Understanding outdoor electrical fixtures

July 28, 2015

If you're enjoying time at home outdoors, great. But here are some tips for using those outdoor electrical devices you have with you. 

Understanding outdoor electrical fixtures

Yearly and monthly maintenance

  • Once a year, turn off power to outdoor light fixtures at the service panel, remove their lightbulbs, and use a ball of very fine steel wool to clean corrosion from inside the sockets. This will help keep the bulbs from jamming in the sockets and make removing them easier.
  • The combination of moisture and electricity can be lethal. That's why the Canadian Electrical Code requires that all outdoor receptacles have ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection. Check your outdoor receptacles, and if any are not of the GFCI type (or are not protected by a GFCI breaker at the service panel), have them replaced with GFCI receptacles. Also, be sure to test your GFCI receptacles every month.

Consider solar

  • This is the surest way to avoid spending a whole afternoon fiddling around with wiring.
  • Some second-generation, solar-powered landscape lights give off as much light as their low-voltage cousins and are easier to install. Put them in the ground, aim them, and they'll turn on automatically when it gets dark. It won't take you more than 20 minutes to poke six or eight solar lights into the yard.
  • Installing these lights in the land around your driveway will light a bright path to your front door and prevent you and your guests from tripping or falling in the dark.

Use weatherproof electrical boxes

  • Receptacles and switches that are exposed to the elements must be housed in weatherproof electrical boxes.
  • In addition, the Canadian Electrical Code now requires that exterior electrical boxes housing GFCIs be waterproof while in use. That means having a cover that's deep enough to close completely even when something is plugged into the receptacle. (The cords come out through a notch in the bottom edge of the cover.)
  • If you have an insufficiently protected GFCI, install an "in-use" watertight cover. Some covers can be retrofitted to existing boxes.
  • Caulk seams between outdoor electrical boxes and the house to seal out moisture and cold. In addition, periodically inspect outdoor receptacles to make sure their cover hinges and gaskets are in good shape. If either has deteriorated, replace the cover so that you can keep moisture and debris out of the receptacles.
  • The total wattage of your low-voltage lights must not exceed the transformer's capacity. In fact, it's a good idea to buy a larger transformer than you'll initially need so you can add more lights later.
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