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The Problems with Aluminum Wiring in Your Home

If your home contains aluminum wiring, you should know your property and personal safety may be at risk. Aluminum wiring has several inherent disadvantages, and it is important to understand how it might negatively impact you.
Below is more information on aluminum wiring and several reasons why you should consider replacement with a safer material.

Why Not Aluminum Wiring?

Copper is the traditional material of choice among wire manufacturers, but in the late 1960s, the price of copper began to rise quickly. The surge in prices was due to several factors, such as the Vietnam War and the accompanying demand for copper, so electrical product manufacturers found an alternative in aluminum.
Aluminum costs less than copper, and its satisfactory conductive characteristics made it a seemingly ideal choice to replace copper. However, within a few years after its introduction, it was discovered that several flaws, including those listed below, made aluminum a poor choice for residential wiring.

Easily Damaged Metal

While copper is a soft metal, aluminum is even softer; this can be a positive in some situations, but wiring that is too soft is vulnerable to damage. The soft aluminum core in wiring can be easily kinked, cut, gouged or otherwise damaged.
Damaged wiring can create conductivity bottlenecks, and this can lead to overheating at these locations where current is channeled. Unfortunately, damage is likely to occur in environments where wiring is handled roughly during installation or storage, and this leads to increased fire risks.

Greater Expansion and Contraction

Another flaw that makes aluminum wiring a less-than-suitable replacement for copper wiring is enhanced expansion and contraction. As aluminum is heated, the metal expands to a greater extent than copper; the opposite is also true, in that aluminum contracts more than copper.
Expansion and contraction can negatively affect electrical connections within a residential setting, especially if there is a continuous on-and-off usage pattern. For example, light switch connections can become loose due to the constant push-pull of heated and cooled wiring, and this can result in short circuits and even fires.

Less Conductive

While aluminum is a decent conductor of electricity, it is only the sixth best substance when it comes to conductivity. Copper is third, lying only behind carbon and silver.
Less conductivity equates to increased electrical resistance, which is manifested in the form of excess heat energy. Too much heating can be a fire hazard in many settings, especially if the dangers are enhanced by other flaws that occur at the same time.

Non-Conductive Oxidation

Another problem with aluminum wiring is how oxidation (rusting) impacts the conductivity of the metal. All metals oxidize to some degree, including copper.
The oxidation byproduct generated by copper is still able to conduct electricity, and this keeps the current flowing. However, the white byproduct of oxidation that forms on aluminum wiring is an insulating material and inhibits or prevents conduction. As with the other problems explained here, poor conduction can create dangerous overheating situations inside the wiring.

Insurance Problems

Due to the increased risk of fire caused by aluminum wiring, it is important to know that some insurance companies will refuse to provide coverage for homes with aluminum wiring. That is a potentially catastrophic problem, especially if an aluminum wiring fault results in fire and a homeowner loses their house and has no means to rebuild.
Even if an insurer will write coverage for a home with aluminum wiring, the deductible and premium are likely to be higher than those with copper wiring. This increased expense may prove to cost more in the long run than replacing aluminum with safer copper wiring.
The team of experts at Richardson Ready Electric will identify wiring hazards, including aluminum wiring, and will provide you with advice on how to best protect your home.