Homeowners Get Shock Over Wires

Linda Helland is stuck in her northeast Pensacola home–unable to sell it–until she can have its electrical system rewired with copper.
It will cost a whopping $5,00 to $7,000, according to estimates she has received form electricians.
Like thousands of homes in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, Helland’s 1970’s home has aluminum branch wiring, which Florida insurance companies consider a potential fire hazard.
Because of this, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the government-established insurer of last resort, said last year it would not write future policies  for homes with general purpose aluminum branch wiring. Almost all state-regulated private insurance companies in Florida followed suit.
And in some cases, private insurers already are dropping homeowners with aluminum wiring. Without insurance, mortgage lenders will not approve a home loan. While Helland can barely afford to rewire, many homeowners will not be able to and will lose their insurance or be unable to sell their homes.
“It’s not right,” said Mike McCombs, president of McCombs Electrical Co. in Milton. “Aluminum wire is just as safe as copper wire if it’s installed correctly.”
Homes built, rooms added, or circuits rewired or added between 1965 and 1973 may contain aluminum wiring, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
During those years, 14,159 homes were built in Escambia County and 2,808 in Santa Rosa, according to property appraisers Chris Jones in Escambia and Greg brown in Santa Rosa.
Alternative Method
Though McCombs stands to benefit from rewiring homes with copper, he’s fighting fiercely to get Citizens to accept alternative methods for ensuring aluminum is safe.
And he may be on to something.
Florida Lawmakers say it’s too late to submit legislation to address it during the current legislative session. But Reps. Clay Ford and Doug Broxson have been talking to citizens about alternative methods for ensuring aluminum is safe.
Because of McCombs’ suggestions, Citizens has agreed to look into the liability of three potential alternative methods–AlumiConn, Copalum and CO/ALR connectors–which are used widely to make aluminum wiring connections safe.
Citizens hopes to announce within the next few weeks whether it will accept any of them as insurable methods, said Citizens spokeswoman Christine Ashburn.
Any of the methods is likely to be a fraction of the cost of rewiring, which can cost anywhere form $7,000 to $20,000, McCombs said.
His estimate for installing the AlumiConn or CO/ALR connectors in a 1,500-square-foot house is between $900 and $2,000.
“It’s looking really positive,” McCombs said. “I appreciate them considering these other methods. They are correct to do that, and there probably are other methods out there to be considered. If it is testing-laboratory approved, and it’s approved by th Florida Building Code, then it ought to be able to be used.” 
McCombs also is in contact with the Florida Building Commission, which he hopes will consider alternative methods to deal with aluminum wiring. If commissions approves other methods, then insurers are more likely to accept them, he said.
“I am commited to making sure that aluminum-wired homes–and there are thousands of them–have and option,” Broxson said. “There is no reason why they should not be insuring them. Hopefully, we will get this resolved soon.”
McCombs is concerned about the damage the issue can do to economic development in Florida, which badly needs new residents and increased home sales.
He said the only area where the wiring seems to be a problem is in Northwest Florida/ He has called insurers in Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando, as well as many major Southern U.S. cities, and “no one knows anything about this except in Northwest Florida.”
Killing home sales
Many people have told McCombs their insurer has given them a June 1 deadline to rewire or their coverage will be canceled.
Helland is being dropped by her isurer, Universal Property & Casualty Insurance, effective May 5. She’s getting quotes now to have her home rewired before the policy expires.
“It’s one of those things I sure had not planned for,” Helland said.
The 63-year-old divorcee was laid off December 2008 to August 2010 from her 25-year job as an electrical drafter at Solutia.
She since has gotten a part-time job there, but it’s not enough income to keep up the many costs of owning the 1,930-square-foot home. She wants to sell it and rent an apartment.
“So this rewiring has hit me pretty hard because the money I set aside for retirement went to pay for living expanses when I was laid off,” Helland said.
Realtors say the wiring issue is having a significant impact on home sales.
Realtor Michele Schoonover, with Grand Realty in Pace, had a home under contract to sell that fell through twice because of it. Now the owners have taken the home off the market so they can save for the cost of rewiring.
Meanwhile, Schoonover had the same issue with her own 1974 home where she has lived for 31 years. She had it rewired last week for $6,500. It took a week to complete.
“Our home is paid off, and I don’t want it to burn down,” Schoonover said. “Plus, I have my 90-year-old father with Alzheimer’s living with us. I think it’s something that everybody who has a home built in that time period needs to be aware of.”
Pensacola News Journal March 14, 2011

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