Avoid DIY Disasters: Electricity - Central County Fire & Rescue

Avoid DIY Disasters: Electricity

Do You Have Copper or Aluminum Wiring? The Difference Matters.

Tasked with updating those ancient light switches in the kitchen? Standing in front of the hundreds of options available at the home improvement store, you narrow it down to two choices — one is $4, the other is 75 cents. But if you don’t know what type of wiring is in your home, it’s a decision that could cost you much more than the few dollar difference between the two switches.

Your home was built with either copper or aluminum wiring. Knowing which one you’re working with is critically important when considering any electrical improvements or repairs.

Due to the exorbitant cost of copper in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many homes built during this time have aluminum wiring. It was quickly discovered, however, that the quality of the aluminum being used put these homes at a higher risk for fires. A study by the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that homes built before 1972 and wired with aluminum are 55 times more likely to have an outlet wiring connection reach fire hazard conditions than those wired with copper. This risk can increase if the wrong replacement parts are used or if rewiring is done incorrectly.

Copper and aluminum wired electrical systems are not interchangeable. They require different types of wiring, switches and connectors, with the aluminum components often being quite a bit more expensive than their copper counterparts.

“Beyond making sure you are using the correct type of wiring and connectors, working with electricity is tricky and dangerous, with a risk for electrocution injuries, home fires and more,” CCFR Assistant Chief Steve Brown says. “When you are considering home improvement projects, leave the electrical projects to a qualified electrician. What might be a higher upfront investment will be worth it in the long run.”

Brown has witnessed these types of fires as recently as this year, when an improperly wired electric cooktop set a house ablaze right here in our community.

If you have a home built in the 1960s or ‘70s, it can be tricky to determine whether you have aluminum or copper wiring because of the way it was originally labeled. If you think you may have aluminum wiring, it is important to have your home evaluated by a qualified electrician to determine whether it should be replaced or repaired. When hiring an electrician, ensure they are licensed and have experience with both aluminum and copper wiring.

Still trying to decide which switch to get? It’s time to call an electrician.

Caution! Signs of electrical problems: (1) Hot light switches or receptacles; (2) Flickering or buzzing lights; (3) Frayed wires; (4) Circuits that don’t work; (5) Discolored outlets or switches; (6) Electrical shocks when plugging something in or touching switches; (7) Burning smell coming from outlets or switches