I have a house built in the 70s with aluminum wiring. I am well aware of the specific risks and needs when working with this wiring in my home.

There was work done in the house by the previous owner where aluminum rated fixtures were not used. There are original fixtures in the house which are simply worn (loose plugs) and ugly (faded off white plastic).

I am planning a project to simply replace the outlets and switches in the house en masse. What additional safety precautions or test procedures should I consider when doing a whole-house job like this?

For example, should I simply shut off the mains and do ALL of the fixtures then test everything at once or do it room-by-room?

Is there an example plan that an electrician would use to plan wiring or re-wiring a house?

At this time the project only encompasses switches and outlets. Getting into other fixtures and replacing wire nuts or terminals with 'alumiconn' connectors will be a separate effort.

I have ruled out rewiring the home. I feel that the risk of aluminum wiring is sufficiently mitigated by using proper fixtures and connections. Using proper fixtures is significantly less expensive than a full rewire.

As I have done other projects I have replaced the fixtures that I touch. For example I repainted a room and replaced its fixtures with correct, aluminum rated, outlets. I am comfortable with verifying that circuits are cold, correctly connecting new fixtures, and testing those fixtures.

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    Look at the markings on some of the aluminum wire. Look for a 4-digit number, either 13XX or 80XX. Possibly starting with AA- Let us know what that number is, if you can. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 6 '16 at 19:40
  • Sure. I'll check tonight. @Harper what do these serial number signify? A particular class or grade of aluminum wire? – Freiheit Jun 6 '16 at 20:43
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    Yes, alloy. On multiconductor cable (NM/Romex), the number will be on the jacket of the cable, not necessarily the individual wires. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 6 '16 at 20:49
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    Those markings sound like wire model numbers, they don't signify alloy. Make sure to search the whole text pattern (often 1 foot long). You're going to have 13XX, AA-13XX, 80XX, AA-80XX or no such marking at all. The AA-8000 alloys were invented in 1972 to solve the problems with the now-outlawed 1300 alloys. If it's 8000 it'll say so. Old wire or no markings = 1300 = outlawed. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 7 '16 at 20:23
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    CU/AL marked terminations are for copper ONLY. That is a failed standard that proved to be defective for aluminum. The only legal marking for aluminum is CO-ALR (Copper-Aluminum Revised). – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 7 '16 at 22:45

My SOP is to do switches or outlets one by one, in the sequence I find convenient. I turn off the one circuit it's on.

And then I handle it as if it's energized. (Electrocution requires a path through your body, so you are particularly in danger if your body is also in contact with some other wire or object such as a pipe that is grounded) that would complete the circuit.) So aside from never touching a line conductor, I also make sure my body is touching no other thing, so even if I do bump an energized conductor, nothing happens. I'm not advocating working on energized equipment. I'm saying "belt and suspenders".

I discuss with everyone else in the house about what I'm doing, so they won't be messing with breakers or coming up and touching me and potentially "completing a circuit".

For identifying circuits, a few dollar-store night lights are convenient.

I don't get too formal with my work planning. I leave a marking behind saying "I've been there", piece of masking tape, etc.

As far as aluminum, there's "good" and "bad" aluminum. During postwar reconstruction (or in the US, a housing boom) there was a worldwide copper shortage, so they hastily made household wiring out of the AA-1300 alloys intended for transmission lines. Good conductor, but very bad mechanical characteristics at terminations. Aside from metal interactions, the stuff creeps, so it will "unspring" the force of a firm clamp. The industry fixed this in 1972 with a new alloy, AA-8000 series, specifically made for household wiring, marketed as such, so brazenly marked as such. These are legal today for new work. (NEC 310.14).

If it is not marked, it is a 1300 alloy.

Given the timing, your home might be using the new stuff so it's worth looking. If it is AA-8000 series, I would not rewire, just use parts or pigtails listed for CO-ALR. (Copper-Aluminum Revised; the old CU-AL standard proved insufficient.) There's a lot of scaremongering about aluminum wire, but it is only true for the 1300 series. Nonetheless, you'll take a hit on resale value even with 8000 for 8 AWG and smaller wire. AA-8000 is ok for the big stuff, 4 AWG and up.

With several million homes out there with the bad stuff, there are solutions to fix the termination problems - typically a pigtail, a special splice made to bind the 1300 series to a short length of copper for connection to the fixture proper. I would evaluate those.

  • Thanks @Harper I finally learned why they have an 'R' in the CO-ALR abbreviation. Good info on aluminum wire. – ArchonOSX Jun 8 '16 at 9:06

At this time the project only encompasses switches and outlets. Getting into other fixtures and replacing wire nuts or terminals with 'alumiconn' connectors will be a separate effort.

Just a couple of tips I found out working with ALR

While you can still buy CO/ALR rated switches and outlets, I've only found them in regular outlets and single/3/4-way switches (and I've only found them in white to boot). While this covers most applications, it doesn't cover them all. For instance, I needed a single gang double switch. That meant converting that one to copper (I used Alumiconns and they work great). Anything else niche will only be sold in copper as well.

There's also no such thing as a CO/ALR GFI. So if you have any GFIs, they're probably just connected straight to the ALR. This can cause all sorts of wackiness (I know because I tried to do just that and the GFI wouldn't work right). Be prepared to convert those to copper or live with a regular CO/ALR outlet.


For example, should I simply shut off the mains and do ALL of the fixtures then test everything at once or do it room-by-room?

I would tackle the job circuit by circuit. That way you can test as you go. Finding a problem in one room will be much easier than in the whole house. Also, you will have power for a work light if you need one.

Ideally, you could test the circuit after installing each device. This would further narrow any problems down to the last device installed. It only takes a minute to walk to the electrical panel and turn the circuit back on after each device is finished.

Just make sure the rest of your family knows about the work you are doing and stays away from the panel.

Good luck!

  • The plan is to do this when the family (at least the kids) are gone for a weekend. Though the circuit-by-circuit approach would allow me to do this in smaller chunks. – Freiheit Jun 7 '16 at 20:10
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    The added benefit of circuit by circuit work is, you can identify which breaker each receptacle or light fixture is on and complete an accurate panel schedule for future use. – ArchonOSX Jun 8 '16 at 9:11

Concurring with Archon here -- it's probably best/easiest to tackle such a large project circuit-by-circuit, this keeps the inconvenience factor down vs. trying to switch off the entire house and do it all at once. (It also means you can do it over the course of time instead of having to try to redo every device in the house in one fell swoop.)

One suggestion would be to buy a breaker lockout and a cheap padlock, and use that to lock the breaker out of the circuit you are working on, keeping the key in your pocket while you work -- it's cheap insurance (under $20) against someone flipping the power on behind your back.

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    Safety first. A breaker lock is good advice for any work where other people are present. Especially other trades that have access to the panel. – ArchonOSX Jun 8 '16 at 9:10

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