Upgrading copper wiring to aluminum

Cassy St Albert
5/2/2012 at 4:17:52 PM

Hi! we need to update the wiring in the home we are purchasing from copper to aluminum. From what I understand there is a way to connect the new aluminum wiring to the existing copper wires and therefore not have to re-wire the whole house which is definitely not in the budget.

I've been searching for a rough estimate of what that would cost so I can put a budget together of the necessary upgrades but can't find anything.

Could someone please give me an average price or price range even for something like this?

The house is a 2 level split built in the 1970s. If more information is needed to provide a price range I'd be happy to provide it.

Thanks so much!

Cassy

RESPONSES
Dave of 360renos from Navan 360renos
5/2/2012 at 5:09:12 PM

Hi Cassy,

I believe you mean upgrading to copper wiring?

There is a process of pig tailing each device (switches, outlets and lighting but I'll let an electrician answer that for you and there are a couple of great electrical companies on here.

Dave

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/2/2012 at 5:21:39 PM

Hi,

Dave, just so you know, pigtailing is not an upgrade, it is a way of pretending and fooling people that the aluminum is gone. It should not be done anywhere in a home. Only new wires run and the old removed as the joints and splices are the trouble spots that cause electrical fires, not the wire hidden in the walls (unless the wire was put in wrongly, screwed into, or stapled too tightly). Aluminum and copper will oxidize even with anti-oxidant and everyone forgets that marrettes are only allowed to be used on COPPER only unless Aluminum marrettes are used, but then it will react with the copper wiring too. There is no best way to join the two for long term safety.

The aluminum wiring may or may not have a ground in it which is the most important in any of these jobs.

The whole job would need to be viewed to see what needs done to make it safe. In a 2 story home, you can easily count on a few weeks work plus materials to make it all happen correctly.

Do you plan on renovating any walls as this would certainly make the job much easier.

Good luck

Robert

5/3/2012 at 12:48:22 AM

I think Robert is on the right track. My question is, who said you had to change the wiring from AL to CU? I am guessing that this is driven by the insurance company. Truth is they don't have a clue. Most insurance companies will allow the AL wire if there is a proven record of maintenance on the wiring.

The other option for the short term is to ensure that all the connections have the proper marrette connectors and that all the devices (receptacles and switches) are rated for AL wire. Once this is done, your selected Electrical Contractor can write a report for the insurance company and give a condition report.

I agree that the AL wire should be replaced, but unless you cannot get insurance, I would not be in a panic to get it done, as long as you do the proper steps to make sure it is in good working order.

Cheers

John

John Kuehnl-Cadwell

Master Electrician

Datawise Solutions Inc

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/3/2012 at 7:06:26 AM

John, Good point on the devices needing to be "Aluminum" approved. Forgot to add that one in ;)

Any reputable Licensed contractor with alumium experience could go in to your home and tell you within an hour if the home is safely wired or if there are concerns. You could always call in your local electrical inspection office for a few hundred dollars.

Biggest areas of importance - are the recepticals 2 prong or 3? By an electrician, with the power off - Get the kitchen outlets opened and checked for over heating by a trained person. Check the stove, dryer and the main panel for loose and over-heated wires.

Do you have plug fuses or circuit breakers.

Good luck

Robert

Electrilight Ltd.

Cassy from St Albert
5/3/2012 at 11:52:44 AM

Thanks Robert and John for your insights! We have a circuit breaker I believe. We aren't planning on opening any walls except the ones in the bathroom (for a different reno) if we can help it. There is access to the attic and the basement ceiling (it is open under the drop ceiling) if that helps? I was told that if we want to change the lighting that we would be in trouble if we had aluminum wiring.

We are definitely planning on having an inspection done but I was hoping to have a rough number in my head of what it would potentially cost to make sure the house is safe and that we will be able to make the cosmetic updates (lighting, appliances, etc) that we have planned.

I appreciate the help and information!!

Cassy

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/3/2012 at 2:59:53 PM

As I mentioned, the connection points are always the most dangerous as this is where the heat is generated and decays insulation.

If you are changing lights, make sure the company can provide you with an inspection report as well at the end. Joining copper to aluminum is not as easily done as people think...twist wires, put on connector, done... not the case. The insulation needs to be checked and reinsulated with heat shrink if needed, special marrettes and compound are required, rubber tape maybe and the fixture cannot exceed certain wattages. I do not recommend putting pot lights or other halogen fixtures anywhere near aluminum wire.

when you say an inspection, do you mean home inspector or electrical inspector? They are certainly not the same thing and a home inspection will not and cannot provide you with a certified electrical inspection unless the inspector has a master electrical license or has certification from the local electrical inspection authority to do so. Some "home inspectors" say they inspect plumbing, gas and electrical, but they are not allowed to unless they are qualified in these areas, not many are.

Be careful and ask for certification papers, otherwise you may as well do the inspection yourself as it wont be valid for any insurance puposes.

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/3/2012 at 3:04:31 PM

Oh sorry, to answer you about the cost, get 3 local companies to come in and offer you a quote. This will give you an idea of the price.

Last one I did cost $7500 for 2 small floors and basement.

Cassy from St Albert
5/3/2012 at 5:09:39 PM

Robert - Thank you so much for the information! It has been very informative and we will definitely be sure to get a certified electrical inspector in to check things before we move forward. And thanks for the dollar amount, at least I have a rough idea of what it could cost which is what I was hoping for. I will definitely get several quotes from reputable companies before making a decision.

Thanks again!

Cassy

Cassy from St Albert
5/8/2012 at 3:52:05 PM

Hi Robert - I was hoping you could give me a few tips on what to look for in a good electrician. We have a couple of consultations scheduled for this week and I'd like to know what to watch for.

Thanks so much!

Cassy

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/8/2012 at 10:20:57 PM

Ask for their licenses and proof of insurance policy, worker compensation for any injury on your premises.

Ask them for 3-5 references of prior work in the past 6 months, if they hesitate or stall, be cautious. Good contractors have nothing to hide. Call all their numbers and ask to see the work.

Ask them to provide you a copy of an inspection upon completion from your local electrical inspection authority (province pending) ESA in Ontario.

Tell them to walk you through the job and how it will happen, if they cannot or are not prepared to spend 20 minutes with you and your home going over the job, they certainly wont come back if you have concerns or damages that need repair.

Ask them their opinion on what they recommend, if they tell you you need more than what seems correct, they may be trying to scam you. If they tell you one outlet per room is enough, they are not going by code.

By code in Canada, you need an outlet every 12 feet of USEABLE wallspace, GFCI's by sinks and tubs, outdoor plugs, ARC fault breakers in bedrooms, Tamper proof outlets, grounding of all copper and gas pipes, proper labelling of all outlets in the panel, 12-24 months warranty, smoke detectors / CO on all floors, atleast 5 dedicated outlets in your kitchen and ON any island, stove, dryer and other appliances must be copper and on their own circuit.

Good luck, hope this helps.

Electrilight Ltd

Cassy from St Albert
5/9/2012 at 11:04:02 AM

Thank you so much Robert! That definitely helps!!

We had a guy come by last night and tell us that since we have 100 amp that aluminum wiring is fine since it's a 12 and the copper is a 14? I was under the impression that houses should have copper wires regardless of voltage?

We have another electrician coming by tonight and will be sure to ask all the things you suggested (didn't see your response until just now).

Thanks again for all your help!! it's great to know that there are still people out there willing to offer help and advice.

Cassy

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/9/2012 at 12:56:58 PM

If I lived a bit closer, I would come and have a look as well ;)

You know Cassy, I am a bit tired of people being taken advantage of and am finding more and more unskilled people that think they can go and buy a ruler, drill, roll of wire, and some wood, that they can build anything. I understand people make decisions about their career, some not good ones and want a change.

I have been in the electrical trade since I was 16, with my first shock at 12 and knew what I wanted to be when I saw what electricity can do. I am serious about my career and helping others and I am also a homeowner who gets trades in to do work in my home as well so know who is playing games with people and who is serious. I have been burned by crooks and have been pleasantly surprised by others. Fact is, money doesn't come to people easy and nor should it from crooked tradesmen. I don't put on a white coat and pretend I am a dentist because I have an office, a chair, dental floss and a toothbrush, so why should that guy who can buy wire at the home depot be wiring houses?... because he knows white goes to white, and black to black... truth is, you can use a white as a black wire in certain cases... do they know that??? NO. I do because I read that 1200 page book called the Canadian Electrical Code and passed the Masters exam with over 90% AND follow good business practices.

I am now a master electrician with my own company and even if I can persuade 1 person per week to use licensed and fully trained (compliant) tradesmen, I feel THAT home owner and customer have received the best person possible. I am not saying people cannot be good at different trades, but the lawyer who turned carpenter, who turned writer, who turned plumber, into an electrician is certainly not serious about his career and merely testing the waters to see what makes the most money with fewest headaches...

Don't be afraid of aluminum wire, just get someone to have a look at various boxes and check it randomly. I offer electrical inspections for people like you and maybe someone local there will do so as well.

All house aluminum is 12 and larger so no surprise there and actually it is the coating (insulation) that makes its rating, not the fact it is aluminum or copper. Did you know the high tower wires are aluminum and carry over 120,000 volts! copper wires are far too heavy for these jobs.

Good luck

5/16/2012 at 11:20:30 AM

As usual Robert, Good words and advice.

Cheers

John

Robert (M.E.) of Electrilight Ltd. from Oakville Electrilight Ltd.
5/16/2012 at 11:53:55 AM

Hi John,

Nice of you to stop by ;) too busy to read and write is a nice problem to have..., getting to bed before midnight is mine!! lol

Cheers.

Electrilight Ltd.

4/22/2015 at 12:13:52 PM

Hi Cassy,

I have commented on the this issue for a homeowner named Brad in Calgary.

I have helped 2 previous Customers, in Sherwood Park and Edmonton, with the change-out of their receptacles, switches and inspected the terminations for their light fixtures.

We agreed on a price of $40.00 per outlet, AL/CU rated device, marrettes and labour included.

I was also asked to write a report for the Customers' Insurance Company which I charged $250.00.

I had also called the Electrical Authorities in Sherwood Park and Edmonton to ensure I was in compliance with the Alberta Safety Codes Act and everything was good.

Thank you,

Randy Paul

Master Electrician

RGP Consulting and Electric Ltd.

Ardrossan, AB.

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