DEAR BARRY: I have two questions about aluminum wiring in a home. Can home inspectors tell during an inspection if a house has aluminum wiring? If there is aluminum wire, can repairs make the system reasonably safe for my family? –Ann

DEAR ANN: If a home inspector does a thorough job, aluminum wiring will be evident when the inner portions of the breaker panels are inspected. The exposed wire ends at the breakers will reveal whether the wiring is made of aluminum or copper. If aluminum wire is found at the 110-volt circuits, your inspector should recommend evaluation and upgrades by a licensed electrical contractor.

At that point, a qualified electrician who is familiar with the proper techniques for retrofitting aluminum wire ends can render the system reasonably safe for occupants of the home.

Aluminum wiring was often used for 110-volt circuits during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fires occurred in some of these homes because the aluminum connections would become loose and could then overheat. Since that time, copper has been the predominant material for 110-volt circuits. Aluminum cables are still used for 220-volt circuits and for main electrical service lines. These are safe as long as the connectors are rated for aluminum wires and antioxidant has been applied to the wire ends.

DEAR BARRY: My daughter lives in a student apartment with a large, double-pane picture-window in the living room. Last month, that window developed a long crack on the inside pane. Neither my daughter nor her roommates have any idea what caused the crack. They just came home one night, and the crack was there. The apartment management replaced the window and billed the girls $450. The manager said the windows were installed several months ago, just before they moved in, so he holds them responsible for the damage. Couldn’t the crack have been caused by faulty installation or building settlement? –Art

DEAR ART: There are several possible causes for the window crack that do not involve liability for your daughter or her roommates. For example, when a sheet of glass is cut, an edge can be slightly chipped, and this flaw can produce a crack at a later time. Sometimes, all that is needed to convert a chip to a crack is a door forcefully closed by the wind or a large cement truck rumbling down the street.

Another possible cause is stress from normal building settlement, particularly in areas that have expansive clay soil. Expansive soil can swell or shrink due to seasonal changes in ground moisture. When this happens, buildings can lift and settle unevenly, causing doors to rub and, sometimes, windows to crack.

If the management company insists on payment for the cracked window, your daughter and her friends could test the strength of their position in small claims court. The judge could decide either way in this case, depending on whose position appears more credible. But win or lose, this could be a beneficial experience for your daughter and her friends. At the very least, they will receive some first-hand education in judicial civics.

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

***

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