Aluminum Branch Wiring
I recently performed an inspection on a house that had aluminum wiring. The house was built in 1973 and aluminum wiring was approved by the NEC (National Electric Code) at that time. By the early 1980’s, aluminum single strand branch wiring was outlawed by almost all state building codes due to the high incidence of house fires. However, while currently banned for new construction, pre-existing aluminum wiring is still legal in homes containing it via a grand fathering clause in the NEC. My client (the buyer) informed me he was having a problem finding an insurance company that would insure a home wired with aluminum branch wiring. Many insurance carriers will not insure a home wired in aluminum. The ones that will, including Citizens, will require one of the following remediation methods: 1- Rewire the home completely in copper wiring; 2- Repair all aluminum-to-copper connections (e.g. light fixtures, fans, receptacles and switches) via the COPALUM crimp method; 3- Repair all aluminum-to-copper connections (e.g. light fixtures, fans, receptacles and switches) via the AlumiConn connector method.
They also will increase the deductible to 10% of the value of the policy. If the policy value was $200,000, the deductible would be $20,000. That is $20,000 the homeowner will need to pay out of pocket before insurance will kick in. Needless to say, my client did not buy the house due to the insurance requirements and the costly repairs. I’m sure this is a huge dilemma for the seller. It is recommended when listing a house that was built in the mid 1960’s thru the early 1980’s to check the electrical wiring material. It is also recommended for the buyer’s realtor to advise the client to obtain a 4 point Insurance Report at the time of the home inspection and due diligence period. The buyers will know immediately if the house can be insured, or what repairs may be needed to satisfy the Insurance Companies requirements. At that time, the buyers will be able to make an informed decision whether to purchase the home or pass.
Electrical Home Safety
Some electrical fire dangers are hidden inside the walls , but if you know the warning signs , you can keep an electrical fire from happening in your home. Electrical malfunction IS a leading cause of house fires. To keep your home safe, watch for the warning signs .
Most homeowners know that overloading circuits and using frayed extension cords can lead to electrical fires . But there are other electrical fire dangers in your home that while they may not be as obvious, are no less dangerous . According to the most recent data from the National Fire Protection Association, electrical failure or malfunction caused an estimated 52,500 fires in U.S. homes in 2006, resulting in 340 deaths, 1,400 injuries, and nearly $1.5 billion in property damage.
Electrical home safety warning signs
Here are warning signs of four potential hazards that you may not know about. If any of them sound familiar, consider hiring a licensed electrician to conduct a wiring inspection ($200 to $300).
Hidden danger #1: Old wiring The lifespan of an electrical system is 30 to 40 years . But more than 30% of the nation’s houses-some 30 million homes- are more than 50 years old. “Older homes with fuses were set up for about 30 amps of power; many homes now have 100, 150, even 200 amps of power: says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories , which conducted a study of aging residential wiring . Warning signs of inadequate power include circuit breakers that trip or fuses that blow repeatedly, and an over-reliance on extension cords . “They’re meant to be temporary” Drengenberg says . “If you have extension cords routed all over, it’s time to get an electrician out there. Your home would not comply with the National Electrical Code .”
Hidden danger #2: Aluminum wiring Many houses built in the 1960s and early 1970s have aluminum wiring, which oxidizes and corrodes more easily than copper and has been linked by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to electrical fires . “It’s okay for a while, but it doesn’t have the life that copper does, particularly where wires terminate . “The terminals and splices are known for overheating” says Roger L. Boyell , a forensic engineer in Moorestown, N.J. Short of a whole-house wiring upgrade, an electrician may be able to head off potential problems by installing copper connectors called pigtails at receptacles and breakers. “It’s time-consuming” Boyell says, “but there’s no big equipment involved”.
Hidden danger #3 : Arc faults An arc fault-which occurs when electrical current veers off its intended path, often through a breach in wiring-is a leading cause of electrical fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association, It doesn’t take much to cause an arc fault. You could damage wiring inside the wall when hanging a cabinet, a piece of furniture could cut through a cord, or there may be a loose connection in an outlet. The resulting arc, capable of producing heat in excess of 10,000 degrees F, can be nearly impossible to detect. But arc faults are preventable, A device called an arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) senses these dangerous abnormalities in wiring or appliances and shuts down the circuit before it overheats. The Electrical Safety Foundation International estimates that the use of AFCls could prevent 50% to 75% of fires caused by arc faults. AFCls are now required on circuits covering most general living areas in new houses. (Note: These are”not the same as ground-fault circuit interrupters, or GFCls, which are used in kitchens, baths, and other wet areas to prevent electrical shocks.) But they’re even more valuable in older houses, where connections may have degraded over the years . It’s an easy job for an electrician to.upgrade standard circuit breakers, which don’t protect against arc faults, to AFCls. At $30 to $50 per breaker, it could cost a few hundred dollars to retrofit every circuit. Still, weighed against the pctential tragedy of a house fire, it’s money well spent.
Hidden danger #4 : Counterfeit electrical products If you’ve ever gone to a flea market and seen vendors hawking extension cords, power strips, night lights, batteries, even circuit breakers for ridiculously low prices, there’s a reason. They’re probably counterfeits, and they’re incredibly dangerous. “I’ve seen extension cords all over the country that have inferior copper in them-it’s speaker wire, and it literally melts in your hands,” says Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International. “They’re putting a lot of people at risk.” Your best bet is to buy electrical products only from reputable retailers who will take things back if they don’t work. And look for the Underwriters Laboratories seal. On low-cost items that are ripe for counterfeits, UL puts its logo in a holographic label that’s much more difficult to reproduce.
If the worst happens: Extinguishing an electrical fire
Electrical fires are tricky to put out. If you douse them with water, you run the risk of electrocution , and not all chemical fire suppressants will extinguish them completely. To be safe, make sure your household fire extinguisher is rated A-B-C, which indicates that it is effective against fires involving ordinary combustible materials, flammable liquids, and electrical equipment.
Deal Killer Tip
In 1965 aluminum wire was recommended as a substitute for scarce and expensive copper. After several fatal fires some years later, it was found that aluminum wiring was not as safe as thought to be. Using special techniques, an aluminum-wired house can be made safe. Copper pigtails can be bonded to the aluminum at each junction and receptacle. The other alternative is rewiring the house with copper. Both are very expensive.
Deal Killer Tip
I find this to be very common on 50% of my home inspections. It includes inadequate overload protection, improper grounding and dangerous wiring connections. Much of the improper wiring I see was put together by a handyman or do-it yourself’ers.