Aluminum wiring always requires an electrician in order to perform safety inspections and get you approved for insurance.
But why is aluminum wiring there in the first place, and what should you know as a homeowner before the experts arrive?
Fast Facts about Aluminum Wiring
Why aluminum wiring?
Aluminum wiring was a common choice for homes built between 1960–1976. At the time, it was believed to be safe and economical. As those buildings aged, it was determined that aluminum wiring — as installed during that time period — poses 55 times more fire risk than copper.
Should I buy a home with aluminum wiring?
Aluminum wiring can be safely and cost-effectively repaired or replaced. Some insurance companies have blanket policies against working with homes that have aluminum wiring, so it's important to have inspections done prior to buying or selling in order to mitigate the risk. Millions of homes have aluminum wiring and it's no reason to reject a house outright.
Can I get insurance for a home with aluminum wiring?
Insurers have special requirements for aluminum wiring, making it a challenging problem for homeowners, buyers, and sellers. Most insurance companies will insure the home, provided that a licensed electrician performs an inspection, and
Insurers have two approaches to properties with aluminum wiring:
- No exceptions policy: some insurers have policies against aluminum wiring, regardless of the situation, repairs, or details of the installation.
- Permitted with inspection: some insurers will insure properties with aluminum wiring, so long as an inspection has been conducted, and required repairs made.
As mentioned above, aluminum wiring has been shown to be as much as 55 times more likely to spark a fire when improperly installed or used. 1
It’s important here to note that aluminum wiring is actually still legally permitted 2, provided it’s installed properly. Much of the stigma against the metal is due to issues arising from improper wiring in the 60s combined with new high-energy-use appliances.
How much will it cost to repair or replace aluminum wiring?
The cost will depend on the size of your home, and whether you are replacing or repairing the wiring.
For replacement in a small two-bedroom home, you’re likely looking at $6000–12,000 before you factor in fixing up drywall disturbed by the process. A larger home can easily cost $15,000 or more.
It’s essential that you have a licensed electrician inspect the home and help you make a decision about the cost/value tradeoff. Often, they’ll recommend a repair method like “pigtailing” that can bring your cost back down to around $80–210/outlet (compared to $275+ for full replacement process).
Electricians will often price repairs and replacements of aluminum wiring by outlet count.
What to do if your home has aluminum wiring
- Have an electrician perform an inspection to determine existing issues with the connections where aluminum and copper wiring join.
- If you’re concerned about being “taken for a ride” by a contractor, we recommend you engage a separate contractor for the inspection, and let them know up front.
- Ask the contractor if there are improvements you can make to your distribution of appliances in the home to reduce the load on any single circuit. (This is good practice regardless of wiring type.)
- Contact insurers and ask for their requirements when insuring homes with aluminum wiring. Comparing quotes and against the cost of repairs/replacement will help you determine the most cost-effective solution over time.
How do I know if I have aluminum wiring?
It is required to disclose to presence of aluminum wiring during the home buying/selling process, as well as for insurance. If you’re still concerned it might be in place, call an electrician for an inspection. They can tell very quickly with a simple examination of the circuit box and switches in your home, and should cost you less than $100 for the peace of mind.
The following are examples of issues you may see due to undisclosed aluminum wiring:
- Burnt insulation in wiring
- Flickering lights
- Cover plates on light switches warm or hot to touch
- Discoloration (yellowing, browning, blackening) of plates.
How do electricians repair aluminum wiring without a total replacement?
There are two main methods that electricians use when repairing aluminum wiring to reduce fire risk:
- Pigtailing: this is really a compromise approach, in which the electrician will wrap the aluminum wiring to copper at your switches, which is designed to reduce heat where they join. While affordable, this is the least permanent approach.
- COPALUM crimps: This is a step up from pigtailing, in which the electrician will apply force using COPALUM crimps to fuse the wires together. While more permanent and less likely to have issues over time, this method is more expensive.
There are other approached to mitigating the risk, including re-distributing your appliances and avoiding the use of lights that tend to heat up on aluminum wiring. These methods are not recommended since they require ongoing knowledge and vigilance on the part of people living in the home. This is not realistic, particularly for rental or AirBnB units.