Selling a House With Aluminum Wiring: Partial Update, Full Rewire, or Sell ‘As Is’?

Wires carry electricity throughout our homes to power laptops, televisions, and stoves, while allowing us to illuminate rooms with the flip of a switch. The majority of today’s homes have copper wiring — considered the gold standard for modern electrical — to do this important job. But if your home is a little bit older, your wiring might be of the less-desirable aluminum variety.

While you may have never experienced issues with your home’s electrical, selling a house with aluminum wiring can involve a few extra steps and raise scrutiny from buyers you should be prepared to handle.

That’s because homes wired with aluminum are 55 times more likely to have a wire connection that reaches “fire hazard conditions” compared to homes with copper, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) Publication 516, “Repairing Aluminum Wiring.”

No need to panic, though — you can take measures to ensure the house is safe and marketable, often without the costs of a full rewiring.

In this guide to selling a house with aluminum wiring, we consulted real estate experts and an experienced electrician for their direct advice. Follow these steps to get started:

  • Determine whether your home has aluminum wiring
  • Understand the risks of faulty aluminum wiring
  • Disclose aluminum wiring upfront with buyers
  • Share homeowners insurance information with buyers
  • Know your selling options
    • Hire an electrician to perform a partial update
    • Sell your home “as is” to a cash buyer with funds for repairs
    • Rewire the home for copper when necessary
A house with aluminum wiring you can sell.
Source: (Bilanol / Shutterstock)

Determine whether you home has aluminum wiring

Here are three ways to investigate whether your home has aluminum wiring.

  1. Consider the year your home was built.
    Aluminum wiring is most likely to be found in homes built between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. During these years, the cost of copper was higher, leading to the use of aluminum as a cheaper alternative in approximately 2 million homes since 1965, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  2. Check any exposed wires for tell-tale signs.
    Exposed wires in the attic or the basement can lend a clue to whether your wires are aluminum. Many of the plastic “jackets” over these wires will be labeled with letters such as ALUM or ALUMINUM.
  3. Pay attention to electrical hazard warnings. 
    If your aluminum wiring is starting to pose a hazard, you might have noticed flickering lights, circuits that don’t work properly, or even the scent of burning plastic near outlets or electrical switches.

Disclose aluminum wiring upfront with buyers

Even if your aluminum wiring operates fine and hasn’t caused any issues, don’t try to conceal aluminum wiring from buyers. Most states have real estate disclosure laws requiring sellers to share any material facts that could impact the home’s safety or value — and aluminum wiring may qualify.

By letting buyers know you have aluminum wiring, you give them the opportunity to order a professional electrical inspection to evaluate the condition of the wiring if they so choose. It’s always better to err on the side of honesty and disclosure, rather than risk a lawsuit down the line for failure to disclose. When in doubt, talk to your agent or a legal advisor on what’s required for your state.

Share homeowners insurance information with buyers

Another concern buyers may have about purchasing a home with aluminum wiring is whether their homeowners insurance will cover the property. According to Policygenius, an insurance marketplace since 2014, some insurers will charge higher rates or deny coverage of homes with aluminum wiring.

The insurance company will likely require an inspection after the policy becomes active and require updates if the property is deemed unsafe. You can help allay buyer concerns about insurance by sharing information about your own insurance company and the types of rates you currently pay, in addition to making sure the electrical passes inspection prior to listing.

An electrician replacing aluminum wiring in a house.
Source: (Francescomoufotografo / Shutterstock)

Know your options

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when selling a home with electrical wiring. Depending on your selling timeline, available funds, and motivations to sell the home, one avenue may make more sense over another.

Here are your main options:

1. Hire an electrician to perform a partial update.

Jimmy Stewart, a top real estate agent in Fort Collins, Colorado, uses his knowledge as a former building contractor to help clients understand that aluminum wiring is not a deal-breaker. “If the home has aluminum wiring, I don’t really fret over it,” Stewart says. “I just get it fixed, and it’s an easy fix,” he says.

What Stewart’s referring to is a partial update or aluminum wiring repair. Unlike a full update that involves replacing existing aluminum wiring with copper, a partial update protects the wire connections, where problems are most likely to arise.

The preferred aluminum wiring repair method of the CPSC involves attaching a piece of copper wire to the ends of the aluminum wire at connection points using a connector called COPALUM, a process known as “pigtailing.” COPALUM — a specially designed metal sleeve system — has been tested by CPSC-sponsored research, lab tests, and demonstration projects to deem it a “safe and permanent repair of the existing aluminum wiring.”

Where COPALUM isn’t available, the CPSC does also accept an alternative pigtailing method using a set screw connector called AlumiConn as the next best alternative. Whichever method is available in your locale, the CPSC highly recommends having a licensed electrician perform this work.

Although aluminum wiring repair is not as comprehensive as a full wiring update, it is significantly cheaper and may be enough to make the home safe and satisfy buyer concerns.

Cost to fully replace aluminum with copper Cost to do a partial update of aluminum wiring
$10,000 or more $291-$350

Sources:
Henderson Electric, an electrical company since 1955
Porch.com 2021 cost guide to repairing aluminum wiring

2. Sell your home ‘as is’ to a cash buyer with the funds for repairs.

If you’ve tried to sell your home with aluminum wiring unsuccessfully or if the property requires other major repairs beyond an electrical update, you can sell your home another way. While most traditional buyers prefer move-in ready homes, real estate investors have the funds and expertise to take on properties that need some or a lot of work. In addition, investors usually pay for homes with cash and offer to buy properties “as is,” allowing for a low-fuss transaction.

If this route interests you, we’d recommend requesting a cash offer from HomeLight’s Simple Sale platform.

Here’s how it works:

  • Enter the address of your home and answer a few quick questions about it.
    Tell us: Does your home need a little work, a lot of work, or none at all? How soon are you looking to sell? It could be ASAP or in 12+ months. Our easy questionnaire makes getting set up on the platform a breeze.
  • We’ll provide an all-cash offer in as few as 48 hours.
    You won’t be obligated to accept any offer you receive. If you’d like, HomeLight can also introduce you to a top real estate agent in your neighborhood for an expert opinion on what your home is worth. Feel free to check out our Home Value Estimator for a quick property value check-up as well.
  • You sell your house in its current condition.
    No additional repairs, prep costs, agent commissions, or hidden fees. This can save you time and money — a 2021 study we conducted found that on average, sellers spend nearly $5,500 prepping their home for the market, though for older homes with aluminum wiring, that cost could be more. Original pipes, aging roofs, and dated electrical wiring are often of no issue; our platform will provide a full cash offer for homes in almost any condition.
  • You can sell your house fast for cash in as few as 10 days.
    A 10-day closing translates as getting your home in some cases five times faster than with a buyer who needs financing in today’s market. According to the latest data from Ellie Mae, purchase loans are taking an average of 50 days to close as of May 2021. You’ll have the ability to pick a move date that works best for your schedule, too. That’s the ease of Simple Sale.

3. Fully rewire the home with copper when necessary.

A partial update or aluminum wire repair may be all your house needs to be functional, livable, and marketable in modern society. That said, aluminum will never be copper. And if an electrician deems your aluminum wiring past the point of repair, you can consider the more aggressive option of completely rewiring the home.

“I don’t have any problems with aluminum as long as it’s wired correctly,” says Henry Grantham, an electrician and service manager in South Carolina who has rewired a number of homes with his company, Stone Electrical Construction. “It’s just that a lot of times, people don’t cover the wire the right way, and the wire oxidizes and breaks down.”

Some of the main issues you may face with aluminum include:

  • The material is soft and easily fatigued:
    Compared to copper, aluminum is susceptible to bending, breaking, and deformity. When aluminum wires break down internally, they can start resisting the electrical “flow” and simply build up heat — think of a water hose with a kink in it.
  • Aluminum is vulnerable to oxygen, moisture, and temperature. 
    Moisture corrodes aluminum, and exposure to oxygen can cause aluminum wires to deteriorate. Even extreme temperatures cause aluminum wires to expand or contract, making connections iffy.
  • Vibration can cause aluminum to disconnect. 
    The nature of electricity causes a vibration, and the dainty nature of aluminum means vibration is more extreme. Over time, this can mean loose connections.

According to Thumbtack, which compiles project estimates from millions of users each year and tracks estimates from local professionals, you can expect to pay between $4,000 and $8,000 for a modest 2,000-square-foot home, and that’s just for the wiring itself.

Square feet 1,000 1,500 2,000 2,500 3,000
Average cost to rewire $2,000 – $4,000 $3,000 – $6,000 $4,000 – $8,000 $5,000 – $10,000 $6,00 – $12,000

Other costs include repairing torn walls, which can add another $2,000 or more to the total; upgrading the electrical service panel to conduct more power, which can cost between $1,300 and $3,000; and installing new outlets and switches, which averages around $100-$150 each (but can cost more).

Service Average cost
Updating electrical service panel $1,300-$3,000
Adding new circuits, outlets, and switches $100 – $150 each
Permits and inspections $200 – $900

Source: Thumbtack’s 2021 Cost to Rewire a House Guide

Other cost considerations include the age of the home (since wiring can be harder to reach in other properties), opening walls, and the total number of rooms that need rewiring. A complete rewiring is also time-consuming and disruptive, so you may need to relocate while it’s happening. Expect the process to take 3-10 days.

Navigating a sale when you have aluminum wiring

When it comes to electrical wiring, copper beats aluminum. However, there is nothing inherently wrong with aluminum wiring and it doesn’t have to be a blocker to getting your home sold. Be transparent with buyers, have a licensed electrician evaluate the condition of the wiring, and determine a path forward based on your selling needs and financial footing.

Header Image Source: (Yaroslav Muzychenko / Unsplash)