. Be sure and have an inspection first and then let a state-licensed electrical contractor do the work.

Jeff Pope
JPI Home Inspection Service
"At JPI, we'll help you look better"
(661) 212-0738

Originally Posted By: Greg Fretwell
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I suspect all you will accomplish is getting out of your lease but you should probably start with the local housing authorities. This is a rental?

I doubt code inspectors will do much if they don’t have an open permit.

You have to go to the folks who insure that rental housing is safe.

Originally Posted By: Joey D’Adamo
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Here is a draft of a letter I am working on to the building management company. Please comment on techincal accuracy and other advice.

Thanks in advance!!

I realize that this goes into way more detail than some building manager might care about, but at least if I have to send a copy of it to someone who understands the topic, it oughta build my credibility.


I am a newly leased tennant of suite (removed) at the (removed).

It has come to my attention that these towers contain aluminum electrical wiring, as opposed to ordinary copper wiring. I am not sure if you are aware of this or not, but you probably are.

Aluminum wiring was introduced for use in ordinary "branch circuit" wiring (outlets, switches, and lights) in approximately 1965 when the price of copper was very high. By approximately 1974, it was banned for use in branch circuit wiring in most places due to a high number of problems including fires, and the deaths of two people.

Existing aluminum wiring is generally regarded as safe as long as proper precautions are taken. This includes the use of special electrical devices rated for use with aluminum wiring. These include electrical outlets, light switches, and electrical conncectors known as wire nuts, to name a few.

An extremely cursory review of my suite reveals a minimum of five electrical code violations. There are probably more, but these are the only ones that can be ascertained without removal of wall devices. In the suite, five electrical outlets appear to have been recently replaced. Unfortunately, they lack the correct CO/ALR rating required for devices which will attach to aluminum wires; they are copper-only devices. Whoever replaced them was either unaware of the difference, or unmotivated to do a proper, safe job. At least one of the devices appears to be connected with copper "pigtails" using incorrect wire nuts.

This is extremely disturbing because based on this, whomever installed the devices was unaware of proper procedure for working with aluminum wiring, and probably neglected to apply a very critical anti-oxidant paste to the wires before connecting them.

Lastly, the wires were poorly connected to the screw terminals on the devices. Aluminum wiring REQUIRES a secure connection, and this means the wire must wrap AT LEAST 3/4 of the way around the screw terminal of a CO/ALR device. Unfortunately, these instances I refer to only have the wire wrapped approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of the way around the screw of a Copper-Only device. The differences in screws and importance of a secure connection is discussed below.

There are several problems here:

1) OXIDATION - All metals oxidize when exposed to open air. Copper does too. However, the oxide of aluminum is not electrically conductive. It actually impedes the flow of electricity, and as the attached wire oxidizes more and more over time, the reduction in conductivity causes the connection to heat up. This heat can, over time, become bad enuogh to melt the device itself (as they are made of plastic), and/or melt the insulation off of the rest of the wire. Pictures of this can be shown if need-be. They are all over the internet.

The prevention of oxidation is important, and this is why anti-oxidant paste must be applied to the connections. I doubt that it has been, but I can't be too sure on this. It just seems strange that someone would install the wrong outlets and yet still know about applying the paste. So I doubt it's there.

Copper-only devices also contain brass screw terminals on one side. Aluminum may not and should not come into direct contact with brass. It causes a chemical reaction which speeds the oxidation of the wire. As noted above, oxidation of aluminum wire is detrimental to its conductivity.

2) WIRE SIZE AND THERMAL EXPANSION - Aluminum wires are larger than copper wires for any given circuit, and require larger screw terminals to properly hold the wire. Copper-only devices have smaller screw terminals than CO/ALR devices. CO/ALR devices also have special ridges on the connectors to help grip the wire better and also abrade the wire while it is being connected to remove any oxides. Simply put, the screw terminals on copper-only devices do a poor job of fastening the wire and ensuring proper electrical conductivity.

It is extremely important that aluminum wire is fastened as best as possible. This is because during use, it expands more than copper. It is also softer than copper, and when it cools down again, it may not return to the same shape that it was in initially. This repeated expansion and contraction, and changing shape of the wire, results in connections working themselves loose. Studies have shown that this will happen on both copper-only AND CO/ALR devices, although it takes a lot longer to occur on CO/ALR devices, especially those which are installed correctly in the first place. Loose connections will heat up at a minimum, or arc/spark and potentially cause a fire.

Aluminum wiring is 55 times more likely to reach fire hazard conditions than copper wiring.

Lives are at stake here... and this needs to be fixed. The simplest and least expensive would be to get QUALIFIED electrical contractors to assess the building and replace copper-only devices with properly installed CO/ALR ones. It might even be a good idea to replace some of the older AL-CU (an older specifiaction) devices with updated CO/ALR ones as well. AL-CU devices were deemed inadequate in 1972.

Other alternatives include the COPALUM system (do a search on google for it, and most electricians will know what this is). It is a means of permanently joining copper leads to the ends of the aluminum ones so that all devices wlll be attached only to copper, and that the copper to aluminum connection will be made properly. Aluminum is very unfriendly around dissimilar metals (see the brass example above), and the connections must be made carefully. This system is desigend to do exactly that. Unfortuntely, it is not cheap.

The last, and probably least feasible alternative would be partial-to-full rewiring. The building appears to be wired using electrical conduit, so its entirely possible without making any modifications to walls/floors/etc.

The only thign I can say is that it simply cannot remain as it is. It is extremely dangerous and in time a problem will occur at one of these improperly wired devices. It could be anything from a benign electrical arc to a fire. Loss of life is entirely possible if this is not remedied.

Feel free to perform your own research, as that is what I have done in preparing this letter.

I hope you will do the right thing. No cost is worth loss of life from something so stupid, and something that can still be fixed. It is not too late.

Originally Posted By: Greg Fretwell
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I bet their answer is something like “you might be happier living elsewhere. Here is your deposit, now go away”

Originally Posted By: Joey D’Adamo
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hmm i hope that doesn’t happen because my gf likes this place and she doesn’t wanna live anywhere else or re-locate again…

now I feel like i hafta choose between chanceing bad aluminum wiring or pissing off my gf... hmmm....

I will take some pictures of these bad connections tomorrow and maybe someone can tell me exactly how bad they look?

Maybe if i can figure out how the wires are run i can plug in things earlier on in the chain and leave very low current draw on the bad outlets and the ones chained after it... or something... i dunno....

stupid aluminum.

Originally Posted By: rwashington
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Send the letter certified mail return receipt requested and place the receipt and a copy of your letter in a fire-retardent (SP?) safe.

It would be surprising though if you did not get a good response. As far as your girlfriend goes trying showing her some of the pictures you mention in your letter that are on the internet. She may start liking the place a little less.

Richard W Washington

Originally Posted By: Joey D’Adamo
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So is the letter good? Anything missing? Anything innaccurate or incorrect?


Originally Posted By: Joey D’Adamo
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Finally got some pictures… i took pictures of everything but a lot didn’t turn out… here’s what did:

http://joey.calgarysfinest.net/smart.jpg <-- some smart person installed a Cu-Only switch.. the picture clearly shows the No-Al stamp on the device and aluminum wire attached to it.

http://joey.calgarysfinest.net/burned.jpg <-- the only sign of damage i saw anywhere... the insulation on the end of the wire is darkened and discolored. This switch controls a hallway light.

http://joey.calgarysfinest.net/crappy_connect_not_coalr.jpg <-- crappy connections to a Cu-Only outlet... kinda hard to see but notice the absense of the rest of the wire on the top of the screw terminal.. its only about 1/2 way attached... no signs of overheating that i can tell, though.

http://joey.calgarysfinest.net/not_coalr.jpg <-- recently replaced outlet... not a CO/ALR model (stamp missing, hot screw terminals are brass)

http://joey.calgarysfinest.net/original_outlets.jpg <-- this is what the original outlets look like.. they have a CU-AL stamp on them, and appear to have no screw terminals? Can anyone shed light on how that works? They can't possibly be back wired only and still have not failed horribly after all these years... they appear fine.

Originally Posted By: ecrofutt
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Hmmm, Life or Girlfriend Happy. Tough choice.

Erby Crofutt

B4U Close Home Inspections

Georgetown, Kentucky


Originally Posted By: John M Borchers
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They will take care of it not make you move. They will probably also check other apartments and their records to see who did the work. They now have a liability problem especially if the records are kept of your letter; either you or them.

Originally Posted By: dbowers
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Joey -

From reading your posts, we all see you're way more informed than any run-of-the mill ordinary renter. If the average renter or homeowner even recognized the word aluminum wiring - they wouldn't have a clue as to discuss "knicked wires", CO/ALR, proper fittings, etc.

Its obvious you're either in the trades or an inspector - or playing. So why move in at all under those circumstances.