Outdoor electrical outlets are undeniably convenient. They let you add exterior lighting, bring entertainment outside when you're entertaining and relaxing, and add to your outdoor cooking options. However, if your outdoor outlets aren't appropriately protected, they can be dangerous.
Outdoor electrical outlets are exposed to the elements — and that's where their potential danger lies. Because they're outdoors, these outlets are in the path of rain and snow, as well as water from your hose or sprinklers. And the combination of water and electricity is always dangerous.
If you plug an appliance of any kind into a wet outlet, you're likely to get an electrical shock. That's because water carries electricity — and when you touch the water, the electrical current will flow right into your body.
A mild electrical shock may just feel startling, but a powerful one can be fatal or cause serious injuries. Even if you promise yourself to be careful, any children or pets playing near the dangerous outlet can also be harmed.
Fortunately, you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers inherent in outdoor outlets. Take a look at your choices for protecting outdoor electrical outlets from rain.
Which outlet or receptacles do you need for outdoor use? For starters, you should be installing ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, as required by the National Electrical Code. You also have to make sure these outlets are installed correctly, with adequate grounding, the proper external mounting brackets, and a waterproof cover to keep moisture out of the electrical box. Unless you've been professionally trained to handle this installation, it's best to call your electrician to do the work.
You need GFCI protection for your home in any location that may come into contact with water. That obviously includes your bathrooms and kitchen, as well as any outdoor outlets. GFCI outlets are designed to shut down instantly when they detect a fault with grounding or a short circuit. Some GFCI outlets stop the flow of electricity in as little at 25 milliseconds. By doing so, they can prevent electrical fires from starting.
You can tell whether you already have GFCI outlets in place by looking for the "test" and "reset" buttons, as well as the letters "WR" on the outlet. That "WR" means the outlet is weather-resistant. Only these types of outlets are safe to use outdoors.
Older houses may have GFCI outlets near swimming pools — where they were first required back in 1971 — but not in other locations. GFCI outlets are necessary to protect against danger anywhere in your home that moisture can occur, including bathrooms, kitchens, crawl spaces, unfinished basements, and near all sinks, pools, and hot tubs. They're also required for all outdoor outlets and some buried outlets.
Having GFCI outlets outdoors is crucial, but your responsibility to electrical safety doesn't end there. The National Electrical Code also recovers all-new outdoor electrical outlets to have bubble-type covers that retain weatherproof protection even when the outlet is in use. That bubble cover keeps water from getting into the wiring — and without it, even a GFCI outlet can get wet.
Yes, the GFCI outlet should shut down the electricity on the circuit if it gets wet. But that circuit is likely to control far more than a single outdoor outlet, and you could end up with a significant power outage as a result.
If your outdoor outlets have flip-up tabs to provide protection, you have a measure of safety, but only when you're not using the outlet. If you add a bubble cover, which has grooves to let electrical cords run out of the bottom while still providing safety from inclement weather, you're safe to use those outlets even while it's raining. Make sure you choose the right bubble cover to get a secure fit with your outlet type and design.
When you're dealing with electricity and weather, you should never assume everything is safe and sound. Check your outdoor outlets to be sure you have the protection you need. Installing the upgrades you need for safety can help you relax and enjoy life once the rain starts falling.