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Double Lugging & Aluminum Wiring

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Kudos to Forsyth County Electrical Inspectors
(also Double Lugging & Aluminum Wiring)


As you well know, I spend much of my time telling people what's wrong with their homes and buildings. I would like to turn the tables for once and share something good. Although I inspect homes and buildings in every county that touches Forsyth, as well as on a limited basis in other NC counties and other states, most of my involvement is concentrated in Forsyth County. On Saturday, I inspected a home in an adjacent county. Constructed in 1939 this home had been extensively renovated in recent years including replacement of the main electrical distribution panel. Think for a moment how spaghetti looks when you pick it up and plop it down on your plate. This how the wiring in this panel looked. It was a frightful mess.

If you have had the privilege to look inside of electrical panels in Forsyth County, hopefully you have noticed that most have wiring that looks like a technical diagram with wires run straight, side by side with 90-degree turns. I often refer to them as "works of art" and advise my clients that, provided an electrical panel has been inspected by a Forsyth County Electrical inspector, and has not been touched since, you can almost be assured that not only is it wired correctly but it will look impressive. This is one of the requirements of my inspections, especially on new construction, that comes very close, in Forsyth County (thankfully), to feeling like a waste of time. The good part is that it usually allows me the opportunity to share with my client something, which has not only been installed correctly, but shows pride in workmanship going the extra length to not only be proper but to look proper. My hat is off, and I offer kudos to our Forsyth County Electrical Inspectors and their leader James Kennedy for a job well done.

Enough of this good stuff lets learn a little. James Carpenter is the Chief Electrical Engineer, State Electrical Inspector for North Carolina. James authored two articles in the November 2000 edition "The Newsletter" of the North Carolina Home Inspector Licensure Board, of which you should have some interest. Therefore, I am repeating them here for our edification. Understand that these articles are slanted toward Home Inspectors, due to numerous complaints raised by code inspectors, realtors and the public at large about "Double Lugging" and "Aluminum Wiring." Double Lugging is the most likely issue Home Inspectors will observe in panels and Aluminum Wiring seems to be the electrical issue most misunderstood.

For those of you who may not be familiar with electrical jargon, "conductors" are wires and "terminals" are the connections at the breakers, fuses, neutral or ground bars, switches or outlets.  

"Double Lugging" in Electrical Panel Boxes

A general statement about "double lugging" is in order. Section 110-14(a) of the State Electrical Code (NEC - 1999) requires terminals for more than one conductor be so identified. This requirement has been in the Code at least since the early 1940's. If the terminal is not identified as suitable for more than one conductor then installing more than one conductor per terminal is a Code violation.

Circuit breakers that are identified for multiple conductor terminations will have a sticker or marking near the termination stating the number of conductors permitted as well as the range of sizes permitted. These breakers have been available for some time with manufactures having some that are identified for multiple conductors and some not so identified. The only way to know is to look for the marking.

Terminal bars for panelboards are also marked for multiple conductor terminations. Underwriters Laboratories' product standards for panelboards require an individual terminal be provided for connection of each branch-circuit neutral connection. The markings for terminal bars prohibit multiple conductors for neutral terminations but do allow equipment grounding conductors to be "double lugged". Installing multiple neutral conductors in one terminal, even if the terminal is identified for more than one conductor, is not permitted. This would not ordinarily create a hazard; however, the concern is the possibility of an energized neutral conductor being present when servicing is performed at the terminal. One of the neutrals could be carrying current when the other neutral is being removed and could create a shock and sparking condition. This condition would not occur with equipment grounding conductors, therefore multiple conductors are allowed when the terminals are identified for such. The same identification requirements are present for use with aluminum wire as well as the lug being identified for aluminum connection.

As one can deduce, there are varying degrees of hazards, ranging from the extremely hazardous to ones of relative low hazard. As a home inspector, you must be careful so as not to report a situation that may be misleading. Noting the conditions and letting a properly trained and qualified professional address the situation may be your best course of action.

Aluminum Wiring

What should you as a Home Inspector do or say about Aluminum wiring when found in dwellings?

Starting around 1965 many homes were wired using Aluminum wire for the smaller branch circuits - 15- and 20-ampere branch circuits. Homes built before 1965 are not likely to have aluminum wiring used. The practice of using aluminum wire for these size branch circuits has not continued in homes built today, even though the wiring method is permitted by the current electrical Code. Aluminum wire is still used in the larger branch circuits 30- amperes and larger, feeders and service entrance conductors.

Overheating in the connections to receptacle and snap switch terminals can occur when using copper or aluminum conductors but there was a larger number of damaging incidents reported when aluminum wire was used on the 15- and 20- ampere branch circuits. The industry has made improvements in the wire and terminations for use with aluminum wire. Receptacle and switches marked CO/ALR are meant to be used with aluminum wire. Also a re-emphasis for the need of following good installation practices was made.

Unusually warm cover plates on receptacles or switches or a distinctive or strange odor in the area near receptacles or switches is a warning sign that there may be a loose connection. Flickering of lights are also indications of possible wiring problems. If such signs are present, or develop, a qualified electrical contractor or electrician should be contacted to evaluate the wiring and make repairs if necessary.

Your duty as a home inspector is to make a report of conditions present and only note the fact that aluminum wire was used for the 15- and 10- ampere branch circuits. You must be careful so as not to mislead; however, if conditions are observed as described above they should be reported as a possible hazard. Leave it to a qualified electrical contractor to determine if the wiring is properly installed and maintained.

Comments by Chris:

You should be aware that it is unusual, although not unheard of, to find "double lugging" in electrical panels where a code enforcement officer has inspected the work. The problem arises when wiring is added after the inspection either by an electrician who is in a hurry, or trying to be cheap, who (improperly) is not having the work inspected, or by the home owner or an amateur who has no idea that such a practice is not only wrong but hazardous. Much of the homes with electrical renovations or additions I inspect appear to either have been performed by amateurs or by questionable electricians without inspections. In almost every case I will find "double lugging" in the panel.

Aluminum wiring on small branch circuits, although an issue which rightfully should be of concern and investigated, has been blown way out of proportion. A little investigation will show that although there is much aluminum wiring is Forsyth County there has been very little experience with problems or fires cased by this issue.
              

Thought for the week

Christopher Columbus
He left not knowing where he was going,
did not know where he was,
returned not knowing where he had been,
died not fully knowing what he had accomplished,
and did it all on someone else's money.

Sounds like the over priced investments traded on today's stock market.
Only the names and places change everything else remains the same.

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