If your house is more than about 35 or 40 years old, chances are good that your wiring and electrical systems are not compliant with current building codes. Even where codes have not been substantially revised since construction, problems develop with things like metal corrosion and gradual deterioration of wire insulation. These can combine to cause a variety of electrical problems – some of them potentially lethal.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, faulty wiring is the number one cause of residential fires.
How Do You Know You Need to Replace Wiring?
Look for these common warning signs:
- Are your wires made of aluminum or copper? If your wires are aluminum, you’ll probably want to replace them as soon as you can. Because of metallurgical issues including brittleness, the tendency to expand when heated and increased vulnerability to oxidation, aluminum wiring is more than 55 times more likely than copper wiring to develop a fire hazard, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most homeowners insurance carriers will not even write a new policy on a home with aluminum wiring. In some cases, aluminum wiring can even void an existing insurance policy.
- Do your breakers trip regularly?
- Do you often have blown fuses?
- Is there a burning smell when you turn on specific appliances or in a particular room?
- Do your lights or other appliances dim or flicker for no apparent reason?
- Are one or more outlets warm to the touch?
- Is the plastic on one or more outlets becoming discolored?
- Do your sockets only have two prongs?
- Do you see “arcing,” or flying sparks?
- Do your fingers tingle when you touch a switch or appliance?
- Does your home lack ground fault circuit interrupters – especially in kitchens and bathrooms? These are important safety features in areas that are frequently exposed to water or dampness. These became standard in new homes built around 1990.
Additionally, some homeowners or their contractors make mistakes with upgrades and renovations – introducing hazards where they don’t exist. For example:
- Outdoor wiring is not buried deep enough, or is of the wrong type, or is not protected adequately and gets damaged.
- Failing to encase wire splices. Do-it-yourselfers are famous for this one.
- Using bulbs with excessive wattage ratings. If the bulb burns hotter than anything a given fixture was designed to hold, wiring will eventually fail.
Have your home inspected
It’s usually a good idea to have a licensed electrician come to your house for an inspection every four or five years or so. You may also want to do so if you plan on adding or replacing an appliance. A large appliance can be a major draw on power supplies, and if you’re not careful, strain your home’s electrical system to the breaking point.
Can’t do everything at once?
Replacing all the wiring in a home is sometimes a necessary expense. In some cases, though, working with a licensed electrician, you may be able to mitigate the hazard by installing special connectors at specific stress points in your home’s wiring, such as electrical fixtures, where the danger is greatest. Two products currently available on the market for this purpose are AlumiConn and COPALUM. Not all insurance carriers approve these methods, so check with your carrier before proceeding.
A number of insurance companies have all indicated that they will not underwrite policies for homes with aluminum wiring, even with mitigation. A number of other companies have been willing to write policies on homes that have had an electrician do aluminum wiring mitigation. If you have any questions or uncertainty, however, contact ACBI at 203-259-7580 or visit our website. It’s better to get answers now than to have a claim denied later because of issues with aluminum or other substandard wiring.