Aluminum wiring! Asbestos! Termites! Are they a big deal? What to do?
March 20, 2014 4:34 PM   Subscribe

First-time homebuyers under contract for a 60-year-old house-- how serious/expensive are these problems: aluminum wiring, friable asbestos insulation, termites, undisclosed window leak causing water damage? Along with original plumbing and an old HVAC, is this a pretty standard situation that falls under the umbrella of "all houses are going to have some problems, no house is perfect" and is this the kind of stuff they mean when they say you'll be spending 1%-ish of your home value on this kind of stuff every year? Or are these costs and issues on the high side, and this is probably on top of another 1%-ish every year on other repairs and maintenance? Help us put this in perspective! (We need to decide whether to give the sellers' relocation company the right to cancel our contract by requesting repairs. And we need to figure out what we should fix and how much it'll cost if we go ahead and buy the house without repairs.)

Details and more specific questions below, or feel free to skip and just give us your general opinion based on the question above the fold:

Aluminum wiring: The inspector found the house has aluminum wiring-- the sample of outlets he checked were switched to copper but using methods the CPSC recommends against. We talked to an insurance broker who said 6 of the 8 companies he checked with will not insure a home with any aluminum wiring. For safety reasons I'm pretty sure we'll want to at least do one of the CPSC approved fixes that costs probably $1000-2000 I think (AlumiConn connectors, or maybe do the better but more expensive Copalum crimping), but maybe we should be thinking about re-wiring the whole house, which costs tons? Does anyone have insight on this? How scary and unsafe it really is, how much it costs to address it different ways?

Asbestos insulation: Inspector was almost certain it's asbestos though you can't say so without testing. It's just one square. It's friable/will come apart in the air if disturbed. It's in a small room that holds the water heater, HVAC, etc and where we'd probably keep the cat litter, so I'm guessing we'd probably bump into it at least occasionally. How important is it to contain or remove it and how much might it cost?

Termites: They disclosed termites were present through 2009 when they switched termite companies and treatment (to the Sentricon system.) They claim the termites are under control since, there has been some eating of the bait but no visible termite infestation or damage. In 2013 they replaced the whole back wall which had prior damage (they claim it was "just to be on the safe side," and they installed some nice new floor-to-ceiling windows), and have a certificate from a structural engineer saying it's sound. Their termite guy says the termites probably came up through a crack in the foundation (slab on grade, no basement.). We're having a termite inspection tomorrow but they only look for visible presence/damage and I keep imagining hidden termite damage everywhere. How big a deal is this? (House is in Maryland, by the way.)

Water damage: They failed to disclose it, we found out about because they filed and then retracted a homeowners insurance claim which came up when we started looking for homeowners insurance. They said water came in once in a big storm and leaked down to the bedroom on the level below (and that they have only had one other very small window leakage problem in their 7 years there.) They say it was a problem with the caulking which they repaired, and that the damage was all cosmetic and they just patched the drywall. Because they failed to disclose and we didn't find out until after the inspection, our inspector did not give any special focus to this area to check whether there is mold or other damage. Is there a serious chance that there is mold or other damage that they covered up? (Is there anything I can check/figure out regarding this when I go back to the house tomorrow for the termite inspection?) Should we be worried that because they didn't disclose this (the form clearly asked "whether water problems or dampness conditions ever existed"), there's other undisclosed stuff we didn't know about?

Other: This is on top of things like the plumbing and sewage line being original to 1951 and probably needing to be replaced soon, the HVAC being 20 years old, lots of big old trees in the yard that may eventually need to be removed, etc. And the fact it was a flip in 2007 so someone was doing work on the house without worrying they'd have to live with the consequences. On the other hand, it has a great newish aluminum roof and our inspector said it's really well built and most building materials are above-average quality. The other problems he found were relatively minor and would probably take a couple thousand to fix total (as best as we can tell.)

We're buying this through a relocation company and they put an addendum in the contract (which states it overrides anything else in the contract if it conflicts) that says that they will either 1) fix all problems or 2) cancel the contract, although the homeowners are the ones who made the decision on picking our offer. We were initially under the impression that the relo company typically just fixes everything you ask them to (and that's why we made an offer at the very high end of the price range we were looking for), but unfortunately the selling agent didn't understand the addendum and originally told the homeowners that we had waived our right to request anything and now keeps threatening that if we report any defects they'll be glad to take the opportunity to cancel the contract and find someone else. (Our agent thinks she's pissed at us and making us the bad guys with the homeowners because she dropped the ball on explaining to them how the addendum worked and that we do have the right to request repairs.) We're worried they'll do it... their requested close date is still more than 6 weeks off, and we were one of 3 offers within five days on the market, and we beat the runners-up by only $1000 through an escalation clause (although the runners-up only had 10% down and we have 30%.)

We really like the house in general and love the location, and the market is SO slow right now (although we don't have to move urgently) and we've locked in a great interest rate that maybe we'd never get back to again. And we are tired of house-hunting and don't want to have to redo all the inspection and mortgage stuff somewhere else. And we have enough in savings to cover these repairs easily. And we're not sure whether they'd actually agree to fix the wiring or remediate the asbestos even under normal circumstances, let alone the current situation where our agent thinks their agent really doesn't like us. But we also feel kinda ripped off and bullied and frustrated about the idea of not asking for anything, and are also nervous about additional undisclosed stuff. It seems like a game of chicken.

As first-time homebuyers we're having a hard time figuring out how to put these problems and costs in their proper perspective (despite tons of stressed-out internet research.) How important is it to fix these problems and how much might it cost us? Should we just accept these issues and risks, given that we can afford to fix them? Are they within the typical bounds of "all houses have issues, a different house will just have different issues"? Or should we put in a request for them to rewire the house (or do a cheaper remediation) and fix the asbestos, and see whether they'll cancel the contract on us or not? (I know you can't really answer that and it depends on our risk tolerance, but any advice appreciated.)
posted by EmilyClimbs to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First time homeowner, have done my own fully permitted and inspected construction, including wiring and plumbing. Take my opinions with a grain of salt.

Aluminum Wiring
Maybe it's just that I grew up the '70s in an area that had a number of aluminum wiring flaws, but I'd seriously consider rewiring the whole damned house. Sure, you can get the CPSC fixes in place now, but what happens ten years from now when you want to replace that outlet that's cracked and you decide to just screw a standard one in place and you'll get to it later and...
Asbestons Insulation
I'd be mostly worried about this if I ever had to renovate that area, or, worse, have someone else renovate it. If it's in-place and not likely to be disturbed, no worries. If you have to pay someone else to move it, huge liability. But this is the least of what you're describing as red flags.
Where'd the infestation largely occur? I'd be demanding to knock some holes in the wall for real inspections. Seriously. Your pest guy gets to take out some large chunks of plaster, or you walk.
Water damage
This is where I'd walk. Not because of the water damage, but because they didn't disclose and pulled the claim. Coupled with everything else, this would be the final straw for me. There's probably not a whole lot of mold, it's probably not a big deal, but it's not the sort of people you'd want to be doing business with.
Flip in 2007 and they didn't fix the wiring? So apparently they just put a fresh coat of paint on it?

I am not you, but I'd walk. Barring the walk, I'd ask for re-wiring and removed asbestos, and knock holes in the walls to check for internal water and termite damage.

And, seriously, holes in plaster or plasterboard are easy to patch, especially in a house that's been gussied up for sale and you're going to repaint anyway. There's no reason not to chase those inspection things to ground.
posted by straw at 4:49 PM on March 20, 2014 [11 favorites]

I concur with straw. The aluminum wiring in conjunction with asbestos insulation is a mess to begin with. Then you add the rest of it?

I wouldn't walk. I'd run.
posted by bfranklin at 4:53 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh, I just re-read my response. By "...the '70s in an area that had a number of aluminum wiring flaws...", I really meant "...aluminum wiring fires...". Let's be honest: You're going to have to replace that wiring, probably by knocking out the plaster or wallboard in those walls, at some point. You might have to do that after the fire it causes.
posted by straw at 5:00 PM on March 20, 2014

I would not consider these issues as "all houses are going to have some problems, no house is perfect." These are big, expensive issues and safety is a factor with at least 2 of them.
posted by quince at 5:04 PM on March 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Run. These are all scary and potentially open-ended problems. I would stay away from a house that had two or three of these issues, but all of them add up to a nightmare. What's going to happen if you buy this is that you're going to end up outlaying 10 grand or more just to get the basic stuff taken care of, then probably spend another 25-50k before you give up and dump the house on someone else. Or you'll just keep pouring money into it.
posted by Slinga at 5:12 PM on March 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you should consider that any TWO of these issues combined together would be A VERY BIG DEAL. But you really like the house. So. I would proceed by just ignoring the mistake made by the seller's agent. It doesn't really matter what was said to who, you have a contract in hand and its not your problem. Reply as you would if all was on the up-and-up as far as that's concerned, there's nothing you can do about it anyway. Say that you want the asbestos abated, the house properly checked for mold and termites, and the wiring replaced. Do this knowing that they may just walk away. Do this in a detached, professional manner, which is how you should be buying any house. If they fix it, you've saved a ton of money. If they don't fix it and cancel the sale, you've saved a ton of money.
posted by raisingsand at 5:16 PM on March 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

If the relocation contract says they'll either fix everything or cancel the contract, why not ask them to fix EVERYTHING to whatever standard you desire (so, the most expensive and perfect rewiring, total asbestos abatement, fixing the crack in the foundation that allowed the termites in, anything the termite inspector finds plus maybe a few years more of termite extermination care, new windows where needed, etc). Get your inspector out again, get an engineer out, and make an obscenely complete list of everything you would *want* (not need, but want) to have fixed. If they do it, great. If they walk, great - you absolutely don't want to take on a house with that kind of list of unresolved issues.
posted by amelioration at 5:20 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my experience, "costs" are often significantly underestimated in situations like this.

I'd advise you to walk away. There are other houses that won't instantly require tens of thousands of dollars of repairs and remediation to the basic infrastructure.
posted by gnutron at 5:32 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider yourself lucky that you found a decent inspector that caught this much. But, having been through a nightmare house myself, you are guaranteed to have 1 or 2 additional surprises in this house for each problem that the inspector did catch.

This 'flip' seems like a quick coat of paint and duct tape over the overt problems and nothing else was touched. That makes it even worse for the next homeowner. Who replaces an entire wall of a house just because, oh, we want to be sure there's no damage. Nuh uh. You do that when the wall is about to collapse. The certificate from the structural engineer was probably required by your city to allow the owners to live there again as part of the building permit process. If I were really going to proceed further on this deal, I'd go to your city's records department and ask for any construction permits pulled.

I'm also wary about what the relo company is doing in this deal. It's their business to get the house off their books as quickly as possible but I think they're bluffing that they will pull the contract and take it somewhere else if you start listing problems. They're trying to get you to quietly accept the inspection and get to the closing. And if they do pull it? You're better off for it.

I know you love the house but, seriously, this house will kill your patience, your sanity, your entire life's savings, and possibly your marriage. I've been there and lived to tell about it. There will always be another house out there. Good luck.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:46 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, didn't expect such a strong response. Need to digest.

Are there folks with specific stories, costs, and or more detailed information about aluminum wiring and/or termites?

Also, when we say "we can afford it, we've got savings, we were already budgeting to spend a few thousand dollars a year on repairs"... what kind of *other* stuff are we going to have to pay for too that we're not thinking about?
posted by EmilyClimbs at 5:47 PM on March 20, 2014

The thing with wiring is that unless you open the walls, it's really labor-intensive, and so it can get really expensive. On my advice, my brother had his small (400 sq ft) condo rewired. The electrical contractor made him a package deal for a few thousands and ended up losing money on the deal because the walls were opened only in the back of the condo and rewiring the front by fishing wire was a huge pain.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:56 PM on March 20, 2014

Flipped with a superficial redecoration just before the housing bubble burst? Yeah. At least the roof is sound.

I'm with those who say "ask for all the repairs, and if they say no, walk." There will be other stuff, because all houses have other stuff, but the thing about other stuff is that it sidles up and reveals itself to you, and if you're already ankle deep in existing stuff -- and having to make choices between more expensive fixes and cheaper ones that satisfy code -- then that's going to weigh on you even more.

This house sounds like 1 Money Pit Lane.
posted by holgate at 6:16 PM on March 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you're in love with the location and the house is right for you in terms of size, layout, etc. Except it has these problems. As first-time buyers it is easy to fall into a trap of overlooking those things, thinking you can deal with them, you've got some savings, etc. And maybe the market is a little competitive in your area and you're thinking you're just never going to get that right opportunity. But, really — if you are having to ask about all these situations, you are not prepared to deal with them. Drop this deal and keep looking, until you find one where you're more confident the problems are minor, you understand them, and you're willing to deal with them.

All that said, you could take a flier and say, here's our laundry list of things to fix, or we walk. Throw in everything. The relo company might be willing to eat the cost, either by fixing it or discounting the deal enormously. They have a client they can probably charge for it and in the bigger scheme of things at the client level, they might rather swallow the cost than keep this albatross on their neck. So you could give that a shot, and end up either with a fully remediated house, or one that's so cheap you can afford the work yourself. Either way, be aware that this house is way off the bell curve of "typical bounds."
posted by beagle at 6:17 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

In Washington state in the mid-aughties, when we were shopping as first-time buyers, the bank wouldn't finance without home insurance, and aluminum-wired houses were uninsurable. We bought a little 1928 house with knob-and-tube, and replaced the wiring when it came time to rent, because tenants are more devil-may-care about electrical load, and more litigious, than owners. Cost us a bit over 10 grand for a 1400sqft house, not counting the cost of replastering.

Honestly, it was a hassle living with knob-and-tube (fewer outlets than we need, low load capacity, no increasing the insulation in the house), but it didn't feel unsafe. I would consider it imperative to address the wiring problem as soon as possible with aluminum wiring.

The guy who flipped our house didn't bolt the toilets to the floor, because it would have meant spending ten bucks on a tile bit. It didn't occur to our inspector to check (we don't blame him) and we only discovered when the wax ring gave out and the floor ended up covered in sewage. Not costly,because a relatively unskilled DIY fix, but unpleasant. Good times. My point here is that flippers are not necessarily good on details, and you already have evidence you're dealing with a less-than-forthright flipper. Keep shopping.
posted by gingerest at 6:24 PM on March 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd run away from a house like that. It's not just the fire risk of the wiring or the potential problems from the leak and termites. The asbestos to my mind is worse. It's very expensive to remove and it is extremely dangerous if it becomes airbourne. A few small particles of asbestos could kill you. Not immediately but several years or decades down the line. This form of rare cancer can affect you up to 30 to 40 years after asbestos exposure and only 1 to 3 months exposure to asbestos can trigger it. The probability of surviving it is slim. That's just one cancer caused by asbestos. There are other types, plus asbestosis. If you're forever getting cat litter and brushing up against the asbestos then you will be breathing plenty in. I work in a lab that does testing for asbestos, we also do testing on contaminated land from building sites. When we handle to dry, ground soils we have to wear a hood connected to a filtration device, just because there MAY be asbestos in the air. You're thinking of buying a place where asbestos WILL be floating round in the air you breath in.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 6:29 PM on March 20, 2014

I actually thought the possible asbestos was the least costly of the problems in the house. It sounds similar to my Nightmare House, where one panel of asbestos-containing material was screwed to the ceiling of the basement as a fire/heat shield for the old furnace that used to live in that corner. Unless you were rubbing it with a wire brush or cracking pieces off the ceiling, the possibility of friable fibers in the air was minimal. We actually had more of a hazard in the asbestos-containing linoleum tiles and vermiculite wall insulation. Anyway, removing the square was under a grand. You could also just not go near the panel and move the cat litter somewhere else. Asbestos isn't sentient or mobile like, say, termites.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:40 PM on March 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does one of you have full time availability to deal with remediating these issues (i.e., no job)? Because it isn't just "a few thousand dollars" to fix any one of these things, it's all the time you'll spend figuring out the best fix/how you want to handle things, having people in your space for months, living in sub-optimal conditions for months... Even if the relo company says "they'll take care of everything" you'll need to be involved in making decisions, and oversee what they do. This will be a LOT of effort. First time home buyer: please wait for a better opportunity.
posted by msbubbaclees at 7:21 PM on March 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is way more bad than 1%-ish, it sounds really unfixable.
2 Options are either "Nuke from Orbit" or "Student Rental".
posted by ovvl at 7:43 PM on March 20, 2014

Good gravy. This house is unlivable, uninsurable, and not within reason fixable. Personally, if I was given the option of buying a house matching this description or living in a cardboard box under a bridge, I would be thinking that you know, corrugated cardboard really isn't all that bad. Run.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:30 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

My last house had aluminum wiring. We just had to have an electrician install aluminum-to-wire connectors in all the outlets. I think it was $300 total and it was a large house. It's a common technique: you by no means have to "re-wire" the entire house.

I'd worry more about the asbestos, though that, too, is more common than people realize. Floor tiles from the fifties and sixties often included asbestos, which generally is okay if it does not get broken or chipped. But if you think particulates of the stuff can get airborne, I'd have it removed before I'd buy.

Your other issues are easily fixable, but that depends on your budget and your tolerance for these tasks hanging over you. For me, I liked a lot of things about that old house, but after moving to a newer home, I feel so much relief and ease knowing that there isn't going to be some new problem for me to fix every two months.

Good luck.
posted by Philemon at 8:47 PM on March 20, 2014

I found out my house had aluminum wiring about a month after I bought it. Because of the fire. I have not rewired the house but I have been doing the outlet thing, plus I have fire extinguishers in every room, just in case. I love this house and area but if I had known what the wiring situation was, I'd have never bought it.
posted by yodelingisfun at 9:10 PM on March 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd run away. Do a careful check of your emotions vs rationality in this process.

Then consider resale. What if you need to sell in a year, unexpectedly? Or move and want to rent it? You can't if you haven't remediated the asbestos and aluminum wiring and other nonsense...
posted by slateyness at 5:44 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just to touch on your statement "We really like the house in general and love the location..."

My partner and I did essentially the same thing - as first time homebuyers, we found a house we loved, we liked the location & the school district. The inspection indicated there were a few things that needed to be addressed - and not even things as major as your list. We had a little savings beyond what we needed for purchase, and we thought we were relatively handy.

8 years later, we *hate* the house. It gobbles up every last spare dollar, and we are constantly spending our own "free time" (hah!, what is "free time"?) to do projects just to keep the house in as good (not necessarily better) condition as when we bought it. Plus, things break and go bad at the *most* inconvenient times.

Completed projects: complete new roof (which my partner did the labor on himself); new furnace; two new water heaters (first "new" one had manufacturing defect and failed early); new back porch; renovation of landscaping; new sidewalks; cosmetic re-do of kitchen including new flooring, wall paint & tile; cosmetic reno of 1st floor bath; removing out-of-fashion wallpaper, doing wall repair, and painting all but one rooms of the house; cleaning up backed-up sewage in basement when house-to-street drain line was plugged (thankfully mostly laundry water!) and power-snaking drain line; installing french drains to remediate standing water/drainage problems in yard.

And the list of upcoming projects is equally as long. The big one we are working on is the exterior painting, which is entering it's 3rd summer of work. We have missed so many weekends of boating, camping, even skipped vacations - because you just can't spend money on vacations when the house needs tending.

Once I can sell this house, I will. And that's another problem, since we bought in 2006 at "top of market" - luckily the house hasn't massively lost value, but it hasn't gained any either - essentially flatlined for the past 8 years.

Owning a house with problems, unless you have a solid combination of time, money, handiness, and *desire* to fix it - will just cause you stress. Maybe you're different, and you love the renovation projects like the couple on the "Young House Love" blog.

If you're an ordinary, two full-time jobs couple, and you like to spend your free time doing things other than home-improvement, I would strongly advise against this house.
posted by Ardea alba at 6:32 AM on March 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yeah, the aluminum wiring thing is going to kill you. The last person I knew with aluminum wiring found out about it in 2003, and wanted to do the work himself to save on the $10K+ it was going to take to rewire the house. He devoted a weekend a month to the project. When I left the area in 2006, he was still at it...

Also, water damage: if there was a leak, and they caulked a seal to fix it, then there will be other leaks. So many other leaks. Our new-ish roof had one, and we had to rip out a big section of it that had sagged from snow weight, and put a sealer over the whole surface. Another $10K, and as an added bonus, lots of homeowners' policies don't cover water damage anything that isn't a major, measurable weather event.

posted by Mayor West at 7:43 AM on March 21, 2014

Second time homeowner. First house in MA, current house in MD where you are buying. I don't think the state makes a difference in terms of house problems. There were distinct and huge differences in the home-buying processes between MA and MD, but they all had to do with legal processes, what paperwork is used, and the fact that MD uses title companies where MA uses real estate lawyers. The home inspection and remedies for issues found seemed similar.

With that bit out of the way...

This house has way way way WAY too many problems, any one of which listed above might cause me as a buyer to walk if not properly addressed. It's hard enough getting a seller to address one problem, versus several. You need to walk on this one and find another house, one where the seller's agent is fully apprised of the clauses in your relocation company's agreement to fix things. There are PLENTY of houses on the market right now.

* I've heard terrible things about aluminum wiring. Rewiring a whole house is not cheap.

* One single asbestos tile is probably not that expensive to remove. A whole floor is another story.

* Run from serious water damage, particularly if an entire wall was replaced. It was likely not "just to be on the safe side," I assure you.

* Termites can be treated, but this sounds like it was a recurring problem.

Oh, and when you do find a house, make sure you use a Maryland-based title company. At first, my mortgage company wanted to use a title company based in their state, however, that company kept screwing things up. (One notably and potentially expensive mistake I found had to do with the first-time Maryland homebuyer discount, by which you get a huge discount on your state transfer tax. The original title company thought that since I had previously owned a house in Massachusetts I was ineligible, but the law specifically states it is for a person's first house IN MARYLAND regardless of if he/she/they have owned a house in any other state.) I got so fed up with their mistakes that I switched to a local title company that seemed much more familiar with local laws.
posted by tckma at 9:19 AM on March 21, 2014

Nthing and then some all the people who say these are major problems which will take a lot of money and time to fix. And that's all on top of major maintenance such as gutter cleaning, painting, deck treatments, roof replacement, tree trimming, septic tank pumping, whatever your house may need.

But the reason I commented was to say that you should also think about whether you'd be able to SELL this house. You will have to disclose the asbestos, the termites, the water damage, the wiring, and whatever else you might discover while you live there. Most prospective buyers will walk right out the door.
posted by underthehat at 9:24 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys. I think we will give them our list and if they won't fix them and the deal's off, c'est la vie.

I am going to be at the house today for the last time before submitting the list by tomorrow's deadline-- anything I should try to look for/check while I'm there?

(For clarity-- the flipper replaced floors, put a new liner in the chimney, and I think also put in new windows and the expensive long-lasting aluminum roof. And the sellers are the ones with the relo company, not us.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 10:01 AM on March 21, 2014

Your list should definitely, definitely include having that crack in the foundation thoroughly explored.
posted by KathrynT at 10:11 AM on March 21, 2014

An observation that may or may not have any bearing: There are a lot of annoying things about being a homeowner, especially being a handy homeowner with certain standards. If it were just me, I think I'd go for a condo with some rented industrial warehouse space for my shop, but... There are the big projects, we're rewired and re-plumbed the house, and that's fine. The two real annoyances?
  • Digging the bark mulch out of the flower beds to give sufficient clearance to the siding.
  • Scraping the shoddy "dress it up to sell it" white paint job off the bathroom, doors and trim
Houses get realtorized, I get that, we didn't look at a house where my reaction to the landscaping was "well, there's some crap that'll need to get un-done", but the shoddy paint job is just annoying.

Now consider that the work done on a "flipped" house is probably just more of that landscaping and bad paint: Stuff you're going to have to work harder at because it was done.
posted by straw at 3:17 PM on March 21, 2014

Unless there's a compelling reason to go for this house, I'd walk away just based on the aluminum wiring on the branch circuits. *Particularly* because it sounds like the work was badly done. Aluminum on small circuits can be okay if it's done with scrupulous correctness, but that happens so rarely, you're stuck probably looking at re-wiring most of that in copper if you want it in good shape.

Aluminum wiring is ... okay if you're running aluminum for something bigger like a 100amp or 300amp feeder circuit, but for regular old residential 15 and 20 amp circuits, it sucks like a sucking thing. Using it for small circuits was a bad idea based (as I understand it) on the fact that the military run-up in Vietnam led to copper prices going through the roof.

There are two things that suck about aluminum wiring: 1. aluminum oxidizes such that when you splice aluminum to aluminum, you have to use oxide inhibitor on the connection. 2. you can't splice it to copper directly because they don't play well together, so you have to use special connectors that provide electrical connection without having the wires directly touch each other.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:36 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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