Author Topic: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?  (Read 583 times)

Darren

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Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« on: November 24, 2021, 01:41:35 PM »
Hey all,

We just purchased a fixer-upper home. In my region, in the 60 and early 70s, most home were built with aluminum wiring instead of copper and this house is no exception. The electrical panel is old and uses fuses instead of breakers, which is something we are immediately replacing for insurance purposes. My question is, if I'm having an electrician in to replace the electrical panel should I also look into rewiring the entire home with copper? The home has lasted this long with aluminum, so maybe it's not a big deal.

Thanks for your thoughts.

ncornilsen

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2021, 01:56:13 PM »
Fused panels, by themselves, aren't a hazard... is there a specific need or recall on the panel you have installed?

The big issue with aluminum is the connections more than the wiring itself.

I think you will create a opportunity for problems by messing with all of those wiring connections; if you don't have to change out the panel, I'd avoid it. OR, if you have to replace the panel... do the wiring too.


scottish

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2021, 03:43:30 PM »
We have aluminum wiring.   Rewiring a house can be a big, expensive, messy job, ymmv.    When we renovated the kitchen I had all the kitchen wiring replaced with copper.

Higher amperage circuits are higher risk.   In our house, that means the kitchen and the laundry room (with an electric dryer).   The dryer is on a copper circuit, too. 

There are special switches and outlets for aluminum wiring.   Cheaper than replacing all the wiring, you could replace the switches and splice the aluminum to a short copper wire using an aluminum connector and some special anti-oxidant paste.    Aluminum connectors are purple (at least in Canada).    Joining aluminum conductors without the right connectors and paste is also a risk area.   I suspect this happens with some frequency.

If you don't do that you could periodically go through all the switches and outlets and make sure the screws are tight, because aluminum flows away from the screws over time.   However, I don't know how many people actually do this, and I haven't observed a problem in our house over 20 years. 


Papa bear

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #3 on: November 24, 2021, 04:20:33 PM »
A handful of years ago, I asked an electrician that I had for a few jobs what it would cost for a whole house rewire.  He told me for that a remodel job, 8-12/sf. 

New construction was much less than that.


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joenorm

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2021, 04:39:39 PM »
As stated above the wiring itself is not much of a risk. It's the terminations at lights, receptacles, breakers, etc. that can lead to problems.

Aluminum wire is still used today in homes, just not for the smaller branch circuit wiring. Rewiring the whole house is a big job.

trollwithamustache

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2021, 05:41:37 PM »
It is also worth noting as everything switches over to LED lighting, the overall electricity use on a lot of these circuits is way lower than it was back in the day. So aluminum isn't ideal, but likely not a big deal.  If you are using lots of power hungry plug in things, then this potentially isn't as true a statement.

Sibley

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2021, 08:16:10 PM »
Also consider if you might have difficulty with home insurance. I know some insurance companies won't cover homes with knob & tube, don't know if aluminum gets the same treatment.

I had my house rewired. It was indeed a mess. Literally a mess. Part of it was I chose electricians unwisely, but I and the house got through it.

sonofsven

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2021, 08:51:05 PM »
What I've done is wire nut copper pigtails to the alu wire at each fixture.
Basically, short extensions of copper wire at every spot that has a screw holding the wire in place, in place of the aluminum.
I have no idea how this approach dovetails with current code requirements.

affordablehousing

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2021, 10:23:17 PM »
If you need to do the box, I would just do the box. One of the challenges of rewires was with older knob and tube wirings, there was a common practice of splices all over the place, and so it was hard to map out wiring runs for a rewire. ALuminum wiring is at least done just like copper wiring. While others have mentioned , like joining galvanized and copper pipes, special precautions need to be taken when mixing metals, I don't think there's a big advantage to having an electrician do the box and rewire versus an electrician doing the box, and then the rewire down the road if you proceed that way. A new box is still a reasonable chunk of a job that amortizes some of the costs of bidding, site visit, overhead etc that you might save on by combining into a larger project.

Also, if an older house, you may likely be tearing into walls later, which would make the rewire much easier. Lastly, we found in renovations you often want to cange te placement or number of fixtures and receptacles. So if the panel is the issue, and if you haven't considered do bring the panel up to 200 amps to futureproof your house, and leave the rewire til a later date.

Darren

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #9 on: November 25, 2021, 06:28:49 AM »
Thanks for all of the excellent replies.

Some more details:

Panel: AFAIK, old fuse-based panels can be an insurance risk. My realtor told me that most insurance companies will still insure the house but will request that the panel be updated to breakers as soon as possible. This is coming from a realtor and not an electrician, but he does seem pretty knowledgeable.

I'm in Canada, so thank you for the earlier Canada-specific info about pigtailing ALU with CU.

I have no strong desire to rewire the house if it's not necessary. If it was only going to cost a few grand more to get the whole thing done and wouldn't detroy all the walls, then I'd do it. If it's going to be a major hassle and cost, and not provide much return, then I'm happy to forego it.

In terms of further work we'd like to do, basically every light fixture is super old and ugly, so over the short to medium term we'd be replacing those. At the moment, we probably won't be adding any new socket or fixture locations.

Good idea about futureproofing the house by jumping up to 200 amp. As scottish noted, higher amperage circuits increase risk with aluminum wiring. So perhaps that's something to discuss with an electrician.

We're scheduling an electrician to join us on our first walkthrough next week. So I'll know more about exactly what needs to happen then.

Thanks again all!

joenorm

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #10 on: November 25, 2021, 08:17:38 AM »
A note on "pig tailing" AL with CU.

This can be just as problematic and is only legal when a listed device is used to join the two dissimilar metals. Not all wire nuts are rated for this.

Ask your electrician, they will be your best resource.

Stashasaurus

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Car Jack

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2021, 09:08:32 AM »
Does the house have ground connections in the outlets?  2 prong, ungrounded, non-polarized outlets are a big 50's thing.  I remember setting up my tube amp on my concrete floored porch, plugging in my guitar and getting ready to badly imitate Led Zeppelin.  About half the time, I was shocked by touching the strings.  So I'd go to the amp and hit the polarity switch in the other direction.  Not real safe.

Darren

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #13 on: November 26, 2021, 11:29:53 AM »
Does the house have ground connections in the outlets?  2 prong, ungrounded, non-polarized outlets are a big 50's thing.  I remember setting up my tube amp on my concrete floored porch, plugging in my guitar and getting ready to badly imitate Led Zeppelin.  About half the time, I was shocked by touching the strings.  So I'd go to the amp and hit the polarity switch in the other direction.  Not real safe.

Haha oh jeez. Not the safest hack, but if it worked for ya. The house was built early 70s I believe, so ungrounded connections hopefully wouldn't be an issue. My last house was a post-war late 40s build and over the years had about half the wiring redone by whoever owned the house at the time and felt themsevles handy. It was always a guessing game as to if a recepticle was grounded, cross-wired, etc. Good times.

Fishindude

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Re: Rewiring Aluminum Home Worth It?
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2021, 11:39:18 AM »
Bite the bullet and get the whole home rewired if you plan on staying there a while.
This typically is not as expensive as you might think.   Electricians that do this kind of work everyday are quite slick at it and can do it in pretty short order.