5 questions to ask about outdoor wiring

Embarking on an outdoor wiring project? It pays to plan ahead. Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you start digging and wiring.

5 questions to ask about outdoor wiring

1. What do the local codes say?

  • You (or your contractor, if you've hired one) need to be absolutely sure that your plans mesh with those allowed by local building and electrical codes.
  • Consult your town's building inspector, too, about any special restrictions or requirements in your area.
  • Obtain all necessary permits.

2. How do I run power from the inside to the outside?

  • There are several options: You can tap into an existing general-purpose lighting circuit, as long as it's not already operating near capacity. A convenient way to do this is to have a cable run through an exterior wall from an existing interior receptacle to a new outdoor GFCI receptacle.
  • If you're planning extensive outdoor wiring, consider having a new circuit run from the service panel (if there's room) to new outdoor receptacles and fixtures.
  • Finally, the simplest alternative is a low-voltage outdoor lighting system. It's flexible, safe and relatively inexpensive, and since it doesn't involve extensive rewiring or deep digging, it's easy to install.
  • Options one and two are best left to a licensed electrical contractor.

3. Where'd I put that circuit?

  • It's easy to forget where an outdoor electrical cable is buried, until it's rediscovered by a spade or a tiller. Map out an efficient route for the new outdoor circuit, and keep a record of it.
  • Waterproof UF (underground feeder) cable can be buried directly in the ground in a trench that's at least 61 centimetres (24 inches ) deep. The trench can be shallower if the wiring runs through plastic (PVC) conduit 46 centimetres (18 inches) deep or rigid metal conduit 15 centimetres (6 inches) deep.
  • Low-voltage wiring can be laid on the ground and covered with mulch, but it's best to get it out of the way by burying it in a shallow trench.

4. Am I going to hit a utility line?

  • Before having a trench dug for underground wiring, check with your local utilities to make sure you won't hit a utility line.
  • Look up your "call before you dig" number for information on all buried utility lines in a given area and to get your underground utilities marked.

5. Are the neighbours going to hate me?

  • When planning outdoor lighting, take into account glare and its possible effects on your neighbours and passersby.
  • Use weatherproof bulbs in your outdoor light fixtures — they resist shattering in severe weather better than regular bulbs. And if you're tired of climbing up a ladder to change a hard-to-reach outdoor floodlight bulb, replace it the next time with a long-life outdoor bulb.
  • Energy-saving (and long-life) compact fluorescent bulbs can be used outdoors, as long as the fixture is sheltered from the elements by your porch, for example, or by an enclosed light fixture.
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