Outdoor Outlet Protection: Tips and Tricks

Outdoor outlet protection can play an important role in keeping your home safe. Outdoor power can be convenient, allowing you to use tools in an outdoor setting. And now that the holidays are here, outdoor outlets can provide easy access to electricity for seasonal lighting. However, when dealing with the elements, it is also important to keep your outdoor outlets safe. Here are some tips and tricks on outdoor outlet protection to ensure your house is not in danger due to electrical hazards.

Outdoor Outlet Protection Tips

Although most outdoor outlets will include weatherproof covers to offer protection from moisture and dirt, once you plug in the device, these covers will do little good. That’s why it’s important to follow some general rules regarding outdoor outlet protection.

Use GFCI Outlets: GFCI outlets are not only the only type of outlet that is safe for outdoor use, they are a requirement of the National Electrical Code. GFCI outlets can be identified by their ‘TEST’ and ‘RESET’ button as well as the ‘WR’ embossed on the outlet, meaning it is weather resistant.

Install Outlets Properly: Installing an outlet properly is key in outdoor outlet protection. Outlets should be installed with a gasket and cover plate sealing the connection to the wall, or a weatherproof cover should be attached.

The appropriate external mounting brackets that are provided with the outlet should be used as well.  Otherwise you run the risk of having moisture get into the box causing damage to the equipment and possible fire hazard.

Also, make sure to provide an adequate ground. This will help to protect against shock as well as ensuring a healthy lifespan for your electronic equipment. Surge protectors do not supply grounding. A 3 bulb receptacle tester can help determine if your outdoor outlet is installed safely.

Add A Weatherproof Cover: Weatherproof covers are the little flip up tabs that offer outdoor outlet protection when they are not in use only. However, it will be effective in protecting the outlet from water and can even allow for it to be used in the rain.

Waterproof covers are also referred to as ‘flip up’ or ‘bubble covers’ and they are mandatory in accordance with the National Electrical code. They can be clear or smoke colored, and come in a variety of configurations. Some may have a deep lid and grooves which allow for the device and extension cords to run from the bottom of the outlet, protecting it from the elements. However, it is necessary, to have a cover that fits well and is the same configuration as your outdoor outlet type. Look out for waterproof covers that can accommodate a GFCI and the outlet design you require (single gang-2 outlet, double gang, 4 outlet, etc.).

Don’t Assume That Previously Installed Outlets are Safe: There may be outlets that are already installed when you purchase your home or move into a residence. Don’t assume they are safe. Have them checked out for proper installation and operation.

Avoid Running Extension Cords Through Walkways and Doorways: Whether you are moving into a new home, or looking to upgrade the one you are living in, you may decide to add more outdoor outlets to your home’s exterior. An alternative to this may be to run extension cords to access power inside your house to power outdoor appliances. However, this is not the best idea.

Extension cords in walkways and doorways could easily be tripped over causing a safety hazard. If one is in use, all family members and house guests should be aware of its location so they can use caution when walking near the cord. Also, the extension cord should be for temporary use only. If power is required on a permanent basis, you should consider adding an outdoor outlet.

Also, make sure you are using an outlet rated for outdoor use. This should be clearly indicated on the cord packaging. When buying extension cords for outdoor use, look closely at the packaging to make sure it is marked with a ‘W’. This will indicate the cords are sturdy enough for outdoor use. Lighter duty cords will be marked with an ‘S’.

Other Outdoor Electrical Safety Tips

Now that you have a good idea of what you need to do to ensure outdoor outlets protection. However, there are many other items electrical items that run outdoors, and it is a good idea to make sure they are protected as well.  

Use Decorative Lighting Made for Outdoor Use: If you are hanging decorative lighting, make sure that it indicates on the label that it is safe for outdoor use. The packaging should read “indoor/outdoor” or just “outdoor”.

Use Outdoor Rated Fixtures and Bulbs: If you are installing lighting fixtures outdoors, they must be able to endure the cold, heat and dampness. Make sure your lighting fixture is rated for damp locations or that the packaging indicates it is okay for outdoor use. Even if it will not be directly exposed to rain, it must still be able to last through heat and dampness.

Likewise, light bulbs that are going to be used outdoors must also be rated for outdoor use. This includes flood light and porch lights. If you are having trouble finding the right sized bulb for your application, an appliance bulb might work. Check the fine print to make sure this is the case.

Avoid Putting Lights Near Flammable Materials: Lighting materials that generate heat can be dangerous around flammable materials so it’s important to keep the two separated. During the holiday season, it may seem like a nice idea to put a light bulb in a manger scene, but be warned; materials like hay or straw are easily flammable.

Now that you are familiar with some of the outdoor outlet protection tips, you are ready for the holidays or whatever outdoor activity you have in mind. Keeping outdoor outlets grounded and safe from the elements is key. If you make sure that your outdoor outlets are in compliance with these general rules, you should have a safe and pleasant outdoor environment that you and your family can enjoy.