Aluminum service entry cables (C) Daniel FriedmanAluminum Electrical Service Cables, Electrical Panel Components & Wiring
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Aluminum electrical service entry cables (SECs): This article summarizes possible safety and functional concerns with the use of aluminum wiring for service entry cables or electrical panel components in buildings, and provides a link to the aluminum wiring information website.

This is a chapter of our discussion of the inspection of electrical services at buildings in order to determine service capacity in volts and amps. Readers should also see ALUMINUM WIRING HAZARDS where we provide complete detail about aluminum electrical wiring hazards.

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ALUMINUM SECs & WIRING - Aluminum Service Cables and Wiring in buildings for Electrical Service Delivery

In both branch circuit and entrance cable wires, the permitted wire gauges for copper are normally one size smaller than for aluminum used at the same ampacity rating. This is because copper is a better conductor than aluminum. Aluminum wire must be larger to safely carry the same current as copper.

Fire and Safety Issues with Aluminum Electrical Wiring

Aluminum SECs multiple (C) InspectAPediaThere are important fire safety issues concerning the presence of aluminum branch circuit wiring in buildings - not discussed in this article. Solid aluminum branch conductors are no longer used in new wiring.

Aluminum service entrance cables and aluminum single-purpose high-amperage circuits [NOTE: Such as for auxiliary sub-panels, central air conditioning or electric ranges.> are commonly installed in many communities.

Photo (left) contributed by an anonymous reader, shows multiple aluminum SECs and main disconnects at an apartment building bank of electrical meters.

Many new electric service panels use plated aluminum parts. According to some experts risks remain even with these permitted applications in both the US [see "Reducing the Fire Hazard in Aluminum-Wired Homes," Jesse Aronstein, Ph.D., Wright Malta Corporation, Ballston Spa, NY, 1982] and Canada [see "Overheating Failures of Aluminum-Wired Special Service Connectors," Jesse Aronstein and Wilfred E. Campbell, IEEE Transactions on Components, Hybrids, and Manufacturing Technology, Vol. 4 CHMT-6, No.1, March 1983.]

The risks of poor connections and fire hazards for aluminum SEC wiring are reduced by proper abrasion of the connected wires, proper tightening of the connector, and use of a special anti-corrosion flux compound.

As recently as June 2006 we received a report of a major house fire which the owner asserts began at an overheating electrical service entry cable connector.

Our OPINION is that because the number of these connections is less than on a branch circuit wire, and possibly for other technical reasons involving the performance of multi-stranded aluminum wire, the risk of a fire is probably statistically less than with solid conductor branch circuits. It would appear that the risk is not as low as with copper service entry cables.

Key References on Aluminum Electrical Wiring

The Aluminum Wiring Information Website for a thorough discussion of aluminum branch circuit wiring concerns in the U.S. and in Canada as well.

[There is disagreement among professionals about the Canadian risk and failure rate. Ontario Hydro and some Canadian inspection professionals do not acknowledge a significant risk from aluminum wiring in Canada. However the Scarboro development in Ontario demonstrated that failures and fires have occurred in that country. --DF]

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ALUMINUM SECs & WIRING at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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