Differences Between Aluminum and Copper Wiring

2/28/20
Professional electrician cutting copper wire while rewiring a home.

Does your home have copper or aluminum wiring? You may not know, but the answer has important safety implications: According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, homes built with aluminum wiring are 55 times more likely to have at least one connection become a major fire hazard. But why? To help explain, we’ve outlined the key differences between aluminum and copper wiring.


Aluminum is Softer Than Copper

Being softer makes aluminum much more susceptible to nicks during the stripping process. When this happens, the nicks can become hot spots that cause overheating and thus an increased fire risk.


Aluminum Expands and Contracts More

When supplying electricity, a wire’s conductor (i.e. aluminum or copper) heats up. This causes it to expand, and later contract while cooling down. While both conductor types experience this, aluminum expands at a much greater rate.

This expansion/contraction cycle causes the aluminum conductor to slowly creep out from below terminal screws. If not examined and tightened regularly, these loose connections create an increased fire risk due to short circuits or arcing (electricity jumping from one connection to another).


Corrosion/Rust is More Dangerous in Aluminum

Both conductors are susceptible to oxidation, the process that causes rust, but it’s far more dangerous with aluminum. For one, rust on copper (which appears green) is actually conductive while aluminum’s (appears red) is not, creating resistance to the flow of electricity. This interference can cause overheating and eventually – you guessed it – fires.


Final Word on Aluminum and Copper Wiring

So, in conclusion: Aluminum wiring is more dangerous than copper, thus requiring regular attention and maintenance (which means paying for professional service) to maintain safety.


What to Do

First, you need to know what wiring is used in your house and if there are any pressing issues. Contact your local electrician and schedule an inspection. If you have aluminum wiring, you have a few options:

  1. Rewire the home. This may be the biggest and most expensive solution, but it’s also the safest. Once it’s done, there’s no regular maintenance to keep you from worrying about a fire.
  2. Install Alumicon Connectors. These copper pigtails replace ALL connections in the home and makes an approved connection between the copper and aluminum. This is a less expensive but still permanent option.
  3. Schedule regular maintenance exams. If your initial inspections show no immediate repairs and you don’t want to do either of the above, it’s very important to have a professional electrician inspect your system regularly, especially in an older home.

It’s easy to forget about our home’s wiring, especially when we see no easily apparent issues. However, a functioning electrical system is crucial to both the safety and comfort of your home. Understanding the differences between aluminum and copper wiring is a good first step, and proper maintenance helps keep you protected. Rely on the experts at Stafford Home Service for all your residential electrical needs. Contact us to learn more.

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