In the late ’60s and early ’70s, high copper prices led home builders to run electrical service using single-strand aluminum wire. Laboratory tests had shown that aluminum wire was a suitable replacement for copper, so it seemed like a good way to keep costs low. The problem was that exposed aluminum oxidizes far more rapidly than copper, building up heat and leading to fire risks. In perfectly controlled laboratory conditions, this wasn’t an issue. But in the imperfect, real-world environment of your home, aluminum wiring (especially in branch circuits) was a fire hazard.
That’s why aluminum is no longer used for residential branch-circuit wiring. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has found that homes with aluminum wiring may be up to 55 times more likely to suffer fire damage. There are a few ways to address existing aluminum wiring, from using specialized connectors to a complete home rewire. If you suspect your home has aluminum wiring, it’s worth a call to a licensed electrician to discuss options.
It’s probably no surprise that the smell of something burning should be an immediate warning sign! If the wiring in your electrical system is heating up enough to melt its plastic sheathing, you’re facing an imminent risk of fire and you need to take immediate action. Try to identify the source of the issue, whether at one fixture or the breaker box, and get it resolved quickly. Family Handyman has troubleshooting guides for everything from outlets to lamps that aren’t functioning properly. But if you’re not completely comfortable with a DIY fix, reach out to a professional.
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