We are so used to having good electrical service that we take it for granted, and sometimes to our peril, particularly with older homes. Many of those homes have great locations and a good many of the amenities we want for enjoyable living. It is also true that professional home inspectors report that 1 in 3 of those same homes have serious electrical problems that usually go undetected without a thorough inspection of the electrical panel.
Significant problems can remain even after a thorough and competent home inspection, and that is why signs of amateur electrical work should always trigger concerns about what remains unseen. It is also true that certain electrical panels and some wiring types have been targeted as fire hazards. In many cases, the home owner is completely oblivious to a potential threat to the lives of their family, let alone the house itself.
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The fuse panels pictured here service an older house built during a time when circuit breakers would have been expected. Fuses of this type will almost never fail but circuit breaker, being more mechanical, do hold the potential for failure. Most professional home inspectors tend to associate aluminum lower branch wiring with circuit breakers and not with fuses. They also tend to suspect such aluminum wire with houses built from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s. This house was constructed prior to that time frame. It seems that there are always exceptions to the rule and that is why thorough inspections should be performed. Sometimes the plastic jacketing of aluminum wire will have a label on it, which will warn of aluminum wire. But if you really want to know, the distribution panel itself should be opened up and its contents confirmed.
Repairing aluminum wire to a "safe" condition, per the approved U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission standards, involves a special crimp device used at all the connection points for the wiring. This is a very time consuming, and hence expensive, proposition. Few electrician have had the requisite company training to offer such services, and therefore, it is not uncommon to find professional electricians offering their own versions of the upgrade. Given that insurance companies may refuse coverage for houses with aluminum wire that has not been upgraded to the CPSC standards, it is wise for potential home buyers to understand the issue thoroughly.