Self Made, LLC - Electrical Contracting Company

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Outdated Equipment

Posted by Eric Self on September 11, 2013 at 9:20 AM

I think it can be safely stated that electrical equipment these days is pretty rock solid. And that goes for just about every supplier, from Square D to GE. In large part, we can thank safety standards and electrical codes. And time has passed in the industry, bringing these advances along as product improvements.

But that was not always the case. In the not so distant past, parts and equipment were supplied and used that still causes fires and property damage today all over the North East.

Two offenders stand out as the worst. Electrical wire, and Electrical Equipment.

Lets talk about the wire in this post.

During the Seventies and early Eighties, contractors trying to save money opted for aluminum wire for house wiring over copper wire. It was common then and is common now to use aluminum conductors in the larger sizes, say fifty amps and higher. It saves quite a bit of money and doesn't affect the safety of the system. But the smaller size wires, 15 amp and 20 amp rated wire, had issues with the alloy, and evidently it led to expansion and contraction of the wires when under load. That loosened the connections over time and caused quite a number of fires. Also, later tradesmen not familiar with aluminum wire would come along and splice copper wires to the aluminum, and the resulting electrolysis would cause the splice to fail, and that failed splice would cause fires as well. We had a service call just recently where a homeowner's main panel caught fire, and the culprit was aluminum wire spliced to copper. Fortunately, they caught it in time or they would have lost the whole house. Aluminum wire is no longer legal for use in these sizes for conductors, but the damage has been done.

If you have aluminum building wire in your house in sizes 12 and 14, don't take the matter lightly, have a qualified person inspect it. This is really no joke, many, many fires have resulted from the aluminum wire made and used during this period.

What would an inspection cover? Firstly, it would check all connections to make sure they are tight. Secondly, it would verify that only approved parts have been used. These approved parts include aluminum rated wire nuts, switches and outlets. Aluminum rated parts and devices insure that no electrolysis occurs at the connection that could result in a fire.

Unfortunately, the problems with wire don't start and end with aluminum. Once again, there was a period in the nineties that saw alloy issues with the smaller conductors, and it was copper that had the problem. This showed up in both Romex, and Metal Clad wires. What happens is that wires would break, or fracture during the installation process and it was not obvious outwardly that it had happened. This usually happened when the wires were over bent either in the wall or during handling. The problem usually showed up right away or at the finish of the job. But sometimes the problem would manifest itself years down the road. A few months back we repaired an air handler that had lost power and the culprit was some of this wire and a broken conductor abut six inches before the box. Fortunately, there was enough wire to remake the splice. The wire from this generation is now illegal to use for new installs, and there is enough of it still around that it will show up from time to time in people's garages or basements. We wired a house a couple of weeks back and had this Come up. When we showed up to rough wire the house, we found that a neighbor had come earlier to help. He had mounted boxes in the upstairs of the house, and wired one bedroom nearly complete. Yep, he did it using some of this now illegal wire that had been sitting in his garage.

So be glad we don't build them like we used to I guess. The materials and equipment we use today are a lot safer.

Categories: Outdated Equipment

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