Tuesday, May 31, 2011

pigtailing Aluminum wiring

My wife and I just bought our first house in August 2008. Turns out it was built in the 60s and has all aluminum wiring. The seller agreed to get an electrician to add copper pigtails to all the switches and outlets in the house, but he only ended up fixing about 10 of the ~100 in the house.

I got tons of conflicting information from everyone I talked to about whether the Al wiring is really dangerous or not. Tons of people are of the opinion that it's a lot of hype and if nothing has gone wrong in the last 40 years, why worry now? There really doesn't seem to be much info on the web - most info is based on this one Al wiring website, which I suspected was over-hyping the problem.
But in the end, I decided that if/when we sell the house, I would have to pigtail all the switches/receptacles, so I may as well do it immediately. Seems silly to make the house safer for someone I don't know, and not do it for my own family. So I decided to do the job myself slowly over the first winter.

First I had to decide which option to go with:
  1. rewire the whole house with copper wire - the best solution, but way more of a project than I was looking for
  2. Tyco COPALUM crimps -  2nd best solution, but only licensed electricians can do this and it would run ~$5000. It's really just a glorified crimping tool - no way I was going to pay for that.
  3. purple wirenuts - seems to be the most common "fix" and the one that the electrician who fixed 10 of the outlets in the house chose. But there is some information on the web that the purple wirenuts don't work well.
  4. Alumiconn connectors -these are relatively new and I couldn't find a ton of information on them, but they seem much safer than the purple wirenuts and make a lot of sense to me. This is the solution I decided on.
In the end, I bought 100 of the Alumiconn connectors, which set me back about $300 (~$3 each). While I was at it, I also replaced most of the receptacles and switches in the house so that they all match, so it ended up costing a lot more, but still WAY less than paying for the Tyco COPALUM. I'm pretty happy with the Alumiconn connectors and I would recommend them to others.

The reason I wanted to write this up on the web is that I became convinced that pigtailing the Aluminum wires was a VERY good decision and the house was not safe before. Most of the receptacles/switches seemed totally fine, but I found at least 10 that were very disturbing and obviously had heat damage. It was easiest to tell on the white wires - the last cm or so would be blackened. A few showed obvious bubbling like in the picture below.

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