What's worse than aluminum wiring?

Originally Posted By: psabados
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How about aluminum wiring and a FPE circuit breaker box.


Finally, after two reschedules, I was able to inspect a dwelling that I suspected had aluminum wiring. When I got to the basement and looked over at the main panel box, I knew this was gonna be fun.

http://www.nachi.org/bbsystem/usrimages/1IMG_1401.JPG

Looking at the grey, black and white spaghetti and how it was professionally installed and secured from the box was first sign of problems.

http://www.nachi.org/bbsystem/usrimages/0IMG_1408.JPG

The main 100 amp breaker is loaded with rust and you can see the heat blisters on the surface. Main leads into the breaker looks clean.

The left bank of breakers looked clean, no charring on the insulation or tips

http://www.nachi.org/bbsystem/usrimages/0IMG_1405.JPG

The right bank of breakers had rusted connectors and heat blisters

http://www.nachi.org/bbsystem/usrimages/0IMG_1413.JPG

Neutral and grounds on same lugs!

http://www.nachi.org/bbsystem/usrimages/0IMG_1403.JPG
http://www.nachi.org/bbsystem/usrimages/IMG_1407.JPG

Nasty rust on the bottom of the unit been caused by heat and condensation within the unit. Panel box is mounted to the wall with 3/4 plywood behind the box. No water leakage down the main service conductors.

Called for additional evaluation by a licensed and qualified electrician. Inserted this item into the report with a Safety/Health Upgrade recommendation. Told my client to plan on replacement.

House is foreclosure FHA, as is. I don't have a problem calling for further evaluation on a system, when the heart of the unit looked like this one.

Paul


Originally Posted By: Mike Parks
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Please explain why alum wiring is bad.


MP


Originally Posted By: psabados
This post was automatically imported from our archived forum.



Mike


First reason, alumimum wiring will expand and contract more than copper. At the screw lugs the tendency is that the connection will become loose. Loose connections cause overheating through resistance.

Couple this with using the wrong type of wall receptacle or switch, (one which in not compatable with alumimum) dissimiliar corrosion will occur causing overheating which could lead to a FIRE!!

With so many home repair experts out there, any time I see alumimum 110 volt circuits, I recommend further evaluation by a QUALIFIED licensed electrician.

Paul


Originally Posted By: Dennis Bozek
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Paul.


I've seen hundreds if not thousands of panels with AL wiring in it. Nothing really wrong with it as long it is protected from corrosion by the use of a substance such as De-ox or Na-lox and it is properly torqued at it's connection.

I've seen panels with AL wiring that one could get a solid 4 turns on it's screw connection and then not, all with panels being of the same age. It all depends on how something is treated. If the service and panel is properly sized for amapacity to it's load, if the AL wire is properly installed and it is properly protected against corrosion....nothing at all wrong with it.

Granted it is the cheap way of doing something and yes, in my business I virtually always install CU versus AL. But again...it all depends on whether it's been abused or treated properly. I bet you didn't know that it is even feasible and proper to put the same kind of corrosion prevention on copper that one would use for aluminum. No code states that copper has to be protected that way, but it's just something that aids in the transfer of heat through the conductor and the prevention of corrosion as the wire heats up.


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Originally Posted By: lfranklin
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Dennis


Do you use de-ox on coppper??


I’ve wonder about this before but most people says it’s only for alumimum. How does it hurt copper icon_question.gif


Originally Posted By: psabados
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Hey Dennis


I agree, that a properly installed and maintained aluminum system can be safe. I would point out that the system appears to be in adequate condition considering the materials used in construction. I will also see that my client had sufficient info on the use of aluminum 110 wiring, the potential problems and how to keep it relatively safe. The problem with aluminum is overheating, am I not correct? If I see overheating or unsafe wiring conditions, it's going in my report

This particular system, the installing contractor didn't even use anti-oxidant at the 220 connections. I pulled a dozen receptacles covers off and found that seven outlets were pigtailed. Pigtailed improperly that is, no compound, wrong casings etc. Two pieces of copper wire added to a new receptacle connected by two yellow wire nuts with electrical tape.

Now tie this all in with that FPE rust box what do you get? Electricians going out to estimate the job for upgrade and repair


Paul


Originally Posted By: Dennis Bozek
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Larry,


Yes you can use De-ox on copper. Look at the bottle it specifically says "For use on copper and aluminum connections". It won't hurt it and if anything, help it. I typically only use it on copper connections at the meter socket though for this would be an area more susceptible to corrosion due to weather, etc.


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This information has been edited and reviewed for errors by your favorite resident sparky.

Originally Posted By: Dennis Bozek
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Paul,


There are a lot of things to consider when using AL wire. One must insure that the ampacity of the wire meets the load requirements of the house. If not...yes overheating can occur. Corrosion prevention is a big one for if not protected against that, AL wire will tend to corrode quicker than CU wire....end result...overheating. Proper torque used to tighten the connection will also cause overheating if not done properly and the connection becomes lose from the constant heating and cooling of the conductor due to current flow through it. My personal preference is to use CU wire whenever possible. It becomes a no brainer situation for you do not have to worry so much about corrosion and a good screwdriver or allen wrench will typically get the connection as tight as it needs to be. Use of copper wire versus aluminum also allows for smaller wire gauges to be used such as in a 200 amp service for instance. Al wire would have to be a 4/0 minimum whereas CU wire would be 2/0. Al wire is easier to cut and bend but it sucks to strip, whereas copper wire strips easily but it sucks to bend it or at times even cut it. Of course this is just general info about copper versus aluminum and really has nothing to do with home inspection.

When I inspect a panel or a house that utilizes AL wire, I always check to see if the connection is tight and if corrosion prevention is in place. In the case of tying copper and aluminum together with that yeller wire nut....protection must be there or a non reversible splice, such as a crimp, adapted that already contains the anti-oxidant compound. These types of connectors must also be identified for use of copper to aluminum such a s(rated for al-cu). Also most of these connections will also indicate a tightening torque as well.


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This information has been edited and reviewed for errors by your favorite resident sparky.

Originally Posted By: jmyers
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Dennis,


While I agree with the overall jest of what you are saying about aluminum wiring, I do disagree with the safety factor of aluminum wiring. Bob Vila and the big orange are making it more unsafe than ever because Harry Homeowner just does not know that you can not mix and match without those special connectors. ![icon_cool.gif](upload://oPnLkqdJc33Dyf2uA3TQwRkfhwd.gif)

HE**, I have seen K & T so spliced up it was nothing short of a minor miracle that the place did not burn to the ground.

Joe Myers


Originally Posted By: jmcginnis
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Just my 2 cents on aluminum wiring… #10 and smaller I always use copper… above that I use aluminum unless the AHJ forbids it…copper NM cable is cheaper now than when I started wiring over 30 years ago… at those prices, why take a chance on aluminum on the smaller guage wires… I also understand that the quality of the aluminum in conductors has been greatly improved over the years to alleviate the former problems with overheating and bad connections…


Originally Posted By: roconnor
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Mike P … I assume you are talking about newer present day AL wire (I hope … icon_eek.gif )


The newer AA-8000 series AL wire is permitted in new construction (unless there is a local restriction) down to AWG #12 for 15A circuits (Both IRC and NEC), although that is not common in my area. The newer AL wire apparently is much better and doesn't have the same problems as old style AL wire (or even AA-13000 series AL wire up to a few code cycles ago), but it still has to be larger than CU for a given circuit.

The real hazard is older AL wire AWG #10 or smaller (which is usually solid, as #8 and larger must be stranded) in homes build in the early 1960's to 1970's with what is called "old technology" aluminum wire. This old wire has expansion/contraction and corrosion problems, and has been blamed for killing people ... see CPSC #516.

I would red flag anything other than CU pigtails with the special Tyco/AMP "COPALUM" compression crimp connectors (per CPSC #516) for the older homes ... and I would note even the COPALUM connectors or the purple wire nuts (Ideal #65) for newer homes, but not red flag it. Note that there is disagreement on the use UL listed AL/CU wire nuts like the Ideal #65 with the "old technology" AL wire... so be carefull. Even with the correct pigtails and connectors, some home insurance companies may not insure a house with old AL wire, so be careful.

The following links have all you ever wanted to know about aluminum wiring but were afraid to ask ... lol ... including links that talk about terminating AL wire and CPSC #516 on old AL wire and proper pigtails. The first page of CPSC #516 also has a good section on warning signs to look for:

http://www.inspect-ny.com/aluminum.htm

http://www.iccsafe.org/ubb/Forum11/HTML/000240.html

http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/516.pdf


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Robert O'Connor, PE
Eagle Engineering ?
Eagle Eye Inspections ?
NACHI Education Committee

I am absolutely amazed sometimes by how much thought goes into doing things wrong