Pigtailing or Replacing Aluminum Wiring May Make Your Home Safer
At TCA Electric, we recently completed a multi-family electrical project that included making changes to aluminum wiring in the building in order to lower the fire risk and reduce insurance liability. We accomplished this through a method called “pigtailing,” which mitigates many of the risks posed by aluminum wiring.
After completing this project, we realized that many of our readers likely don’t know about the risks of aluminum wiring or the potential methods for improving safety. So today, we’re sharing a bit more information about aluminum wiring, pigtailing, and how you can potentially reduce the fire risk in your home or business.
Risks Associated with Aluminum Wiring
Aluminum wiring came into use during the 1960s amid rising copper prices. It was a cost-effective alternative to copper wiring that was used for many homes and other buildings constructed during this time. By the mid-1970s, aluminum wiring was largely phased out, but many buildings throughout North America were constructed during this time.
Unfortunately, while aluminum certainly has certain attributes that make it an effective alternative to copper for wiring, it also presents certain dangers. Most notably, aluminum wiring overheats more easily than copper, and it also expands more when heated. As a softer, more malleable metal than copper, aluminum is also more liable to be damaged by heat, move around, and result in loose connections—creating a major fire risk.
Why Replace Aluminum Wiring?
Because of the above dangers, homeowners with aluminum wiring will typically benefit from finding a solution to mitigate these risks, either by pigtailing or replacing the aluminum wiring altogether.
Obviously, the increased risk of a fire is a safety hazard to those living or working within a building that uses aluminum wiring. Along with this risk comes a potential increase in insurance liability. Aluminum wiring may raise the likelihood that insurance providers either won’t provide coverage or will do so at an increased cost. This means addressing aluminum wiring could help lower your insurance liability.
What’s the Difference Between Pigtailing and Replacing Aluminum Wiring?
There are two main ways to mitigate the risks of aluminum wiring in a home or business: pigtailing or replacing.
Replacing aluminum wiring means completely removing the wiring and installing copper wiring instead. It’s a much longer and more labour-intensive process, as it requires opening up walls, completely removing all aluminum wiring, and installing new wiring before replacing drywall and repainting.
Pigtailing aluminum wiring, on the other hand, is a less “invasive” renovation. Instead of replacing all wiring, pigtailing addresses the main source of risk—the connections. Pigtailing aluminum wiring requires removal of all outlets, switches, devices, and lighting, then splicing a copper wire with the aluminum before hooking up the copper wire to devices.
Is Pigtailing Aluminum Wiring More Cost Effective?
Because it doesn’t require opening up all the walls in your home or business, pigtailing aluminum wiring is far more cost-effective than full replacement. While prices can vary greatly depending on the size of your home, building, or apartment, we’ve often seen just under 90% savings by pigtailing aluminum wiring rather than replacing. For example, while replacing the wiring in an apartment may start at $20,000, pigtailing the same space may only cost around $2,000–$3,000.
Talk to an Electrician If Your Home Uses Aluminum Wiring
If your home or commercial property was built around the 1960s or 1970s, there’s a high likelihood that it has aluminum wiring installed. While it’s not required to replace or pigtail aluminum wiring, this is a renovation that may greatly reduce your insurance liability while mitigating an electrical fire hazard.
While pigtailing is typically more cost effective than replacing wiring, it may not be the ideal solution for you. At TCA Electric, we take the time to discuss each of our customers’ unique needs, including their budget and future plans for their space. We’ll be able to help determine whether your home has aluminum wiring and, if so, what you can do about it.
Contact us today to schedule an inspection!