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Aluminum to Copper Splices: A Fire in the Making



TAGS: Electrical Fire Hazard

Aluminum to Copper Splices

Do you have aluminum wiring in your home? If you do, you may be unaware of the potential danger this type of wiring causes. Aluminum wiring may create fire hazards when the connections arc, heat up, and even catch fire — especially if the Aluminum wiring was improperly spliced to copper wiring. Take a look at the dangers of aluminum wiring and the solutions to this potential problem.

Are Aluminum Wires Cause for Concern?

If your home was built any time between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s, it might have aluminum wiring — and that could pose a hazard. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 50% of home fires happen in homes with aluminum wiring. 

The issue isn't really the wiring. Aluminum and copper both conduct electricity well. The problems occur at the connectors, especially when aluminum and copper wires are spliced together or when aluminum wires are used with devices intended for copper wiring. 

When aluminum and copper wires are incorrectly connected, the result can be electrical arcing — which is the cause of 18% of all residential fire-related deaths and 39% of fires occurring during the winter months. As connectors deteriorate and electrical circuits are heavily loaded (as occurs during the winter when people plug-in electrical heaters), electrical fires can result.

The problem is particularly prevalent when copper and aluminum wires are connected because of the chemical reaction that occurs between the two metals. If not properly connected, oxidation and corrosion occur. This results in voltage dropping across the connection. As aluminum and copper expand and contract at different rates, connections and splices can come loose — which can lead to further damage to the equipment but to overheating and arc faults, resulting in electrical fires.

An added problem that's unique to aluminum wiring is that of vibration. While all electrical wires vibrate when current flows through them, copper handles the vibration better than aluminum. Aluminum, which is brittle, can crack as a result of repeated vibration — and where those cracks occur, electrical current can arc into the air, creating a fire hazard.

Options for Correcting the Problem

Should You Rewire Your Home?

One reliable solution if your home has aluminum wiring is to rewire the whole home. While this is the most intrusive correction to the problem, it's also the safest and most complete one. If you're not sure what type of wiring you have, we're happy as your local electrician to come and check it out for you. You can also take a look at your electrical terminals. If you see the marking "CO/ALR," you probably have aluminum wiring.

Given that any aluminum wiring is at least 50 years old, your home is probably overdue for rewiring, even if you aren't seeing problems with outlets or switches. You'll certainly have more peace of mind when you rewire from aluminum to copper. In addition, if you have any plans to sell your home, getting rid of the aluminum wiring will increase your home's value. It also saves you the hassle of getting a bad inspection report that causes your buyer to either back away from the purchase or to demand that you rewire the home anyway.

Do Arc Fault Breakers Prevent Electrical Fires?

Another safety solution for your home is the installation of arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) or arc fault breakers. These devices add a layer of protection against electrical arcs that can cause fires.

AFCIs monitor the flow of electricity throughout your home. As soon as it detects anything abnormal, such as extra heat or current flowing through an electrical circuit, the AFCI trips the circuit breaker. This stops the flow of electricity — which in turn can stop a fire.

The CPSC reports that the installation of AFCIs in all homes could prevent more than 50% of residential fires annually. AFCIs are a relatively recent addition to home electrical safety, so the age of your home may help you guess whether you have them in place already. If your home was built after 2014, chances are you have AFCIs in place. If it was built before 1999 and hasn't been rewired, you almost certainly do not have any arc fault protection in place.

Can You Correct the Splices?

If you're aware that you have some copper and some aluminum wiring in your home, we can help by making sure the splices are safe. Electricians have to use specially designed connectors to splice copper and aluminum together. These connectors include chemicals to fight the oxidation and corrosion that occurs when aluminum and copper are spliced together. Because special tools are required to complete this work safely, it's best to leave any protective splicing to professionals rather than trying to do the work yourself.

If you have aluminum wiring in your home, we have the experience at Upstate Electrical Solutions to deliver the safety you need. Whether you choose to install arc fault breakers, repair some bad splices or sections of wiring, or rewire your entire home, we'll provide the safe, reliable, affordable services you need. Contact us today to learn how we can help protect your home against the potential danger of electrical fires.

Ian Ramirez | Upstate Electrical Solutions Ian Ramirez is a Licensed Master Electrician with more than 20 years of experience with Residential and Commercial electrical projects. Contact Ian directly at 864.834.9955 or Click Here to Schedule Electrical Service for Greenville & Upstate SC customers. Upstate Electrical Solutions is a member of the Better Business Bureau. Check out our 5-Star reviews on Google, Facebook and Yelp. Our reliable service comes with upfront pricing and a 100% Money Back Guarantee.