Weatherproofing your external outlets
You don’t need to be an expert to keep your home safe from electrical hazards. Learning how to spot a potential electrical hazard is the best way to prevent an accident or major fire from happening in your home.
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) should be used in all areas where there is the potential for electrocution. Unlike a home's breaker, a GFCI is integrated in the outlet itself, and monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral. If there is any imbalance, it trips the circuit. The GFCI senses a mismatch as small as 4 or 5 milliamps, and it can react as quickly as within one thirtieth of a second.
This should go without saying, but electricity and water do not mix. Water conducts electricity, so by keeping your outlets away from water, you are greatly reducing the risk of shock. In bathrooms and kitchens, building code states that all outlets within arms’ reach of the user be GFCIs. Outdoors, GFCIs should always have weatherproof covers to protect them from the elements.
On the job just the other day, RMS discovered that the GFCI pictured here had clearly sustained water damage and was running a risk of starting a fire. Water reached the internal wiring and could have blown out the entire circuit. This outlet had a weatherproof cover, but it is not the RMS Preferred Practice cover.
Weatherproof outlet covers mostly come in two orientations. The cover that this customer was using is in fact weatherproof, but only when the outlet is not in use. The outlet cover is an open flap, which isn’t protecting the outlet from water; that means that when the outlet is in use, water can still enter and cause damage, as explained above. This is a major problem which could lead to further damage, fires, or a blown fuse or circuit breaker.
RMS strongly recommends replacing all your outdoor outlet covers with bubble covers. These weatherproof covers work both when the outlet is not in use and when it is, significantly reducing your risk of water damage, fires, and blown fuses or circuit breakers.
To reduce the risk of shocks, never leave anything plugged into your GFCI outlets, even outdoors. If you suspect your GFCI may have water damage, don’t unplug anything! Instead, go to your electrical panel and shut off the power from the source. If you’re worried about safety, give us a call; RMS inspects your outlets at regular intervals but also is qualified to handle electrical hazards.
If you still have the old outdoor outlet covers with the flaps, we suggest replacing them with weatherproof bubble covers to prevent fires; this goes even for those outlets kept under cover.
Don’t wait until something goes wrong in your home!