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Old 08-15-2010, 05:55 AM   #1
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how to handle aluminum pigtails

I've been installing motion sensor and timer switches (e.g., Aube TI-071, Woods 5/10/15/30 minute timer). These devices seem to all come with aluminum pigtails and small wirenuts- some I saw were labelled "P3", which seems to be the standard tiny wirenut (not ultra-tiny, but too small for most residential work).

I'm naturally concerned about whether it's safe to use these wirenuts to connect the aluminum wires to copper in the house. I think they're too small to fit a #12 Al pigtail with #14 Cu already in the wall (this link seems to support that position). I have larger red wirenuts which will definitely work for the wire sizes involved, but are specified for Cu/Cu only.

1. These devices say they're UL listed. Anybody know whether UL evaluates the connection to the outside world (e.g., the pigtail)? I thought Al branch wiring was basically verboten, so it seems strange that these devices would be approved, especially if they don't come with the right connectors to hook them up to standard household wiring.

2a. Is it ever legit to use a standard wirenut to connect Al with Cu? If no, doesn't it seem misleading that these devices come packaged with regular wirenuts when they'll almost always be installed against copper?

2b. What's the safest way to connect these devices? I'm convinced the included wire nuts are a no-no if for no other reason than they're too small, let alone the aluminum issue. Do I need to use a split-bolt or terminal strip connection as advocated by Rex Cauldwell? I really don't like the idea of using connections where the only insulator is electrical tape, and it seems like a lot of work compared to using a wirenut, so any suggestions are appreciated.

3. I've got about three of these devices already wired, and they work great. I'm supposing it's a good idea to take them back apart and fix them?

4. I understand that copper is expensive, but how are they getting away with selling these devices with questionable hookups? Why not just use copper pigtails and avoid the whole mess, and potential lawsuits?

Thanks much.


Last edited by london83; 08-15-2010 at 06:02 AM.
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Old 08-15-2010, 07:09 AM   #2
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They are probaly not aluminum pigtails, but tinned copper, which is fine with copper wire/wirenuts.

Aluminum wire was not the problem, it was the non-compatible devices to which it was connected. They now make switches, outlets etc, that are compatible withe aluminum wire. There are also antioxidation compounds that you fill into a wire nut the works well. Comes under a variety of names, N0-Ox, anti ox, etc.


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Old 08-15-2010, 09:41 AM   #3
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Interesting, thanks. The conductors are stranded and the silver color is continuous- that is, if I strip insulation it's still silver. Is this consistent with what you think it is? I've worked with tinned copper in electronics- this stuff doesn't "feel" like copper to me.

The wires on the Woods timer devices seem particularly suspect to me- the things are made in China, for one. The conductors are type AWM- I'm having trouble making sense of the whole code because of the short length, but as far as I can tell, it reads "RU E189674 AWM 1015 14AWG VW-1 105(degrees)C 600V". This seems to correspond to this page on the UL site, which unequivocally states, "Internal Wiring of Appliances; or Internal Wiring of Appliances where exposed to oil at a temperature not exceeding 60 deg. C or 80 deg. C (whichever is applicable)." I can't find a material listed anywhere on the UL site or on the wire itself (unless it's in code, of course).
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Old 08-15-2010, 03:22 PM   #4
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have you tried scraping the silver to see if there is copper underneath? From what I found, the AWM stands for appliance wiring material.

tinned wire is not tinned just at the exposed portions and it can be stranded or solid. The individual strands are tinned prior to assembling into the final wire.

from what I have found, AWM is kind of a generic term for wire that meets the requirements listed in the UL listings. It does not specify much of anything.

Is this wire quite stiff and is that why you are thinking it is aluminum? There are copper alloys that can be quite stiff as well.

and the antioxidant "fix" bill noted: not legit. Aluminum and copper can only be connected together with listed methods. There is an Ideal (brand) purple wire nut that is UL listed for cu/al connections but I have heard more bad things than good things about them. Other than that, there are terminal block type connectors or special crimp on connectors that are legit.
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Old 08-15-2010, 03:36 PM   #5
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Whatever material this is appears to be consistent throughout. As I said, it's stranded and uniformly silver in color, so I suspect that it's Al, and not a plating of some sort. I've only heard of using the antioxidant in a fitting to keep the aluminum from turning to dust.

It seems like the cheapest way to do this is to take a band saw to some ground/neutral bars for a breaker box- something like $6 for a long strip of maybe thirty terminals, which are rated for both Al and Cu. I can make 15 sets of two-terminal lugs with one of those.

Last edited by london83; 08-15-2010 at 03:40 PM.
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Old 08-15-2010, 03:50 PM   #6
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How are you going to insulated the ground bar?

I really think you are worrying over nothing. You are taking a quality product with a safe installation procedure and turning it into an unnecessary hacked up project.
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Old 08-15-2010, 03:55 PM   #7
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I agree with Proby. You are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Unless your assembly contains special instructions install it and be done with it. If the orange wire nuts are too small use some larger ones.
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Old 08-17-2010, 12:24 AM   #8
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If it was going to be that difficult, I probably would just return all these . Careful reading of the UL listing requirements and examination of the wire has led me to the conclusion that it's probably safe- looking at the strand ends, they definitely have a copper hint, and if they weren't made of copper they should have an indicator printed on the insulation. Thanks for all your help.


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aluminum , pigtail , wiring

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