"aluminum wiring" in apartment building

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by DaleR, Mar 7, 2002.

  1. DaleR

    DaleR Stunt Coordinator

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    i had no idea which part of the forum to post this so bear with me. every time i turn on the t.v. or receiver or other high current appliance the lights in my apt. dim. when i complain about this to the property manager or super they blame it on the building's "aluminum wiring". what the hell does this mean? and why/how should this affect the ability of the building electrical system to maintain a reasonably constant voltage? thanks for any help, taunts criticisms etc. on second thought please don't taunt and criticise me.[​IMG]
     
  2. Scott_G

    Scott_G Second Unit

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    I'll give it a stab.

    There are two type of "house" wiring. Copper and Aluminum.

    Copper is better - Aluminum is cheaper.

    Your problem is either lack of power coming into the building or circuits / wires too small for the load.

    I doubt the wires are too small - they wouldn't pass code.

    Feel your fuse panel - is it warm (a bad sign).

    My guess is you may not have enough power coming into your unit. I doubt for an apartment anyone is going to fix that problem.

    We had a dorm room that people used to hook a lot of amplifiers and such for jam sessions. The lights would dim when it got loud and the breakers would blow. They just weren't designed for high power loads.

    They may only be using aluminum for the main feed. Sometimes the contacts get stuff (I can't remember exactly what it's called) between the wire and terminal screws. A good cleaning would help.
     
  3. Kerry Hackney

    Kerry Hackney Stunt Coordinator

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    Dale, "Aluminum" wire does not in itself mean that it is inferior to copper wire. If it is sized per the NEC it is just as good at providing electricity as copper. There are a few installation considerations. The aluminum conductors will be larger for a given load rating and you have to be careful about how it is terminated, as aluminum will oxidize and shrink which leads to fires which are a bad thing. I would check the voltage at the outlets to see what is actually being delivered. In multi-unit complexes it is possible that there is a service problem due to an undersized transformer or the utility may need to boost the voltage. Usually the transformers will have taps above and below the target voltage for this reason. Unless the aluminum wire is undersized, I doubt that it is the real reason for your problem. It is also possible that you have aluminum wire in the walls to the outlets. If so, that is a potential bad thing. Aluminum wire was used briefly several years ago for interior wiring. It was used a lot in the mobile home industry. There were lots and lots of problems because of the termination issues. It isn't used that way any longer which may give you something else to think about... [​IMG]
     
  4. Blake R

    Blake R Stunt Coordinator

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    As a former journeyman electrician I can say that multifamily dwelling construction based on aluminum wiring is a serious legal liability for the landlord, if indeed that is the problem. There is a small suburb within my city where a great deal of the wiring was done in aluminum. I worked for a shop back in the 80's that spent months performing "aluminum corrections" in homes all over this area. In most cases we would simply tighten down the mechanical terminations on receptacles and open up the load center(panel, breaker box, etc) and tighten down all circuit breaker lugs, feeder lugs, and all ground and neutral bar terminations. On feeders we would often re-grease the lugs with anti-oxidant, stuff we used to call pookie. There are also replacement devices(receptacles and such) on the market that are meant specifically for use with Al wire.

    One of the primary problems with aluminum is it's not nearly as temperature stable as copper so over time and under load the connections get loose. If aluminum wiring is involved I recommend that you insist your landlord have a j-man take a look at it right away.

    RBR
     
  5. DaleR

    DaleR Stunt Coordinator

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    yes, yes, yes and thank you. i did not understand how aluminum of comparable standards to copper could be inferior. thanks for the answers and if there are any more or any ideas of what i can do to rectify the situation please keep responding.
     
  6. Loring

    Loring Stunt Coordinator

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    Well I don’t have the same problem but someone said something about mobile homes and that is what I own a 1994 Fleetwood mobile home. How can I easily check to see if we have aluminum wiring in my house? Or should I have a electrician come out? Really don’t want to call for an electrician if I can tell if I have copper and not aluminum and then don’t have to worry about it.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  7. Scott Jelsma

    Scott Jelsma Auditioning

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    Loring,

    If your mobile home was built in 1994, I would highly doubt that it has aluminum wiring. Most homes that I know of that have aluminum wiring were built in the 70's.

    It's pretty easy to tell if you have copper or aluminum wiring. First find a plug-in recepticle that you have fairly easy access to. Then turn off the power to that plug at your breaker or fuse box. You can check that power is turned off by using an electrical tester or by plugging in a lamp (that you know works) and making sure it will not turn on.

    Once you're sure the power is off, pull the face plate off and unscrew the outlet so you can pull it out and see the screws on the side or back. Look at the color of the bare wire going into the recepticle. If it looks copper or gold colored, you have copper wiring. If it looks silver, you have aluminum wiring.

    If you have aluminum wiring, each recepticle should be marked as "CO/AL". This indicates that the recepticle is rated for copper or aluminim wiring. Never use a recepticle on aluminuum wiring that is not labeled "CO/AL"!

    In my city, local code allows us to covert aluminum wiring to copper by "pig-tailing" a copper wire to the aluminum wire using a wire nut specifically designed for this purpose (never use a standard wire nut!)

    When working with electricity, always be careful! If you're not sure of what you are doing, don't risk it. Hire an electrician.

    Hope this helps.
     
  8. Loring

    Loring Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks for the info. I have done some electrical works before just been some time since I have done it. That is what I figured all I had to do. So this Sunday when I am working on re-organizing my rack I will kill the power to the receptacle behind my tv and rack and check.

    Again thanks.
     
  9. Tom Rosback

    Tom Rosback Stunt Coordinator

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    Hi Dale,

    Lot of good info on AL wire here, but I don't think that's the question you asked.

    In most single family dwellings, the electricians try and run the wall outlets and the overhead lighting on separate circuits, so you don't notice high current startup loads, like motors, TV's, and stereo stuff dimming your lights. These high current startup loads still momentarily drop the voltage on the line, but since no lights are hooked up to it, you don't notice anything.

    Since you live in an apartment and can't re-wire, I wouldn't sweat it.

    I would purchase a decent power conditioner (or at least a surge protector) to keep the nasties (spikes, surges, etc) from all the other stuff on the line from getting into your AV equipment.
     
  10. DaleR

    DaleR Stunt Coordinator

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    Tom

    thanks for the reply. i must concur with you that in my situation my options are limited. i have everything in my system protected by surge protectors. do you know if these "voltage dropouts" harmful to my rptv or other equipment? my fiance loves that t.v. and if there is any threat to it she would protect it like a mother wolf and her cubs. meaning i might be able to justify the expense of line conditioner or other whatnot...
     
  11. Tom Rosback

    Tom Rosback Stunt Coordinator

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    You're probably ok. The power supplies in modern consumer electronics are pretty robust.........but if you really want to get a power conditioner, start another post, and I'll make sure I reply that, in your situation, it's an absolute necessity [​IMG]
     
  12. DaleR

    DaleR Stunt Coordinator

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    Thanks Tom! you are definitely my kinda guy.[​IMG]
     
  13. Leo Kerr

    Leo Kerr Screenwriter

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    I'm gonna step in and see how stupid I can sound... someone just mentioned surge protectors and power conditioners, which reminded me of one my friends have... it's a Trip-Lite box with what could be described as a servo-controlled auto-transformer, with a target voltage output of 117V.
    Actually, it isn't an auto-transformer, it's a transformer with numerous taps and relays or some other form of magnetic switching that causes it to switch to one of the eight or so output taps.
    But moving right along, suppose you put one of these thingies in your power system. In an ideal world, let's start with a genuine autotransformer that can ramp continuously (rather than stepping.) How well would this really cover over voltage surges and sags, and what would this do to the currant? (Obviously you couldn't draw more currant than the transformer was rated for, but...)
    And then, suppose you had the switching variety. My guess is that it's a fairly passive box, so the switching would probably occur 90° from a zero crossing, rather than at a zero crossing in the voltage cycle. Any idea of how clean you could make such a switch, what the down-stream effects would be for lights or video displays, and, lastly, how hard would it be to make a 'passive' switching transformer that payed attention to RMS voltage, and did zero-crossing switching?
    part of it is I've always been enchanted by the thing, and haven't been able to convince myself yet to spend the $150 or $200 that the box (at least used to) cost.
    Leo Kerr
    [email protected]
     
  14. jason celaya

    jason celaya Stunt Coordinator

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    A couple of questions on this because I've heard different things.

    One electrican came to the house and gave me a scare regarding my alum. wiring and non-alum compliant terminations (switches). He went on to change out one of the outlets by adding a "sure-lock" anti-oxident cream filled connector. A week later the light fixture no longer worked. Another quasi-electrican (contracter) looked at the same light and got it to work by wiping off the cream? He said I shouldnt worry about the alumium wiring.

    I dont know who to belive and what I should do to correct the problem. I have a 2800 sq ft house, a copper rewiring sounds really expensive.

    Any more input?

    Also, what is the typical cost to add a dedicated circuit?
     
  15. Kerry Hackney

    Kerry Hackney Stunt Coordinator

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