When it comes to electrical installations, you need to make sure that you are following certain codes because they are there to ensure that every home is safe from any possible issues that faulty wiring might cause. In that sense, outdoor electrical outlets are no different as you need to make sure that they are as safe as possible for the house and the family, considering that many things can happen outdoors. If that is the case, do outdoor outlets need their own circuit?
Outdoor electrical outlets do not need to be on their own circuit, as provided by the law. Only kitchen, bathroom, and laundry outlets require their own circuits. The only requirement for outdoor electrical outlets is for them to be GFCI and located far from a swimming pool.
Even though outdoor outlets are not required to be on their own circuit, as long as you have complied with everything else the electrical code requires, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t place them in their own circuit if you really want to be safe. Nevertheless, let’s get to know more about outdoor electrical outlets.
Do outdoor outlets have to be GFCI?
According to the National Electrical Code, there are certain requirements that outlets need to meet for safety reasons and to prevent any issues from poor and faulty wiring in the electrical outlets. Your outdoor outlets are no different because they, too, have their own specific requirements under the NEC.
One of the requirements provided by the law when it comes to outdoor outlets is for them to be GFCI. Yes, that is right. Outdoor outlets are specifically required by the law to be GFCI for several reasons. But before we get to that point, what does GFCI mean?
You need to understand that your outdoor outlets, and anything else that is electrical and is based outdoors, are required to be weatherproof because of all of the outdoor conditions that they will go through regularly. They must be able to withstand rain and extreme weather conditions. Simply put, water and electricity should never go together.
In that regard, your outdoor outlets need to be GFCI, which stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. But how does this work?
If the wires in your electrical outlets get wet or if something happens, such as your wires wearing out or becoming faulty, they can no longer contain the electricity that runs through them. What happens then is that the electricity will begin to flow to the ground, which will cause a sudden electrical surge called the ground fault. The ground fault can then shock or cause death and injuries to anyone in its path.
So, now that you understand what a ground fault can do, you should know your outdoor outlets need to be GFCI because of the very fact that they are constantly exposed to the rain and other outdoor conditions that may cause a ground fault.
A GFCI outlet is designed in a way that will allow it to detect sudden changes and variations in the current that goes through it, so that whenever there is something wrong in the current, it will immediately shut down any appliance that is connected to it to prevent any harm or damage. Although it functions similarly to a circuit breaker, a GFCI outlet has its own internal switch that will immediately trigger whenever there is something wrong with the electrical current.
In a sense, a GFCI outlet’s job is to interrupt the current when a sudden electrical surge is detected to make sure that nothing wrong happens as a result of that faulty electrical current. That is why your outdoor outlets and all of the other outlets close to any source of water — such as bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room outlets — need to be GFCI.
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How far off the ground should outdoor electrical outlets be?
On top of requiring your outdoor electrical outlets to be GFCI, the NEC also imposes a height.
However, under the law, there is no minimum requirement for how far off the ground your electrical outdoor outlets should be. They can be as close to the ground as possible if that is what you want. However, you should know that there is a maximum height for your outdoor outlets. Indeed, they need to be positioned no more than 6 ½ feet off the ground.
That means that you can position your outdoor outlets at any height off the ground, as long as you make sure that the height is under 6 ½ feet.
Do outdoor electrical wires have to be in conduit?
The same NEC also set certain rules for outdoor electrical wires and conduits:
- Wires that are exposed or buried need to be listed for their application.
- When you are using UF cables as buried cables, they need to be directly buried at a minimum of 24 inches from the surface of the ground.
- Wires buried inside a rigid metal or intermediate metal conduit must be buried at least half a foot from the surface of the ground. Meanwhile, wiring in PVC conduit needs to be buried a foot and a half from the surface.
- Any backfill that is surrounding the conduit or cables must be made of a material that is smooth and granular. This material should not have any rocks.
- Any buried wiring that is low-voltage should be buried at least 6 inches deep.
- Any wiring buried and transitioned from underground to above the ground must be protected in conduit from the required depth of 18 inches to its point of termination above the ground.
- All electrical service wires that are overhanging an outdoor body of water, such as a pool or a hot tub, must be at least 22 ½ feet above the surface of the water or the diving platform (if there is one).
- All data transmission wires for your telephone or internet must be at least 10 feet above the surface of the same bodies of water, such as pools and hot tubs.
Should lights and outlets be on separate circuits?
Whether or not outdoor lights and outlets need to be on separate circuits, the NEC doesn’t provide that they should be on their own circuits as only the above-stated are required of them. In that sense, there is no need for them to be in separate circuits because the fact that they are required to be GFCI suffices.
However, if you wish to, you can still have your outdoor lights and outlets on their own separate circuits. One of the reasons for doing so is that perhaps you don’t want the circuit to overload. A good example of that is when someone uses multiple power tools on several outdoor outlets that all share the same circuit. This can overload the circuit because of how much power these tools require.
As such, while the law sets no requirements on whether or not outdoor lights and outlets need to be on separate circuits, you may still opt to have them on their own individual breakers for safety purposes or if you need to do so. It is entirely up to you, although you may ask an electrician’s opinion to get a second opinion on the matter.
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How to install an outdoor outlet?
If you want to install or add an outdoor outlet to your home, here is how you do it:
- Choose the location for your outdoor outlet. It must conform to the NEC requirements, as well as the building codes. You are not allowed to tap into the circuits in the kitchen, bathroom, or laundry room for your outdoor outlets’ circuit.
- Turn off all of the power by going to your main circuit breaker. Use a voltage tester to know if there is still power running through your outlets.
- Remove the indoor outlet from which you will be getting the circuit. Ensure that you are using an electrical box that is large enough to hold multiple wires.
- Drill through the outdoor wall to be able to connect the wires of the indoor outlet to your new outdoor outlet.
- Cut out the hole for your new outdoor outlet.
- Run the cable from the indoor outlet through the hole you have just made to get to your outdoor outlet.
- Install the outdoor outlet by attaching the cables that passed through from your indoor outlet to your new GFCI outlet. Make sure that you cut off at least half an inch of insulation from the copper wires. After connecting the wires to the outlet, push the wires into the box, and then screw the outlet on the box.
- Rewire your indoor outlet, and then turn the power back on.
- Test the outlets by using a voltage tester to know whether or not power is running through them.
Having access to electricity even when you are outdoors is very convenient. You can supply power to your backyard and other outdoor spaces with the help of outdoor outlets. When it comes to installing this kind of outlet, there are a few conditions that you need to meet which were stated in this article.
Since outlets are a source of electricity, extra caution should be exercised during the installation process. It is also important to make sure that the outlets that you will be installing meet the requirements of the NEC. This will ensure that your outlets are safe to use and that you are protected from possible electrical surges.