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ELECTRICAL INSPECTION, DIAGNOSIS, REPAIR
ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS & REPAIRS
Aluminum Wiring Summary Page for Public Use
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KNOB & TUBE WIRING
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PUSHMATIC - BULLDOG PANELS
RUST in ELECTRICAL PANELS
SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS
SIEMENS MURRAY Recall
VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP
VOLTAGE MEASUREMENT METHODS
ZINSCO / SYLVANIA HAZARDS
Is un-repaired aluminum electrical wiring in a home ever "safe"? In response to inquiry by owners or buyers of homes served by aluminum electrical wiring, we receive occasional reports that some building inspectors, electricians, building code officials, industry representatives, express the view that "Aluminum wiring in your house not likely to be a real problem," or words to that effect.
Watch out: The condition and safety of aluminum electrical wiring and devices in specific individual homes cannot be reliably assured by someone who has not examined it! General "opinions" that an un-studied installation of aluminum electrical wiring is "safe" are thus nonsense. And the safety of an un-repaired aluminum-wired building cannot be reliably ascertained by inspection & test methods typically used by electricians or home inspectors.
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Letter Response to Claims that Original Un-Repaired Aluminum Electrical Wiring Is Unlikely to Be a Problem
The condition of aluminum electrical wiring connections varies over an very wide range from building to building and among individual circuits and devices within specific buildings. It is possible for very unsafe conditions to be present, but not visible.
In explanation, we've attached the text portion a 2/3/94 letter from an expert on aluminum wiring, addressing this problem. The author, Dr. J. Aronstein, can be contacted at email@example.com, or contact me, Daniel Friedman. Extensive information about identifying and repairing aluminum wiring safety hazards is at ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS & REPAIRS.
February 3, 1994 (original addressee info) (deleted by DJF) Subject: Aluminum wiring (deleted ) Dear Mr. (deleted) You requested my comments on the safety of the aluminum wiring at (deleted) and my review of the written materials provided. The question to be answered is this - are the connections to the aluminum wire at (deleted) safe? Without determining what types of connections are in the system and how they were made, nobody can answer the question. Are the receptacles back-wired or screw-terminal wired? If screw-terminal wired, how is the wire placed under the screw (straight in or wrapped around)? Are the screws steel or brass? Are the screws plated with zinc on the neutral side? What kind of splicing connectors exist in the system? If twist-on connectors ("wire nuts"), are they the live spring or restrained spring type? Did the installer abrade the aluminum wire before connecting to remove the oxide? Were the spliced wires pre-twisted together? Was a corrosion inhibitor used on all connections? Given the answers to these questions (from direct observations), an evaluation of the relative safety of the wiring system at (deleted) can be made.
Can an electrician certify that an aluminum-wired building is safe?
Reader question: I was reading some of your information regarding Aluminum wiring. A question if I may, can a licensed electrician certify that a structure with Aluminum wiring is currently safe? Possibly via thermal imaging instruments, etc? If so, do you know if one would do so? - D.C.12/31/2013
Reply: basically, no. Here are the types of tests and inspections that might be performed along with their shortcomings
Thank you for the interesting aluminum wiring safety question - it helps us realize where we need to work on making our text more clear or more complete.
What follows is my OPINION based on more than two decades of experience & research in topic of aluminum wiring hazards, and I am informed by others more expert than myself, but I have no approval authority and I am not an electrical engineer.
What may or can an electrician certify about aluminum wiring safety ?
I want to answer with care, which involves some semantics and picky discussion of wording, even the use of "can" and "may".
Regarding the word "may" - to my knowledge there is no authority such as local or national electrical codes that regulate or authorize an electrician to certify the safety of an electrical system. Even a "certification" that a building is in compliance with electrical codes would be of little use where special hazards such as solid aluminum branch conductor wiring or FPE electrical panels are in place, as those hazards are not explicitly called out in most codes.
An electrician "can" do anything s/he wants by way of certification of the safety of a building's electrical system, though I would be surprised to find that any knowledgeable electrician would do something so dangerous to himself/herself or to others - as I will explain below.
And I caution that should you encounter an electrician who is willing to make such a certification, presumably for a fee, I would not only not trust the value of such a certification one iota, but I would presume that there would be absolutely no useful recourse should there later be a problem or worse a fire or injury or death in the building attributed to aluminum wiring. So what would be the value of such a certification? None.
Levels of inspection or examination of building wiring vis-a-vis aluminum branch circuits.
Attempts at testing aluminum electrical circuit resistance to claim that there is or is not evidence of an overheating problem when the circuit is not under load are made by some home inspectors and possibly some electricians. This approach is fundamentally unsound - the level of electrical resistance that can actually cause overheating and a fire in aluminum-wired circuits is below the range of error or precision of all but specialized electrical test instruments.
Dr. Jess Aronstein has performed such testing, but then he is a PhD forensic engineer specializing in electrical hazards, with decades of experience, and he used detailed instrumentation of all of the connections in the circuit being tested - an approach that requires a great deal of expertise and one that is considerably beyond the scope, training, certification, and equipment held by a normal licensed electrician. Aronstein's approach monitored temperature rise at each connector or device and was able to guard against a fire - not something within the scope of the home inspector or electrician tests offered using devices that simply measure resistance.
Aronstein's approach might be used in a large complex (as might other methods such as history taking and visual inspection for obvious overheating examples) to choose the order of repair of aluminum-wired circuits for the case in which the work required is so extensive that it cannot be completed in a short time.
Simply measuring resistance in a circuit as a guess at electrical safety of an aluminum wired circuit fails to account for very significant changes that can occur in the circuit performance following a simple act such as jiggling an electrical receptacle while plugging in a vacuum cleaner, moving the location at which an electric heater is connected, or jiggling a light switch a few more times when switching it on and off.
Thus a circuit that might test as "OK" may the next day overheat.
Watch out: Worse still, attempts at testing electrical circuit operating characteristics while under load could, if not expertly performed, set a building on fire.
Accuracy & Reliability of Thermal Imaging for Finding Aluminum Wiring Hazards
I would agree that thermal imaging could detect and thus permit reporting of active locations where overheating is occurring, but while such an approach could lead to reporting of an immediate hazard, should thermal imaging fail to detect overheating that is not a reliable assurance that the circuit is safe.
Thermal imaging can only detect overheating if overheating happens to be occurring during the time of inspection. The same variables I listed above could mean that a circuit that looks "OK" right now might overheat and cause a fire tomorrow, simply due to variations in the environment or in how a circuit is being used.
In short, absence of evidence of a hazard is never acceptable proof that a hazard is not present.
That is, as a fundamental logical principle, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Concerns for Balancing Repair Costs for Building Hazards
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