The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector
Dear Barry: Our house was built in 1972, with aluminum wiring for all the outlet and light circuits. Recently, we learned that aluminum wire is a bad thing and puts our home at risk for fire. Since we have had no problems for the past 35 years, we’re wondering if what we’ve heard is true? If so, is there a fix besides rewiring the entire house? Also, if we sell the house without rewiring it, will we be liable for future problems? Kris
Dear Kris: Aluminum wiring was installed in many homes from the late 1960s through the early 1970s, particularly in mobile homes. When used for 110 volt circuits, it is commonly recognized as a potential fire hazard. Fortunately, the solution does not involve rewiring your home. The problem exists at the connections only, requiring localized upgrades, rather than replacement of the wires
Aluminum wire ends can become loose at connecting hardware, and this can cause overheating of the connections, resulting in house fires. This does not mean that the aluminum connections in your home are definitely faulty, but there is the potential for overheating, even if you’ve never noticed a problem. In some cases, where no evidence of any problem was apparent, burnt wires were found inside the walls during a remodel, after the drywall had been removed.
The common solution is to install special connectors, commonly known as “pigtails,” at outlets, lights, and switches. This should be done by a licensed electrician who is familiar with aluminum wire issues.
As for future liability when you sell the home, just be sure to disclose to buyers that the house is wired with aluminum and include documentation to show that the wire ends were retrofitted.