It’s a sellers’ market in many areas of the country and new homebuyers have to move fast when they find a property that suits their needs. Many prospective buyers are willing to overlook certain features to get a home with great potential, but there are some faults that should not be overlooked.

Aluminum wiring is one example. This material was widely used in the United States in the mid-1960s and in the early 70s, but it’s also found in homes built or renovated in the 1950s.

As the Vietnam War, increased home construction, and other factors drove the demand and price of copper up, aluminum was a cheaper alternative for wiring. Aluminum offers reliable conductivity that nears the capabilities of copper, and it has been used in many industrial wiring applications and to connect higher amperage branch circuits.

When used for the majority of the wiring in a home, however, aluminum proved to cause a number of issues. As any electrician or copper washer manufacturer will tell you, one material cannot often do the job of another, even when properties are very similar. Aluminum’s softness, tendency to expand and contract with thermal changes, coupled with poor choice of electrical insulation, and lacking anti-corrosive treatments, amounted to wiring that posed serious fire hazards for homes across the country.

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By the end of the 1970s, there were a lot of houses that required major renovations to replace the aluminum wiring with copper, It was also possible to mitigate the risk of fire by cold welding aluminum wire to specialized copper connectors. Although many houses built in the mid-1960s through the early 1970s have been closely scrutinized and renovated due to these issues, aluminum wiring can still be a risk for modern-day homebuyers.

When looking at homes built or renovated between the late 1950s and early 1970s, it’s important to check whether aluminum is the dominant wiring material. If so, that does not automatically mean the house is unsafe, but there are signs to look out for such as warped or warm switch plates and outlets, smoke, sparks or burn marks, and reoccurring problems with plug-in appliances, among other electrical problems.

It’s important to note that aluminum wiring issues are never a do-it-yourself or handyman job. Even if you’re very confident in your fix-it skills, proper assessment and correction of problems will require the help of a licensed electrician.

If you’re considering a home built between the 1950 and 1970, and you don’t see any apparent problems related to aluminum wiring, make sure you bring in an experienced home inspector to look for any potential concerns.

You don’t have to let the presence of aluminum wiring keep you from putting an offer on your dream home. Replacing this type of wiring with copper is possible but it’s no small job or expense, so be certain to consider all of your options with care. Don’t forget to take careful note of the year the house was built and dates of any major renovations when reviewing real estate listings.