We recently purchased a 12-year-old house, and our home inspector failed to mention the aluminum wire that runs from the main service panel to the heater. It was discovered when we hired an electrician to do some repairs, and he estimated $1,200 to replace the line. Our real estate agent was surprised the home inspector missed this and said that he has a reputation for being thorough. Nevertheless, he did miss it, and we’ve heard that aluminum wire is a serious safety hazard. Shouldn’t the inspector pay for this repair? –Janet
Not all aluminum wiring is hazardous. Safety issues involving aluminum wire pertain to homes built from the late 1960s through the early ’70s and involved 110-volt circuits, primarily for outlets and lights. In those instances, connections became loose and subsequently overheated, sometimes resulting in fires. Consequently, the use of 110-volt aluminum wiring was abandoned, and older homes with this type of wiring typically warrant upgrades at the connections.
However, the use of aluminum wiring is common and acceptable as it relates to 220-volt circuits, such as those serving heating equipment, air conditioners and electric ranges. As long as the connecting hardware is rated for aluminum wire, and as long as the wire ends are protected with a corrosion-resistant compound, concern over the presence of aluminum wire is typically unwarranted. In fact, the majority of electric utility companies use aluminum cable for their main service lines. In all likelihood, the power lines to your home consist of aluminum.
To confirm the safety of the aluminum wire in your home, arrange to have your home inspector and the electrician meet at the property to confer and to compare findings. You should also consult your local building department and ask that they re-inspect the aluminum lines.
In a past article, you mentioned that the Plumbing Code requires a water heater in a garage to be placed on a raised platform. The stated purpose of this requirement is to prevent ignition of gasoline fumes on the garage floor. If we apply the same logic to a clothes dryer in a garage, why is it not also necessary to have a raised platform at the laundry? –Jack
You raise a valid point. The same reasoning that requires the elevation of a water heater in a garage would seem to apply to the pilot light and burner in a clothes dryer. Yet, this consideration has never been addressed in the code. This may be due to a simple oversight or the fact that raising a clothes dryer poses some obvious impracticalities. Picture, if you will, a matched washer and dryer set with the dryer installed 18 inches higher than its mate. And imagine the inconvenience of reaching for the elevated control knobs or of removing and cleaning the raised filter.
It may be that garage fires involving clothes dryers have not occurred with sufficient frequency to induce a change in the building code. On the other hand, it should be remembered that the code is defined as a minimum standard and does not cover all conditions and eventualities.
To write to Barry Stone, please visit him on the Web at www.housedetective.com.
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