Pluses and Minuses of Aluminum VS Copper Conductors (Copper Prices Keep Climbing So Aluminum Wiring is Making a Comeback)
Conductors that are composed of non-magnetic metals are considered good and are extensively used in the manufacturing of wires and cables. However, silver is the best metal conductor discovered so far but its use is very limited due to its very high cost. Therefore, when it comes to wiring a building structure, copper and aluminum metals are mostly used. Despite their utility in wiring, both of these metals vary in their properties. Therefore, here we will try to figure out which one of these metals is better than the other one by making a brief comparison of their properties.
Copper is well recognized for its bright red and orange color. It is also one of the first metals that were discovered and exploited for their good electrical properties. Studies showed that copper is good enough to conduct 100% electrons when they are allowed to pass through it. Besides having excellent conductivity, copper is also very ductile and malleable. Due to its ductility and malleability, it can be easily pulled into wires and beaten into thin sheets as per requirements for being used as a conductor.
Based on these findings, copper became the international standard in 1913. Since its recognition as International Annealed Copper Standard, the electrical conductivity value of all metals is determined after making a comparison with copper. Besides having excellent electrical properties, it is also very strong compared to aluminum due to which it expands very little when exposed to heat. In terms of its availability, it is mined in many places all over the world including Mexico, Chile, and the United States.
Although copper had an edge over aluminum from the historic perspective for been used as a conductor. But aluminum still has some properties that make it ideal for use as a conductor under certain conditions. In terms of electrical conductivity, aluminum conducts only 61% electricity compared to copper. Yet in terms of weight, it weighs only 1/3 of copper which makes it less expensive. Aluminum used in wires is mostly made of aluminum alloys which along with aluminum also contain other substances like copper, iron, silicon, etc. The aluminum alloy AA-1350 gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s for use as household wiring material because at that time copper faced a sudden hike in price.
The problem with the use of aluminum alloys arises at the time when the experts labeled aluminum wires as a fire hazard as they got heat up very quickly. Poor quality workmanship and differences in the properties of metals in the alloy are the main causes behind this. Another reason for the restricted use of aluminum was that it was very hard to mine compared to copper. Despite being abundant in Earth’s crust, it is very difficult to find. Moreover, in terms of reactivity, copper again has an edge over aluminum. Aluminum is a very reactive metal which makes it further difficult to process. Aluminum is mainly obtained from an ore called bauxite and it can only be used as a conductor after proper processing.
Keeping in view the properties of both copper and aluminum, copper has a clear edge over aluminum when it comes to wiring a building structure or house.