The Best Ways to Run Power to the Outdoors
Run electricity outdoors conveniently and safely by taking power to an outbuilding or installing an outdoor socket outlet.
There are two projects that are well worth carrying out to add convenience and safety to your use of electricity out of doors. The first is taking power to a garden shed or other outbuilding, and the second is installing an outdoor socket outlet for your garden power tools. The wiring work required is quite straightforward, but you must notify your local building codes department before you start so that it can be inspected and certified.
Running Cable Outdoors
If you need to take a power supply outside the house, you have to decide whether to run it overhead—easier to do, but unsightly and prone to accidental damage, or to take it underground—trickier to install, but far safer.
Running Cable Overhead
You can use ordinary PVC-sheathed cable if the span between the buildings is 10 feet or less. Longer spans must be supported by a tensioned support wire and cable buckles, and this wire must be grounded to the house's main grounding point. The span must be at least 12 feet above ground over a path, and 17 feet above ground over a drive or other area with vehicular access.
Running Cable Underground (image below)
Cable runs underground can be protected by PVC conduit, solvent-welded together using straight connectors to make a continuous run, or you can use underground cable. Bury cables 18 inches beneath paths or patios, and at 30 inches beneath lawns and flowerbeds.
Fitting Outdoor Socket Outlets
Having a dedicated outdoor socket outlet on the house wall for garden power tools saves trailing long extension cords through open windows. It also provides the safety of GFCI protection for anyone using electrical equipment out of doors. All you need is a weatherproof outlet with a built-in high-sensitivity GFCI, plus a length of two-conductor and ground wire and a conveniently-located indoor socket outlet to which to connect the wiring. Alternatively you can install an ordinary outdoor outlet and connect it to a separate GFCI indoors.
Positioning the Outlet
Position the outdoor socket outlet so that you can drill a hole through the house wall and feed the wiring in close to the indoor outlet. Fit the mounting box over the exit hole, draw in the wiring, and connect it to the outlet terminals. Fit the faceplate on the box, making sure that the weatherproof seals are correctly positioned. Indoors, run the wiring to its connection point, via a separate GFCI, if necessary.
Taking a Power Supply to an Outbuilding
The best way to take power to an outbuilding is by running a 240-volt circuit from the main breaker panel in the house to a sub-panel in the outbuilding. Once the 240-volt circuit terminates in the sub-panel, it can be broken down into 240-volt circuits and 120-volt circuits as needed.
The line can be run using the appropriately sized underground cable only, but it is better to run the cable through PVC conduit to protect the cable from damage and moisture. The cable should be run about 18 inches to 24 inches below ground level.
Depending on the size of the outbuilding and its intended use, the 240-volt circuit breaker size will have to be determined. In most homeowner projects, a 20-amp or 30-amp breaker will be adequate. First it must be determined if there is an open space in the main breaker panel and then if the panel has the electrical capacity to handle another 30-amp circuit. It may very well take a licensed electrician to calculate this for you.
Providing Power for Water Features
The best way to provide power for fountains and wet location lighting is by the use of low voltage circuits. Low voltage usually means 12 volts—the same voltage as car batteries. Systems can be bought that provide wiring, lights and the transformer. The transformer is plugged into a standard household outlet and transforms the electricity to 12 volt DC. This is safe to use in outdoor and wet locations because it cannot electrocute you or your pets.
The transformer should be plugged into an outlet that is protected by a Ground Fault Circuit Interupter (GFCI). This added safety feature protects the circuit as well as the users. The installer should always follow the instructions that are provided with the low voltage system that will explain its use and installation.
Covered Outdoor Outlets
Exterior outlets can be single or duplex, and should have spring-loaded covers. The covers protect the outlet from bugs, insects, dirt and moisture. These days they are also, by code, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) for added safety. Outside, a person is more easily grounded and is often working with water and power tools so electrocution is a danger. If your home does not have GFCI protection, it can be added.
Flush Mount Outdoor Wall Plate (image below)
Covered outdoor outlets are often metal for durability and have spring-loaded covers.
Outdoor Motion Sensors
An outdoor motion sensor may add add comfort, safety and convenience to your home. When you arrive home after dark, it senses your movements as you approach and turns on exterior lights. And you don’t have to fumble in the dark for keys, or trip over things that you cannot see. An outdoor motion sensor also provides safety, because it comes on to let you know if anyone approaches your home so you can see who it is. It can also deter burglars by creating a well-lit area where they cannot be concealed as they attempt to gain entry.
These units are usually adjustable for sensitivity and angle so that they can be set to sense only montion on your property and will not pick up motion down the street or in the next yard.