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Old 12-02-2009, 09:46 PM   #1
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


Hey gang,

Wife smelled plastic burning smell in baby's room and after checking out the receptacles I found one hot and melting the receptacle plastic housing!

The house was built in 1964 and wired with aluminum wiring. The receptacle that melted and charred black tonight was labled for CU only and was installed prior to us buying the house.

A couple questions before I go tearing into all the receptacles

1) I read on a website that using AL CU receptacles are not a solution and neither is using CoALR receptacles for aluminum wiring, they suggest pigtailing with copper wire by means of AMP TYCO COPALUM connectors installed by a professional electrician, any opinions on this advice?

2) whats the code state for approved receptacles with aluminum wiring/

3) in your opinion is it safe to use receptacles labeled for AL wiring?

my dad is a retired electrician and maybe I could hire him to rewire the house but if I do that then I likely have to meet up to date codes, mostly concerned with kitchen and bath wiring?

thanks for any thoughts!

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Old 12-02-2009, 09:58 PM   #2
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


If it were me I would get some Alumiconn connectors and do the pigtails. The Copalum connectors need a special and expensive crimper to install.

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Old 12-02-2009, 09:59 PM   #3
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


Quote:
Originally Posted by creamaster View Post
Hey gang,

Wife smelled plastic burning smell in baby's room and after checking out the receptacles I found one hot and melting the receptacle plastic housing!

The house was built in 1964 and wired with aluminum wiring. The receptacle that melted and charred black tonight was labled for CU only and was installed prior to us buying the house.

A couple questions before I go tearing into all the receptacles

1) I read on a website that using AL CU receptacles are not a solution and neither is using CoALR receptacles for aluminum wiring, they suggest pigtailing with copper wire by means of AMP TYCO COPALUM connectors installed by a professional electrician, any opinions on this advice?

2) whats the code state for approved receptacles with aluminum wiring/

3) in your opinion is it safe to use receptacles labeled for AL wiring?

my dad is a retired electrician and maybe I could hire him to rewire the house but if I do that then I likely have to meet up to date codes, mostly concerned with kitchen and bath wiring?

thanks for any thoughts!
I'd go with option #1! When your house is in danger of burning down (And presently, it, unfortunately is.) then you do whatever it takes. I'm surprised the "Home Inspector" did not notice this problem. Houses built around that time were on the tail end of using aluminum wiring. When did you buy the house? Check if there is a legal remedy from the seller? Because it's going to be expensive (and tedious) to do this right.
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Old 12-03-2009, 06:51 AM   #4
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


My wife bought the house 6 years ago.

Here is a pic of the receptacle, its 15 amp rated and CU wire only.

The breaker never tripped and it got this far.

The child safety tabs that you stick in the slots to prevent kids from sticking objects in the slots had melted also.

My wife is understandably freaking out because her family lost everything in a house fire years ago that was due to some electrical issue, and this happened in our baby's room last night.

I know I will find more of these CU receptacles around the house, Ill check into the AL lug connector thanks for the pic.

If it comes to rewiring the house and my dad takes the job, can the new wiring be run throughout the unfinished basement and I guess for every switch and receptacle we have to drill a hole up through the floor and fish a wire to each one? Im thinking one doesnt mess with tearing the drywall apart.

Thanks again
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Old 12-03-2009, 08:09 AM   #5
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


I'd replace as much Al wire as I could, all if possible
But that's just me
My house is "top wired" , so all the wire goes up to the ceiling of the 1st floor & then comes down to switches & outlets
Makes it much harder to rewire 1st floor
But I have copper wire - just old style cloth cover

Was there anything plugged into the outlet ?
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Old 12-03-2009, 08:31 AM   #6
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


I would have the house rewired. This will set your wife's (and your) mind at ease. It is traumatic to go through what your wife did and it is worth every penny for her to have peace of mind. Security and feeling safe in your home is a very basic need. Right up there with food, water and shelter!

Aluminum wiring will oxidize and suddenly just stop working! An outlet which worked one day will suddenly not work the next day. When there is a poor connection, it causes heat. So I would check all the outlets frequently to see if they feel warm (until you can get the wiring replaced).

Might want to install more smoke detectors and test them, especially one inside and one outside each bedroom.

Your dad may be able to rewire a few outlets right now for things which must be left powered on at night. Like refrigerator, heating, phone outlet. Then you can turn everything else off.

Many electronic things are "always on". Anything with a remote control. You can get power strips with switches on them. Then turn these off at night. Then nothing would be using any electricity from the dangerous outlets at night.

As to running wires, a lot can be done without cutting any drywall, but sometimes you just need to cut the drywall. Drywall is pretty cheap and easy to do once you learn how to do it. But it is an art and takes some practice. Might want to pick up a book on this at a home improvement store.
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Old 12-03-2009, 08:57 AM   #7
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


Based on the photo it looks like a high draw current was running through a loose connection. I am sure the increased movement for the AL expansion caused the spring tab to weaken.

What was being used on the circuit where the smell was noticed?
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Old 12-03-2009, 11:11 AM   #8
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


Thanks so far for the input gang.

I have mapped out the entire house yet here at work off the top of my head that circuit runs at least into 3 rooms, the house is wired like swiss cheese! There was nothing electrical plugged into that receptacle but the plastic saftey tabs used to prevent children from sticking objects into the slots.

That circuit has the bathrrom and my PC receptacle and at least that one recepctacle taht failed on the circuit but I know there is more.

I inspected the charred receptacle further this morning and one of the hot wires was charred to the screw, actually I could not twist the screw it had charred to the point the threads were caked so I think it was this hot wires fault.

The way it was wired is that the tabs were intact for neutral and hot on the sides of the receptacle and it was 1 piece of romex that fed this receptacle then continued on to feed others.

We havnt used this receptacle for months if not a year becuase of its location in the room.
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Old 12-03-2009, 12:51 PM   #9
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


Any current being drawn on the circuit will flow thru any upstream receptacle. A poor connection will exacerbate the heat buildup and can be reflected in a device that has nothing plugged into it.
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Old 12-03-2009, 02:38 PM   #10
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


There is nothing wrong with alum wiring. The problem is always improper connections. You have two choices, learn how to properly handle alum wiring and make the necessary repairs or rewire the house. At this point I believe the only two al/cu connectors approved in the U.S. are the Copalum crimped connectors which require a special crimping tool and the Alumiconn connectors which just need to be torqued down with a screwdriver.
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Old 12-03-2009, 04:06 PM   #11
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


A good outlet check is to plug in a 10A hair dryer. If the voltage drops more than ~3v from the nominal 120v there is a high resistance upstream. Measure the voltage in the other socket of the duplex to avoid socket/plug contact impedance from being part of your measurement.

Hopefully, some outlets will stick out like a sore thumb with this voltage test, before they melt.

#14 aluminum wire should measure 4.0 ohms per 500' of two conductor cable. An outlet 38' from the load center with this 10A load should drop 3.0vac.

The face of the outlet melts at 160C and up, the body at 140C-150C. Your outlet probably saw at least 140C. See 2.1.2 PLASTICS in
http://www.tcforensic.com.au/docs/article10.html

Last edited by Yoyizit; 12-03-2009 at 04:40 PM.
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Old 12-03-2009, 04:41 PM   #12
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


Quote:
Originally Posted by Yoyizit View Post
A good outlet check is to plug in a 10A hair dryer. If the voltage drops more than ~3v from the nominal 120v there is a high resistance upstream. Measure the voltage in the other socket of the duplex to avoid socket/plug contact impedance from being part of your measurement.

Hopefully, some outlets will stick out like a sore thumb with this voltage test, before they melt.

#14 aluminum wire should measure 4 ohms per 500' of two conductor cable. An outlet 38' from the load center with this 10A load should drop 3vac.

The face of the outlet melts at 160C and up, the body at 140C-150C. Your outlet probably saw at least 140C. See 2.1.2 PLASTICS in
http://www.tcforensic.com.au/docs/article10.html
No. 14 AL wire is not even rated for 15 amps and should never have been used.

Unless the person knows the actual length of the circuit it would be hard to tell if the voltage drop was within expected limits. A receptacle could have several times the length of wire involved vs it as the crow flies distance from the panel.

Your test does not allow for any voltage flucuation from the utility either which would sway the results.
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Old 12-03-2009, 07:43 PM   #13
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


The problem here was an improper device. The screw terminals on a standard cu recep do not play well with AL wire.

Have your Dad check all the devices and pigtail any that might be cu only.
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Old 12-03-2009, 08:31 PM   #14
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


I checked today at the big box stores and could not find the Alumiconn lug connector to pigtail, the only thing they carried was the 3M purple wire nut which I wont use.

For the immediate time being I purchased a Co/ALR receptacle to use but I know this isn't the long term solution.

My dad said he thought pigtailing was the best way to go for now and installing CU receptacles, then later down the road rewiring the house with copper.

Since copper is the cheapest I have seen in awhile I may just buy a 1,000ft roll of 12-2 romex and sit on it until im ready to rewire, but for now purchase and install the Alumiconn lugs with CU receptacles.

What is a good name brand receptacle to purchase that will last for years to come, Leviton?

Last edited by creamaster; 12-03-2009 at 08:36 PM.
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Old 12-03-2009, 10:00 PM   #15
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Charred / melted wall receptacle, AL wiring in house


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Originally Posted by hayewe farm View Post
There is nothing wrong with alum wiring. The problem is always improper connections. You have two choices, learn how to properly handle alum wiring and make the necessary repairs or rewire the house. At this point I believe the only two al/cu connectors approved in the U.S. are the Copalum crimped connectors which require a special crimping tool and the Alumiconn connectors which just need to be torqued down with a screwdriver.
Yes. But the margin of error is so thin, (as opposed to Copper wire) that it is dangerous for amateurs (and beginning DIY'ers) to play with it!!! I myself have tightened contacts on and replaced receptacles in Mobile homes (where Aluminum wire is used exclusively due to its lightweight). Aluminum wire is extremely unstable (as far as overloads are concerned) and on a lower scale of conductivity than Copper. (which is second to best (Gold). Its only redeeming value is that it is lightweight. (No matter what) Don't Drink and Drive, Ever!!!

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