Anyone seeing a rise in the use of aluminum building wire?

bbaumer

Senior Member
Location
Indiana
Hi all. Haven't been on here in months. Sorry if this has been discussed recently and I missed it.

Was just looking at THHN/THWN and XHHW cable prices in #2 and larger from one of local supply houses and my goodness is aluminum "cheap" compared to copper, even adjusting for less ampacity. Example, #2 AL XHHW - $290 / M - #3 CU THHN/THWN - $1120 / M (per thousand).

Are you guys seeing specs come out with aluminum being allowed or spec'd for feeders? Any of you using it?

Thanks.
 
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bbaumer

Senior Member
Location
Indiana
Oh and BTW - I am not quite old enough to remember 12/2 AL romex and the resulting fires I've heard horror stories about. Not saying I would actually use AL conductors, just wondering if it is making a comeback due to the rise in copper.
 

Strife

Senior Member
I have proposed AL as an alternate for the last 3-4 years (since copper hit $ 4.00 a pound)
AL is a lot cheaper than copper. I had a customer who had a 200A service about 150' away, with 3/0 Copper in 2". He wanted to upgrade to 400A. it was actually cheaper to take down the 2" and install two new 2-1/2" conduits with 250 AL than to just add another run of 3/0 Copper.

Hi all. Haven't been on here in months. Sorry if this has been discussed recently and I missed it.

Was just looking at THHN/THWN and XHHW cable prices in #2 and larger from one of local supply houses and my goodness is aluminum "cheap" compared to copper, even adjusting for less ampacity. Example, #2 AL XHHW - $290 / M - #3 CU THHN/THWN - $1120 / M (per thousand).

Are you guys seeing specs come out with aluminum being allowed or spec'd for feeders? Any of you using it?

Thanks.
 

cdslotz

Senior Member
I offer it as an alternate on most jobs where there is a significant amount of copper.
The XHHW-2 Aluminum is a great product. They now have a 900kcmil that will replace 600kcmill copper.
I usually can offer savings of $50-$200K on certain jobs.
Although some city ordinances don't allow aluminum.
 

Strife

Senior Member
I don't think the horror stories are because of the AL rommex or because improper installation.
Sure, a #12 AL requires a little more TLC than copper wire, but consider this:
Copper is a somewhat scarce material. AL is the second most abundant element on earth (after iron). By volume copper offers more ampacity, but by weight AL blows copper out of the water. And guess what? We buy it by the pound, not by the gallon. Eventually a thousand feet of 12-2 MC copper will hit 10K and then it'll make a lot of sense to use AL at 200 dollars.
The technology gets better every day, I can see a huge difference between the AL from 40 years ago and the one we have today.

Oh and BTW - I am not quite old enough to remember 12/2 AL romex and the resulting fires I've heard horror stories about. Not saying I would actually use AL conductors, just wondering if it is making a comeback due to the rise in copper.
 

jaylectricity

Senior Member
Location
Massachusetts
I don't do a lot of service upgrades, but when I did I used to only use copper. I just did one a couple weeks ago and the 4/0 AL SEU cost less per foot than two 2/0 CU THHN conductors. I think the cost and the ease in working with it makes it well worth the extra few minutes you might need to double check your connection.

I don't think I would use it again at the 10-2 and 12-2 sizes required for the majority of residential branch circuits. I'm not even sure if those are the right sizes, just ball-parking the same way we do the bigger sizes.

I just did some work on a house with copper-clad wiring and it was just way too easy to damage the conductor or even break it off as you're twisting the wirenut or whatever.
 

Fulthrotl

~~Please excuse the mess. Sig under construction~~
I don't think the horror stories are because of the AL rommex or because improper installation.
Sure, a #12 AL requires a little more TLC than copper wire, but consider this:

The technology gets better every day, I can see a huge difference between the AL from 40 years ago and the one we have today.
the problem is that aluminum has an expansion rate much greater than copper.
it loosens up wire nuts all thru the circuit as loads cycle on and off.

for feeders, with proper termination, it's ok. my definition of proper termination
is hypress, and cold shrink 3m insulation, but i'm anal.

for branch circuits, it's been outlawed in socal since 1977-78.

year and a half ago i went thru, and pigtailed out a condo done in aluminum, and i
used those little spiffy purple wire nuts... the ones that come with a tiny lawyer
folded up in each box, for $2 a wire nut.......

6 months after i was done, i got a call back to a junction box in a wall, that had
NO device in it, just splices, all carefully made up by yours truly, with approved
wire nuts.

the wire nut had melted off the wires, and the smell tipped off the owners. it
hadn't shorted out, as it wasn't touching anything grounded.

it was a melty purple puddle.

it was the refrigerator circuit, and the cycling of the unit loosened up the wire nut
till it started arcing.

less than a year.

the only reason i even would do this house was it was a family member, and they
couldn't find anyone who'd do it for them. if it hadn't been a family member, i wouldn't
have done it either.

that's my recent experience with aluminum branch circuits.
 

Cow

Senior Member
Location
Eastern Oregon
6 months after i was done, i got a call back to a junction box in a wall, that had
NO device in it, just splices, all carefully made up by yours truly, with approved
wire nuts.

the wire nut had melted off the wires, and the smell tipped off the owners. it
hadn't shorted out, as it wasn't touching anything grounded.
So how'd you fix it now?
 

cdslotz

Senior Member
I don't know why branch wiring (#12, 10) should even be a part of this discussion.
If I was allowed to use it, I would never use it smaller than #1.
Most city ordinances only allow the use for conductors larger than #1, and sometimes 1/0.
Jobs that I offer AL on, sometimes we still have to make final connections to HVAC equip (due to warranty on equip), or transformers due to crimping space issues.
 

Cow

Senior Member
Location
Eastern Oregon
I don't know why branch wiring (#12, 10) should even be a part of this discussion.
If I was allowed to use it, I would never use it smaller than #1.
Most city ordinances only allow the use for conductors larger than #1, and sometimes 1/0.
Jobs that I offer AL on, sometimes we still have to make final connections to HVAC equip (due to warranty on equip), or transformers due to crimping space issues.
So you won't run #2 aluminum? Do you know how many gazillion homes have #2 aluminum to panels with absolutely no problems?

I think there are a lot of people on here with some funny ideas about what's right and what's not. To each their own...
 

don_resqcapt19

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Illinois
the problem is that aluminum has an expansion rate much greater than copper.
it loosens up wire nuts all thru the circuit as loads cycle on and off.
That was fixed in the early 70's when they started using a new alloy for #12 and #10 aluminum. You also have to use it with AL/COR devices. These devices have aluminum termination screws and back plates. The older aluminum expanded more and most of the cheap residential grade devices had steel screws. When the aluminum expanded the screw did not give and the aluminum was "extruded" of from between the screw head and the back plate. We did a couple of apartment complexes with the new alloy and the AL/COR devices and we had no more issues with those jobs than with a copper job
 

copper chopper

Senior Member
Location
wisconsin
we have too

we have too

the company i work for has to do this to stay competitve on bid jobs,,, however we only use it for services and feeders 800 amp and up... competition is way to tough these days and when you loose a bid by less than $3,000 on a 1.3 million dollar job twice you start to go back after the job has been done to see how they beat you... and this is why..........
 

Cow

Senior Member
Location
Eastern Oregon
I'm sorry, but if they used all aluminum on a 1.3 million dollar job it would of been a hell of a lot more than $3000. I can save 3K on a 50K job alone just by using aluminum.
 

cdslotz

Senior Member
So you won't run #2 aluminum? Do you know how many gazillion homes have #2 aluminum to panels with absolutely no problems?

I think there are a lot of people on here with some funny ideas about what's right and what's not. To each their own...

Sorry, #2AL on a feeder is fine commercial or resi. #1 is my default cutoff because that's what most of my local ordinances require.
City ordinances are pretty good at determining what's right and what's not
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
I don't know why branch wiring (#12, 10) should even be a part of this discussion.
If I was allowed to use it, I would never use it smaller than #1.
Most city ordinances only allow the use for conductors larger than #1, and sometimes 1/0.
Jobs that I offer AL on, sometimes we still have to make final connections to HVAC equip (due to warranty on equip), or transformers due to crimping space issues.
What is wrong with running aluminum to the required disconnect and copper the last few feet to the unit?

So you won't run #2 aluminum? Do you know how many gazillion homes have #2 aluminum to panels with absolutely no problems?

I think there are a lot of people on here with some funny ideas about what's right and what's not. To each their own...
I have used a lot of #4 and #6 aluminum also. Smaller than that (if it is even available in aluminum) and I would rather see copper. I often have run #4 aluminum - especially underground feeders - for long runs and may switch to copper at or near the load to be served to save some cost on copper, even a few years ago before copper was as high as it is now you would still save some money, customer often does not know or care if it is copper or aluminum they just want it to work.
 

Volta

Senior Member
Location
Columbus, Ohio
Sorry, #2AL on a feeder is fine commercial or resi. #1 is my default cutoff because that's what most of my local ordinances require.
City ordinances are pretty good at determining what's right and what's not
True, but usually the more input the better, so if it is good with the NEC, it is good with me. I don't assume that I or my city knows more or has more experience than a larger group does. Insurance companies may be profit-driven, but their statistical calculations are probably more reliable than my personal experience is. That follows for the whole of NFPA or similar groups, in my opinion.
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
True, but usually the more input the better, so if it is good with the NEC, it is good with me. I don't assume that I or my city knows more or has more experience than a larger group does. Insurance companies may be profit-driven, but their statistical calculations are probably more reliable than my personal experience is. That follows for the whole of NFPA or similar groups, in my opinion.
NFPA, NEMA, NECA, UL, and many others do recognize aluminum as a safe wiring method.

Problem with insurance companies is you get non electrical trades people involved and they hear the word 'aluminum' and it automatically triggers the memory of an aluminum wiring horror story, so they assume aluminum is just bad altogether. Tell them a panel has an aluminum bus and they will likely condemn it.

Same goes for knob and tube wiring. If it was initially installed properly and has been maintained in that condition it is generally pretty safe, but if they even hear just the word 'knob' in a conversation about wiring and they automatically assume it is not good.
 

Volta

Senior Member
Location
Columbus, Ohio
NFPA, NEMA, NECA, UL, and many others do recognize aluminum as a safe wiring method.

Problem with insurance companies is you get non electrical trades people involved and they hear the word 'aluminum' and it automatically triggers the memory of an aluminum wiring horror story, so they assume aluminum is just bad altogether. Tell them a panel has an aluminum bus and they will likely condemn it.

Same goes for knob and tube wiring. If it was initially installed properly and has been maintained in that condition it is generally pretty safe, but if they even hear just the word 'knob' in a conversation about wiring and they automatically assume it is not good.
Maintained?

How does one maintain K+T? Other that allowing no changes to the HVAC system, so no metal is installed within 2". :D

But I agree in general, I'm speaking more of statistics than personal memory, though, and the fact that the codes have always been written in large part by insurance companies. They want us to be safe too, whether for altruistic reasons or not...
 
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