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Aluminum wiring could make your home too hot for
insurance companies to touch

 

Crawford Frazer

Was your home built between 1965 and 1973? There's a chance it could have aluminum wiring. If that's the case, you could find it hard to get home insurance. That's because aluminum wiring is a fire hazard.

Why is aluminum wiring dangerous?

When the price of copper rose steeply around 1965, builders began outfitting homes with single-strand aluminum wiring instead of copper branch-circuit wiring, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI). After several years of use, it became apparent that aluminum wiring posed a safety hazard. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), homes with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach "fire hazard conditions," defined as reaching a certain temperature or emitting sparks.

According to InterNACHI, aluminum wiring is riskier for these reasons:

  • Higher electrical resistance. Aluminum conductors need to be a larger diameter than copper ones to offset their resistance to electrical flow.
  • Less flexible nature. Aluminum breaks down easier from bending, causing the wire to resist electrical current and heat to build up.
  • Corrosion and oxidation. Aluminum corrodes easier, and its connections are more prone to oxidation.
  • Greater malleability and excessive vibrations. Both of these qualities cause aluminum connections to become looser over time.
  • Greater thermal expansion and contraction. Because aluminum expands and contracts so easily with temperature changes, connections can degrade.

Does my house have aluminum wiring?

InterNACHI and CPSC provide some warning signs that your home has aluminum wiring:

  • The word "aluminum" or the initials "AL" on the plastic wire jacket.
  • Warm-to-the-touch faceplates on outlets or switches.
  • Flickering lights.
  • Non-working circuits.
  • Smell of burning plastic at outlets or switches.

My house has aluminum wiring -- what should I do?

Aluminum wiring can be bad news for your home insurance. Aluminum wiring and the risks it poses increase the chance that an insurance company will get burned by a home insurance claim, and some may void your policy, according to InterNACHI.

Rewiring your entire house can be expensive. But some insurers will allow you to make more affordable adjustments that can be done by a qualified electrician. For example, you can install approved wire connectors. These allow you to join existing aluminum wires with a small piece of copper wire at electrical fixtures (where aluminum wiring is the most hazardous). Two products on the market are COPALUM and AlumiConn, which have been approved by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in Florida as alternatives to rewiring.

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