June 2004 –— The California Real Estate Inspection Association wants homeowners and homebuyers to avoid confusion about the existence of aluminum wiring in their home. Many people make the mistake of fearing that their house must be completely re-wired. The mere presence of aluminum circuitry does not always justify rewiring the entire home. In most cases, replacement of aluminum wire is an over-reaction to what is often a manageable problem.
Aluminum wires were installed in many homes during the late 1960's and early 70's (especially mobile homes and trailers). In some dwellings, electrical fires occurred within a few years of construction, which is why most aluminum branch wiring was discontinued. However, the actual cause of these fires was not the aluminum wire itself, but the tendency for aluminum connections to become loose at outlets, switches, fixtures, and circuit breakers.
Aluminum wiring, in some instances, is known to be hazardous, but it is still commonly used for 220-volt circuits. If installed according to manufacturers' specifications, it presents no significant fire hazard. In fact, most electric power companies use aluminum for their main service lines.
To ensure the safety of the aluminum connections in your home, alterations can be made, rendering the system safe, without the exorbitant cost of rewiring. For example, copper wire ends, known as "pigtails," can be retrofitted at all terminals. There are two primary rules governing the proper attachment of aluminum wires: The connecting terminals must be rated for aluminum wiring, and the wire ends should be treated with a special compound to prevent corrosion. Only a licensed electrician should be entrusted to perform electrical work on your home.
Depending on the age of the alloys and the initial workmanship of the installation, the type and extent of necessary repair could cover a wide range of choices. Many houses wired with aluminum in the 1970’s have shown no problems, while the problems with some houses in the 1960’s could actually be made worse by improper diagnosis and installation.
There are those houses where the only realistic solution is a complete rewiring job, and there are others where nothing needs to be done. A professional home inspector can recommend that an electrical contractor familiar with the problems of aluminum wiring be retained to evaluate the system and recommend appropriate actions. The California Real Estate Inspection Association (CREIA) includes inspection of the electrical system as part of their Standards of Practice for all member inspectors. A professional home inspector has an obligation to inspect the electrical system of a home, unless that portion of the home is inaccessible. In that case, lack of access should have been specifically noted in the inspection report, with a recommendation for further evaluation as soon as access can be provided.
To locate a qualified inspector near you, call CREIA at (800) 388-8443, or visit their website at www.CREIA.org. Since 1976, CREIA, a non-profit voluntary membership organization has been providing education, training, and support services to the real estate inspection industry and to the public. Inspectors must adhere to CREIA's Code of Ethics and follow the Standards of Practice developed by the association. These Standards of Practice have been recognized by the State of California, and are considered the source for home inspector Standard of Care by the real estate and legal communities.
CREIA requires its members to successfully pass a comprehensive written examination of property systems and complete 30 hours of continuing education each year. Members can accumulate credits through various sources of education including monthly chapter meetings, conferences, and other approved activities. CREIA keeps records to ensure that members are complying with the requirements. Educational topics cover a variety of technical subjects including updates and advances affecting the profession of real estate inspection. CREIA is dedicated to consumer protection and education.