Your Home: Watch for Wiring Warnings

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Watch for wiring warnings

If your home has aluminum wiring, you could be in for a shock.

Many insurers are now refusing to provide or renew coverage on such properties unless the wiring is checked, repaired as necessary, and then inspected by the Electrical Safety Authority. The ESA is the agency responsible for public electrical safety in the province.

According to the Fire Marshall's Office, faulty aluminum wiring causes an average of 15 building fires each year in Ontario.

Danger signs include flickering lights, warm cover plates, discolored outlets, frequent blown fuses, or a burning smell.

Aluminum wiring is most commonly found in homes built in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This type of wire itself is not dangerous and is, to this day, approved for household use.

The problem with older installations is that they were often secured to devices with brass or copper terminals. Because exposed aluminum oxidizes rapidly, and it expands and contracts at a different rate than these other metals when under electrical load, the connections can loosen over time — leading to a fire hazard from arcing (sparking).

The problem seems most pronounced where devices with push-in connectors — no longer permitted for use with aluminum wire under current regulations — were originally installed. Here, it's almost certain that a malfunctioning outlet will show burned wires, and often evidence of fire, when pulled from the wall.

Whether or not damage is evident, you should upgrade all push-in wired devices (which typically don't have screw terminals) throughout your home for safety.

When replacing faulty or obsolete outlets and switches, homeowners may use aluminum-approved devices marked CO/ALR (or AL-CU for stove and dryer outlets). This option, however, is costly at $6 and up, per item.

To save money, many connect aluminum wiring directly to inexpensive copper wiring devices, which is extremely dangerous.

A safe and economical solution does exist. Simply attach some solid copper wire leader to a standard (60-cent) outlet or switch, marked CU-only, then join the wire ends using a (25-cent) Marrette twist-cap connector rated for both aluminum and copper wire.

Because a spring in the connector keeps the wires tightly bound, regardless of expansion, the danger of arcing is virtually eliminated.

Ted Olechna, a provincial code engineer with the ESA, confirms that this is an approved wiring method meeting code requirements.

Use copper wire of equal gauge (thickness) as existing aluminum wire. Clean wire ends of oxidation and apply anti-oxidant compound, available at electrical stores, before installing connector.

Also, cover exposed side terminals on outlets/switches with electrical tape before installation. You need not add leader when securing ground wires to the device box screw. While it's best to hire a licensed electrician for repairs, many home centre chains do offer free wiring classes to help do-it-yourselfers do it right.

For electrical inspection and safety information, call 1-877-372-7233 or visit : <>

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Test YOUR smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to-day.

Paul Schuster the "Fire Guy"
73 Gray Cres. Richmond Hill Ont.
L4C 5V4 (905) 884-4423

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