Dangers of Warm Electrical Outlets and Aluminum Wiring
How to Fix Aluminum Wiring Problems: Making Aluminum Wiring Safe, How to Correct the Most Common Problems with Outlet Wiring.
Guide to Aluminum Wiring Problems
Electrical Question: My friend has a single wide trailer over 20 years old. She installed a window air conditioner unit with a large output but I can’t say just how large, probably 7,500 to 12,000 BTU’s.
- The AC unit has been in place for five or six years and hasn’t caused any problems. Recently she has noticed that the outlets in her bedroom are hot to the touch.
- This only happens when the air conditioner is on. The air conditioner is plugged into a receptacle by itself.
- There is only a bedside lamp plugged into one of the bedroom receptacles. The lamp outlet is cool to the touch the other two are the ones that are hot.
- The AC and the bedroom outlets are on the same circuit. I’m going out to her house this afternoon and will check the outlets for loose wire connectors or other obvious signs of a physical problem. I do not know if the circuitry is parallel or series, but I suspect it might be series.
- If it is series I am stumped as to why the problem would show up after four years of trouble-free operation but there might be other factors involved. She lives in the country and has a serious mouse problem during the winters.
- If the circuit is parallel I am really stumped unless there is a loose connection. The circuit breaker for the air conditioner and bedroom also seems to be the circuit for a back bedroom as well.
- The other day, when the air conditioner was plugged into a power strip plugged into an outlet with a HDTV (not running at the time) and peripheral DVD and VCR (also not turned on) the circuit breaker tripped when the back bedroom Air Conditioner (General Electric 5,000 BTU) kicked on (it has a timer).
- In addition, the power strip did not trip off (which it should have) and the socket that the AC unit was plugged into showed signs of over heating. If the back bedroom air conditioner is on the same circuit as the larger Air Conditioner could that be the cause of the over heating of the other receptacles? I am concerned about this since she has but one way out should a fire break out and I fear a fire is likely given that the outlets are quite hot and the circuit breaker is not shutting the circuit off!
Thanks for your consideration,
This electrical question came from: Tom, from New Haven, Missouri.
Thanks for your electrical question Tom.
How to Fix Aluminum Wiring Problems
Application: Troubleshooting an Outlet Circuit.
Skill Level: Advanced – Best performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools, Voltage Tester or Volt Ohm Meter.
Estimated Time: Depends on the type and age of the electrical wiring and the access to the circuits and wiring to be evaluated.
Precaution: This is a project that should be performed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor and typically requires specific tests of the electrical circuits.
Notice: Repairs to Home Electrical Wiring should be done according to local and national electrical codes and installing new or replacement electrical parts or equipment may require a permit and inspections.
Tom, this is a very serious condition that should be taken care of right away.
- The first thing I would suggest for safety sake, is to stop using the air conditioner until this condition is made safe.
- Tom, there is a very good possibility that the trailer home has been wired with aluminum wiring and the heat that is felt at the outlets may be due to the breaking down of the connections at the outlet, and this could lead to a possible fire.
- What is most likely happening is that the circuit power for the air conditioner is being fed through the outlets where they may be wired in series which will basically cause the load of the circuit to pass through each outlet.
Making Aluminum Wiring Safe
Outlet wiring connections should be made by using copper wire pigtails that would then be used for the connection to each outlet. The splice connectors that are to be used must be rated for aluminum and copper wiring and contain an approved anti-corrosion ointment. Due to the nature of aluminum wiring being so soft and fragile with the smaller gauges, this process must be done carefully.
How to Correct the Most Common Problems with Outlet Wiring
- Identifying Series Outlet Wiring
- This can be verified by turning the circuit off and inspecting the wiring at one of the outlets.
- Series wiring is where there are two black wires, and two white wires connected directly to the outlet.
- This wiring method causes the electrical load of the circuit to pass through each outlet of the circuit.
- When there is a large electrical load on the circuit this can cause the wiring connections and the outlet components to get warm and naturally cause expansion which can lead to a loose connection which can escalate to become a deteriorated connection which can eventually fail, and in some cases this condition ca create a fire hazard.
- Correcting Series Outlet Wiring
- If this is the case then the outlet wiring connections should be made using the parallel method, with copper wire pigtails that would then be used for the connection to each outlet.
- If it is found that the wiring is copper, but the outlets have been wired using the series method then the connections should be changed by using the pigtail wiring method.
- Circuit Requirements for Air Conditioners
- Tom, the required power of the air conditioners should be checked as it appears on the specification plate of the units.
- If it is found that the amperage load exceeds half of the outlet circuit rating then a separate dedicated circuit should be installed for the air conditioners.
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