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Is this copper wiring? Co-Alum?


Amn
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I'm looking at a house to buy in Houston and have dodging houses with aluminum wiring that seem as prevalent around here as the kudzu :).

This house's panel is all copper wiring, but I noticed a breaker that was labeled co-alum and that got me wondering (see attached).

I took off an outlet and the wire around the screw was solid copper, but silly me, I forgot to check for pigtailing in the outlet box -I'll get that next visit. Is there any reason why you'd pigtail a copper-alum system?

I did manage to get a photo of the wiring sheathing in the attic. It's labeled "NARAX TYPE NM 14-2T 600V" (see attached). I don't see the word "Aluminum" anywhere on the sheathing at all.

Any guesses if this is co-alum? Google reveals nothing on the sheathing label.

Any help is appreciated.

A

Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif Breaker.JPG

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Download Attachment: icon_photo.gif Sheathing.JPG

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The wire in your pictures is copper. The house looks like it was built in the 50s, before aluminum wiring became popular.

As Mike said, the "CU-AL" rating simply means that it's rated for copper or aluminum. BTW, it looks newer than the other breakers.

If you buy the house, dump the Zinsco panel. They're fussy little buggers.

That snakeskin romex isn't the greatest stuff in the world either. It can get very brittle over time, particularly where it's been subject to heat, and it doesn't like abrasion, for instance when it's installed near an attic or crawlspace entrance and clods tend to step on it or crawl over it every few months. Take a piece in your hand and bend it, if it makes cracking and snapping sounds, replace it.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Oh Yeah,

I forgot to mention that. Thanks for reminding me Jim. That top breaker is newer than the others. It's one of the replacement breakers made in South America that used to be the only option besides new old stock for anyone looking for Zinsco breakers, until a few years ago when Thomas & Betts bought the tooling equipment and the rights to the Zinsco name. Those also have a poor reputation.

OT - OF!!!

M.

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Hi,

Nope, I'm talking about pre-Thomas & Betts. For years, the only way you could find a Zinsco breaker was to purchase them used or new old stock from places like The Breaker Broker and other electrical outlets. At the same time, you could get look-alikes at the orange box that were made in South America and were pieces of doo-doo.

Thomas and Betts is probably making decent Zinsco replacement breakers. That still doesn't correct the problems with the Zinsco boxes - insufficient bending room, crowding, no way to know which bus you're connected to without unplugging the breaker to examine it, aluminum buses that get all pitted from arcing, breakers that are loose due to loose tangs, etc.

There are a ton of 'em out there still, but I wouldn't want to live in a house that had one - new T & B breakers or not.

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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Originally posted by Amn

I'm looking at a house to buy in Houston and have dodging houses with aluminum wiring that seem as prevalent around here as the kudzu.

I didn't know there was any kudzu in Texas. We've got tons of that infernal-eternal take-over artist around here. My sympathies.

Brian G.

Wanna Recipie Book for It? [:-yuck]

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Originally posted by Brian G.

I didn't know there was any kudzu in Texas. We've got tons of that infernal-eternal take-over artist around here. My sympathies.

I was waiting on one of you guys to call me on that.

I was being a smart-alec, posted it, then wondered if there really was Kudzu here. :)

Again, thanks for the help guys.

A

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Originally posted by Amn

Originally posted by Brian G.

. . .

I was being a smart-alec, posted it, then wondered if there really was Kudzu here. :)

I'll bet there is. The stuff has made its way to Oregon for crying out loud. It made the front page of the papers up here a few years ago when it first appeared.

I think they nuked it or something like that.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Update:

I had the house inspected and guess what the inspector found? The panel is energized and not grounded!!! (can you say "back away slowly...")

Needless to say, that contract is terminated and we're looking at an alternate property now. The homeseller had the gall to ask me what the big deal was and that a "home shield warranty" would cover it. The house had plenty of other concerns, active termites in the garage being a main one. I don't think I've ever felt so good about cratering a deal that fast before.

I just want to pass along an easy example of the value inspectors bring a homebuyer; in this case, potentially life threatening. I'm just waiting for the next quip from a realtor about how nit-picky inspectors are.

Suffice it to say, I now carry my contact tester in my pocket whenever I go near any panel and I know not to touch anything with "Zinsco" on the front of it.

A

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Originally posted by Amn

Update:

I had the house inspected and guess what the inspector found? The panel is energized and not grounded!!! (can you say "back away slowly...")

I doubt that the panel enclosure was really energized. Did your inspector assume that by using a volt stick? In your picture there's an intact bonding strap connecting the enclosure to the neutral terminal bar. There was probably a grounding problem, but it wouldn't have been possible for the panel enclosure to be energized.

Needless to say, that contract is terminated and we're looking at an alternate property now. The homeseller had the gall to ask me what the big deal was and that a "home shield warranty" would cover it. The house had plenty of other concerns, active termites in the garage being a main one. I don't think I've ever felt so good about cratering a deal that fast before.

I just want to pass along an easy example of the value inspectors bring a homebuyer; in this case, potentially life threatening. I'm just waiting for the next quip from a realtor about how nit-picky inspectors are.

Suffice it to say, I now carry my contact tester in my pocket whenever I go near any panel and I know not to touch anything with "Zinsco" on the front of it.

A

It sounds like the house was a dud. Congratulations on walking away.

BTW, don't rely on those non-contact voltage detectors. They're very unreliable. And if one lights up near a panel, it almost certainly does *not* mean that the panel is hot.

I agree about Zinsco and FPE. If you buy a house with either of these things in it, replace them at once.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

I doubt that the panel enclosure was really energized. Did your inspector assume that by using a volt stick? In your picture there's an intact bonding strap connecting the enclosure to the neutral terminal bar. There was probably a grounding problem, but it wouldn't have been possible for the panel enclosure to be energized.

When he touched the housing he got a hell of a shock and it blew the front panel off the housing! I don't think that he would have touched it if I hadn't photographed it a few days prior...

BTW, don't rely on those non-contact voltage detectors. They're very unreliable. And if one lights up near a panel, it almost certainly does *not* mean that the panel is hot.

Pardon my ignorance, but do you mean the metal-tipped testers with the red bulb that lights when touching a surface carrying current (resembling a screwdriver) ?

A

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Originally posted by Amn

When he touched the housing he got a hell of a shock and it blew the front panel off the housing!

Did you see this? If there were four screws holding the housing on, how could it have been blown off? If one or more of the screws had already been removed, then why didn't he get shocked before removing the first screw? It sounds to me like one of the screws cut through some wire insulation as he was removing it. That would do exactly what you described.

To repeat: if the panel enclosure were bonded to the neutral terminal bar, as it appears to be in your photo, then the panel could not have just sat there in an energized state. Something would have melted.

I don't think that he would have touched it if I hadn't photographed it a few days prior....

Ah Ha! So you admit having been the last one to have touched it, eh? Perhaps when you put one of those screws back in, it came within a micron of touching the wire.

Pardon my ignorance, but do you mean the metal-tipped testers with the red bulb that lights when touching a surface carrying current (resembling a screwdriver) ?

A

No. I'm talking about the non-contact voltage detectors, commonly called volt sticks. They resemble a fat pen. They have a plastic-coated tip that resembles a screwdriver. When you place it near an energized wire or object, they detect the electric field and blink, beep or do both. They're kind of useful, but inaccurate. I've had them give both false positives and false negatives. Never trust them where life-safety is concerned. Always verify with a wiggy, a multi-meter or even a neon tester.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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If you ever were curious about what caused aluminum wiring to get a bad rap? Does Beverly Hills Supper Club Southgate Ky. ring any bells? 165 people burned to death or died of smoke inhalation in one night in 1977. If you would like to read more about the litigation that led to aluminum being outlawed read this http://www.enquirer.com/beverlyhills/litigation.html

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Hey Mike,

Thanks for catching that. I misspoke. Its not illegal. However the legal ramifications for using or manufacturing aluminum wiring in smaller sizes such as #12,#10,or even #8 for branch circuts makes its use in smaller sizes impracticle. In my area, you can't find anything smaller than a #6 NMC aluminum conductor. Not to mention the pain in the ass it would be to put a #10 aluminum wire on a 20 amp appliance circut recepticle. Sorry to be missleading.

Mike, what years and where were you stationed in the Army?

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Originally posted by Amn

When he touched the housing he got a hell of a shock and it blew the front panel off the housing!

Originally posted by Jim Katen

Did you see this? If there were four screws holding the housing on, how could it have been blown off?

Some clarification: the swing-up outer panel blew off. The face plate, held in place by screws, remained. I did not see it blow off, I only saw it afterward.

Originally posted by Amn

I don't think that he would have touched it if I hadn't photographed it a few days prior....

Originally posted by Jim Katen

Ah Ha! So you admit having been the last one to have touched it, eh? Perhaps when you put one of those screws back in, it came within a micron of touching the wire.

Well, it wasn't energized when I screwed the one small screw into the bottom of the face plate -otherwise I prob would not be posting this :)! That screw was a wide-diameter, machine screw, prob no longer than 3/8 inch. I don't remember it going into the panel housing very deep at all.

Looking back at the original photo that I posted, doesn't the dual 40 amp breaker look out of position?

A

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Originally posted by Amn

Originally posted by Amn

Looking back at the original photo that I posted, doesn't the dual 40 amp breaker look out of position?

A

Yes. Slightly. That's common with Zinsco equipment. The bus bars are simply two vertical bars of aluminum. There aren't any specific places or slots for a breaker. If there were only one breaker in the panel, you could slide it up & down the whole length of the bars. If you push more at one end than the other, the breaker will sit cocked at an angle like the one in your picture.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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