Published as a public service by the Electrical Safety Foundation International in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Canada Safety Council.
The Outdoor Electrical Safety Check booklet is made possible through grants from Intertek Testing Service and E.I. DuPont, Inc.
No endorsement of any particular product, company or service is implied by their mention in this publication.
Note: Throughout the pamphlet words in blue are listed in the glossary.
Reasonable people, knowing the danger, would never stand under a tree or on a hill during a thunderstorm where they might be struck by a bolt of lightning. Yet, these same people sometimes become careless about protecting themselves and their families against other outdoor electrical hazards that can cause a fire, produce a shock or even electrocute.
Water, which doesn't mix with electricity, can be found in unexpected places outdoors.
A tall ladder, even wooden, carried in an upright position can accidentally contact an overhead power line with possibly fatal results.
This pamphlet explains electrical safety devices that, when properly used and maintained, can reduce or prevent accidents. It lists do's and don'ts for electrically-powered or cordless products commonly used outdoors. Read through and follow these electrical safety guidelines to make your outdoor life safer and more enjoyable.
Four devices that help provide outdoor electrical safety: Circuit breakers or fuses protect against overcurrent conditions that could result in potential fire and shock hazards.
Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCls) protect against potentially lethal shock when they detect even minute, but potentially dangerous ground faults, or "leaks" of electrical current from the circuit. GFCIs may be incorporated into circuit breakers protecting the entire circuit, outlets protecting everything on the circuit downstream from the GFCI outlet, or as portable devices that can be used at an outlet to give protection for a particular electrical item.
Three-pronged plugs and outlets, and polarized plugs and outlets offer enhanced protection against potential shock when provided on specific products. These measures should never be circumvented by sawing or breaking off the third prong or attempting to widen an outlet slot.
Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCls) are relatively new devices that protect against fires caused by the effects of unwanted electrical arcing in wiring. An AFCI will de-energize the circuit when an arc fault is detected.
Electrical wiring in buildings with areas exposed to the outdoors, including circuits in garages, porches, patios and storage areas, could benefit from the additional electrical fire prevention features of AFCI devices when incorporated in the branch circuitry.
Circuit breakers or fuses in your home electrical panel sense overcurrent conditions and short circuits and reduce the risk of fire in your electric wiring. When you overload a branch circuit by plugging in too many products, the fuse blows or the circuit breaker trips to shut off power.
Up-to-date single-family dwellings should be provided with at least one branch circuit that carries power to an outdoor outlet. Locate your outdoor branch circuit(s) on the listing of branch circuits on your electrical panel. (If you have no outdoor wall outlet, call a qualified electrician to install one.) You should find the amperage on the circuit breaker or the fuse.
To figure out whether a combination of products will overload a branch circuit, add up the power ratings (watts) you plan to use at the same time on that circuit. The power (watts) or amperage of an electrical product is shown on its attached nameplate.
Volts (also on nameplate) x Amps = Power (wattage) For example: 120 V x 15A= 1800 W Demanding more than 1800 W will overload a 15 ampere circuit.
Outdoor electrical products that may use a significant portion of the power a branch circuit can supply are electric lawn mowers, leaf blowers and snow blowers.
Be sure to figure total wattage in advance when you are planning an outdoor event. Add up the power ratings of everything you will use: garden lights, electric grill, hot tub and so on plus everything else on the circuit. If you exceed the circuit wattage limitation, you will likely trip a circuit breaker or blow a fuse which can cause hidden damage to the circuit. If necessary, plan to redistribute your power needs to more than one branch circuit, or reduce the electrical load to avoid the overload situation.
A short circuit in a product, cord or plug may also trip your circuit breaker or blow a fuse. If you can identify the product that is causing the problem, take it to a manufacturer-recommended repair facility. If you don't know what is causing your circuit breaker to trip or fuses to blow, call a qualified electrician.
A ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) will disconnect power automatically when a plugged-in electrical product leaks electricity to ground. Outdoors, where water and electricity can easily inadvertently come together, a GFCI is a lifesaver, not a luxury. A GFCI is a simple device reasonably priced. If you are unsure about installation, seek a qualified electrician.
GFCIs protect against shock or electrocution when a plugged-in electrical product is dropped into a sink, pool, pond, puddle, or hot tub (a shock may be felt in the split second before the GFCI trips). A GFCI also cuts off current when a person contacts a product like an electric heater or an electric power tool, which may be "leaking electricity."
The National Electrical Code now requires GFCIs for protection in the bathroom, garage, kitchen and outdoor outlets of new homes.
No GFCls installed?
Buy one. GFCIs come in several models, including a portable plug-in type.
Attach a portable GFCI between the power re¬ceptacle and the plug of any electric saw, lawn edger, weed trimmer or other outdoor (or in¬door) electrical equipment; or have a qualified electrician install receptacle or circuit breaker GFCI protection for your family. Make sure you have GFCIs for swimming pool underwater lighting circuits, for electric circuits of hot tubs, and for wall outlets within 20 feet of such pools as required in the National Electrical Code.
To be sure your life-protecting GFCIs are working properly, use this test or the instructions that come with the GFCI.
1. Plug a night light (or radio turned up loud, if you have a circuit breaker GFCI) into a GFCI-protected wall outlet, and turn it on.
2. Press the GFCI test button or switch. The light or radio should go off.
3. Press the reset feature to restore power.
If the light or radio does not go off when the test button or switch is pressed, the GFCI is not working or is not wired correctly. Contact a qualified electrician to correct the problem or install a new GFCI.
A 3-pronged plug used in a 3-hole outlet protects against shock from a defective electrical product, cord orplugwith grounding problems.
Electricity to poweryour electrical products travels along a path called a circuit. As long as it stays in its intended path while traveling to "ground," it does its job with minimal risk of electric shock. But when a product, cord or plug is damaged, out-of-path electricity may energize expose metal parts as it seeks a new path to ground. If you come in contact with energized conductive parts and provide a path to ground, the electricity will deliver a shock. The third prong on a plug is there to carry any stray electricity to ground through a 3-pronged receptacle.
Many electrical products designed for outdoor use have 3-pronged plugs (except for power tools and other products which may protectyou against shock with a system of double insulation).
Never, ever, remove the third prong of a 3-prong plug.
If your outdoor wall outlet has room for only 2 prongs, you should replace it with a GFCI-protected, 3-hole grounding type receptacle. When using a 3-to-2 grounding adapter, be certain that the receptacle itself is grounded or GFCI-protected for the adapter to work. Use a circuit tester (available in hardware stores) to find out if your outdoor receptacles are grounded, or call a qualified electrician to help you make sure.
Problems in home wiring, like arcing and sparking, are associated with more than 40,000 home fires each year. These fires claim over 350 lives and injure 1,400 victims annually.
A new electrical safety device for homes, called an arc fault circuit interrupter or AFCI, is expected to provide enhanced protecting from fires resulting from these unsafe home wiring conditions.
Typical household fuses and circuit breakers do not respond to early arcing and sparking conditions in home wiring. By the time a fuse or circuit breaker opens to defuse these conditions, a fire may already have begun.
AFCIs are already recognized for their effectiveness in preventing fires. The most recent edition of the National Electrical Code, the widely-adopted model code for electrical wiring, requires AFCIs for bedroom circuits in new residential construction, effective January 2002.
Future editions of the code, which is updated every three years, could expand coverage to other circuits, including outdoor circuits.
Make sure a recognized testing laboratory certifies the product. This insures that the product is designed and manufactured in accordance with established safety standards. Look for these and other markings of internationally recognized testing laboratories:
Outdoor portable electrical appliances and power tools should always be:
Outdoor portable electrical appliances and power tools should never be:
Follow these rules to avoid water hazards:
Note, however, that when a person is immersed in an isolated body of water, like a hot tub, the water could become electrified without involving a ground fault as the electric current passes through water (and perhaps a person) from one electrical pole to the opposite pole. In this case, the GFCI may not provide shock or electrocution protection.
Match each outdoor electrical product to its extension cord:
To convert amps to watts, multiply by 120 volts. For example, 10 A x 120 V = 1200 W.
Match the extension cord gauge to the amperage rating of the product. AWG on the above label stands for American Wire Gauge. Cords for outdoor use are generally either 12 AWG (heavy) or 14 AWG (medium).
Follow every general safety rule for outdoor electrical products when using electrical lawn and garden products. Then take some extra precautions.
Lawnmowers and other lawn and garden equipment with sharp blades and rapidly moving parts can cause serious injury by cutting off a finger or a toe. Never remove the guards.
Keep children well away from lawnmowers and other products, which can throw objects such as rocks and sticks.
Products like power shovels or diggers, lawnmowers, mulchers, tillers, thatchers and leaf or snow blowers move and have moving parts that can cut, burn, even blind when di¬rections are not followed. Study each product's manual for safe operation rules.
Mowing a lawn:
Use these accident-prevention techniques:
Ladders and electricity do not mix.
Electrocutions (an average of 12 over the last three years according to the U.S.Consumer Product Safety Commission) can happen when metal ladders are used near overhead wires to clean gutters, paint houses, trim trees and repair roofs and chimneys or install outdoor antennas.
Follow the same safety rules with cordless, battery-operated products as any other electrical product. Batteries generate electric power. Read and follow manufacturers instructions.
Some special things to remember when using battery-powered products:
Things to remember when recharging batteries:
Take these precautions with extra batteries:
And for safe battery disposal:
Batteries and battery packs can explode in a fire. Follow manufacturers instructions for disposal.
Power tools are often used out of doors or in a garage or shed where the door should be open for adequate ventilation, especially when sanding. The same rules apply to them as to other electrical products used outdoors and then some. Power tools require skilled use. Operators should not only read but also memorize the product instruction manual.
Power tools should never be used when children are in, or even near, the work area.
Power tools should always be:
Power tools should never be:
Other outdoor electrical products such as fans, bug killers, holiday or party lights, heaters, music systems, power paint rollers, barbecue spits and many more each have manufacturer-recommended precautions included in the instructions that are packaged with them. Take time to read and follow instructions. Here are a few reminders:
Power washer-This product uses water with electricity. Make sure you read the directions carefully.
Barbecue grill-Read directions to find out if it can be stored outdoors or used on an apartment balcony, patio or deck. Also check with your apartment building manager for usage rules and/or local ordinances or regulations.
Charcoal igniter-Do not store outdoors.
Amperage (amps) - A measure of electrical current flow.
Arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) - Protection from fires caused by affects of electrical arcing in wiring. AFCI device will de-energize the circuit when an arc fault is detected.
Circuit breaker or fuses - Protect against overcurrent and short circuit conditions that could result in potential fire hazards and explosion.
Electrical faults - A partial or total failure in an electrical conductor or appliance.
Energized - Electrically connected to a source of potential difference, or electrically charged so as to have a potential different from that of the ground.
Gauge - Standard or scale of measure.
Ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) - Protec-tion against shock and electrocution. GFCI device will de-energize a circuit when it senses a difference in the amount of electricity passing through the device and returning through the device, or a "leak" of current from the circuit.
Grounded/grounding - A conducting connection, whether intentional or accidental, by which an electric circuit or equipment is connected to the earth, or to some conducting body of relatively large extent that serves in place of the earth.
Overcurrent - Any current in excess of the rated current or ampacity of a conductor. May result in risk of fire or shock from insulation damaged from heat generated by overcurrent condition.
Outlet - A contact device installed along a circuit for the connection of an attachment plug and flexible cord to supply power to portable equipment and electrical appliances. Also known as receptacles.
Three-pronged plugs and outlets - Protect against potential shock from the use of damaged products or electrical power cords designed to take stray electrical current safely to ground.
Short circuits - An abnormal electrical path.
Voltage (volts) - A measure of electrical potential.
Wattage (watts) - A measure of the rate of energy consumption by an electrical device when it is in operation.
About the Electrical Safety Foundation International
The Electrical Safety Foundation International is a not-for-profit (501)(c)(3) organization whose board of directors and officers serve without compensation.
Board of Directors
Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers
Founded in 1994, ESFI, formerly the National Electrical Safety Foundation (NESF), is North America's only non-profit organization dedi¬cated exclusively to promoting electrical safety in the home, school and workplace. ESFI is a 501(c)3 organization funded by electrical manufacturers, utilities, consumer groups, and individuals. ESFI sponsors National Electrical Safety Month each May, and engages in public education campaigns and proactive media relations to help reduce property damage, injury and death due to electrical accidents.
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