7 Outdoor Electrical Wiring Safety Tips

outdoor wiring connectors
  • Beginner

When you’re doing electrical work around the outside of the house, always start by applying the same safety measures you respect when doing inside. Then, take a few extra precautions to work safely with electronics in any exterior setting.

1. Wearing Body Protection

1.1 - Always wear eye protection such as safety glasses or goggles. This is to protect you from flying debris and sparks that could jump from the box.

1.2 - By wearing leather or insulated gloves, you’ll prevent yourself from injuring your hands from cuts, pinching your finger with pliers, and getting electric shocks.

1.3 - Never wear sneakers or canvas footwear while doing any construction or maintenance outside. Work boots should be used for extra safety and better foot and ankle support when working on uneven ground.

2. Worksite Overview

2.1 - Always avoid working in close proximity to power utility cables.

2.2 - Ladders should never be used close to the utility cables either. Accidental contact between the ladder and a power cable from sliding or slipping would cause an extreme flow of current down the ladder to where you’re holding it, creating an easier path to the ground and potentially causing electrocution.

2.3 - Carrying out electrical repairs outdoors during a heavy downpour is never a good idea as rainwater containing salts and minerals increases conductivity. Always make sure that the ground or floor surface where you’re standing is dry.

2.4 - Before opening up electrical boxes and removing their outlets and fixtures you have to, ensure that their dedicated circuit breakers are switched off at the main panel. In older installations, remove the fuse.

2.5 - Always test the circuit for power before proceeding with your work.

2.6 - You should also check for GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) breakers or outlets where the use or presence of water or otherwise wet areas around the homes could create electrocution hazards.

3. Choosing Proper and Safe Tools

gloved hands testing wires with multimeter

3.1 - Always choose your screwdrivers of the right size and possibly equipped with insulated stems. Screwdrivers and bits showing signs of damage and visible wear should be discarded and replaced.

3.2 - Invest in reliable voltage testers or multi-meters before attempting electrical work.

3.3 - You should regularly check the state of your power tools’ cord to make sure the cord’s jacket is not damaged and the grounding prong has not been altered or removed.

3.4 - Ladders and step ladders should be checked and not used if damaged in any way. When working with outdoor electrical wiring, using a metal ladder is a big no. You should instead use ladders that are made of wood or fiberglass material. Make sure that there is absolutely no danger that you or your ladder comes in contact with any live wire.

3.5 - There is always a need to use extension cords outside around the house. Powerful equipment that can often draw close to 15 amps that are used outside should only be used with special extension cords with ratings of 20 amps or 12 AWG size clearly indicated. Anything smaller causes motors to heat up by creating an excessive voltage drop along the line.

4. Your Local Electrical Guidelines

Generally, the administration and adoption of the National Electrical Code are addressed at the state or provincial levels, whereas the enforcement of the Code is often assigned at a municipal level. So before doing any electrical outdoor wiring project, you should know your local safety codes and regulations.

Checking the electrical code for buried cables—when in need of bringing electricity to a nearby shed, a garage, a swimming pool, or just to bring a needed outlet out near your greenhouse, or in the middle of your outside terrace, but without having it hanging overhead, you’ll probably consider installing a buried cable.

This, however, should start with a check of the local electrical/building codes to ensure that you stay away from any utilities buried cables or gas lines, and avoid accidents to yourself and property damages.

The municipal electrical code will also provide you with all the necessary information for permissible lengths of drops, cable grades, and sizes. It includes splicing details wherever permitted, where and when conduits are required, and what additional protection over the cabling and conduits might be mandated to prevent accidental severing or damaging the cable during future work. Last but not least, dealing with proper identification of the cables’ location throughout your property.

5. Checking the Circuit for Proper Connections

Checking the receptacle for proper wiring should always be done as a safety precaution before starting the actual work and could save you from getting harmed by a circuit not grounded or otherwise incorrectly wired.

5.1 - The easiest method to accomplish this is plugging in an outlet tester into the live outlet as shown in Figure 1 and checking which indicator lights are lit. Whatever combination of indicator lights come on will tell you if it’s wired correctly or which wire is at fault if it’s incorrectly wired.

outlet tester plugged into wall socket

5.2 - Remove the cover from the outlet to expose the inside of the terminal box while leaving the outlet itself in place and secured.

5.3 - Using a multi-tester while the power remains on, check the voltage between the hotline and the neutral by inserting the probes into the slots of the outlet. The live wire (black, red, or blue in color) is hooked up to the longer slot (for 15 amps receptacle) or to the T-shaped opening (for 20 amps circuits), while the neutral or white wire is hooked up to the shorter slot (Figure 2). You should get a 120 volts AC reading.

outlet parts for three pronged plugs

5.4 - Removing the probe from the neutral slot, you can next insert the probe into the semi-circular “ground” prong opening which should give you the same 120 volts reading. This will confirm that the outlet itself is properly wired and grounded to the circuit but maybe not to the electrical box, which can be verified in the next step.

5.5 - Removing the probe from the Gnd opening, touch the probe against the metal part of the electrical box. This should also give you a reading of 120 volts. If it doesn’t, your electric box is not properly grounded or connected to the circuit’s ground and must be fixed.

6. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

When you plug in an appliance or an extension cord in an exterior outlet where water from infiltration or otherwise could cause an electric shock to whoever plugs in or simply touch an appliance, you need to use a special GFCI apparatus (ground fault circuit interrupter). These are built into GFCI outlets or GFCI circuit breakers and are designed to detect the slightest variations in current flow and “trip” before shocking anybody.

6.1 - All exterior outlets should be GFCI types (Figure 3) since regular outlets could leave users exposed to electrocution caused by nearby water sprays, pool areas, ponds, water puddles, and rain. GFCI circuitry is usually integrated within a special type of outlet and is easily recognizable from its reset and trip buttons in the center of the outlets.

outlet with switch and timer controls

6.2 - GFCI circuit breakers on the other hand are installed at the main electrical panel for 220 volts appliances—such as a swimming pool heat pump—or to feed a complete 120 volts circuit with multiple outlets—for example around a pool area.

7. Altering an Existing Electrical Circuit

Only with the proper knowledge, wiring techniques, and practices should you attempt to alter, modify, and add additional branches to an already existing electrical circuit. If you feel overwhelmed at any time with the job at hand, it probably means that you’re already in over your head. The only option to consider at such times is to call a professional electrician to complete the task.