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Gets tips and information from Jaycox Electrical.

Landscape Lighting: A Quick Guide

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Landscape lighting is subtle, but adds a huge effect to the aesthetics of your home. Sadly, many people neglect the effects that lighting can bring to a home’s outdoor features. Lighting can turn a bland, dark backyard into a cozy, welcoming atmosphere that you’ll love to spend your evenings in. Make your backyard the best room you’ve got by adding some landscape lighting features, or bring your front yard to life by accentuating its architectural features or the features your yard has to offer.

Below, we’ll cover the most basic and popular types of landscape lighting, and how each can be used to make your own home look incredible, even at night. By understanding these basic landscape lighting types, you can easily communicate your goals with a lighting designer, electrician, or light pro at the hardware store. With this guide, transforming your outdoor lighting is super easy.

 

1.             Path Lighting

These lights are used to illuminate walking paths and driveways. They not only improve safety, but also add a touch of elegance to your evening entryway. Path lightinghas come a long way in recent years, and has become as easy as putting solar powered lights in the ground and boom - you’re done. If you’re looking for something a bit more reliable and long-lasting, a low-voltage system can be installed and wired to a junction box. The most recent trend in path lighting is LED lights embedded into your walking paths. These come in a multitude of colors, giving you some fun options to play with for your walkways. The wire is buried underground, giving your path lighting a clean look that works even on the rainiest of days.

2.            Lanterns

These give a warm ambiance to any landscape. They come in numerous styles. Lanterns are typically connected directly to the house current, or comes with a 12 volt transformer for plugging into an outlet. A popular style is candle lanterns. Candle lanterns add sophistication, style, and a hint of nostalgia for simpler times to any landscape. Lanterns are typically used to encircle patios, pools, decks, porches, and can even be hung on posts and used as path lighting. You can even hang them in trees to really turn your yard into a dreamy place to sit and hang out at night. When working with lanterns, it’s important to work with a designer or a professional experienced in landscape lighting as it can be tricky to get “right” stylistically.

3.            Downlighting

These are placed overhead and cast light downward. They’re extremely common for lighting front porches, as they have a higher surface area than other lighting types. These are hardwired into the ceiling and connected to the house’s current.

4.          Flood Lights/Spotlights

Flood lights and spotlights, are used to shine light on a specific feature. This could be a statue, a tree, a garden, a fountain, or even the front of your house. The difference between the two is that spotlights shine a much more direct beam, whereas flood lights are designed to cast a wide light and “flood” the area. Spotlights are concentrated so it’s not recommended that they be shined in the direction of windows. Both lighting types are wired underground like low-voltage path lighting. There are also solar options available. These lights work best when they’re hidden among rocks or other landscape decorations so that they’re not taking away from the aesthetics of your landscape.

5.            Shadow Lighting

This is a newer trend that involves casting a shadow on a surface by shining light in front of an object. The light is installed in the same manner as flood lights and spot lights, and then the object is placed in front of it and the light is pointed towards it and slightly upwards. Shadow lights are customizable and give you a wide variety of options to play with for lighting your landscape.

 

Getting your landscape lights right is important when it comes to making the most out of your yard. With the right combination of lights fitted in the best spots, you can have a yard that just begs to be the host of the best BBQ in town or transform into your own personal zen space. Use this guide to get started on ideas for how you want to maximize your outdoor space, and you’ll be well on your way to getting the yard you’ve dreamed of.

Your Guide to Under-Cabinet Lighting

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Do your kitchen lights still buzz and hum every time you flick the switch? Thinking of ditching that old chunky fluorescent under-cab light in favor of something more modern? You’ve come to the right place! Under-cabinet lighting is great for adding style and a great atmosphere to your kitchen, as well as increasing functionality. It’s also a versatile lighting source that can be used to accentuate any kitchen. For example, why not use under-cabinet lighting for over-cabinet dimension? The opportunities are vast, but you must know how to navigate this field in order to get the best results.

         Before diving in head first and grabbing the first thing you see in a desperate attempt to get the 1980s vibes out of your home once and for all, consider your options. Whether you’re replacing outdated fixtures or starting over with a brand-new kitchen, use this guide to help you with your purchasing decision and add a little life to your kitchen.

1.    Fluorescent Strips

Don’t panic! These fluorescents are different from the ones that everybody loves to hate. Unlike their predecessors, the T12 fluorescent bulbs, the newer and improved T4 bulbs don’t buzz or hum. They’ve also changed aesthetically and have become a whole inch smaller in diameter, making it easy to conceal them under your cabinet lip. There’s no delay when you flip the switch, either. However, the best part of all? Gone are the days of the sterile fluorescent glow. Fluorescent lights now come in a variety of color values and can be white warm.

2.    Puck Lights

These are what they sound like – hockey pucks! Only, instead of hitting them around a slab of ice with a stick, you install them by sticking them underneath your cabinets. That’s right, I said stick. Puck lights don’t need to be wired at all. They’re battery operated LED lights. While there are lights similar to puck lights that are hard-wired and operable via a wall-switch, the sticky puck lights are great for those who are renting their kitchens or need a temporary solution otherwise.

3.    LED Strips

LED strips are great for under-cabinet lighting as they last a long time, don’t heat up, and are slim and easy to conceal. However, LED strips do come with a bit of fallback. Since LEDs are fairly new tech, the prices can fluctuate and generally settle around the higher end of the price scale when considering larger fixtures. Plus, LEDs are quite cool in color value and resemble the sterility of the older model fluorescent bulbs, which can be undesirable for many. It’s best to try them out in-person by viewing different LED strip options at a hardware store’s lighting department before installing them to get a feel for if LED strips for you.

4.    LED Rope

LED rope is also known as LED tape. They are an extremely popular solution when it comes to lighting anything from cars to household electronics and now: kitchens! They’re a more inexpensive solution than LED strips. They’re usually sticky, and don’t need to be installed via hardware. They’re also incredibly easy to conceal because they’re flexible and very small – about the width of a pencil. However, LED rope isn’t meant to be a primary lighting source because it doesn’t actually give off much light at all. They’re best used to compliment other lighting fixtures by adding color or increasing depth.

Consider this post a starter guide, and not a complete guide to under-cabinet lighting. The options outlined here are merely categories, within each contains a multitude of subcategories. If you need a lending hand to help you make that decision, consider an experienced electrical company such as Jaycox Industries. An experienced electrician will know what’s popular, what looks best for your kitchen, and will be able to install your new lights for you quickly, efficiently, and painlessly. With a little help, be it an industry professional or this guide itself, your kitchen counters can get the modern boost they need!

AFCI and GFCI are Safer Receptacles; But Why?

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What are GFCI and AFCI?  

What's the difference between them?

Many people know that a GFCI (often just called a "GFI") device installed in their electrical outlets can keep them from being electrocuted in wet conditions, but most of us don't know how it works or that there is a secondsimilar device called an AFCI.   Here's what they are:

GFCI

A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI),  also known just as a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI) or as a Residual Current Device (RCD),  is a device on your electrical outlet that turns off the power when it detects that the electricity is flowing somewhere it shouldn't, like through metal, water, or a person.   They're often used in bathrooms and kitchens where the chance of outlets and appliances getting wet is higher.   

How GFCI Works

The device works by comparing the outgoing current (the "live", or "hot" wire) with the returning current in the "neutral" wire.  When operating properly, these should be equal.  The GFCI switch will turn off immediately when it detects that the outgoing current is not equal to the returning current, indicating that the current is flowing somewhere that it shouldn't.

On your outlet with a GFCI device, you will see two buttons, one test, and one reset.  Once the GFCI has shut the circuit down, you can correct the problem (remove an appliance that has fallen into the sink, for example) and then push the reset button on your electrical outlet to reset it.  

The test button on the outlet is to test the GFCI to make sure it's working correctly.  You should test it once monthly by pressing the test button and observing if the reset button pops up, indicating that the power is now off and the GFCI is working fine.  Afterward, you will need to push the reset button back in to turn the power back on. 

How GFCI Devices are Installed

GFCI devices can be installed in your wall outlet or in your electrical panel, and they are even appearing now on some newer devices like hairdryers as a small box at the base of the appliance.

You can also buy GFCI devices to plug into extension cords or other devices to reduce the risk of electrocution.  This is a great idea for use in shops and outside.  Some extension cords have GFCIs built into them as well.  

You can also use GFCIs to upgrade older two-prong (non-grounded) outlets to three-prong (grounded) outlets without installing any new wire. Ask your electrician about this. 

AFCI

Similar to a GFCI, an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)  also breaks the circuit, but this device is designed to shut off the power when it detects a dangerous electric arc in the circuit.  This prevents electrical fires.  

How AFCI Works

An AFCI device is designed to detect electrical current alternating at a range of particular frequenciesthat are known to be associated with wire arcing.  When it detects these frequencies for more than a couple of milliseconds, it shuts the circuit down.  Since electrical arcing is the most common cause of residential fires, this is a great preventative tool.

How AFCI is Installed

AFCI devices areinstalled in your electrical outlets in the regular rooms of your house, your bedrooms, living spaces, rec rooms, garages, etc.  They are required by modern building codes as they prevent electrical fires.  If you're not sure, you can ask your electrician if your home has these installed, and if any need to be added to any devices in your electrical system.  

Overall, GFCIs and AFCIs help prevent electrocution and electrical fires and save lives.  They are an easy and essentialway to ensure the safety of your building and its occupants.  

If you would like to speak to an electrician about upgrading receptacles in your home to AFCI or GFCI receptacles, contact us  to speak to a Victoria BC Electrician about solutions for your home.  

 

 

 

Are You Designing a Kitchen or Another Renovation?

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Do you know how far apart your various electrical fixtures should be in your kitchen? 

There are actually some standard measurements that tell you where and how far apart your electrical fixtures should be.    Some of these measurements are actually required by building codes, and others are just what is ideal.  This saves you a lot of trial and error and makes sure that your new renovation works the absolute best possible for you.

Here are some common items you'll need to plan for:

How far should a pendant light be from the counter?

Pendant lights should hang 28 to 34 inches above the countertop (measuring to the very bottom of the light), or 72 inches above the floor (also measuring to the bottom of the light). 

How far should a chandelier be from the table?

The bottom of your chandelier should hang approximately 30 to 34 inches over your table if you have an 8-foot ceiling.  If your ceiling is higher, the rule is generally an extra 3 inches higher per foot of ceiling over 8 feet.

How far apart should electrical outlets be along the kitchen counter?

With so many appliances used in kitchens today, no space along the counter should be more than 0.9 meters away from an outlet.   And if you have any smaller counters, counters 0.3 meters (~1 foot) or longer require an outlet.

When you're planning and measuring this spacing, don't include the space that the kitchen sink or the range takes, just measure from each side of them. 

And how far up from the counter should electrical outlets be? 

Usually, approximately 0.20 (~8 inches) meters from the top of the countertop to the center of the electrical outlet is a good height.    This will usually keep your outlet out of the way of any backsplash you might add (which are usually 0.10 meters or so high (~4 inches) and below any cupboards.  you are installing.  If your backsplash is higher, you can either install them higher or incorporate them into the backsplash.    

How far apart and how high should the rest of the outlets in the kitchen be?

The electrical outlets that are along the walls in the rest of the kitchen are required to be such that at no point along the wall is the distance to the nearest electrical outlet more than 1.8 meters (~6 feet).  Closer is fine.    Usually they are placed one foot from the floor, if you measure to the center of the electrical outlet but they can be placed higher or lower dependant on the tastes of the homeowner and the designer.   

The measurements of lights and receptacles in the kitchen are highly variable and may be dictated by the configuration or architecture of the kitchen.  It is best to have a kitchen design completed before setting the position or elevation of receptacles, lights, and switches. Your electrician will be well versed in the electrical code and is a great resource when you are designing your renovation for tips on what is common and practical, as well as pitfalls to avoid. 

 

 

Time for a new bathroom exhaust fan? Is your old fan noisy? Does it move air too slowly?

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Here are some things you'll want to consider when you're ready to replace your bathroom exhaust fan:

Noise Level

There is nothing worse than a fan that roars each time you turn it on.  The sound fans make is rated in sones.  A typical economy fan will be rated approximately 2 or 3sones or more, and a higher quality, quieter fan will be rated 1 sone or less.  I recommend you don't have anything installed that is More than 1 Sone - if you're paying to have a fan installed it is much better economy to pay the extra  for a quality fan rated less than 1 sone.

How much Air Moves

Fans that don't actually change the air in the bathroom quickly are also a pain, and not good for your health or the longevity of your home.  You'll need to calculate how big your fan needs to be for the space it's ventilating.   

Most bathroom fans are rated 80, 90, or 100 cfm, (cubic feet of air moved per minute) but can be as high as 380 cfm.  Generally they should be sized to replace the air in the room 8 times in an hour.  For most bathrooms this works out to about 1 cfm per square foot of the bathroom.  So, if your bathroom is 8 feet by 10 feet, you'll require an 80 cfm fan.   

People are often tempted to just put in the largest fan possible; however, the larger the fan, the more noise it makes and the more energy it will require. 

The size of the duct is also important - the larger the duct, the quieter the fan will be.  A 3" duct will be quite noisy, where most 4" or 5" ducts are fine.  Most building codes now require a 5" diameter duct. 

An inline fan is also an excellent option as the noise is much lower, although the fans cost more to buy and install.   In these units the fan is farther up the duct and less noisy, and there is more flexibility in where they can be installed.  Many bathrooms with skylights use these as they can be mounted quite high in the bathroom and at an angle if necessary.

Energy Efficiency

A better quality fan will require less energy to run, so it's important to consider this factor when you're choosing a brand and quality.  The size of the fan factors in here too, the larger the cfm rating, the more energy it takes. 

There are two-stage fans available as well, which are slightly more energy efficient, and provide more air circulation.    In these, the fan runs at a low speed at all times, and increases to a high speed for a short time when turned on.

Generally, just making sure your fan is energy star rated, the right size for the room, and a reasonable quality will ensure reasonable energy efficiency.

I hope that this answers some of your questions about exhaust fans.  If you need a fan or would like to talk to an electrician about exhaust fan installation contact us.

 

Electrical Safety Tips for Your Home

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Here are some things to keep in mind to improve electrical safety in your home

GFCI Outlets:

GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) outlets help protect you from electrical shock in wet locations. When a leak is sensed, it assumes a ground fault and stops power flow fast enough to prevent serious injury. GFCI outlets are required next to the sink in bathrooms and within 1.5m from the sink in kitchens. GFCIs should be tested every month by first pressing the TEST button, then the RESET button. The indicator light should go out and come back on; if it does not the GFCI needs to be replaced.

Extension Cords:

Extension cords are meant for temporary use only; not for permanent wiring. When using extension cords, make sure that they are in good condition and not overloaded. Do not attach heaters to extension cords.

Space Heaters:

Space heaters should be kept at least one meter from any combustible materials and should be operated at low or medium heat only. Do not attach to extension cords; plug directly into an outlet.

Tamper Resistant Outlets:

    Tamper-resistant outlets have spring-loaded shutters that require both slots in the receptacle to be pressed at the same time, as when inserting a plug, in order for an electrical circuit to be made. If a child attempts to stick something into one slot, it will provide strong resistance, helping to prevent a child from being shocked. Tamper resistant outlets are a much safer option than plug covers.      

Remember to always get a certified electrician to do your electrical work. Please feel free to contact us for more information about our services.

 

An Easy Home Automation Solution

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As energy costs have increased and the costs of technology have decreased automating your home has become viable option for our homes.  A system that I have been installing for my clients for ease of use and to save energy is the Lutron Caseta Wireless system.  This system consists of wireless dimmer switches, wireless receptacles, small remote controls, and ‘Smart Bridge’ which acts as a router and processor to connect these components together and to the home network, and an app for your Android device or I-phone. 

Caseta Wireless is designed primarily to control lights and groups of lights that are often used together.  You can change light levels by time of day, turn on and off lights from your phone, as well as turn on and off receptacles, and through a ‘geo-fence’ to turn the lights on as you approach your house.

There are limitations with Caseta Wireless: one is that is it just for lights- Lutron doesn’t have thermostats available although there are thermostats from other manufacturers that are compatible such as the Nest thermostat; also, this system doesn’t scale up very well, being best suited for the thing it was designed to do –control home lighting; and being wireless it doesn’t have the robustness of a hard wired home automation system. 

All that said, for the cost, for the ease of set up and for the downright high utility of this system, it is a great introduction to home automation. 

Although I get my components from my favourite electrical wholesaler, I know that this system is also available at Home Depot, which means that it is available to everyone, and you aren’t paying exorbitant markups on proprietary systems sold to you by the electrical contractor installing them

Just as I would recommend for all electrical equipment, I recommend having a trusted Victoria BC electrician install these for you.  Contact us for more information about our services. 

 

A little on lights

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Whether you are purchasing a light, changing a switch, or replacing a burned out bulb, you need to coordinate each of those three components of the system. When you are at the hardware store or the lighting store to buy a lighting product you are confronted with the myriad of fixture, switch and lamp options. I am going to try and help you choose the pieces you need to be successful.

When buying a bub or a fixture or planning the lighting of a new space consider these three parts of the lighting circuit together: the bulb, the light fixture and the switch.

The Bulb. The part that is going to produce the light is the best place to start when choosing how you will light a space. For residential lighting there are two primary categories of bulb or lamp: bulbs that employ transformers, and bulbs that don't. Bulbs that use transformers include fluorescent lights (the rectangular ones with the light sabers) compact florescent light bulbs (CFL) and LED bulbs. The bulbs that don't are incandescent bulbs including halogen lights. Within these sub categories there are other divisions that produce light of different qualities and have different longevity, power consumption and aesthetics making the topic broad enough to warrant another blog post. For all of the variation in styles and type the most important aspect is whether or not there is a transformer involved in making light.

The Fixture. Most fixtures for residential lighting receive the same standard bulb base (the part that screws into the fixture), although there are exceptions. A fixture that excepts bulbs with a standard screw in base is more versatile than fixtures that don't.  An 'Energy Star' fixture has a different style receptacle to prevent inefficient bulbs from being used in it. If you have selected a halogen bulb it will not be compatible with an 'Energy Star' fixture.  There are also some fixtures that require push in style bulbs or other variations of bulb bases that are not universal between bulb type. Most of the time though you can find your preferred bulb in style of base that will be compatible with the fixture that fits your vision even if that means ordering it online and waiting a couple of weeks for a bulb. 

The Switch. Standard on/off switches are universally compatible with bulbs that use transformers and bulbs that don't, but switches that dim the lights are not universally compatible. Dimming switches are available for both of the two broad categories of bulb that I have laid out. On the switch there will be some writing that indicates whether it is designed for incandescent bulbs or LED and fluorescent bulbs. If you use the wrong switch the lights won't dim properly and the switch may overheat and fail.

There are some lights that don't fit into the generalizations above. These are architectural lights- the rectangular florescent lights that we have in our offices and work shops that use separate bulbs and ballasts. Although we almost exclusively see these controlled by the standard on/off switch, these lights are dimmable too. For architectural lights you need to have a dimming switch that is compatible with the specific ballast in the fixture. The manufacturer of the ballast will be able to tell you the model numbers of the switch that you would need to use.

I hope that this rather dense blog post gives you a little information to make it easier next time you need to upgrade some light bulbs or replace a light fixture in your house. Email me if you have some questions, or of course if you need an electrician.

Milton

 

Knob and Tube Wiring

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Knob and Tube Wiring

Knob and Tube wiring is a method of electrical wiring where the conductors that provide energy to the electrical outlet or light fixture is run on two insulated conductors that are kept separate as opposed to two insulated conductors that are enclosed in the same cable sheath as is the current standard practice.

I recently saw a movie from the 1960's depicting a scene from the 1930's where the energized conductors were run on the surface of the wall, but that is the only instance I have seen then run in that manner. Knob and tube wiring is always (or nearly always?) concealed in the walls or in the attic spaces.

Where the conductors go through a stud, or a piece of wood, they are insulated with a short tube of ceramic, and where the wires are run along a board, or in the attic they are supported by ceramic knobs that keep the wires from touching the material that they are adjacent to. This is where the name Knob and Tube is derived.

Another name for Knob and Tube wiring is Open wiring. Open wiring is an acceptable wiring method in the current Canadian Electrical Code with some modifications on the original installation practices, but it is not used in contemporary installations.

In buildings that were originally wired with this Knob and Tube wiring, there are some risky characteristics.

One is that splices may be made in the wiring without a junction box within the wall or attic space. The wire being branched off at the junction is wrapped around the first wire like a vine around a tree branch, and was then soldered and covered with an adhesive fabric tape.

Another is that where the conductors terminate in a device, original installations didn't make these connections in a fire resistant box, but rather simply ended at the device and had the conductors supported by a close adjacent board with insulated tubes inserted in the holes.

These two characteristics are risky because in the case of an overload on the circuit the increased current causes heat at the points of higher resistance, such as at splices in the circuit conductors and at the device that the conductors are terminated at.

In today's wiring practices these points are contained within boxes that are resistant to heat to prevent fires.

A combination of a century of electrical upgrades and home owner jury rigging and the inherent risks of the original Knob and Tube installations, this wiring in homes today doesn't meet modern safety standards. This is reflected in the insurance premiums on houses with Knob and Tube wiring and the growing reluctance of insurance companies to insure homes that still have this wiring in them.

The fix for Knob and Tube wiring is to decommission it, and replace it with new wiring done to current electrical standards. The size of this job is dependent on the amount of wiring in your house that needs to be replaced and the layout of your house. As the approaches to replacing it are numerous, and the job can be complex, it is to your advantage to have a smart electrician on hand for this work. Of course, I would like to think that I might be included in that statement.

Cheers,

Milton

Aluminum Wiring

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Aluminum wiring was used in the construction of some homes in the 1960's and 1970's. In many installations it was originally installed and terminated on devices that were compatible with the aluminum wiring. (There are indications that in the early years of the the use of aluminum branch wire this may not have been the case- http://www.propertyevaluation.net/Aluminum%20Wiring.html ). Over time this original equipment has been changed out in home upgrades with receptacles and switches that are not compatible with aluminum wiring.

This brings us to the present, where many devices that are not compatible with the aluminum wiring in the home exist. When the aluminum wire is terminated on a device that is not designed for aluminum there is a real possibility of the wire overheating at the terminal due to oxidation of the aluminum, and the aluminum loosening its contact through heating-cooling cycles. This resistance and arcing creates heat, and potential fire risk.

Although statistics on fires caused by aluminum wiring is not available in Canada, electrical equipment was found to by the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners to have caused 2% of the house fires in the study year of 2007. (http://www.ccfmfc.ca/pdfs/report_e_07.pdf)

How can you tell if you have aluminum wiring?  Often you can't tell immediately because the wire is behind the walls or the lettering has worn off of the cables.  The aluminum wire is easy to identify by taking a cover plate off of a switch or a plug and shining a flash light into the box to see if the wire attached to the switch or plug is copper colored or aluminum (a dull silver) colored.  In plugs that I have replaced there have been instances where the insulation was melted back and had turned hard from the heat, although it wasn't evident from outward appearances.  If you do have heat emanating from a plug or from your electrical panel there is  a problem that needs to be addressed quickly.   

There are two common solutions to the hazards created by aluminum branch wiring. One is to replace the incompatible devices – such as switches and receptacles- with new compatible devices. Another solution is to use short pieces of copper wire to connect aluminum-incompatible devices to the aluminum wiring that is in the house. These short pieces of wire are refereed to as pigtails and require special wire connectors (Marrettes) and an anti-oxidizing paste to install correctly. Due to the high cost of aluminum compatible switches and receptacles the second method is used in favor of the first.

There is a lot of information available on the internet about aluminum wiring including the references that I have made already. I would also suggest Wikipedia, and the Ontario Electric Safety Authority for further reading.

At Jaycox Industries we have experience identifying aluminum wiring and completing the work to make it safe.  Feel free to call to speak to an electrician about this topic or to stop by your home for a free consultation.