Wires carry electricity throughout our homes to power laptops, televisions, stoves, etc. while allowing us to illuminate rooms with the flip of a switch. The majority of today’s homes have copper wiring to do these important jobs as it is considered the gold standard for modern electrical work, recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. But if your home is a bit older, then your wiring may be made of aluminum instead.
While you may have never experienced issues with your home’s electrical wiring, selling a house with aluminum wiring can involve a few extra steps and raise scrutiny from buyers that you should be prepared to handle.
That’s because homes wired with aluminum are 55 times more likely to have a wire connection that reaches “fire hazard conditions” compared to homes with copper, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Publication 516, “Repairing Aluminum Wiring.”
No need to panic, though — you can take measures to ensure a house with aluminum wiring is safe and marketable, often without the costs of a full rewiring.
In this guide to selling a house with aluminum wiring, we consulted real estate experts and an experienced electrician for their direct advice.
Determine whether your home has aluminum or copper wiring
Here are three ways to investigate whether or not there is aluminum wiring in your house.
Consider the year your home was built
Aluminum wiring is most likely to be found in homes built between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. During these years, the cost of copper was high and led to the use of aluminum as a cheaper alternative in approximately 2 million homes.
Check any exposed wires for tell-tale signs
Exposed wires in the attic or the basement can lend a clue as to whether there is aluminum wiring in the house. Many of the plastic “jackets” over these wires will be labeled with letters such as ALUM or ALUMINUM.
Pay attention to electrical hazard warnings
If your aluminum wiring is starting to pose a hazard, then you may have noticed flickering lights or lights that dim suddenly, hot outlets, scorch marks, loose connections at outlets, circuits that don’t work properly, or even the scent of burning plastic near outlets or electrical switches.
Disclose aluminum wiring to buyers
Even if your aluminum wiring operates fine and hasn’t caused any issues, don’t try to conceal aluminum wiring from buyers. Most states have real estate disclosure laws requiring sellers to share any material facts that could impact the home’s safety or value and aluminum wiring may qualify.
By letting buyers know that you have aluminum wiring, you give them the opportunity to order a professional electrical inspection to evaluate the condition of the wiring if they so choose. It’s always better to err on the side of honesty and disclosure rather than risk legal liability down the line for failure to disclose. When in doubt, talk to your agent or a legal advisor regarding what your state requires.
Share homeowners insurance information with buyers
Another concern buyers may have about purchasing a home with aluminum wiring is whether or not their homeowners insurance will cover the property. According to Policygenius, an insurance marketplace since 2014, some insurers will charge higher rates or deny coverage of homes with aluminum wiring.
The insurance company will likely require an inspection after the policy becomes active and updates if the property is deemed unsafe. You can help allay buyer concerns about insurance by sharing information about your insurance company and the types of rates you currently pay, in addition to making sure that the electrical wiring passes inspection prior to listing.
Know your options when selling a house with aluminum wiring
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when selling a house with aluminum wiring. Depending on your selling timeline, available funds, and motivations to sell the home, one avenue may make more sense over another.
Here are your main options:
1. Hire an electrician to perform a partial update
Jimmy Stewart, a top real estate agent in Fort Collins, Colorado, uses his knowledge as a former building contractor to help clients understand that aluminum wiring is not a deal-breaker. “If the home has aluminum wiring, I don’t really fret over it,” states Stewart. “I just get it fixed, and it’s an easy fix,” he says.
What Stewart’s referring to is a partial update or aluminum wiring repair. Unlike a full update that involves replacing existing aluminum wiring with copper, a partial update protects the wire connections, where problems are most likely to arise.
The preferred aluminum wiring repair method of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) involves attaching a piece of copper wire to the ends of the aluminum wire at connection points using a connector called COPALUM, a process known as “pigtailing.” COPALUM — a specially designed metal sleeve system — has been tested by CPSC-sponsored research, lab tests, and demonstration projects to deem it a “safe and permanent repair of the existing aluminum wiring.”
Where COPALUM isn’t available, the CPSC does accept an alternative pigtailing method using a set screw connector called AlumiConn as the next best alternative. Whichever method is available in your locale, the CPSC highly recommends having a licensed electrician perform this work.
Although aluminum wiring repair is not as comprehensive as a full wiring update, it is significantly cheaper and may be enough to make the home safe and to satisfy buyer concerns.
For a moderately-sized home, a complete rewiring could range from about $3,500 to $12,000, although for larger homes the cost could be upwards of $30,000. The cost to partially update or repair aluminum wiring is between $286 and $344, depending upon your location and the job size and conditions.
2. Sell your home as is to a cash buyer with the funds for repairs
If you’ve tried to sell a house with aluminum wiring unsuccessfully or if the property requires other major repairs beyond an electrical update, you can sell your home another way. While most traditional buyers prefer move-in-ready homes, real estate investors have the funds and expertise to take on properties that need some, or a lot, of work. In addition, investors usually pay for homes with cash and offer to buy properties “as is,” allowing for a low-fuss transaction.
3. Fully rewire the home with copper when necessary
A partial update or aluminum wire repair may be all your house needs to be functional, livable, and marketable. That said, aluminum will never be copper. Further, if an electrician deems your aluminum wiring past the point of repair, then you may need to consider the more aggressive option of completely rewiring the home.
“I don’t have any problems with aluminum as long as it’s wired correctly,” says Henry Grantham, an electrician and service manager in South Carolina who has rewired a number of homes with his company, Stone Electrical Construction. “It’s just that a lot of times, people don’t cover the wire the right way, and the wire oxidizes and breaks down.”
Some of the main issues you may face with aluminum include:
- The material is soft and easily fatigued. Compared to copper, aluminum is susceptible to bending, breaking, and deforming. When aluminum wires break down internally, they can start resisting the electrical “flow” and simply build up heat — think of a water hose with a kink in it.
- Aluminum is vulnerable to oxygen, moisture, and temperature. Moisture can negatively affect aluminum, and exposure to oxygen can cause aluminum wires to deteriorate or to develop iron oxide, which holds in heat and increases the possibility that the wire will overheat and pose a fire risk. Extreme temperatures may cause aluminum wires to expand or contract, thereby making connections iffy.
- Vibration can cause aluminum to disconnect. The nature of electricity causes a vibration, and the dainty nature of aluminum means vibration is more extreme. Over time, this can mean loose connections.
According to Thumbtack, which compiles project estimates from millions of users each year and tracks estimates from local professionals, you can expect to pay between $4,000 and $8,000 for wiring a modest 2,000-square-foot home.
Other costs can include repairing torn walls, which may add another $2,000 or more to the total; upgrading the electrical service panel to conduct more power, which can cost between $1,300 and $3,000; and installing new outlets and switches, which averages around $100-$150 each (but can cost more).
|Repairing torn walls||$2,000+|
|Updating electrical service panel||$1,300 – $3,000|
|Adding new circuits, outlets, and switches||$100 – $150+ each|
|Permits and inspections||$200 – $900|
Other cost considerations include the age of the home (since wiring can be harder to reach in older properties), opening walls, and the total number of rooms that need rewiring. A complete rewiring is also time consuming and disruptive, so you may need to relocate while it’s happening. Expect the process to take 3-10 days.
Navigating a sale when you have aluminum wiring in a house
When it comes to electrical wiring, copper beats aluminum. However, there is nothing inherently wrong with aluminum wiring in a house and it doesn’t have to be an impediment to getting your home sold. Be transparent with buyers, have a licensed electrician evaluate the condition of the wiring, and determine a path forward based upon your selling needs and financial footing.
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