It’s no secret that using electricity around water can have disastrous consequences, which is why running electricity outdoors can be dangerous. When used outside, electricity can be exposed to rain, dew, humidity or even moisture from things like irrigation systems that can spark fires or cause injury to anyone who handles it. Fortunately, advancing technology and understanding of how electricity behaves have made using electricity outside safer and more dependable. In fact, outdoor electrical setups are safer today than they have ever been.
However, that doesn’t mean you can treat an outdoor electrical set up the same way you would treat an indoor setup. And you still should utilize some special precautions and safety measures.
Always Use Outdoor-Rated Extension Cords
Not all extension cords are created equal. Indoor extension cords often use either the bare minimum of plastic shielding or something pretty close to it. That means any lengthy exposure to the sun, or even a small douse in water, can lead to a potentially dangerous situation. Conversely, outdoor extension cords often feature extra shielding and insulation designed to withstand the elements for a more prolonged period of time. They can handle things like a sudden rainstorm, hours of bombardment with solar energy and whatever else mother nature can throw at them - and do so for a considerably longer amount of time. They’re also significantly harder to cut through or damage.
Always use an outdoor rated cord when operating something outside. These types of cords do generally cost more, but the added safety and upgraded construction make them far more dependable and safer.
Never Use an Extension Cord Permanently
We see this far more often than we’d care to admit: we arrive for an electrical inspection and find that a customer has installed some form of an outdoor electrical device, such as a light or decoration - and they’ve left an extension cord in place for it. An extension cord should never be used as a permanent source of power—it will eventually fall apart or degrade with exposure to the elements and that means a risk situation which may result in a disaster like a fire.
If you know you’re going to need a more permanent solution, have our electrician come to your home and run a permanent electrical line to where you need it. This means running an approved conduit, outdoor-rated electrical lines, and outlets that are protected by safety devices and appropriate shielding. These types of setups can last for decades without issue and can often be buried underground for a more discreet and low-profile look. If you’re unsure what type of setup is best for your needs, call our office and get professional advice about the best approach to your needs.
Cover All Outlets with Bubble Covers
Any outdoor outlet should be covered when it’s not in use. Even though an outlet may be rated for outdoor use, any moisture which gets into the outlet can cause potentially disastrous consequences like fire or injury. Moisture can get into outlets through rain, accidental splash or even just excessive humidity in the air—things you may not even control.
There are several different types of outlet covers on the market. One of the most common is the auto-closing outlet which uses a foam or rubber seal to completely close off an outlet when it’s not in use. However, these outlets aren’t the safest. Today, we like to recommend using a bubble cover over any outlet as they provide a safer and more dependable seal. Should a bubble cover wear out or start to leak, the odds of their dripping water into an outlet are significantly lower. Plus these outlets also have the added benefit of being able to be used even in the rain or around splashing water—they can fully shut even with a plugged-in extension cord and the cord pokes out through a harmless hole in the bottom.
Always Make Sure Outdoor Electrical Setups Are on a GFCI Circuit
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a critical safety device that is required in all areas where water may be present (including outdoor electrical outlets). These devices monitor the electrical current flowing through your outlets at all times. When they detect an excess of current, they trip and shut off the power. Under normal use circumstances, your devices should be able to run just fine, but any shorts caused by water or other faults will cause the system to trip. This is designed to prevent accidental electrocution from grabbing a wet cord, using electricity too close to water or accidentally sticking something dangerous in an outlet.
All outdoor outlets should be equipped with a GFCI plug or be on a circuit which has at least one GFCI on it. Replacing an unprotected outlet with a GFCI is not a difficult procedure and is something you should do as soon as possible if you have an unprotected outlet in your home.
Trust Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Solar for all your outdoor electrical service needs! Give us a call at (408) 868-5500 to request a service appointment today.