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AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? #5261527 11/08/19 08:17 AM
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Number_35 Offline OP
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Any professional electricians here?

Friends have just moved into a beautiful house in a good neighbourhood, but have discovered that the original wiring is aluminum. This was commonly used in the '70s here, and one coworker told me years ago that when his house was built around '76 he asked for CU wire instead, willing to pay for the upgrade, but was refused.

I think that my friends' insurance company required that they have an inspection, and the AL wiring was discovered at that time. They have until the end of the month (November) to correct the wiring.

It seems that there are several ways to make aluminum wiring safe.

1. Replace all AL wiring with CU (Very costly, very invasive. Best for peace of mind, and a good choice if you're opening up walls to upgrade insulation and vapour barrier, but otherwise usually not done.)

2. Replace all devices (receptacles, switches, and lamps) with CU/AL-rated ones. This is apparently not effective, and doesn't meet address the existing AL-AL joints.

3. Add a CU pigtail to the AL wiring, so that all devices are connected to CU rather than AL.

We've elected to go with 3. (CU pigtails). I am working with my friend to do this work. I am not a professional electrician, but am reasonably competent at some of this work. I took a house-wiring course some years ago, take out permits, and get my work inspected. The inspectors have typically been happy with my work.

We done several receptacles and switches so far. We've been attaching the CU pigtails with AL/CU (dual-rated) Marrettes (twist-on connectors) and have been applying anti-corrosion paste to each connection.

So far so good ... however, I've been reading quite a bit online, and a preferred solution seems to be AlumiConn connectors:

https://www.joneakes.com/jons-fixit-database/1183-Aluminum-to-Copper-electrical-connectors

https://www.kinginnovation.com/products/20/3-port-alumiconn

The caveat seems to be that the AlumiConns work best IF the screws are tightened with a torque screwdriver (like a breakaway torque wrench I imagine).

The AlumiConns are readily available in the US, including at Home Depot, but don't seem to be available here. I thought that was because they weren't CSA approved, but they do seem to be.

So, my question is whether we're OK with the twist-on connectors and anti-corrosion paste, or whether we should hold out for the actual AlumiConns. (They are available online of course.)

There is the cost of the AlumiConns as well - they are expensive compared to the twist-ons.

The other thought is that there are online recommendations to replace conventional breakers with arc-fault-sensing breakers when a house has aluminum wiring. This would not be an alternative to the pigtails, but rather in addition to them.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this!

Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261538 11/08/19 08:27 AM
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Chris Meutsch Offline
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Do the CopAlum pigtails. It's not free, but it beats replacing the entire wiring system. My previous house had all outlets and the breaker box properly done and met code. Aluminum wire is a fine, safe conductor. Aren't most of the high-tension lines across the country aluminum?.........it's the connection to the end breaker/outlet where if it gets too hot, it can run away and cause fires.


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Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261541 11/08/19 08:30 AM
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ragtoplvr Online Content
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Aluminum oxide does not conduct. Any connection must have some means to exclude air. Thus the special grease. Aluminum cold flows, any connection must incorporate a spring.

You also have junction boxes in the attic. They also need the special connector, I hope you do not have to deal with blown in insulation. Miss one and you could have a fire.

Regular twist on might not have enough spring, I do not know but is not save to assume they do. Get the special connectors.

Rod

Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261543 11/08/19 08:30 AM
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Fawteen Online Content
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Originally Posted by Number_35

I think that my friends' insurance company required that they have an inspection, and the AL wiring was discovered at that time. They have until the end of the month (November) to correct the wiring.


The first thing I'd question is which solution(s) will the insurance company accept? Since insurance companies tend to be risk-averse, even an "acceptable" solution may not be acceptable to them, and a number of insurance companies won't insure a property with any aluminum wiring at all. That will be what dictates which solution you use.


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Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261551 11/08/19 08:35 AM
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WyrTwister Offline
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I would start looking for some dual rated crimp connectors or terminals . And carry a BIG insurance policy . :-(

I do little residential work , but I have close to 40 years in the trade .

Best of luck to the home owner .


Wyr
God bless
Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261608 11/08/19 09:17 AM
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alarmguy Offline
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Man, that is a tough decision. Aluminum scares me, growing up in the Northeast those fires were in the newspapers at the time, people lost their lives and here we are DECADES later still looking for a permanent solution.

I dont care about cost. I would go with the new connectors and proper tool to tighten them or at the same time, pigtail seems to have worked all these years as well.
Its a tough call and one you have to rest easy with being I knew about the alum issue I knew to avoid buying a house with it. Then again, I honestly do not hear of homes starting on fire with pigtailing and if I was doing the work, I would be more comfortable knowing its done right.

(I am not licensed, just have always done my own electric where needed and have also re-wired a friends house from top to bottom with successful inspection, actually the town inspector was impressed, I intentionally went over code for one reason, when your doing only one house its cheap to do, for a builder the cost adds up.)

Unless of course its possible to re-wire the house as you didnt mention size and if there is an attic and basement.


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Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261618 11/08/19 09:29 AM
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ragtoplvr Online Content
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Yes, most all utility wire is aluminum. They use a special connector and a portable hydraulic press. They do still fail. I had an open neutral, it was one of those connectors on the utility feeding the house. Then a lost a phase. Another one failed. So I does happen, inside your home a failure is not inconvenient, it can be fatal.
Get the correct stuff, read instructions, understand and follow them, like your life depended on it. Because it does.

Just getting a pro is no guarantee. I know some very good pros and some others I would not let on my property.

Ask if your insurance agent knows anyone. Personally, if the wall insulation was not good, I would strip off the drywall and replace it all. Check for federal pacific breakers and if you have them they need to go also.

Rod

Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261624 11/08/19 09:35 AM
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Farnsworth Offline
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When I had a new entrance panel put in, the utility company connected the aluminum wire drop line from the transformer to the panel directly and covered the connections in paste. It's best to get a permit and meet the local inspections. If not and something happens, it's your fault and insurance won't cover it. Nothing will probably happen , but also if you or anyone later sells who knows, they have to disclose the upgrade. Use the best parts and needed tools, that part is small money.

Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261661 11/08/19 10:22 AM
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WyrTwister Offline
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As an additional note , in our commercial work we do not deal with Al wire very often . If we run across it , we recommend to the customer to replace it with copper .

If that does not happen , we use crimps and a hydraulic crisper , then insulate the crimp properly .

Not sure what tooling & crimps would be needed for wiring to plugs / switches . We do not do that . And , as I said , we do very little residential work .


Wyr
God bless
Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5261850 11/08/19 02:34 PM
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zaffo757 Offline
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Just add the pigtail. All you need is a bottle of specialty sealant / lube and you are good to go. Easy!
Lost of homes in the Phoenix area were wired with AL. Granted, corrosion is not an issue there as much as in more humid areas, but never an issue after.

Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5262086 11/08/19 07:50 PM
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ecotourist Offline
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We passed up a lovely home in a good neighbourhood in Winnipeg because it had aluminum wiring. And lots of it. It was a custom build that had switches everywhere.

Instead we bought a grand old house in River Heights and spent 6 years renovating it, room after room. Come to think of it, it might have been easier to deal with that aluminum wiring.


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Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5262173 11/08/19 09:53 PM
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maxdustington Offline
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Originally Posted by Number_35
1. Replace all AL wiring with CU (Very costly, very invasive. Best for peace of mind, and a good choice if you're opening up walls to upgrade insulation and vapour barrier, but otherwise usually not done.)
That's what I would do, but I would DIY it. Someone has to do it eventually and it will add value to the house. Hackjobs are for cheapskates!


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Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5262192 11/08/19 10:18 PM
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spackard Offline
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Maybe check over at mikeholt.com forums.
(My parent's house has Al wiring. I went through a few switch boxes with those AlumiConn and a torque screwdriver, but would feel a lot better with the copalum.)
The space is precious in a box. May not have enough room to use those AlumiConns in every box.
Also, Al is a bit larger than Cu, and stiffer to work with.
Yes, a few houses have burned down over the years in his tract.

Here's the cpsc.gov .pdf on Al wiring
Stay away from Marrettes.

Another Al site to read

But, what you're supposed to do is hire an electrician who has been trained to do copalum pigtails.
It will matter to have the documentation if later a house fire is traced back to the wiring.

Re: AL house wiring - CU pigtails - advice? [Re: Number_35] #5262513 11/09/19 12:07 PM
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Dave Sherman Offline
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I have Al in my house as well, and it's been a learning experience. I found the original stuff isn't really problematic; just the work by some clueless previous homeowner who put in copper-only outlets and GFCIs on the aluminum wire. Burned up one of those outlets when we tried to run a space heater. mad So, if you go the pigtail route, Alumiconn and Copalum seem to be the favored means, but Alumiconns are pretty expensive and take up some space. Copalum needs the certifications and the special tool. I've used the Ideal #65 Twister to repair the faulty outlet. When I had the service panel replaced last year, I asked the electrician about the aluminum and he said it's not as awful as people make it out to be, but he did say to check the tightness of the screw terminals in the new panel after a while. He also said watch out for replacement outlets and use Co/Alr only or do a proper pigtail. Always sand the wire ends and use the Noalox on screw terminals with the aluminum. My house is two story with a finished basement, so replacing the wire outright isn't practical.


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