Dear Barry,

My home was built in 1970 and has aluminum wiring for the wall outlets. My home inspector said this could be unsafe, so I hired an electrician. He connected short copper wires to all of the aluminum wire ends and secured these with regular wire nuts. I thought code required special connectors for this kind of repair, but the electrician assured me the connections are very tight and will not be a problem. Does this sound OK? –Harry

Dear Harry,

You are right to be concerned. Aluminum wire connections sometimes pose a fire hazard, and special connectors are needed when retrofitting them with copper ends.

Aluminum wiring was installed for lights and outlets in many homes from the late 1960s through the early ’70s. Its use was curtailed when loose or improper connections were discovered to cause fires. Homeowners often assume that aluminum wiring must be replaced, that total rewiring is necessary for fire safety. But this is a costly and needless over-reaction. Installing copper wire ends, commonly known as “pigtails,” is an approved and effective means of upgrading aluminum house wiring. But this type of retrofit must be done properly, and that does not include the use of common wire nuts. Instead, special connectors, rated for this specific purpose, are needed. Furthermore, the building department in your area may require a permit for this work. You should follow up on this electrical upgrade by consulting the office of your local building official. Have the work inspected to ensure that it was done safely and in full compliance with applicable safety requirements.

Dear Barry,

My wife and I purchased a 15 year old home and have two concerns regarding the electrical system. We’ve noticed that the wires run through the attic, with no means of protection. They just lay exposed on the framing. Is this ok, or should the wires be run in pipes? Also, the main service panel is located on the far side of the attached garage. Therefore, wires that go to the other end of the house have to run a long distance. Could these long runs cause a loss of power? –Scott

Dear Scott,

The wiring you noticed in your attic is probably the type commonly known as “romex.” It typically consists of three or four wires contained in a plastic sheathing, usually white or black. Installation of romex wiring in the attic of a residence is acceptable in many areas of the U.S., as long as it is secured in ways that comply with applicable safety standards. Some municipalities require protective piping, known as conduit, but running wires through an attic without conduit complies with standards set forth in the National Electrical Code, as long as your local building department approves such use.

As to your second question, significant voltage reductions only occur when wiring extends for considerably long distances, such as between separate buildings. Wire runs extending from one end of your home to the other should not pose a problem in this regard. However, if you’ve noticed symptoms that concern you, such as dimming lights, have the system checked by a licensed electrician.

To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.

***

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