Aluminum Wiring: What’s the Problem?

By Scott Bowers,

Aluminum electrical wiring showing burning

Aluminum Wiring was used in the construction of roughly 1.5 million U.S. homes built between 1965 and 1973. According to a report published by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 (“old technology” aluminum wire) are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach Fire Hazard Conditions than is a home wired with copper. This problem only gets worse with time. The aluminum-wired connections that fail tend to progressively deteriorate at a slow rate, and after many years can reach very high temperature while still remaining electrically functional in the circuits. A large number of connection burnouts have occurred in aluminum-wired homes. Many fires have occurred some involving injury and death.

The Aluminum Industry Wins in Court

Initial investigations into hazards associated with aluminum wiring were spearheaded by the CPSC. The federal agency works very closely with manufacturers and testing organizations like the UL. Its findings are taken seriously due in part to its ability to impose industry standards.

In the mid-1970s, the CPSC began distributing information concerning the potential hazards of aluminum wiring. It also was working to seek relief for people with homes wired with aluminum. This resulted in a 1976 lawsuit filed by Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation against the CPSC, ending in 1979 with a federal appeals court ruling that deemed electrical distribution items not to be consumer products.

Since the CPSC has jurisdiction over consumer products, the area of electrical wiring falls outside of the CPSC.

Useful Resources (Supplied by Aluminum Wire Repair, Inc.)

Federal Pacific Service Panels

Insurance Considerations

Favorite Electrical Links

(Source: Aluminum Wire Repair, Inc.. No copyright infringement intended.)

What are Arc-Faults and Why are They Dangerous?

By Scott Bowers,

Leviton Electrical Fire Infographic

An arc-fault is an unintentional arcing condition in a circuit. Arcing creates high intensity heating at the point of the arc, resulting in burning particles that can exceed 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit and may over time ignite surrounding material such as wood framing or insulation. 

There are two types of potentially dangerous arcs – parallel arcs and series arcs. 

Source: Leviton

What Causes Arc-Faults?

Often unseen, arc faults can occur anywhere in the home’s electrical system including:

Within Walls

  • Within walls from nails, screws or staples inadvertently driven into wires.

Within Cords

  • Within electrical cords accidently damaged by furniture resting or pressing upon them.

Within Loose Connections

  • At loose electrical connections or cords damaged by doors closing on them.

Within Damaged Cords

  • Through old or cracked wires or cords as well as wires or cords damaged by heat, sunlight or humidity. 

Prevention and Consequences of Electrical Fires

Source: Leviton

Essential Electrician Tools for Trainee Technicians

By Scott Bowers,

Electricians rely on their tools for areas like safety, accuracy, craftsmanship, and comfort.

Generally, you will see your electrician with an electrical tool kit. Assembling and maintaining this tool kit with the proper tools and gear is a key responsibility for an electrician. Every job you go to can require different electrical components and making sure you have the right tools in your kit is essential.

If you’d like to put your own basic or advanced kit together, visit Klein Tool’s Journey Toolkit Sets for options.

Main Street Electric Company proudly uses Milwaukee Tools. Find out more about their range of power tools and other accessories at your local ACE Hardware store.

Here are 14 common tools you will find in an electrician’s belt:

1. Pliers

Pliers are important for electricians who regularly work with and cut wire. The most commonly used pliers used by an electrician can include needle-nose pliers, side-cutting pliers, and reaming pliers.

2. Screwdrivers

Electricians will always have a variety of screwdrivers for loosening and fastening various pieces of hardware. Many professionals will carry adaptable screwdrivers with interchangeable bits so they’re never stuck without the electrical hand tools they need.

3. Tape Measure

When electricians work with wiring, it’s important to know the lengths of pieces you are cutting and stripping. A simple retractable tape measure will get most jobs in the field done, but there are advanced tape measures on the market that will make the process easier.

4. Electric Drill

Electricians will use an electric drill to help them install new lighting fixtures or disassemble installed hardware to access wiring and other electrical components. This tool is used often since installing lighting fixtures or accessing electrical wiring is a common task asked of an electrician.

5. Level

When installing light fixtures, finding precise points for placement is key. A standard level helps electricians make sure that fixtures, screws, and other installations are where they need to be. Some levels are magnetized for convenience and more accurate readings.

6. Wire Strippers

Wire strippers are essential for professional electricians who frequently have to strip the plastic coating on wires to expose the copper and make customized connections with other wiring or components. There are many wire stripper types and most electricians have various versions ready to use at their next job.

7. Fish Tape

Fish tape is used to run wiring between different electrical components through conduit piping. Fish tape is kept in a retractable coil and can be fed through installed conduit piping. Once the end of the fish tape appears on the opposite side, wiring can be hooked to the tape and the tape can be retracted.

8. Voltage Tester

Electrical work cannot safely begin until power has been cut off in certain parts of the property. A handheld voltage tester allows electricians to test to see if outlets are active and when power has been properly restored for the homeowner.

9. Reaming Bit

To install new or replace old conduits, you connect different segments of piping together to create a wiring route between electrical components. A reaming bit attaches to an electric drill, which widens the opening on one end of the piping and allows it to connect to another segment of piping and complete a secure conduit.

10. Conduit Bender

When determining a wiring route, most electricians plan to run wiring along the corner of the wall in the area they are working. Conduit benders allow electricians to curve conduit piping so electricians can use these routes and make sure that the conduits remain out of the way.

11. Flashlights

As an electrician, sooner or later you’ll have no other option than to work in the dark. Many electricians will be prepared for such a circumstance by carrying flashlights or other work lights in their truck.

12. Insulated Gloves

Electrocution is death or severe injury by electrical shock. Due to this possibility on any given job site, electricians need to take precautions. Electricians should have insulated gloves on them for every job.

13. Safety Glasses

Electricians on their first job or ones that have been working their entire lives should have a pair of safety glasses on hand at every job site. Whether they are inspecting wiring or using power tools, protecting your eyes should be a priority.

14. Circuit Finders

It can be sometimes difficult to know which outlets are connected to which circuit in a house. Electricians now use circuit finders that incorporate two main components: a handheld digital transmitter and small receivers that plug into outlets around the home. It will indicate which circuit which outlet belongs to.

(Source: Florida Technical College)

Why Federal Pacific Electric Panels Are Deadly

By Scott Bowers,

Your circuit breaker panel protects your home from problems caused by external power surges, circuit overload, and short circuits. A breaker cuts off the power to a circuit by tripping when it detects a circuit overload. If your circuit breaker panel fails, the electrical wires can get so hot that they start a fire.

Unfortunately, this breaker failure happens every year in homes equipped with Federal Pacific Electric (FPE) Stab-Lok panels. Despite this information and the number of electricians and home inspectors who warn against this equipment, FPE Stab-Lok panels were never officially recalled.


Millions of homes were built with FPE Stab-Lok panels between 1950 and 1990. If your home was constructed during this time frame, then it may contain a Federal Pacific Electrical panel labeled Stab-Lok.

Usually, Federal Pacific or FPE will be written on the box’s front cover. Inside the box, look for a label that says, Stab-Lok. The breakers will have a red stripe cross each switch.

Problems With Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” Panels

A CPSC Investigation

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) began an investigation in the early 1980s and hired electrical experts to test FPE Stab-Lok breakers installed in homes from 1960 to 1985, which did not fully comply with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. requirements. Fifty-one percent of the tested breakers failed to trip.

Unfortunately, the CPSC ended its investigation in 1983, stating in a news release that, “Based on the Commission’s limited budget, the known hazards the Commission has identified and must address… and the uncertainty of the results of such a costly investigation, the Commission has decided not to commit further resources to its investigation of FPE’s circuit breakers.” The CPSC claimed that the data did not establish “that the circuit breakers pose a serious threat of injury to consumers.”


Even though the CPSC investigation closed, one member of the testing team, Jesse Aronstein, continues to speak out about the dangers of FPE Stab-Lok panels. An electrical engineer with a doctorate in materials science, Aronstein cowrote a peer-reviewed paper to illustrate the fire damage that those types of Federal Pacific Electrical panels cause. Based on information collected from fire reports, Aronstein and coauthor, Richard Lowry, estimate that FPE Stab-Lok panel failures result in as many as 2,800 fires, 13 deaths, and $40 million in property damage annually.

Reliance Electric Co., FPE’s parent company, provided additional information that leads one to doubt how safe these panels are. Reliance Electric Co. has stated that FPE obtained the Underwriters Laboratory seal of approval for its Stab-Lok breakers “through the use of deceptive and improper practices.”

It’s also worth noting that the CPSC issued a more recent statement in 2011 regarding their earlier investigation, stating that it was closed “without making a determination as to the safety of FPE circuit breakers or the accuracy of the manufacturer’s position on the matter.”

Is It Safe to Own an FPE Stab-Lok Panel?

The trouble with an FPE Stab-Lok panel is that it can function perfectly fine — until suddenly it doesn’t. It only takes one short circuit or overcurrent.

CPSC recommends getting this type of panel inspected by a qualified electrician “to look for any signs of overheating or malfunction among the circuit breakers.” However, after testing over 4,000 breakers, Aronstein states that you can only identify a defective Stab-Lok breaker by first removing it and then testing it. This process can be more expensive than installing a new, less risky Federal Pacific Electrical panel or any other brand. In many cases, it makes more sense to replace an FPE Stab-Lok panel.

How to Tell If You Own a Federal Pacific Electric “Stab-Lok” Panel

Millions of homes were built with FPE Stab-Lok panels between 1950 and 1990. If your home was constructed during this time frame, then it may contain one of these panels.

Photo by: “Repeater-Reclaim”. Used under Creative Commons License.

Usually, “Federal Pacific” or “FPE” will be written on the box’s front cover. Inside the box, look for a label that says, “Stab-Lok.” The breakers will have a red stripe cross each switch.

Unsure if your circuit breaker panel is safe for your home?

Contact Main Street Electric Company to set up an appointment for an electrician to visit your home or business. We have the manpower, experience, and training necessary to assist you with the highest standards of safety, quality, integrity, and value.



By Scott Bowers,

While AFCI debates continue, more can be done to increase safety by broadening their use

(Article originally published on and features the opinions of Thomas Domitrovich, P.E., LEED AP, vice president, technical sales.)

AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) protection is essential to reducing the likelihood of electrical fires and the primary reason the National Electrical Code (NEC) first sought to provide this protection in new homes in 1999. The NEC 2020 code cycle continues the journey of AFCI protection for all 15- and 20-amp branch circuits. In my opinion, while the expanded requirements will significantly increase safety, some in the industry seek to impede this code advancement as they believe the code does little to affect fire dangers associated with arcing conductors.

The great AFCI debate: four points to consider

AFCIs were created to detect conductor arcing and sparking that can cause fires. By shutting power off to damaged circuits, the devices reduce the likelihood of electrical fires in new and existing homes, dormitory units, guest rooms and suites. As with many new technologies in our industry, debate ensues, with individuals and sometimes organizations speaking against these installation requirements. Four points are at the crux of the debate: cost, unwanted tripping, technological advancement and the impact of fire statistics.

Point 1: Cost to the housing market

Some in the industry claim that any cost increase of a dwelling will prevent potential home buyers from making purchases. Financials can be greatly exaggerated to the point of absurdity. I’ve been a part of discussions, for example, where it was claimed that AFCI devices add $4,000 to the price of a 1,500 square-foot home. In reality, the cost is around $200. Considering that a home is often the most substantial investment people make in their lifetime, the cost of an AFCI device is pennies a month when rolled into a 30-year mortgage. In short, AFCI costs pale in comparison to ensuring a safer home.

I’ve been a part of discussions, for example, where it was claimed that AFCI devices add $4,000 to the price of a 1,500 square-foot home. In reality, the cost is around $200.

Thomas Domitrovich, P.E.

Point 2: Unwanted tripping of devices

AFCI technology has been on the market for well over a decade. And, like Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) technology, it’s unforgiving in detecting circuit problems. Many times when an AFCI or GFCI detects a problem, we mistakenly blame the device without realizing it’s just doing its job.

In my opinion, AFCI technology took a path of acceptance similar to the GFCIs brought to market in the 1970s. GFCIs saw compatibility issues due to installation practices and because general appliances permitted high levels of leakage current that tripped GFCI-protected circuits. Over time, the industry changed by updating and communicating installation practices and, in some cases, worked with manufacturers to reduce products’ leakage current. One could argue that the introduction of GFCIs significantly improved installation practices and also appliance manufacturing and construction.

Similar to GFCIs, AFCIs saw challenges with connected loads and installation practices when first introduced, but over the past 15+ years significant improvements have been made. I believe today’s AFCI technology is highly dependable and, with that, the tripping of AFCI safety devices must not be ignored. Contractors in the field should work to understand why a trip occurs. Today’s advancements in both AFCI and GFCI technologies are such that tripping issues, although sometimes difficult to resolve, are likely not due to incompatibilities but rather to problems that must be addressed.

Point 3: Technological advancement is a constant

As more solutions enter the market featuring the level of protection the NEC seeks, manufacturers of any one technology may feel their solution use is threatened. The NEC is providing more options than ever to provide protection for both new and existing homes. These new technologies are customer options and will impact the consumer buying decision. Though new technologies may impact the sale of some products, manufacturers should refrain from impeding the progress of safety.

GFCI receptacle manufacturers and sellers are naturally concerned about the threat to their businesses. While no one wants to see businesses struggle, I believe competition is a catalyst for better solutions. The current requirements of the NEC provide protection of the entire branch circuit. In my opinion, there’s no reason to reduce the level of protection — especially for the sake of the sale. As technology progresses, it is quite possible that new ways of providing protection could require innovation in GFCI technologies to stay competitive. I firmly believe we should not acquiesce for financial gain.

There’s no reason to reduce the level of protection — especially for the sake of the sale.

Thomas Domitrovich, P.E.

Point 4: Fire statistics are misleading

Some call for the removal of the AFCI requirement altogether, arguing that there hasn’t been a significant impact to fire statistics since AFCIs came on the market in the early 2000s.

This claim is correct on its surface. Fire statistics haven’t changed much, but for a good reason. Most of today’s homes were built before the NEC required AFCIs in 2002, which only stipulated bedroom-circuit protection at that time. Add to that the slow expansion progress of AFCI protection: in 2001, the NEC called for an average of two circuit breakers in new homes; in 2014, only a handful more was added.

In short, fire statistics can be misleading because we don’t have a sample size large enough to affect the numbers in either direction. It’s going to take time to increase the number of AFCIs installed to impact statistical relevance. Over time, as older homes are demolished or updated to meet new code requirements, we should begin to see a change in the numbers.

Contractors and homeowners should make changes now

Overall, I believe we’re heading in the right direction for new home construction. As with any electrical technology, change is a slow process. It’s up to us all to understand the safety benefits of AFCIs and do more to increase safety. That starts with fact-based, honest conversations about NEC requirements.

I encourage all contractors and homeowners to consider going above and beyond the bare minimum requirements of the NEC and to look at installing AFCI technology in existing homes. Doing so will increase safety and will positively impact the industry thanks to additional information garnered from the entire housing inventory.

(SOURCE: Eaton. No copyright infringement intended)