Is Old Worrying Aluminum Wiring a Certain Deal-Breaker?
If you’re on the verge of buying a house but the home inspection raises a red flag because of potential issues with its electrics, you’ll find yourself having to consider a crucial question that many homebuyers face: is it OK to buy a house with aluminum wiring?
You may have found your ideal home in all other respects – perfect location, modern kitchen, stylish bathroom, for instance – but now need to decide whether buying a house with aluminum wiring is a good idea.
Aluminum wiring itself isn’t a problem – it conducts electricity safely – but it raises safety concerns because of its copper connections, which can become loose or corroded, creating a fire risk by sparking or overheating. Incompatible fittings and devices can also pose a fire hazard.
So, is aluminum wiring a deal-breaker when deciding whether to buy a new property? Not necessarily. There are ways of dealing with the problem.
Making Aluminum Wiring Safe
Aluminum wiring is often found in Canadian houses built from the mid-1960s to the early 70s when it was favoured as a cheaper alternative to copper, which at the time was costly to mine because of limited technology.
The copper connections pose a problem because aluminum contracts and expands more than copper during the warming and cooling cycle created by electrical loads. This can lead to connections working loose, significantly raising the risk of an electrical fire.
A common solution is aluminum wiring pigtails – using special connectors with an antioxidant compound that are used to join copper wires and aluminum wires. The aluminum wiring pigtail can then be coupled to a light switch or electrical outlet or fixture.
Alternative, less common ways of making aluminum wiring safe are:
Rewiring the entire property with copper wiring – the most effective long-term solution but also the most expensive.
Replacing switches and wall receptacles with special devices designed for aluminum wiring.
Steps to Take Before or Immediately After Buying a House with Aluminum Wiring
If you’re decided aluminum wiring isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s advisable to take certain measures before or after buying your new home.
In addition to the traditional home inspection, get an electrician to check the entire wiring system to ensure there are no immediate issues.
Get an estimate from your electrician of the cost of:
A complete rewire.
Aluminum wiring pigtailing.
Replacing receptacles and switches with approved for aluminum wiring devices (CO/ALR, CU-AL, or AL-CU) – a solution less accepted by insurance companies.
You can then choose the best solution based on the condition of the wiring, your preferences, budget and insurance requirements.
How to Spot Aluminum wiring
If you’ve taken the risk of not using the services of a member of the Home Inspectors’ Association of British Columbia (HIABC), and you haven’t yet had the house assessed by a qualified electrical contractor, you can check for yourself whether the property has aluminum wiring.
Look at wires at the electrical panel, between open floor joists, or those that are visible in the basement or attic. If the wiring is aluminum, it should be marked at regular intervals with the word ALUMINUM or an abbreviation such as AL or ALUM.
Signs that indicate a problem with aluminum wiring include flickering lights or loose wires, scorching, discolouration or strange smells around cover plates.
Be aware, though, that aluminum wiring can be hazardous without any visible signs. This is why professional inspection of aluminum wiring is recommended every four or five years.
Getting Insurance for a Property with Aluminum Wiring
Getting home insurance can be a problem when buying a house with aluminum wiring – the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group) says houses with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to have connections that pose a risk of fire.
Some insurance providers will not issue a homeowner’s policy if the house has aluminum wiring but others will, provided you get a licensed electrician to thoroughly inspect the property and make any necessary modifications to ensure it’s safe.
For example, Vancouver-based Square One Insurance Services regards houses lacking the proper connectors for aluminum wiring as posing an extreme hazard.
A further potential problem with old aluminum wiring is that sometimes amateurs may have attempted repairs to the electrical connections without having the right expertise and materials, causing even greater issues and potential fire hazards.
Why You Need a Professional Electrician
Buying a new house is a huge investment, and ensuring the electrics are in good condition is essential for peace of mind that your family will be safe in your new home.
If you find a home that ticks all your boxes but has aluminum wiring, it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Your options include:
Negotiating with the seller and dealing with the aluminum wiring afterwards.
Splitting the cost of rewiring or other electrical modifications with the seller.
Ensuring the safety of aluminum wiring demands the specialized knowledge of a qualified electrician with ample experience with this type of old wiring.
If you’re buying a house with aluminum wiring, a licensed electrician with specialized in old wiring systems can evaluate the wiring, make necessary adjustments, and provide you with a document that’s proof for insurance companies that your home is electrically safe.
WireChief Electric is Vancouver’s Old Wiring Specialist, we are here to help you with all your aluminum wiring repairs, inspections and rewiring.
Have any questions about buying or selling a home with aluminum wiring in Vancouver? Call us at 604-800-1665 or contact us.