Outdoor Electrical

Outdoor Plugs.  Do you have the right kind?

Getting ready for spring you will likely want to have power supply outside.  You may want it for a power-washer, electric lawn equipment (weed trimmer, lawn mower), a vacuum for cleaning your car or even some music.  Because exterior outlets are exposed to the elements they should be GFI outlets.

What is a GFI Outlet?

These are special devices that shut the power off to a circuit when there is a leak of electricity.  In normal circumstances, the current flowing through the circuit is the same at any point.  That means if there is 5 amps flowing through the black wire then there should be 5 amps flowing through the white wire back.  If there is a drop of as little as .005 amps the GFI shuts down.  That missing amount of amps may be going through your body!  If for example you are working outside on a wet walkway and your power tool is leaking amps;  When you touch your power tool you will get a shock, if you are standing in a puddle you could die.  The GFI will sense that the power supplied to the tool through the black wire is not returning with the same amount of amps and shut down.  You may get a little shock but, you will be alive to complain about it.

Should you have a GFI outlet?

Since 1971 the electrical code required GFI outlets (receptacles) on the exterior of the home.  About 20 years ago that code was updated to include kitchens and washrooms.  In Canada we are required to have GFI outlets within 8 feet of the grade level.  It is also a good idea to have cover for your GFI outlet outside.  This offers further protection from rain and accumulated snow.

Do you have a GFI outlet or not?

This is a good question.  Ordinary outlets can be protected by GFI’s either at the panel (a GFCI breaker) or by a GFI outlet upstream.  This means that a properly wired GFI outlet at the start of a circuit will protect ordinary outlets further down the line (or stream, because we think of electricity as flowing).

You can check at your electrical panel (Distribution Panel) for a breaker marked as “GFIC” if you are not seeing any GFI outlets outside or you can look around your building to find a GFI outlet.  Don’t take any risks if you are not sure.  Plug into only a GFI outlet that you are sure about or an outlet you have identified as being protected by a GFCI breaker.  I may be worthwhile contacting an electrician to confirm whether your outlet is GFI or not.

Posted by Jeremy Scratch

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