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The other day a realtor told me about a mistake that was made by a home inspector. It was an easy enough mistake to make, but it probably should not have happened. The home inspector's incorrect guess was later straightened out by an electrician -- who came in to review the problem with "aluminum wiring" in the electric system. By then the alarmed buyer had abandoned the offer on the house.
The problematic single-strand branch circuit aluminum wiring was commonly used from 1964 up until about 1978. It is important for the inspector to remember those dates. Simply because a conductor, at a casual glance, looks like aluminum does not make it so.
For example, take a look at this photo.
The conductors on the right sure do not look like the copper wires on the other side. The first thought might be "aluminum". But, in fact, that is an incorrect assumption. Those are zinc clad copper conductors.
The lower three conductors on the photo above (an egregious example) show the corrosion and the problems that can be found with some of the aluminum circuits from the 1960's and 1970's. Now that is aluminum wire but, of course, not all of the old circuits look that bad. But, plenty of them do!
You might ask, how can an inspector get this one right? Well, he or she needs to keep in mind the age of the house. If the wiring looks to be original, and the house was pre-1960's, then that is probably not aluminum he or she is looking at. On the other hand, it is possible that some aluminum circuits were added-in later -- so it might be aluminum after all. The other clue, apparent here, is the insulation. If you look at the zinc clad wiring at the top, notice that it has the old-fashioned cloth insulation. That would not be anticipated with the aluminum branch circuit wiring from the 1960's and the 1970's. Look for a plastic jacket as insulation on aluminum wiring.
In home inspection, sometimes all the inspector can find is a clue to an issue and, reading the clue wrong, can lead to mistakes. It is nice to have a support network so, when the need arises, an inspector can bounce something off of another informed party. Even doctors often seek second opinions.
Thanks for stopping by,
Steven L. Smith
Check out "This Day In History" -- music and vintage television from the 1950's through the 1980's. I enjoy writing these articles because they take me back to my days in radio broadcasting. Click on Elvis' gold record, below, to revisit those golden hits of yesteryear.
Steven L. Smith, King of the House Home Inspection, provides information for real estate buyers, sellers and real estate industry professionals.
Blog posts emphasize issues commonly found in Bellingham, WA and Whatcom County. Smith is Washington State Licensed Home inspector #207, a state licensed structural pest inspector and one of the most experienced inspectors in the northwest corner of the Pacific Northwest.
Steven L. Smith is lead instructor of home inspection at Bellingham Technical College and teaches classes for Washington State University and the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Steve was a two-term member of the state licensing board.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.