If you want to decorate your house with festive holiday lights, or simply make the use of electric yard tools more convenient, an exterior electrical outlet is a very useful amenity to consider. Otherwise, you could find yourself running extension cords through partially open windows, which can drive up your heating and cooling costs, or using improvised and unsafe connections to outside light fixtures, which can present a serious fire hazard.
If you’ve never done electrical work before, the process involved in how to install an outdoor outlet might be daunting, but if you do your research, get the right materials and install them the right way, it can be an achievable goal even for an amateur do-it-your-selfer. Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to install an outdoor electrical outlet in your yard.
Finding the Best Location for the Outdoor Outlet
There are two primary factors you need to consider with an outdoor outlet for lights or other intended usage:
- What location is safest for an outdoor outlet?
- What location is the most convenient for how you plan to use the outlet?
Let’s explore an example where we install an exterior outlet for Christmas lights. In this case, a post on the front porch might make a good candidate, since this location provides protection for the outlet against rainfall, is located close to the front door and is also close to a circuit that ties into the circuit breaker panel. The same location would likely work for Halloween, Valentines Day, Easter, or any other occasion when you want to set up festive outdoor lights.
Use Durable Wire for Exterior Outlets
The correct wire to use for outside projects is Type UF-B wire, which is sunlight resistant, water resistant and resists interaction with the soil. Since the wire is so heavy duty, it can be challenging to strip off the insulating plastic covering, but there is a practical way to do it:
- Step 1: About 3 inches down from the end, use a utility knife to carefully score around the wire casing.
- Step 2: Use a pair of wire cutters to cut a notch on either side of the grounding wire in the middle of the casing.
- Step 3: Using the grounding wire as a guide, use the utility knife to slice down either side of the grounding wire. Cut all the way to where you scored around the wire casing. Splay the wire sections apart.
- Step 4: Use the utility knife to shave the casing from one side of the black and white wires. Once that’s done, you should be able to pull the casing away from the wires and cut the casing off.
Hook the New Wire Into Your Circuit
To make the connection, we first switched off the breaker for the circuit that we’re working with. Next, we drilled a hole through the banding joist beneath the front porch, while inside the crawlspace we drilled upwards through the bottom plate of the exterior wall directly beneath an existing outlet. We then dismantled that outlet and removed the box from the wall so we could pull the wire from outside and run it into the box. Finally, we reassembled the inside outlet and connected the new wire to its terminals. Any place the wire goes through a hole gets sealed with silicon caulk.
Because the circuit for the indoor outlet and outside outlet is 20 amps, we need to make sure our total amperage on this circuit will be less than that 20 amp rating or the circuit will keep shutting down.
What Type of Outlet Fixture Should You Use?
While a few local electric codes still allow plain weather-resistant outlets, all outside outlets really should be Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) fixtures. GFCI outlets add an extra layer of safety against electrocution in the event of a short circuit —which can occur outside and especially if the outlet is located where it can get wet. While there is no difference in connecting one outlet to an outside run of wire or to the wire box, you will need to buy a faceplate that will match a GFCI outlet. If the area where you plan to install the outlet tends to be wet, then you’ll also want to use an outlet that has a built-in weather protector.
Mounting the Outlet Box
In our example, we’ll mount our outlet about 3 inches up from the porch deck surface. To protect the wiring from being accidentally kicked or snagged, we decided to run the wire through a 6 inch long piece of schedule 40 PVC conduit connected to the bottom of the outlet box. For the conduit to work, we drilled a 7/8 inch diameter hole through the deck board. After that was done, we attached the outlet box to the post with some coated deck screws (uncoated screws will decay due to chemicals in the treated lumber).
Next, we threaded our UF-B wire up into the wiring box and used a pair of needle nose pliers to pre-bend the wire ends so they would slide right into place on the outlet terminals.
After that, we connected the wires to the outlet’s screws. The white or neutral wire connects to the silver screws (left side) on the outlet. The black or load wire connects to the gold screws (right side). The bare wire or ground connects to the green screw at the bottom.
Once the wires are connected, mount the outlet in the wiring box and secure it in place with screws.
After that, cover it with a water resistant foam gasket and then attach the weather proof cover and you should be all set. Now that you know how to install an outdoor outlet and have followed all the steps, it’s time to flip the breaker for the circuit back on and try out your lights!