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.)

Home Electrical Safety Checklist & Tips

By Scott Bowers,

Protect you and your home with these electrical safety examples

You power your home with energy, but do you practice electrical and appliance safety? The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 31,000 home electrical fires occur every year, and with over 180 cases involving electrocution or electricity-related incidents that could have been avoided, home electrical safety is too important to ignore. At Constellation, we care about the safety of our customers, and by following these electrical safety tips at home you can protect yourself and your family.

What causes electrical fires in homes?

The National Fire Protection Association notes that faulty or damaged wiring and related electrical equipment cause 69 percent of electrical fires, followed by lamps, light fixtures, cords, plugs, transformers and other power supplies. When looking for potential fire hazards in your home, always be sure to consult with a professional.

10 Tips for Electrical Safety at Home

Many electrical fires can be prevented by following some simple electricity safety tips. In our home electrical safety checklist below, there are 10 precautions every homeowner should know and follow. Always remember to ask a professional if you’re uncertain about the safety of an electrical outlet or appliance. Download a PDF of the 10 tips checklist.

1. Always follow appliance instructions for improved electrical safety.

“Read the instructions” should top the list of electrical safety tips at home. Understanding home appliance safety improves both the performance of your device and your personal safety. Should any appliance give you even a slight electrical shock, stop using it until a qualified electrician checks it for problems.

Electrical Safety Tips and Rules

2. Watch out for overloaded outlets to protect your home.

Overloading an electrical outlet is a common cause of electrical problems. Check all outlets to ensure they are cool to the touch, have protective faceplates and are in proper working order. According to ESFI, you can follow these electrical outlet safety tips:

  • Do not use extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliances.
  • Only plug one heat-producing appliance into an outlet at a time.
  • Hot outlets should be checked by qualified electricians.
  • Remember that power strips only add outlets—they do not change the amount of power the outlet receives.
  • Smart plugs can be used to monitor outlet power loads and even shut off appliances should an outlet begin to overheat.

3. Replace or repair damaged electrical cords to keep your home safe.

Damaged power cords are a serious residential electrical safety risk, and they are capable of causing both fires and electrocution. All power and extension cords should be checked regularly for signs of fraying and cracking, and they should then be repaired or replaced as needed. Power cords should not be stapled into place or run under rugs and furniture. Cords under rugs pose a tripping hazard and can overheat, while furniture can crush cord insulation and damage wires.

The use of extension cords on a regular basis may mean that you don’t have enough outlets to fit your needs. Have a qualified electrician who understands electrical safety rules install additional outlets in rooms where you often use extension cords. When purchasing a power cord, consider the electrical load it will carry. A cord with a load of 16 AWG can handle up to 1,375 watts. For heavier loads, use a 14 or 12 AWG cord.

Pro tip: AWG stands for “American wire gauge.” The lower the number, the thicker the cord!

4. Keep your used and unused cords tidy and secure to prevent damage.

Electrical safety tips don’t just apply to power cords when they’re in use—cords also need to be stored safely to prevent damage. Keep stored cords away from children and pets (who may chew on or play with the cords). Try to avoid wrapping cords tightly around objects; this can stretch the cord or cause overheating. Never rest a cord on a hot surface in order to prevent damage to the cord’s insulation and wires.

5. Unplug all your unused appliances to reduce potential risks.

One of the simplest electrical safety tips is also one of the easiest to forget: when an appliance is not in use, unplug it. Not only does this save you power by reducing any phantom drain (the amount of energy the device consumes even when not actively in use), but unplugging unused appliances also protects them from overheating or power surges.

It’s often difficult to remember to unplug unused appliances, but the new generation of smart plugs offers a solution, allowing you to set power schedules for each outlet.

6. Keep electrical devices and outlets away from water to prevent shock.

Water and electricity don’t mix well. To follow electrical safety rules, keep electrical equipment dry and away from water prevents damage to appliances and can protect against personal injury and electrocution. When working with electrical appliances, it’s important to have dry hands. Keeping electrical equipment away from plant pots, aquariums, sinks, showers and bathtubs lowers the risk of water and electricity coming into contact.

7. Give your appliances proper space for air circulation to avoid overheating.

Without proper air circulation, electrical equipment can overheat and short out, and can become an electrical fire hazard. Make sure your appliances have proper air circulation, and avoid running electrical equipment in enclosed cabinets. For best electrical safety, it’s also important to store flammable objects well away from all appliances and electronics. Pay especially close attention to your gas or electric dryer, as these need to be situated at least a foot from the wall to function safely.

8. Ensure that all your exhaust fans are clean to prevent fire hazards.

Some appliances have exhaust fans, which can get dirty or clogged with debris and make the appliance work harder. This can shorten the life of the appliance and can cause a risk to the home due to overheating, or even cause a buildup of dangerous gasses that can lead to an electrical fire hazard. Cleaning exhaust fans regularly helps prevent such hazards.

9. Check that you’re using the correct wattage in all your fixtures and appliances.

Using the right bulbs can prevent electrical problems, so check all lamps, fixtures and appliances to ensure you’re using the correct wattage. If a light fixture has no wattage listed, use 60-watt bulbs or less. For unmarked ceiling fixtures, choose 25-watt bulbs.

Pro tip: LED bulbs consume less power and reduce the risk of fixtures overheating. Learn more about LED light benefits.

10. Be aware of heaters and water heaters to prevent potential accidents.

Combustible items should be kept away from portable heaters and built-in furnaces. For furnace safety, store combustibles far away from any heating appliances. Portable heaters should not be operated close to drapes, and to prevent tipping, they should only ever be placed on a stable surface.

On a related note, do you know what temperature your water heater is set to? High temperature settings eat into your water heater energy usage and can cause burns and unintentional scalding, especially in homes with small children.

Electrical Safety for Kids

Young children are naturally curious and are quick to explore the world, so it’s important to protect them. Teaching them electrical safety tips for kids can keep them safe and alert.

Install safety caps and covers over all outlets to keep your kids safe.

Installing safety caps and covers on outlets prevents children from inserting objects into the outlet, protecting them from shock.

Prevent accidents by teaching your kids to avoid yanking on cords.

Tell your kids not to pull on electrical cords. Yanking can damage or fray the cord and compromise electrical safety. For kids, show them to pull cords out of an outlet by carefully holding the plug, and not pulling on the cord.

Place dangerous appliances out of reach of small children.

Keep dangerous appliances away from children until they’re old enough to operate them properly and understand electrical safety at home. Tips include storing toasters, blenders and electric kettles on high shelves or in locked cupboards—anywhere children cannot access them.

Electrical safety for kids goes beyond teaching them safe practices. Tell them about what energy is, and where it comes from, with energy facts for kids.

More Residential Electrical Safety Tips

Other electrical safety tips at home range from preparing for severe weather to checking new appliances for Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL) listings. Here’s a sample of electricity safety suggestions that will help keep your home’s appliances running smoothly:

  • Look for NRTL listings for your products and appliances. NRTLs such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Edison Testing Laboratories (ETL) and Canadian Standards Association (CSA) test appliances to ensure they comply with OSHA’s electrical safety rules.
  • Ask Main Street Electric Company to install electrical wiring. Electrical systems are potentially dangerous. Even if you’re a skilled DIYer, consult with a professional before installing new wiring or electrical appliances. Licensed electricians have the skills and knowledge needed to keep your home safe and in compliance with electrical codes. Use our contact form to send a home visit request.
  • Know what to do when the power goes down. Knowing what to do when the power goes out helps you protect yourself from downed power lines and other hazards while shielding your appliances from damage caused by power surges. Check out how to report a power outage to keep you and your family safe.
  • Install smoke detectors. Electrical fires often smolder before breaking out into open flame, and the U.S. Fire Administration reports that most electrical fires occur between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Installing smoke alarms helps alert you to the dangers of electrical fires. Main Street Electric can advise as to your best smoke detector locations and brands. We can also install them for you. Contact us for more information.
  • Run a generator the safe way. A generator can keep the lights on during a blackout—but only if it’s been properly installed by a licensed electrician. Even then, you should learn about the different types of generators and what their various safety features are.
  • Stay safe during storms. If you live in an area prone to extreme weather, it’s important to know how to protect yourself and your electrical equipment from floods, hurricanes and severe winter weather. Taking hurricane safety seriously can limit the damage to your home and electronics.
  • Get your home inspected for electrical safety. Not sure how safe your electrical system is? One of the best electrical safety tips we can offer is to call your local fire department and ask for a fire safety inspection. The inspection will help identify potential sources of electrical fires, ensuring you make the changes needed to keep your home safe.

Electricity safety is important in any home. From powering your appliances, to lighting your home, electricity is an amazing force worthy of our respect and consideration. By practicing these electrical safety tips at home you can lower your risk of accidents, avoid overworking your home’s electrical system, and keep you and your family safe.

And remember, if you’re unsure about an electrical outlet or appliance, ask Main Street Electric Company to take a look and keep you and your family safe.

(Source: Constellation Energy. No copyright infringement intended.)

FOR SAFETY’S SAKE: THE GREAT AFCI DEBATE

By Scott Bowers,

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

(Article originally published on Eaton.com 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)

How Safe is Aluminum Wire?

By Scott Bowers,

Aluminum wire is still approved by the N.E.C. But this on the assumption that everything will be done perfect. Having said that i would like to give a little advice on using aluminum wire when you are building a new home. For the sake of saving a few dollars, it is not worth the safety hazard you face when using this wire. This is not only my opinion but the opinion of many others in the trade. Many times i have been called to repair corroded connections using this wire. Most of the time the aluminum wire had to be replaced with copper. One other piece of advice, before you consider buying a home with aluminum wire you might want to check with the insurance company. Some of them may refuse to insure a house with aluminum wire.

There are a lot of homes that have been wired with aluminum wiring and it would not be financially possible to rewire the entire house or service. There are a few things you can do to make sure that the wiring is not becoming a problem. You should be on the lookout for devices or lighting going on and off. Breakers or outlets overheating. Have the main panel checked for corrosion or loose connections. When adding copper devices or wire to aluminum, make sure this work is done by someone who knows the proper procedure for this type of wiring. A little preventative maintenance can go a long way in preventing future safety hazards.

To get answers to more questions about your electrical system see: Master Electric FAQs

Should I attempt electrical work on my own?

By Scott Bowers,

This will not make me very popular but it is the truth. Without a license, not very much. At The present time most states allow you to do whatever you want in your own home. But doing electrical work yourself is a gamble. How much are you willing to risk to save money. There is a reason why it takes so much training to become an electrician. Do not make a mistake by taking electricity lightly, even the smallest job could be a safety hazard. Why take a chance. Get a professional to do this work.

Also In some states the homeowner can pull his own Electrical permit for work in his single family home, what he does not know is that in case of damage or fire caused by his work, his homeowners insurance will not pay, they will only if the work is done by a licensed Electrical Contractor. You should check with your homeowners Insurance Co., and they should sign a document or something to this effect to acknowledge this when they pull a permit.

The most dangerous time is when you tell yourself. This is easy. I can do it myself. Why should i get an electrician? Than when you don’t remember where all those wires went, or your hair is standing straight up, you say to yourself. Well maybe we better call someone to straighten up this mess. Now it will cost you double what you thought you were going to save in the beginning.
Special Note….

It is a violation for a licensed electrician or systems technician to connect wiring from components that have been wired by an unlicensed person. Doing electrical work without a permit is illegal in most areas. It could also invalidate your homeowner’s insurance.

To get answers to more questions about your electrical system see: Master Electric FAQs