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Old 06-15-2016, 12:25 AM   #1
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1968 30' Sovereign
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Aluminum wiring question!

We are in the process of getting our '68 Sovereign ready for an initial voyage. We were talking with a person at an Airstream rally this last weekend and the topic of the aluminum wiring came up. Of course, our 1968 Sovereign is blessed with the aluminum wiring so this had a great interest for me and I need the input of those that are are more knowledgeable than I am about this topic (I fall in the category of "know enough to be dangerous!")

I do NOT want to switch our aluminum wiring in our camper as it works great. I DO want to take precautions if needed. The person at this Airstream rally showed us an outlet wired with the original aluminum wiring that had "sparked". His solution to this was to rewire every electrical outlet with copper wiring that was then "joined" to the original aluminum wiring.

What he did was to install new receptacles with a copper wiring "pigtail" that he then married with the existing aluminum wiring that originally went to that receptacle. He said that he used a "gel" specifically made for this purpose where he "married/joined" the aluminum wiring and the copper wiring pigtail. Once that "gel was applied to the two wires, he then secured the two wires with a wiring nut.

Is this an option? If so, I would gladly go thru every outlet in our trailer and do it. Is there a name to the "gel" that he used? Should the receptacles (if they will be replaced) be rated for aluminum or copper wiring? Is this a viable option?

Thank you for any input and help!!
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Old 06-15-2016, 06:31 AM   #2
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Oh no... I sure hope my 1969 doesn't have aluminum wiring--it's kind of a pain to deal with! The house my wife and I purchased last year has aluminum wiring and I've had to learn *all* about it!

Basically the gel/wiring nut route is the easiest option, but not remotely the safest. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) doesn't recommend it because the gel drys out and you're back in the same situation--dry aluminum to copper connections oxidize each other and cause sparks=fire.

http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/118856/516.pdf

There are two recommended solution, one of which isn't really available to the average consumer since it requires specialized tools which can only be "leased" from the manufacturer.

You still do pigtails of copper wires, but instead of the gel/wire nut you use a product called AlumiConn. These have two or three set screws in them so the aluminum wire and copper never actually touch each other. Unfortunately, you need an AlumiConn on the hot, ground, and neutral wires and it can be a challenge to cram all three into the electrical box. They're also not cheap, although I'm sure you don't need too many for an Airstream! When installing them you also have to make sure the set screws are tightened correctly. I don't recall if it's on the packaging or not, but their website gives instructions on how to make sure everything is tightened just right.

Overall, it's not too bad to do it right--it would just be easier if aluminum wire were never installed to begin with--cheaper and less hassle to work with straight copper!

Good Luck!
-Matt
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Old 06-15-2016, 07:43 AM   #3
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I may be wrong but my understanding with aluminum wiring is that it expands and contracts more than copper. However with all wire, when current flows through the wire, the wire heats up causing it to expand. This pushes on the screw of the outlet which can loosen it if it's not tight. Then when it cools down and contracts it leaves a space. Then when current flows again it can arc across the wire to the screw. Eventually melting the wire.
Therefore it must be secured tightly.
You could try 'Lock Tight' on all the screws. But not just the outlets but the circuit breaker panel as well.
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Old 06-15-2016, 08:09 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cheetah1 View Post

I do NOT want to switch our aluminum wiring in our camper as it works great. I DO want to take precautions if needed. The person at this Airstream rally showed us an outlet wired with the original aluminum wiring that had "sparked". His solution to this was to rewire every electrical outlet with copper wiring that was then "joined" to the original aluminum wiring.

Is this an option?
If you do what the other gentleman did you will be doubling the number of connections that can loosen and fail/arc. IMOP not a good plan.

If you are concerned, check and tighten the screws on an annual basis, especially at the converter which will see the greatest fluctuation in heat.

Regarding use of locktite I'm skeptical, and if I did use it I would use the "blue" formulation, not the red, as the blue permits retightening.
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Old 06-15-2016, 08:23 AM   #5
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I agree with Burnside Bob. Doubling the connections is not a good idea. IMHO
Annual checking should suffice. Maybe semi annual if you travel extensively. I would seriously consider replacing all of the outlets. Making sure the new ones are rated for aluminum wire. There aren't that many.
I would NOT use Loctite because I don't know how it would interact with the aluminum wire. No doubt there would be some contact.
Aluminum is more malleable than copper. That's why the connection tend to loosen over time. If connections become lose therein lies the problem.
Like all things in a travel trailer, regular checking is required.
Good Luck
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Old 06-15-2016, 08:52 AM   #6
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Your trailer is 48 years old so I would not worry too much at this point. Aluminum wiring is not bad stuff but there are precautions that should be taken and steps to follow. I would not add the pigtails as this only adds another connection point and you will need to use AL/CU compatible connectors, No-Ox, etc.

If it were my rig I would inspect all electrical connections, coat/re-coat with an anti oxide paste and re-tighten the connections.


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Old 06-15-2016, 09:46 AM   #7
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My 68 has aluminum wiring. I did not remove my inner skin so I left it in place. There are a lot of scary things said about it but it has worked for 48 years with no issues in my trailer. Saying that, what I did was to remove every outlet and check the wiring for corrosion and tightness of the screws. I found a couple with a lot of corrosion but only a couple. One had a loose screw and the others were fine. I cleaned and tightened all the connection and have had no problems in 6 years. I did have to replace the outside receptical as the seal on the box cover was bad and water was in the box. If you do replace an outlet make sure is it rated for Al wire. Some recepticles are rated for both and some only for copper. As for future corrsion, since I fixed all the leaks and the inside no longer gets wet when it rains (it was in really bad shape) and I sprayed a little Boesheild T-9 on the cleaned and tight connections I think I'll be long gone from the camping seen before there are issues again.
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Old 06-15-2016, 09:57 AM   #8
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I would open the connections in the AC panel apply the gel and reconnect. The problem, if it exists, will manifest itself at those connection with higher current draw. You should look at the connection at the Air Conditioner. That is your highest current draw in the trailer.

One problem with using the replacement pigtail receptacle is the limited space in the shallow wall boxes used. You can also open each receptacle and tighten the connections.
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Old 06-15-2016, 10:11 AM   #9
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The issue, as described above, is the aluminum to copper interface, which can eventually build up a resistive layer of oxidation, which then causes heat, and eventually fires. The house I grew up in had aluminum wiring, so I am used to the precautions that need to be taken. Outlets are available that are specifically designed to be compatible with the aluminum wiring. They would be indicated with a "CO/ALR" on the back. The anti-oxidation grease can be used with ordinary copper outlets, but the best bet would be to just make sure every outlet is CO/ALR. You can find them at most big box stores still today:

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Leviton-1...-00I/100357026

I don't see the value of the "pigtail" method described above, as you still end up with a copper wire mated to an aluminum wire, and the same oxidation heating issue. Additionally, the junction boxes in the Airstreams are already extremely shallow. Trying to cram pigtails and other additional hardware into that tiny space may not even be feasible.

good luck!
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Old 06-15-2016, 09:57 PM   #10
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Thank you to all for your input and information. It sounds like this is a situation where doing ongoing preventative maintenance checks on the outlets and the connections may be the key. I guess I have my weekend project laid out for me!
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Old 06-16-2016, 10:11 AM   #11
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Aluminum wiring question!

Quote:
Originally Posted by cheetah1 View Post
Thank you to all for your input and information. It sounds like this is a situation where doing ongoing preventative maintenance checks on the outlets and the connections may be the key. I guess I have my weekend project laid out for me!

Since the power will be off cold beer, or your libation of choice is a justifiable means of hydration while you do your work.
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