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posted: 2/28/2014 12:01 AM

Association warns of "hot spots" in aluminum wiring

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Q. Our condo was built in 1971, and the electrical system is wired with aluminum. Fortunately, all of the wire ends were retrofitted with copper "pigtails" about five years ago. But the homeowners association routinely issues the following warning to all condo owners: "Electric dryers will draw a large amount of electricity through our aluminum wiring, putting the entire building at risk. 'Hot spots' in aluminum branch wires and main cables have been a source of concern for years. In addition, having a number of dryers running concurrently could overload the main electric line to our building, causing a fire or necessitating a costly rewiring project."

There are 23 condos in our building. What do you think about this warning?

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A. If the quality of the wiring in these condos is so marginal that operating clothes dryers could put it at risk of a fire, then the units are in desperate need of a complete rewiring job. However, it is more likely that the HOA has overstated the problem and is giving overly cautious advice.

When they say "hot spots" have been a source of concern for years, what do they mean? Have they actually had a number of incidents where something overheated, or has a concern merely been expressed for years at HOA meetings?

You should have the system inspected by a licensed electrician who is familiar with aluminum wiring issues to determine the actual extent of the problem, if indeed it is a problem.

Q. I just moved to the big city and rented one of the bedrooms in a large apartment. When I moved in, the bedroom the Realtor showed me was occupied by someone else, so the property manager gave me a smaller room with no windows or closet. When I signed the lease, I did not understand that the room I was shown was not guaranteed. My question now is whether this room is a legal bedroom. Without a window, the room feels confining and unsafe. I want to move, but I can't afford to lose my deposit. What can I do?

A. Everyone involved in the renting of that room is in violation of the law. Chapter 3 of the International Residential Code requires that a room used for sleeping purposes have a window for light, ventilation and emergency escape. The code even provides specific minimum dimensions for that window. In this case, the owner of the property, the Realtor, the property manager, and anyone else who has a hand in renting this room to you is breaking the law.

Without a window, there would be no means of escape if a fire were to occur outside the bedroom door. Therefore, you have good reason to question the safety of that room. You should alert the municipal building department or the district attorney's office in your area to see who has the authority to intervene. You are definitely entitled to a refund of your rent and deposit.

• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.

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