Since last summer, the state-owned Citizens and all other private insurers in Florida had said they would no longer write new insurance policies on homes with aluminum wiring because it's considered a fire hazard. As a result, homeowners wanting to sell their residences, or shop other insurers, would have had to spend $5,000 to $20,000 to rewire their homes with copper wiring to make them insurable.
Seeing this had created a major issue with homeowners, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. researched the problem and in March they approved two alternative methods to make aluminum branch wiring safe and insurable. These two repair methods are:
- AlumiConn – an aluminum to copper plug that is connected to existing aluminum wiring at each receptacle, making the aluminum wiring run cooler with a safer connection.
- CopAlum – this connector permanently connects old technology aluminum wire to a short length of copper wire. The copper wire is then terminated in the switches and outlets. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission considers this an acceptable repair method; unfortunately, there is only one person in the state that is certified to do this.
"This is big, big news for the Panhandle. The total rewire has been terrifying to many of our constituents," said state Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze. "We don't understand why this issue is unique to the Panhandle, but we want to make sure people are not spending $8,000 to $10,000 on a total rewire when there is going to possibly be a fix that is much less expensive."
Aluminum wiring was used in many homes constructed between 1965 and 1973, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported. During those years, 14,159 homes were built in Escambia County and 2,808 in Santa Rosa, according to county records. Broxson worked with Citizens representatives researching alternative methods to rewiring aluminum.
The cost of having a certified electrician install AlumiConn connectors has been estimated at between $900 and $2,000. Mike McCombs, president of McCombs Electrical Co. in Milton, has been working to persuade the state to address the insurance issue with aluminum wiring.
Aluminum wiring, when properly installed, can be just as safe as copper. Aluminum wiring is, however, very unforgiving of improper installation. We will cover a bit of the theory behind potential problems, and what you can do to make your wiring safe.
The main problem with aluminum wiring is a phenomenon known as "cold creep". When aluminum wiring warms up, it expands. When it cools down, it contracts. Unlike copper, when aluminum goes through a number of warm/cool cycles it loses a bit of tightness each time. To make the problem worse, aluminum oxidizes, or corrodes when in contact with certain types of metal, so the resistance of the connection goes up. Which causes it to heat up and corrode/oxidize still more. Eventually the wire may start getting very hot, melt the insulation or fixture it is attached to, and possibly even cause a fire.
Since people usually encounter aluminum wiring when they move into a house built during the 70's, we will cover basic points of safe aluminum wiring. We suggest that, if you're considering purchasing a home with aluminum wiring, or have discovered it later, that you hire a licensed electrician or inspector to check over the wiring for the following things:
1) Fixtures (outlets and switches) directly attached to aluminum wiring should be rated for it. The device will be stamped with "Al/Cu" or "CO/ALR". The latter supersede the former, but both are safe. These fixtures are somewhat more expensive than the ordinary ones.
2) Wires should be properly connected (at least 3/4 way around the screw in a clockwise direction). Connections should be tight. While repeated tightening of the screws can make the problem worse, during the inspection it would pay off to snug up each connection.
(Note that aluminum wiring is still often used for the main service entrance cable. It should be inspected.)
3) "push-in" terminals are an extreme hazard with aluminum wire. Any connections using push-in terminals should be redone with the proper screw connections immediately.
4) There should be no signs of overheating: darkened connections, melted insulation, or "baked" fixtures. Any such damage should be repaired
5) Connections between aluminum and copper wire need to be handled specially. Inspectors require that the wire be connected together, using special crimp devices, with an anti-oxidant grease. For insurance purposes this needs to be performed by and signed off on by a certified electrician.
(Background Reference: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/electrical-wiring/part2/section-16.html)
After performing these repairs, a four point inspection is required prior to submitting an application for insurance. Citizens will review each application and may approve it on a case by case basis.
At Dave Reed Insurance, we want you to have a save home and will work with you to assure that you have the homeowners insurance that best fits your needs. Feel free to call us at 850 494-2264 at our Creighton office or 850 453-8555 on Navy Blvd. with any questions.