Submitted by napstur t3_y92hbf in DIY

I just replaced a power outlet due to a very strong plastic / paint / ozoney smell last month. Out of curiosity I had a sniff of other outlets around the house today and they aren't strong at all but I can smell the same scent if I put my nose right near it. I noticed it's only on the ones that are used. Is this a normal thing? I'm tempted to call an electrician but not sure if it's a waste of time. Nothing is hot, nothing is charred and the smell isn't strong at all. However, it's only there when something has been plugged in.

Sorry if it's a stupid question. Thanks



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tshawkins t1_it359il wrote

It's the smell of ozone and spluttered metal vapor. When you plug and unplug, it creates momentry sparking, which generates ozone and vaporises a tiny amount of the pin/contact metal, that can create the faint smell. It's normal so you should not worry. Unless you can see pronounced flashing and arcing when unplugging etc, then it's not a problem.


jib_reddit t1_it4pz07 wrote

This is partly why nearly all British plug sockets have a switch on them and it's just convenient.


PrometheusSmith t1_it547jz wrote

Just moves the arc of breaking the circuit to a different location, albeit one that is much more effective at breaking the current.


shardarkar t1_it5giba wrote

A switch breaks the circuit many times faster than a human ever could by pulling a plug out of a socket. This reduces the duration of the arc and damage caused by it, extending the lifespan of the electrical contacts in the socket.


PrometheusSmith t1_it5jkwl wrote

The real hero though is AC current, allowing the voltage to help break the arc as well.


wj9eh t1_it6cfm1 wrote

What in the Nicola Tesla


PrometheusSmith t1_it769s0 wrote

Arc length is determined in part by voltage. DC would be constant so you'd be breaking the arc at full voltage. With AC the voltage cycles through 0 60 times a second, allowing the arc to dissipate naturally and it cannot reform because the voltage required to maintain an arc is lower than what is required to start it.


wj9eh t1_it7ovhw wrote

Sure but would it kill an elephant?


ColgateSensifoam t1_it64d9z wrote

Specifically a proper switch, as they're spring-loaded to snap as fast as possible, crappy (non-kitemarked) switches can neglect the spring and arc if you don't hit them hard enough


Kale t1_it6u647 wrote

Technology connections has a great video on this. It explores why light switches are "clicky". To spoil the answer, good light switches have mechanisms that fling the electrical contacts open and closed as fast as possible, to keep the electrical arc as short as possible.


Oberyn_TheRed_Viper t1_it58m4q wrote

Are you saying American Outlets don't all have switches on them??

That's madness, surely.

edit - Thanks for the down votes on an item that should have a switch by default as a basic safety measure. That' some patriotism for ya.


foss4us t1_it59ubq wrote

They do not. The only time we install switched outlets is if we have a table lamp in the back corner of a room and want to control it from a switch at the doorway.

Our outlets only use half the voltage of yours though.


toogsh1212 t1_it5ginz wrote

No. The closest we have are GFCIs


Oberyn_TheRed_Viper t1_it5qirs wrote


Thanks. Haven't seen those before.

We have RCD's (residual Current Device) back in the electrical box to protect the outlet user, rather than having it on the outlet like your ones.


a_lost_shadow t1_it5xsl4 wrote

It's interesting how things are similar but different across the countries. Here in the US you can get GFCI breakers, but they tend to be more expensive than the outlets. The outlets can also protect all downstream outlets.

We also have AFCI (ARC Fault) breakers mandated for most residential circuits. This is another reason for the GFCI outlets since some locations like laundry areas now require both AFCI & GFCI protection.


Kale t1_it6uvv5 wrote

The US electrical is kind of weird. We have GFCI that breaks the circuit if electricity on one leg is different than electricity on the other leg (meaning current is leaking somewhere). This GFCI can be on a circuit breaker, on the receptacle itself, or on the plug of the device.

AFCIs are new and required in bedroom circuits. The early breakers would trip with certain arcing loads, like vacuum cleaners. They were annoying enough that an electrician I know said that almost all home owners would get the AFCIs installed, pass the electrical inspection, then replace the AFCIs with traditional circuit breakers. I think the AFCI technology is better today though.


g1ngertim t1_it5y5mz wrote

Better yet, a half inserted plug can both make contact, becoming hot, and still have exposed metal, making for just the safest fucking design 👍


ColgateSensifoam t1_it64jyx wrote

And they're usually installed upside down, with no mandatory ground, so it's entirely possible to drop a conductive object onto a plug and start a fire


orbital_one t1_it5qhmj wrote

Outlets are supposed to have switches?


Oberyn_TheRed_Viper t1_it5qqeo wrote

Look I guess it varies wildly from country to country for standards.

Australian outlets, yes, this is the standard.


Revenant759 t1_it65vul wrote

How many switches do you have in a room? Jesus, I have a relatively small office with 5 outlets, the switch is for the overhead light.


Oberyn_TheRed_Viper t1_it6h16j wrote

Small bedroom will have a single housing with two outlets in it..each outlet has its own switch.
Larger bedrooms will have a double outlet in each side of the bed for 2 people. Loungeroom has 2 to 4 double's. Etc etc.


RossAM t1_it63kmp wrote

I'm guessing that part of that might also be we're running half the voltage you are at.


tshawkins t1_it6txv1 wrote

That and their propensity to fall out of the outlet at the slightest provocation.


napstur OP t1_it376ac wrote

This has been plugged in for days though, I would have thought a smell from initially plugging it in would fade away and not still be there?


silverbullet52 t1_it3skye wrote

If there are any pigtails in the junction box (wirenuts) undo them and re-do them to make sure there is a good connection. Could be getting some minor arcing or a high resistance contact if they're not solid.


frollard t1_it4a28r wrote

In addition to this, double check there isn't aluminum wiring mixed with other non-aluminum stuff; the thermal expansion is different between Al and other metals Cu/Brass, etc, causing joints to weaken over time. Once loose they arc routinely with any vibrations in the house, getting looser and looser with time, eventually becoming a fire hazard.


Dakine_Lurker t1_it4b59i wrote

I just had to address this in my place. Expensive mess but I’ll sleep better now. If anyone is wondering I opted to use the AlumiConn connectors. Best I could do without opening up more walls and ceilings.


obi-sean t1_it4doth wrote

Every time I open up a fixture or outlet in my house I remediate the mixed-metal wiring with AlumiConn connectors. They're kind of expensive and a hassle to get crammed back into the box, but it's a hell of a lot better than spending $??,000 to rewire the whole house, and it's supposedly a permanent remediation method.

Not a shill, just a guy who bought a house from an idiot.


Dakine_Lurker t1_it4easi wrote

Lol. Must have been the same idiot I bought from. I do know that I no longer have any aluminum in outlet, switch, or light junction boxes. We rewired the bulk of the house when we purchased it. Which leads me to believe the aluminum wiring I found in a wall I was demoing recently is connected to copper in the attic (I contracted out the attic and main panel work). Guess I need to get up there with another box of these connectors.


Bldaz t1_it4ct62 wrote

Unless you are used to doing this id advise against that. Some older homes are aluminum wiring. You need to add certain wire nuts as well as looking for burnt wires.


psaux_grep t1_it4t728 wrote

Get someone to check it out. Electrical fires are dangerous.

A friend of mine had faux tiles put on the wall above his kitchen counter, but the sockets weren’t moved out to the new surface, but kept recessed. The cover was put back on.

Now he got arcing between one of the phases and ground on the inside of the cover due to the small gap that was created.

For him it triggered the RCD. In an old house you might not be so lucky.

To put it this way, I’ve never noticed Ozone smell from a properly working socket.


Cappecfh t1_it4gh1x wrote

Ozone is odorless tho


bingybunny t1_it4jb7x wrote

no, you can definitely smell it

I associate it with the smell of electricity. I can smell model train transformers and lightning and stuff like that


cantthinkofaname t1_it4jxg4 wrote

I've got an ozone SDS in front of me that says "Colorless to blue gas with very pungent odor"


brandaglington t1_it4h45b wrote

smelling electricity is the kind of mutation that gets you into Xavier’s school but just barely


FLdancer00 t1_it5ihq7 wrote

I learned this year that some people can hear electricity, like all the time. That's trippy.


ColgateSensifoam t1_it64tlm wrote

We're not hearing electricity itself, we're hearing arcing and inductor vibrations

I can hear an inductor failing months before it does, but I can't hear someone talking directly to me, such is life


FLdancer00 t1_itb6ktz wrote

My apologies. "Some people can hear arcing & inductor vibrations" was too long to type, but I should be accurate in the information I spread.


Lillfot t1_it685lm wrote

Not really, it's just sine waves and coil whine.


SourFix t1_it36zr0 wrote

Problem can be elsewhere. Make sure your outlet is rated for whatever size breaker it's on because current will still go through it to other outlets even if nothing is plugged in it.


napstur OP t1_it37m7q wrote

Actually you might have nailed it. These are 10 amp outlets and the breaker is 16 amp. So I need to replace them all?


limitless__ t1_it395il wrote

10amp outlet? Are you sure about that? I don't think I've ever seen a 10amp outlet. Most residential outlets are 15amp.


napstur OP t1_it39c4l wrote

10A 240V written on the outlet switches


Faruhoinguh t1_it3unsk wrote

As far as I know 10 Amp outlets should not be on a 16 Amp breaker because failure mode for drawing too much current is in the outlet or maybe even wiring. So the breaker is then useless. Its a fire hazard. Consider talking to an electrician.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it3zlaa wrote

You need to change your breakers to 10 amps also, otherwise you risk unintentionally overloading the outlets/wires or whatever is the "bottleneck".


electricmama4life t1_it44lha wrote

This is wrong, your breaker amperage should not be the same the outlet amperage. Also, there is no current flowing until a load is connected. Most household loads don't pull anywhere close to 10A. This comment is just completely wrong.


ErikRedbeard t1_it4wvvl wrote

Without knowing where the other person is from this doesn't mean much.

Where I live outlets are required to have the same rating as the breaker of the circuit. Both 16 Amps. The outlets also don't contain anything in the form of protection.

I can't even buy wall outlets under 16amps rating in DIY markets here. Heck they are exclusively 16amps.


pyrodice t1_it8tchc wrote

I just had a long thread with them and from what I can see, you'd ALWAYS want the breaker to be the first point of failure, rather than an outlet or the wiring to it. Any chance you can look this over and see if we're all just talking past each other?


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it46znr wrote

There are plenty of appliances drawing 10 amps like a hoover or a toaster. And ypur breakers should absolutely be dimensioned according to the wiring and othe rinstallation materiel.


electricmama4life t1_it47z9a wrote

You an electrician?


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it48kfp wrote

No. But an electrician would spank you if you ever installed breakers over 10 amps along with materials that are not rated for over 10 amps.


electricmama4life t1_it48zkk wrote

I'm a licensed electrician, been doing it for over 15 years years, you're wrong


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it49fkd wrote

Thats fine, but its not up to code where im from, and it really makes me wonder about the safety of electrical installations where you are from (unless you are fron the UK with built in fuses in the sockets)

What happens if you plug in a 12 amp appliance into that plug protected by a 16 amp breaker?


999baz t1_it4ak2b wrote

He’s right, the breaker is only to protect the circuit which might have 10 outlets. The fuse on the plug or the rcd protect the appliance.

Eg Uk ring main has a 32amp breaker for multiple 13amp sockets.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it4bpw0 wrote

Where im from theres no fuses in appliances (unless very special), its all protected at the breaker. Our standard 1.5mm2 wiring is designed to handle 13 amps passing through, so these are protected by 13 amp breakers. You cant ever overload the wiring or the sockets (16 amps usually) this way no matter what you plug in.

In the UK design, you should either have some pretty beefy wiring to support a potential 32 amp current or risk overloading the wires with the way its designed. You could potentially hook up 3x10 amp appliances and not have the breaker cut the current and have 30 amps passing through whatever wiring you have 😱


pyrodice t1_it4yui9 wrote

HOW do you plug in an Appliance which draws more current than the socket is rated? Let me elaborate. Here in the USA where we use 120v, a 15 and a 20 amp socket will both let you plug in 15 amp items. A 15 amp socket will NOT, PHYSICALLY allow you to plug in a 20 amp appliance. they look like this


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it7cxzw wrote

In denmark the whole installation from socket to breaker must be rated at or higher than the breaker. This way you are also protected from any malfunctions of the appliance - a short circuited appliance can draw many amps, and in that case you really want your installation protected by the breakers.

You can easily have old wiring worth only 10 amps (protected with 10 amp breakers). Have not seen sockets rated below 16 amps, and we only have one standard socket for this (we ofc have some special ones also like CEE and a couple other weird ones), but for normal households its more or less universal.


pyrodice t1_it7wo8h wrote

But as to my direct question, you're telling me that an appliance that draws more than 10 A would still plug into a socket that is rated for 10 A? I mean they're both the same shape and there's no safety mechanism to prevent that physically?


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it7y3rj wrote


But the safety mechanism lies at the breaker circuit. If your outlet is rated to 10 so must your breaker be. That way there is no risk.

What happens if one of your 10 A appliances fails and starts to draw 16 amps? Say a malfunctioning toaster.


pyrodice t1_it807kz wrote

Well for our relevant current, the smallest home socket we have is 15 A, but if something did in fact start drawing more like 16, it would probably be a slow heat until the 15 amp circuit breaker tripped, but the breaker, the wiring, and the outlet will all be rated the same if they've been installed correctly.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it82de6 wrote

The point is, you can never be sure that the appliance you plug in doesnt draw more than the rating for a long variety of reasons (bad product, damaged, too many appliances connected to the same outlet etc) so if you want a safe installation you should assume this could be the case and install a breaker thats of the lowest rating in the whole system.


pyrodice t1_it82xhc wrote

Well for us it means the socket and breaker should coordinate, so you can't burn the outlet before something quits.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it840gc wrote

That works when the appliances function and people havent put too many things on extension cords... i.e. there are more risks in this design...


pyrodice t1_it8erjl wrote

That's an externality to what we're discussing though and is equally true of all configurations


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it8i1x6 wrote

Not really - if the breaker is dimensioned larger than the outlet material you could overload the outlet material by adding too many appliances. If the breaker is dimensioned as the outlet rating the breaker will trip if theres too much current passing through the outlet.


pyrodice t1_it8ia58 wrote

If the breaker is rated the same as the outlet, and the breaker trips, that is good. You don't want to start a fire in the outlet. You always want a circuit breaker to trip before excess heat is concentrated at another connection point.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it8im6z wrote


But the other guys slammed on me for stating this simple fact...


pyrodice t1_it8k5o4 wrote

I think you should go back and see what you said and see if you misphrased something, then.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it8t0zo wrote

Im not sure what that would be - help me out. Think I was pretty clear in my first comment

> You need to change your breakers to 10 amps also, otherwise you risk unintentionally overloading the outlets/wires or whatever is the "bottleneck".


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it7yoeg wrote

I should add that only installations using old cabling are using 10 A breakers. Standard is 13 A for cables and 16 A for sockets. In practice 16 A is only used for ovens/electric stoves, so theres no need for special sockets.

Its all 240 V so theres plenty of power.


electricmama4life t1_it4c8aq wrote

it draws 12 amps, a 12 amp appliance will not draw more than 12 amps, that's not how it works


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it4chxp wrote

Yes, and the outlet is only rated at 10 amps risking that it could overheat and cause an electrical fire...


cptmcsexy t1_it46mn4 wrote

While this is one way of doing it, the breaker should be fine since it should of been sized approriately for the wire during install, I think he only changed the outlet.

Properly sizing the outlet makes more sense since its cheaper and easier than a new breaker.


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it4769y wrote

If its only the outlet, absolutely, just change that. But as its installed now its unsafe and would require a 10 amp breaker.


Diligent_Nature t1_it3cfmx wrote

That's not the outlet rating.


Angdrambor t1_it3rce7 wrote

lolwut? What is it then? 10A is a perfectly reasonable residential current at 240v.


MonsterCookieCutter t1_it4bod5 wrote

How much current are you drawing? Having a higher rated breaker doesn’t make your equipment just draw more current. You should not be drawing more than half the current of the weakest link (which ought to be the breaker) for any length of time. Electric kettle, full power is fine. Space heater, no.

Edit: BTW, where I live you don’t see 16A for normal outlets, but 13A is common or 10A for older installations. Your installation sounds dodgy.


DilettanteGonePro t1_it4y9ik wrote

My brother had an old farmhouse and found out the hard way that there was a run of lower rated wire inside one of the walls. He had a space heater plugged in against the outside wall but someone had added an outlet to an inside wall on the same circuit and used cheaper wire just in that section, so a fire started inside the wall. Luckily he noticed the smoke coming from the outlet as he was heading to bed for the night. If he hadn't noticed it he may not have woken up. He had so many similar crappy DIY problems with that house he probably replaced 60% of the house before he sold it


papadjeef t1_it3entf wrote

Next time someone asks me why the US uses 120v for home power, I'm citing this post and saying it's so our outlets don't smell. /s


KRed75 t1_it4stce wrote

Ghosts like to hang out in electrical outlets that have been freshly used. You have poltergeists.


TheBlargshaggen t1_it34p2n wrote

Its made of plastic and metal, if you're sniffing really up close on them of course you smell that. If you can smell it from a decent bit away, that means there is already something burning.


napstur OP t1_it36wrj wrote

Can you explain why I can't smell it on outlets that aren't in use then? This isn't a normal smell of plastic and metal, it's the same smell as my previous burnt outlet only a lot fainter.


EtherCJ t1_it3e2f6 wrote

It might be slightly warmer in outlets in use and so have more off gasing. Maybe it’s from what’s plugged in since those cords are often smellier. Hard to say honestly.


dougyoung1167 t1_it5dr8o wrote

that smell has a lasting odor, and the box, plate cover, etc. would still have it.


addictedskipper t1_it3gvsr wrote

A little off topic, but suppose the outlet does spark when you plug something in. I've seen that often and was always puzzled whether or not that indicated a serious problem. Sometimes plugging in a computer or AC adapter will cause a quick spark.

Is that a cause for concern?


Astramancer_ t1_it3wewn wrote

Not really. It's gonna spark as you make the circuit. It's pretty inevitable. The circuit is complete ever so slightly before the metal makes contact because the voltage is enough to jump the air gap which is the spark you see.

Normally you don't really see it due to the angles involved (leaning over to plug something in at shin height) or because you're plugging in a device that's turned off and so the circuit doesn't complete until you manually switch it on.

As long as it's fully inside the outlet and only happens when you plug/unplug something, it's probably fine.


travelingjack t1_it5euhq wrote

My brain produced an interesting image from your description of your urban activities


Doctor_Frasier_Crane t1_it3a65q wrote

Take a look at how they're wired... I bet they're back-stabbed. Re-do them properly using the side screw terminals. Some outlets you can extract the wire, but if not, just cut it off and replace it.

I did that to my whole house after noticing some of the often-used outlets were getting warm and smelled.


napstur OP t1_it3aqks wrote

Thanks for your advice, my friend is an electrician and although I feel I can do this myself, I'm smart enough to know when it's best to leave it to an expert to get it done properly. I'll call in a favour and grab a box of beer for them. Thanks for your help.


Doctor_Frasier_Crane t1_it3bd0r wrote

Get him to teach you and you can both do it in less time. Spend the saved time drinking the beer!

Honestly, if you can work a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, you can rewire an outlet.


kcrab91 t1_it3g295 wrote

You can buy an outlet tester at your local depot store. It’s a device that you simply plug in and it will tell you if the outlet is connected properly. They’re like $10-20.

Electrician friends are cool too, but don’t abuse that. Ask questions or pay for their services at their rates. They don’t want Saturday projects that pay a 6 pack just like you wouldn’t. It’s like the guy with a truck. He only gets a call when someone needs to use the truck.


Ishidan01 t1_it3hc1a wrote

Lol. I just had to replace an outlet in a condo that was built in the 70s, where the outlet started near burning as described. It was a center of the stream one so it had both line and load wires.

Whoever installed it had a mixed philosophy. Both whites and the load black were stabbied, the line black was hooked.

Guess which one failed!


Darkassassin07 t1_it3cwtm wrote

Is it an old home?

Some older houses have wiring that's coated in a rubber type insulation that degrades into a green goo over time. It's got a bit of a stink to it.

The goo is hard to miss, it'll be obvious in the electrical boxes if it is your problem.


napstur OP t1_it3d7cx wrote

Yeah old house, 1969. I'll open one tomorrow morning and check it out. For now I've left it switched off. If it acts up in the mean time I'll just switch off the breaker.


building_fool t1_it482ih wrote

I’m in 240v and all my regular 10A sockets are on breakers labelled C20. Lights are on C10 breakers.


napstur OP t1_it3dd9a wrote

Thanks for all the advice guys, almost 3am. I'll reply in the morning. Really appreciate the help.


bulanaboo t1_it3fwg0 wrote

Specialty is a glade is plugged in


slashfromgunsnroses t1_it3z843 wrote

Ozone can be created by arching electricity through air... Not likely given that all your outlets would seem to be faulty... unfortunately its not easy to measure (you can actually get breakers that detect this 😱).

If it was hust 1 id be worried... but since its all its unlikely thats the problem... But cant be sure :p


ja_trader t1_it4b2cr wrote

got to imagine an electrician would love to smell all your outlets... sounds like easy money


sirmoveon t1_it4ktze wrote

Check for reverse polarity


inevitable-asshole t1_it4rkn7 wrote

Seems like you’re worried about an electrical fire, so I’ll offer this advice: If there’s something electrical that’s burning, the smell will engulf the house to the point where you can’t tell where it’s coming from.


sowokeicantsee t1_it52zxo wrote

Well, we had a house fire (Electrical wiring at switchboard) and lost everything, you dont want to go through that ever.Call the electrician and sleep well at night.


SoloRich t1_it55y5b wrote

The water in the air around the outlets is causing a circuit with a tiny voltage to occur. as electricity goes through the water vapor it splits the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. When u go sniffing i that area you smell ozone there because it forms ozone as a byproduct but this is not dangerous just open your home to fresh air every so often.


Megamoss t1_it56jit wrote

With plastic outlets/pvc insulated wiring the real warning is a faint fishy smell.

If you’ve not been cooking any fish and you smell it, investigate.


HorsesRanch t1_it640j8 wrote

This is not a stupid question, 'poster' tshawkins described it best for people to understand; whenever plugging/unplugging or opening/closing a breaker - an electrical spark will occur (especially if end equipment has a potential load).

The jumping of electricity across an open-air space creates ozone from the air, a by-product of a chemical makeup changes to the ambient air from the arc; this is a natural reaction of physics.

Even the adapter to charge small electronics, it has a transformer in the line to reduce the voltage; the transformer is the load - it will create a spark that you can see if paid attention to.

New appliances have 'pre-starters', so they are ready to be used immediately (but constantly have a draw on power); the properties or physics of electricity many do not understand.

Think of it as the same as water, it travels on the outside of the conductor; wires that are stranded or braided will carry more volume of load due to more physical surface area to travel on - the terms associated with it may help in the understanding.

Current, Flow, Pressure, Wave are all the hydraulic associations with electricity, if someone sensitive to nature and dowses for water; they can find exactly where buried power cables are. Heavy pressure (amperes) can be felt/seen with a compass, when it is flowing with a lot of pressure behind it; it will cause the wires to resonate/make sound and vibration - like everything, it is governed and confined by gravity.

The properties are fluid and dynamic for change with surrounding environment, heat and air pressure can cause resistance (watts) - if you have extra time for learning, a great many things are documented for any to view.

I have many large reference 'bibles' as well as code books that I still use (sometimes I have to look up a formula to equate end principle) and some are almost impossible to replace.

Hope I filled any holes, good fortune and the best for you. Horse


NLJeroen t1_it6den3 wrote

Do you have gfci breakers?


Verbenaplant t1_it6qtfn wrote

There is never a stupid question. Someone will know the answer!


KitchenNazi t1_it3l1sz wrote

Since you can smell the outlet, swap one out and see if it changes anything. If you're handy you shouldn't need an electrician.

Make sure to buy an AL / CU rated outlet just in case. You could have aluminum wiring since your place is 1969 - that can cause all sorts of issues. If your ground wire is coming from the same cable it should be copper colored. Also, if you're aluminum you might see some purple connectors if someone has mitigated it in the past.


RubAnADUB t1_it3dicr wrote

alumn wiring?