Cost to Replace Aluminum Wiring in a House
Costs to repair aluminum wiring vary depending on the option a homeowner chooses to re-mediate the problem. Simple pig-tails will cost the least but are temporary fixes that require ongoing maintenance by an electrician to re-tighten the connections. Rewiring the entire home will cost the most but is a very effective solution and requires no further maintenance.
Which Aluminum Wiring Solution?
Aluminum wiring can be replaced or repaired to effectively and permanently reduce the possibility of fire and injury due to failing (overheating) wire connections and splices. It is highly recommended that you hire a qualified electrician to perform this remediation. There are numerous potential solutions for the permanent repair of hazardous aluminum wire connections and splices.
All repair methods or products considered should be supported with satisfactory, documented evidence that they meet the following criteria:
- Safe. The method or product must be safe and not increase the risk of fire or other hazards.
- Effective. The method or product must be effective and successfully eliminate or substantially mitigate the fire hazard.
- Permanent. The method or product must affect a permanent repair. Methods or products designed to address temporary or emergency repair situations, but which may fail over time, are not considered permanent.
Recommended Options for Repairing Aluminum Wiring
Rewire and Replace Aluminum Wiring
The ultimate solution to the aluminum wire problem for the homeowner is to have the aluminum replaced with copper. Although it is the ultimate solution, it is also the most costly and time consuming. Walls and ceilings may have to be cut to allow access to the wiring for removal and replacement.
Replacement of the aluminum branch circuit conductors with copper wire eliminates the primary cause of the potential hazards, the aluminum wire itself. Depending on the architectural style of your home and the number and locations of unfinished spaces (e.g., basements and attics), it may be relatively easy for a qualified electrician to rewire your home. A new copper wire branch circuit system would be installed, and the existing aluminum wire could be abandoned inside the walls. This is the best method available; but for many homes, rewiring with copper is impractical and/or prohibitively expensive.
The COPALUM Retermination Program is quicker and less costly than rewiring. All 15 and 20 ampere branch circuits (having No.10 AWG or No.12 AWG solid aluminum conductors) are reterminated. In most cases, walls and ceilings do not have to be cut. Using a special COPALUM connector, a short section of copper wire is attached to the ends of the aluminum wire at connection points (a technique commonly referred to as “pigtailing”). Pigtailing with a COPALUM connector is considered to be a safe and permanent repair of the existing aluminum wiring. The repair should include every connection or splice involving aluminum wire in the home, including outlets, dimmers, switches, fixtures, appliances, and junction boxes. The repaired system, with short copper wire extensions at every termination throughout the home, permits the use of standard wiring devices, including receptacles and switches. The COPALUM repair method is recommended on the basis of research, laboratory tests, and demonstration projects. This repair method has been thoroughly proven by more than a quarter of a century of field experience to provide a permanent, low-resistance electrical connection to aluminum wire. The COPALUM repair method eliminates the aluminum connection failure problems and still uses the existing, installed aluminum wire. The COPALUM repair method has been shown to be practical for installation in an occupied and furnished home.
Westridge Electric is an authorized installer of Copalum in Western Canada. To learn more about copalum, click here or call us at 403-995-3547.
Repair Methods That Are Not Recommended
Safe and permanent aluminum wiring solutions are not inexpensive. There are a number of temporary methods that seem like a cheaper option but which may have serious consequences in the future. Westridge Electric does not recommend the following repair ‘solutions’:
Doing Nothing - Leave Aluminum Wiring As Is
If there haven’t been any problems with the aluminum wiring, the homeowner may elect to do nothing. Failure of old–technology aluminum wiring is unpredictable and has greatly increased chance of reaching fire hazard conditions. The homeowner would continue to bear that risk. However, with homeowners’ insurance companies getting involved (in some areas), this may not be an option. Some insurance companies require either the aluminum be replaced with copper or that AMP COPALUM connectors be used. If the homeowner does neither, then the insurance company may raise the policy rates or may cancel the policy.
Non-COPALUM Crimp Connectors
There are many other brands and types of crimp connectors — including those intended to be installed with a pliers-type of handtool — which are readily available to consumers at common retailers. No other crimp connectors have been evaluated for connecting copper and aluminum conductors.
Temporary Aluminum Wiring Repair Methods
The following two repair methods are often recommended by some electricians because they are substantially less expensive than COPALUM crimp connectors. These repairs are not considered an acceptable permanent repair.
The first temporary repair involves pigtailing with a twist-on connector. The effectiveness of “pigtailing” using twist-on connectors has been evaluated. In laboratory testing and life tests, substantial numbers of these connectors overheated severely. Surveys of and statements made by electricians and electrical inspectors confirm the highly variable and often poor performance of twist-on connectors with aluminum wire. It is possible that some pigtailing “repairs” made with twist-on connectors may be prone to even more failures than the original aluminum wire connectors. This method of repair does not solve the problem of overheating present in aluminum-wired branch circuits.
“CO/ALR” Switches and Receptacles
The other repair recommended by the industry is to use switches and receptacles labeled “CO/ALR.” These devices have tin plated contact areas and large captive screw heads and are intended for direct connection to aluminum wire, although they can be used with copper or copper-clad wire. CO/ALR devices perform better with aluminum wire than non- CO/ALR devices when installed carefully and according to best electrical practices. However, CO/ALR wiring devices have failed in laboratory tests when connected to aluminum wire typical of that installed in existing homes. The test conditions simulated actual use conditions; no “overstress” type of testing was used. Further, CO/ALR connectors are not available for all parts of the wiring system (e.g., for the permanently wired appliances and ceiling mounted light fixtures). In the opinion of CPSC staff, CO/ALR devices must be considered, at best, an incomplete repair.
Recommendations on Temporary Repairs
AL/CU twist-on connector pigtails or CO/ALR devices may be used as an emergency, temporary repair for a failed aluminum termination. Should such a repair be performed, a complete repair of the aluminum-wired system be performed using the recommended methods as soon as possible.