Aluminum wiring

My mom wants me to replace a light fixture in her house. The the old light is an ordinary single-bulb fixture found in millions of homes across the country. The new light is a halogen pendulum light like I have in my house (which is where she got the idea). Now, I have no problem doing minor electrical work. I have installed many light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc. with no difficulty. I even installed the halogen light that she likes in my house.

The problem is that my mom’s house was built in 1971 and has aluminum wiring. Every light fixture I have ever bought says, in big letters, “NOT FOR USE IN APPLICATIONS WITH ALUMINUM WIRING”. The manufacturers seem to think that this is important. I know that aluminum wiring is bad and can cause fires. However, it is also my understanding that, if left alone, it doesn’t cause problems.

My dad (who has died and therefore is no longer available) has installed lights in other rooms in the house. The house is still standing. None of the lights he installed had halogen bulbs, if that matters.

So, do they make light fixtures for use with aluminum wiring? If so, how can I get them or identify that they are for aluminum applications? Will I burn my mom’s house down if I ignore the warnings and install it anyway? Can a readily available light fixture be converted for use with aluminum wiring?

I really want to avoid hiring an electrician for this. For one, hanging a light is really a simple procedure that I should be able to handle. Also, expense is a bit of an issue. Most importantly, however, is that I have already recommended that my mom hire professionals for some tasks around the house. While it has gotten things done, it has left a bit of a bad taste for me. My dad has only been gone maybe six months. I am the oldest son (actually the only son – I have a younger sister). I’m feeling a bit of, I don’t know, masculine need to take care of stuff like this. It’s my mom – I should be able to take care of her, not have to hire people to do it for me.

I would prefer not to burn the house down, though. One day, it will be a stop on the tour of Austin: The Boyhood Home of Drum God. Tickets on sale now. :cool:

Is the new fixture with halogen bulb for direct connection to the 120 vold main or does it incorporate a transformer?

Either way the connection of copper wiring to aluminum is critical and requires special treatment. The big box warehouse guys should be able to help.

Yes, it’s not rocket science. I don’t have time right now for a detailed explanation, but SOP is to ‘pig tail’ the aluminum terminus with a short piece of copper wire using an antioxidant barrier between the two wires. Go to Home Depot and tell them you want some Noalox and tell them what the problem is.

I was trying to find those special wire nuts online, and found this interesting article on the topic. He mentions that the pigtailing, though popular, is not recommended by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, noted here in cpsc #516 That’s a text version of the government’s .pdf file.

The only “approved” type of repair is something called COPALUM, which comes from one vendor, only through licensed contractors.

I think if you go to an electrical supply house, not a hardware store, you can buy pigtails made especially to connect copper to aluminum.

The problem with aluminum to copper connections is mainly in the turn on-turn off cycle. The aluminum and copper expand and contract, because of heating and cooling, at different rates. The eventually results in loosening the connection which results in a poor contact and overheating or a poor contact and arcing. Both of these can cause a fire.

Here is a site with an explanation…

And a linkfrom the above site.

David Simmons, according to yourlink, the special wire nuts (Ideal 65 Twister) are not effective.

I am certain I have seen COALR (Copper-Aluminum) rated devices using a screw down terminal block at the local hardware stores. I don’t know how effective these would be for connecting a light fixture. Insulating them effectively would be one problem.

I would check at an electrical supply house for the COPALUM crimp connectors and a crimping tool or (recommended) contact a qualified electrician who is familiar with them.

I just hope none of the houses I pigtailed with NoAlox and wirenuts burned down.

A quick review of the Ideal website and the .pdf showing all UL listed connection configurations shows nothing for Cu/Al, all are Cu/Cu only.

I’ve also seen devices marked COALR or Cu/Al, typically receptacles and switches. The failure occurs there because next to nobody uses a torque indicating screwdriver when tightening device screws. I don’t either, so I’ll cast no stones. When terminating aluminum SE and large branch feeders, I do use an inch-pound torque wrench, but my point is that proper torque is essential to the longevity of a mechanically fastened aluminum conductor.

As far as using a terminal block, I see two potential problems. Is that terminal block listed and labeled for the application you’ve described? If not, then that application would be an automatic code violation. Beyond that, the physical size of a terminal block would cause the box fill rule to be exceeded in pancakes, shallows and some single gang boxes, depending on the number or other conductors present.

The nasty part of the COPALUM system is that they didn’t design it to be compatible with any of the rest of the irreversible crimp tools that we already own-they want to sell you another tool.