Jump to content

Electrical Panel Location and Aluminum Wiring


Recommended Posts

My daughter owns a condo unit in a large complex in Houston, built in the 1970s.. All of the units were wired with aluminum wiring. Her unit is a 2-bedroom with the electrical panel located in the bedroom closet. Apparently all of the units were designed and built this way. A poor design that does not meet code today that would not permit any flammables or combustibles to be stored in the clothes closet. Unfortunately, storage space in her unit is extremely small. I believe her electrical service panel needs to be replaced, and perhaps located in a hallway nearby. Without completely replacing all aluminum wiring with copper, does anyone have any comments about all the new breakers to be AFCI to provide additional protection? Suggestions? Comments?

Link to post
Share on other sites

The panel wasn't allowed in the closet in the 70s either. That's not a new requirement. It goes back a hundred years.

I'm a big fan of Alumiconn connectors. Have an electrician go through the house and ensure that every piece of aluminum wire ends at either an CO-ALR listed connector or at an Alumiconn connector.

If you want to install AFCI breakers for additional protection, great, but don't rely on them in lieu of proper connections.

Link to post
Share on other sites

They don't all have to be AFCI breakers, just those serving certain areas.

So many HIs here insist that solid aluminum be replaced with copper but the problem isn't the aluminum, its the parts used to make the connections involving aluminum wire. The earlier formulation of aluminum that first came out during the 65' to 72' era when aluminum was on the market didn't have the same expansion w/temperature characteristics as copper. That tended to make the connections work their way loose after a while. Loose connections generate heat that might elevate temperatures to ignition values. With the house made of wood, there's plenty of fuel around. There were other issues but that coefficient w/temperature issue is one of the major players.

Yesterday's job in Lafayette had single strand aluminum throughout the house except for the service entrance conductors (multi strand copper) and I took care to detail what to do about it because so many tradesmen and inspectors here are misinformed.

Main panel in the clothes closet? I've written them up and recommended moving them out of the closet but only when in combination with other issues and only if justified by the sum of the issues. That's an expensive job, done several myself as sparky. Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees, I say.

What Jim said.

Marc

Link to post
Share on other sites

. . . but the problem isn't the aluminum, its the parts used to make the connections involving aluminum wire. The earlier formulation of aluminum that first came out during the 65' to 72' era when aluminum was on the market didn't have the same expansion w/temperature characteristics as copper. That tended to make the connections work their way loose after a while. Loose connections generate heat that might elevate temperatures to ignition values. With the house made of wood, there's plenty of fuel around. There were other issues but that coefficient w/temperature issue is one of the major players.

Marc, save the last sentence, I really love your wording in this paragraph. I may steal much of it, permission granted or not. . .

Link to post
Share on other sites

What about moving the closet instead of the panel? That is, remove the front wall of the closet so the panel is in a corner of the room with plenty of clear space around. Then have all connections cleaned and tightened.

Easy enough to build a new closet or buy a prefab cabinet.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes. Unless it's a Federal Stablok or Zinsco, just leave the panel and get the connectors right.

Chicago's got tens of thousands of condos with panels in closets, and while I find it stupid and wrong for lots of reasons beyond fire, there's no compelling evidence that panels in closets is any more hazardous than lots of other things.

And agreeing with Katen, AFCI's are not a substitute for good wiring practices.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for everyone for your comments. It helps make decision going forward on what to do. As some of you suggested, we will leave electrical service panel in the closet...there's no practical place to relocate it and it would prove entirely too costly. However, I believe it will be prudent to replace the service panel since it is a Federal Pacific LX112-24, 125 amps. I neglected to say originally that this panel created some angst for the insurance company, but they finally gave in after a licensed electrician wrote a letter stating that just about all of the 300 units in the condo complex had these service panels. One thing that does bother me is the circuit breaker feeding the air conditioner trips often. And I'm not sure I would trust trying to find a circuit breaker for the Fed Pac. We will follow the recommendations you made about repairing the outlets and wall switches with AlumiConns. Seems like a smart thing to do, since some of the devices look old and need replacing. Thanks again.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I neglected to say originally that this panel created some angst for the insurance company, but they finally gave in after a licensed electrician wrote a letter stating that just about all of the 300 units in the condo complex had these service panels.
In addition to the possibility of many of the 300 units having AL wiring, the electrician just stated there are 300 more reasons there could be catastrophic fires in the complex.

The stuff installed there isn't getting better with age.

Link to post
Share on other sites

....We will follow the recommendations you made about repairing the outlets and wall switches with AlumiConns. Seems like a smart thing to do, since some of the devices look old and need replacing. Thanks again.

You won't need the AlumiConns on the wall switches and wall outlets if you select CO/ALR rated devices.

What Bill said. Forget the insurance company - they're not looking out for you, just the structure. Those FPE panels, and the breakers within them, are dangerous.

Marc

Link to post
Share on other sites

So, it's Federal stuff. One thing we've found when changing these things out of condominiums like you describe......

New panels with new breakers = suddenly stuff that worked OK is tripping breakers all the time. That's because the old breakers didn't work. We figure in a fudge factor of a couple grand to cover rewiring and reconfiguring circuits so loads are balanced and breakers aren't tripping.

This is an object lesson in how professional tradespeople aren't necessarily the bedrock of knowledge. Can you imagine writing a letter stating it's OK because everyone else has one too? The guy is the realtor's monkey.

Link to post
Share on other sites

. . . One thing that does bother me is the circuit breaker feeding the air conditioner trips often. And I'm not sure I would trust trying to find a circuit breaker for the Fed Pac. . . .

That might say more about the air conditioner than the circuit breaker. Is the filter very clogged? The registers closed? The coils dirty?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...